The Book: “The Day is Done” by Lester Del Ray. Story originally published in 1939 by Astounding Science-Fiction. Read in the anthology Where Do We Go from Here? edited by Isaac Asimov, published by Fawcett Crest in 1972.
The Setting: Prehistoric Earth
The Story: The last Neanderthal feels sad.
The Science: Neanderthals and early humans did probably encounter each other, and no one is quite sure why Neanderthals died out. This story has a two pronged explanation: Early humans were better hunters and made easy prey difficult to get. Also, neanderthals got inferiority complexes and didn’t really want to live in a world with a superior species. I don’t know about that. Neanderthals were pretty hardy – I once heard a physical anthropologist suggest that they developed their trademark thick brow ridges because they kept getting hit over the head. And that there are a large number of neanderthal remains with blunt force trauma to the head to support that. I’m not going to speculate on why they died out, or even if they did. But I tend to think it had more to do with climate change or interbreeding than it had to do with depression.
The Reaction: Meh. It’s fine, but I was a little annoyed that the early humans talk like Shakespeare, except the outcast who has a distinctly lower class way of talking. It’s certainly a different sort of science fiction than I’ve been reading. No outer space, no rockets. Just rocks.
The Cover: A generalized science fiction anthology cover with what may be planets or molecules or whatever. But mostly, ASIMOV.
Next Up: “Heavy Planet” by Milton A. Rothman