7

I once read a story in which the protagonist observes an experiment in which rats, held in a cage, are allowed to reproduce without restraint. When the population density among the rats crosses a certain threshold, the rats begin to kill and/or eat each other. This animal experiment is likened to human behavior by the characters in the story. The setting of the story was contemporary.

What is that story?

I read that story in the 1980s or early 90s. I thought it was by Stanislaw Lem, but haven't found anything there, yet.


The original (real life) experiments are these, I believe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_sink

  • This story was told by the bad guy in Skyfall when James Bond was tied up. I would give the YouTube link but I'm blocking YouTube. – Chloe Apr 12 '16 at 8:34
  • OMG Calhoun worked at NIMH! The Secret of NIMH! – Chloe Apr 12 '16 at 8:39
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    Was it a science fiction or fantasy story? – user14111 Apr 12 '16 at 8:43
  • @user14111 It was not fantasy. – user30564 Apr 12 '16 at 10:39
  • @Chloe The story I read was not a movie, and Skyfall was filmed after I read that story. – user30564 Apr 12 '16 at 10:40
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There may be a number of stories fitting this description, it doesn't sound like an uncommon theme to me. Here is one possibility.

The Rodent Laboratory by Charles Platt.

It concerns a large experiment in an isolated research centre:

Harris stood on the catwalk in the darkened chamber, leaning against the railing, staring down into the brightly lit test area below him. The rats were in one of their more active states: brown shapes wriggled and scuttled over the thinly-sanded flooring. A group of them huddled round the feeding troughs, jostling for the best position. A male chased a female into one of the breeding hutches. A mother crouched in one corner of the enclosure, suckling young rats only two or three days old, baring her fangs at any intruder. The population had increased now to the point where there was no longer any room in the hutches for females to rear their young.

The test area is viewed from behind one-way glass:

    On duty in the observation chamber that evening, Harris sat in the darkened room with Carter, watching and noting developments as they occurred. The silence in the place was overpowering. Under the one-way glass, the rats scuttled about, oblivious of the men watching in the darkened area above.

The rats indulge in cannabalism depite there being ample food.

"Some of the mothers have eaten their young straight after the birth..."

    "Look," he said, suddenly animated, "the large one, there, by the feeding trough." As they watched, the large rat threw itself at a smaller one, dragging it by the neck, kicking up the sanded flooring. It bit viciously, and the smaller one twitched and lay still. The large rat eagerly seized its place at the trough.
    "Interesting," he said. "That's been happening more and more often. Wait, now. Here come the scavengers." Thin, nervous-looking rats sidled up to the corpse of the victim and began dragging it away, chewing at it.

The experiment has parallels in the human world of the research establishment.

"You can tell me how I fit nine people into eight rooms. There are two new shorthand typists here, for report work, I suppose. There are several journalists from the science magazines, who'll have to stay overnight. More additions to the lab staff ... Philip, who's been bringing all these people here? We're overcrowded enough as it is."

Eventually:

The rats manage to establish some sort of hive mind and engineer their escape.

  • That sounds a lot like what I remember, especially the darkened chamber and the brightly lit experiment. I remember it behing behind glass, but may be mistaken. A difference to my memory is that in my memory the state of the experiment was more advanced, with a much denser population, and the rats no longer wriggling on the floor, but writhing all over eath other. And the protagonist didn't describe so much individual behavior (mothers, feeding trough, biting etc.) but rather a general state of aggression and cannibalism. But that might be my memory only remembering the most striking aspects. – user30564 Apr 12 '16 at 10:59
  • @what I've added a bit more with a description of the test area. One thing to bear in mind is that the story does not appear to have been widely anthologised. You might want to check the covers at isfdb to see if they ring any bells. – Fruitbat Apr 12 '16 at 11:08
  • Thank you, @Fruitbat. Now that you added the glass, I'm almost certain. No, the covers don't ring a bell, but I have read many anthologies, quite a few edited by Moorcock, and I also might have read a translation of the story published in a non-English magazine or anthology (I'm not a native English speaker). – user30564 Apr 12 '16 at 11:56
1

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner, about an over populated earth, has a section that talks about the rat experiment, along with some really interesting discussion of our ability to abstract our need for space to privacy or belongings instead. And running amok when that fails. But it's only a brief section in a long book.

  • We already have an accepted answer on this, but it is useful to mention others that might match so that people can find it during searches. – FuzzyBoots May 3 '16 at 16:59
  • Thank you, @gervase. Do you remember if in Brunner's book there is a scene where the protagonist witnesses the experiment and how the situation, where he witnesses it, is described? (See my comments to the other answer for the details I am looking for.) – user30564 May 4 '16 at 6:29

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