The Forgotten Planet – Murray Leinster (1954)
‘A ship is marooned on a planet whose existence has been mislaid by the galactic bureaucracy. And the planet’s ecology has gone wild, breeding deadly giant insects. the ship’s crew and passengers have no hope of rescue. Can they and their descendents (sic) survive? Tune in next millennium.’
Blurb from the 2003 Baen paperback edition
This is a fix-up novel composed of three rewritten stories ‘The Mad Planet’ (Argosy 1920), ‘The Red Dust’ (Argosy 1921), and ‘Nightmare Planet’ (Science Fiction Plus, June 1953). In the original first two stories, the action was set on a far future Earth. The rewritten novel was first published by Gnome Press in 1954.
The basic premise is that Seeder Ships who have discovered barren Earth-type worlds initially ‘seed’ them with lichen and algae and return in cycles of thousand of years to add fungi, vegetation, insects, fish and finally mammals.
Due to a clerical error a particular world is forgotten once the insects and fish have been delivered. Subsequently a ship crashes on the planet and its crew (surviving by eating mushrooms and evading what have evolved into giant insects) become isolated tribes of nomads.
The plot, if one can call it a plot, involves Burl, a resourceful tribesman who one day decides to employ the remains of a dead beetle’s carapace as a weapon and from there teaches his tribe to go on the offensive against rapacious wildlife. He leads them on a journey through the territories of giant spiders, mantises and poisonous puffballs to a plateau where the environment is rather more like that of forgotten Earth.
The colony is eventually re-discovered and its people given an instant education by means of downloading knowledge directly into their brains. Burl becomes the leader of a hot new tourist planet where jaded humans from rest of the galaxy go on hunting trips with the natives, pitting their wits against the outsize insects.
For its time his concept of terraforming must have seemed like cutting edge science, although the concept of a galactic human society which would have remained static during the thousands of years of the seeding programme is a little implausible. One can’t help also pointing out that for Burl to be the only human to discover these techniques of survival, all in a very short space of time, is even more implausible.
However, despite its juvenile feel it’s enjoyable hokum and kept me entertained through a hefty slice of a nine-hour transatlantic flight.