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The Ugly Little Boy: by Asimov & Silverberg
Book Review
© 2012 James LaFond
In 1958, in Galaxy magazine, Isaac Asimov, perhaps the most prolific science fiction author of all time, presented his story The Ugly Little Boy. Sixty years later award winning science fiction novelist, Robert Silverberg, fleshed it out into a novel. I finally got around to reading my copy on Thanksgiving Day of 2012.
Having done my own time-travel novel concerning modern interactions with Neanderthals, I was thrilled to see how these two masters of the craft had approached the subject. The best thing about sci-fi is the speculative aspect. Five authors can attack the same ‘what if’ subject without the friction or collaboration one would get with non-fiction. This is the strength of the genre as an investigative tool: alternative theories coexisting without debate; permitting the reader to wonder at the ultimate truth.
The Ugly Little Boy
Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, no date given, Foundation [Doubleday], NY, 290 pages
This is two stories in one: an endangered group of Neanderthals trying to deal with the new arrivals in their land, specifically in their sacral precinct; and the struggle of a childless professional caregiver recruited for a scientific experiment by a cutting edge company.
The scenes out of the deep past are well done and anthropologically astute. Of far more interest to me was the near future [perhaps our time] envisioned by Asimov in the 1950s. In this way, such a classic story, gives us multiple genius-eye-views of the world: the scientific bent of Asimov’s time reflected in his character interactions and character prejudices; his vision of our time; and his vision of the deep past. In a way such a story is a 1950s time capsule, and it was nice to see that Silverberg did not try to rewrite some near future predictions that seem a bit dated to us now.
Stasis Technologies LTD., the company that fields a very interesting type of time travel device, is very much depicted in the classic mold of vintage science fiction, crafted in a time when nations aspired to scientific greatness. Though the functioning of the company seems anachronistic to us, the author’s prediction of privatized science is way beyond his time. Children’s rights and a very litigious near future were also spot-on predictions.
On a literary level Miss Fellowes, the nurse assigned to care for a Neanderthal boy literally dredged out of the past, is a very compelling character. She comes off as a little stilted at first but grows on you. In the end this story has a lot more soul than I would have predicted, and, surprisingly, is more about motherhood than anything.
The Ending of The Ugly Little Boy was perfect, brilliant.
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