“Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank RussellOctober 17, 2010
The Book: “Metamorphosite” by Eric Frank Russell. First published in the December 1946 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. The version read was in Beachheads in Space, edited by August Derleth, published by Berkeley Books in 1952.
The Setting: A distant planet, in a distant future.
The Story: An alien is captured, ushered through a bureaucracy, escapes, then turns civilization on its head. Nothing big. Turns out that alien is what earthfolk become after serious disaster and a lot of time and the bureaucracy are lost colonists. No big whoop. Except the earthling? Now pure radiation in disguise.
The Science: I can’t even imagine trying to take on the evolutionary tangent this story ends on, so let’s tackle a relatively minor matter. The main character, Harold Harold-Myra, comes from Terra. Terra sent some settlers to a star 4.5 light years from it. So… probably Alpha Centauri, which is 4.37 lights years from Earth. Alspha Centauri is actually a binary star, so it’s a couple of stars hanging out right next door to each other.
According to Wikipedia, Alpha Centauri is similar to Sol, so the possibility of terrestrial planets is tantalizing, particularly as current science can’t detect planets that small and no large bodies have been found orbiting the stars at optimal distances. Cool.
The Reaction: When I began this story, I was intrigued – I didn’t know anything inside the head of the character, and so it was all possibility. Then I learned more and started to get bored. I’m not sure it’s a bad story, it’s just that the story sustains itself half through action, half through random surprise, and half through not revealing the Why of anything until the end. Not the strongest story ever and I’m pretty darn sure I don’t ever need to read it again.
The Cover: Alas, no cover art credit for this book. Because it has got a really awesome spaceship on the cover, and an outpost on a hill, and is very lovely science-fictiony in general. Awesome.
Next Up: “The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl” by Ray Bradbury