Overall score 3.75/5 (Good)
James Blish’s The Seedling Stars is a collection of three novelettes (Seeding Program, The Thing in the Attic, Surface Tension) and a short story (Watershed). Each is loosely connected by internal chronology and subject matter: pantropy (the modifications of humans for live on other planets instead of terraforming). The quality of the stories––published between 1952-55––is somewhat uneven although they remain Blish’s most famous.
(4/5) Seeding Program
This story examines the beginnings of the the practice of Pantropy. Sweeney, an Adapted Man, is placed by the Terran Port Authority in a colony of Adapted Men and their chief scientist on the moon Ganymede. His task, bring the fugitives back to Earth so he can become human. Sweeney eventually discovers that during his sheltered life under a dome on the Moon he was indoctrinated with lies about the Adapted Men. He eventually realizes that he’ll never become human and decides to remain with his new family. He assists in the launching of the new seed ships from Ganymede which head off across the galaxy to find suitable planets for pantropy.
I really enjoyed this story. I was expecting slick 1950s space ships and was pleasantly surprised when Blish describes a much more feasible spaceship of modules placed in a metal framework. The scientist and his Adapted Men is very similar to the plot of Star Trek’s The Wrath of Khan and the follow up episodes in Star Trek: Enterprise. I suspect Blish might have been an early inspiration…
(2/5) The Thing in the Attic
The Thing in the Attic is by far the weakest selection of the collection. A group of renegade furry Adapted Men on a heavily forest planet are cast down into Hell (the ground level of the forest filled with dinosaurs) for believing that the Gods (the original human planet seeders) don’t exist but are instead symbolic. These renegades figure out how to defeat the dinosaurs (a system of genocide — destroying their eggs). Some die. The two survivors come across their “Gods” who have returned to the planet to check on the progress of the furry monkey-like Adapted Men.
Blish has fun with describing the world but ends up advocating the massive destruction of species (the dinosaurs). He apparently feels it’s justified since the Adapted Men are figuring out how to survive in their new environments and thus act more like animals — well maybe more like Kudzu, unfortunately introduced to the US causing the massive destruction of native species.
(5/5) Surface Tension
This story, although continuing the worrisome theme described in The Thing in the Attic, deserves to be read for it’s extraordinarily inventive. A seeding ship crashes on a water world with a single island (with some fresh water ponds and rivulets). The survivors carry out their original project of seeding the world but with the knowledge that they will never return to their own homes.
The “humans” they develop are almost microscopic and are placed in the fresh water ponds. PETRI DISH BATTLES ENSUE. The microscopic Adapted Humans (with lungs, etc) fight the vicious rotifers, enlist the aid of Parameciums, and with the help of inscribe metal tablets left by their primogenitors eventually develop a two inch “space craft” that crawls along the bottom of the pond out of the water onto land.
This is a wonderfully well realized little novelette. The various microscopic organisms are lovingly described by Blish. A kaleidoscopic adventure worthwhile for its sheer inventiveness…
Although a very short short story (which should have been expanded), Watershed examines the bigotry held by the “original form” humans (now a minority) for the other various unusual looking Adapted Men. A spaceship crewed with “original form” humans is sent to Earth –– which has become a desert wasteland –– with seal-like Adapted Men to reintroduce man to the planet. The “original form” humans are faced with the unusual position of watching the home world of the human race being reseeded by Adapted Men.
Considering this story was written in the 50s, the discussion of racism is very admirable. However, Blish should have expanded it substantially. The impact of the reseeding of Earth is too dramatic for this cursory treatment.