The novel “The Forgotten Planet” by Murray Leinster was published for the first time in 1954 as a fix-up of three short stories published in previous years.
Humans have colonized a lot of planets in the galaxy. When a planet is uninhabitable but has an interesting potential it start getting “seeded” to make its conditions right. Over the millennia, many planets were made habitable but in one case the documentation got lost and the process was interrupted. When a spacecraft has a malfunction and the survivors get shipwrecked on that planet they have to survive as they can.
Burl is a distant descendant of the shipwreck’s survivors and like the others must face every day the giant insects that live on the planet. Some events awaken his ingenuity and allow his group to go beyond the momentary survival to improve their living conditions.
“The Forgotten Planet” is a novel written even before the birth of modern science fiction. The first part was in fact published as a short story in the magazine “Argosy” in 1920 and the second in the same magazine in 1921. Murray Leinster published a third short story that gave an ending to Burl and his group’s story in 1953 and the following year the three stories were fixed-up into novel.
The story begins with an introduction that explains why on a lost planet there’s a group of human beings who live in abject barbarism. These distant descendants of a group of castaways barely survive on a planet where the interventions to make it habitable were interrupted following the loss of a recording.
Seeing the these human beings’ situation at the beginning of the novel one wonders how they can survive. They seem to have almost completely lost their sophisticated reasoning skills, so much that they don’t even use simple tools. A group exists because in the cold nights its members warm up staying close by sharing their body heat but there’s no organization.
Even apes have at least simple forms of social relationships and some species use certain types of tools, the forgotten planet’s humans barely have a language. Perhaps that group is on the verge of extinction and the point of the story is exactly that Burl starts rediscovering his own humanity potential and changes that situation.
In essence, these humans had reached the bottom and from there start rising again, even if with difficulty. It’s precisely this element of the story that makes it different from other adventures written in the pulp magazines era. Probably stories of shipwrecks in space and stories that included giant insects had already been already written but in “The Forgotten Planet” there’s this rediscovery of intelligence by these fallen – in all senses – humanity.
The first two stories, however, are products of an era in which readers weren’t interested in philosophy but in adventure and sense-of-wonder. In this case, it’s a planet where because of an error only the first phase of its “seeding” occurred with the consequence that it’s inhabited mostly by giant insects with a very limited variety of plants and mushrooms.
After the initial introduction, the story is focused on Burl and his rediscovery of his intellectual potential. The plot is very much based on his encounters with various giant insects, especially spiders, a detail that makes the novel not very suitable for readers suffering from arachnophobia. 😉 As a result, the pace tends to be fast while the characters have a very minimal development because only Burl has some kind of characterization.
“The Forgotten Planet” has become a classic and for good but mostly for bad is a product of an era even earlier than the one known as the Golden Age of Science Fiction. If you’re interested in stories of that era or for you that kind of stories’ flaws are not an issue, in my opinion it’s worth reading.