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A very long time ago, I checked out a book from a library. It was 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg. One of those short-shorts is "Present Perfect," by Thomas F. Monteleone. (First published in 1974.) The viewpoint character is the editor of a science fiction magazine, currently wading through the "slush pile." (Meaning a collection of unsolicited manuscripts, mostly from people whom the editor has never heard of before, and who seem to think they have come up with an Exciting New Idea in science fiction when they really haven't.)

Here are the opening paragraphs of that tale:

William Rutherford sat in his den, lit a cigarette, and opened another manila envelope. He pulled out the self-addressed stamped envelope, threw it on the desk, and looked at the manuscript that was included with it. He smiled as he saw the familiar slush pile title:

Paradise Lost

by

Rudolph Muir

Taking a drag on his cigarette, Rutherford read the first three paragraphs, figured out the entire story, and turned to the last page to read:

The smoldering wreckage of the once-gleaming starship lay in a twisted pile deep within a lush jungle. The man struggled to his feet and wandered away from it sweating profusely. Several agonizing minutes passed while he imagined that everyone else in the colony ship had been killed by the crash. Suddenly he saw movement within the twisted metal. A hand! Someone was climbing out! The man rushed up to the hand and pulled it out and was surprised to see that it was connected to a beautiful blonde.

"Oh, thank you," she said, pulling her torn jumpsuit up over her swollen breasts.

"That’s all right," he said. Then, after a pregnant pause, he added: "I guess we’re the only ones left."

The blonde cast a furtive glance about the hostile environs and nodded nervously. He looked at her appreciatively, smiled and said: "By the way, what’s your name?"

She looked up at him and a little smile danced upon her full lips. "Eve," she said.

Rutherford stamped out his cigarette and reached for another rejection slip. Not another one. Won’t these guys ever learn? He checked off one of the most frequently used parts of the slip (the one which said: "—To you this may seem original, but to our readers the story is old hat.") and placed it with the manuscript in the self-addressed stamped envelope for its safe return to the author.

I was very young at the time, and this was my first contact with the idea that a plot building up to the surprise twist that "this story actually happened thousands of years ago, and some of the characters survived to become 'Adam and Eve, our ancestors!'" had already been done in science fiction... and not just once or twice, but done to death!

I recently had cause to ask another question on here, trying to identify an old comic book story that used the same surprise twist. But then I got thinking: Just how old is this plot twist? Who started the ball rolling so that it could become a Venerable Cliché of the genre?

So, to make the question more detailed than what I could put into the title of this post, here's the Official Version of what I want to know:

The Question: What was the first published science fiction story which had the plot building up to the revelation that a couple of the characters were going to be remembered by their posterity as "Adam and Eve, progenitors of modern humanity," with some sort of "scientific" explanation being offered for how they came to be stranded, somewhere on Earth, thousands of years ago? (As opposed to any story which pretty much sticks to the notion that God miraculously created each of them with a wave of His hand, as described in Genesis.)

And before you try to answer that, please take a minute to examine my "ground rules" regarding what doesn't fit within my parameters.


What I Don't Want!

  1. Stories clearly set in our future, in which something similar to the "Adam and Eve must be fruitful and multiply" scenario happens "all over again," but it is crystal-clear that the few survivors are not supposed to literally be the same "Adam and Eve" mentioned in Genesis, and thus are not your ancestors and mine. (Note: I optimistically assume that all participants on this site are human.) However, depending upon the author's whimsy, these survivors may include persons using such names as "Adam" and/or "Eve." Perhaps all but a few human beings (at least, on a given planet) have been killed or rendered infertile by some catastrophic event, such as a nuclear war, a pandemic plague, an alien attack that destroyed Planet Earth, or something similar — but none of those would fit my criteria.

    Examples include Charles L. Harness's "A New Reality," Damon Knight's very cynical "Not With a Bang," and probably any number of postapocalyptic stories which have played around with such themes as "The Last Man on Earth is frantically looking for the Last Woman — if one still exists?"

  2. Questions which put a science fiction spin on the "Adam and Eve" story, but the reader is told, right up front, that these characters are named "Adam and Eve." (Or something suspiciously similar.) I don't recall an example, but it may have been done. What I want is a story that tries to be coy about it, until springing the "big surprise" on us in the last page or two.

  3. Stories which qualify as "fantasy" rather than "science fiction." In other words, they tend to deal with the Garden of Eden story in a way which presumes the accuracy of such details as "God," "the Serpent," and "an angel with a flaming sword" having existed as entities possessing supernatural abilities which are not explained away as the results of anything "technological" or otherwise "scientific." Such stories can be very interesting — but I don't really think of them as science fiction.

    Examples: In C.L. Moore's story "Fruit of Knowledge," which I just recently reread, she "plays it straight" in having Adam, and then Eve, be created by the Will of God, with the main viewpoint character Lilith as an uninvited interloper in the Garden who wants to be Adam's mate. (That last part is not found in Genesis, but is mentioned in old Jewish folklore.) On a similar note, long before C.L. Moore's story, Mark Twain wrote "Extracts from Adam's Diary."

  4. Stories in which the whole "Adam and Eve" bit turns out to have been a dream, a drug-induced hallucination, a virtual reality scenario, an old fairy tale which someone is telling to someone else (a parent to a child, for instance) without vouching for its authenticity, or anything similar. (I don't remember a good example, off the top of my head, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone has done it this way! Tell the audience what appears to be a story about "the truth behind the legend of Adam and Eve," and then the main character wakes up and realizes it was all a dream!)

  5. Stories in which we are given some interesting backstory about how the human race (or its evolutionary ancestors) arrived on Earth from somewhere else... a very long time ago... but there is no hint that two of the "first-generation colonists" were called "Adam and Eve" or anything similar, and thus are still remembered today (albeit in a distorted fashion).

    Examples: F.L. Wallace's "Big Ancestor," Larry Niven's Protector, and James P. Hogan's Inherit the Stars.

  6. Stories which work on the assumption that our ancestors have lived on Planet Earth all along... but, long ago, someone else came along and amused himself by tinkering with their DNA, thereby setting in motion a process which would make us develop into the "intelligent and civilized" people that we are today... but there is no mention of "Adam and Eve" (or anything similar) as names which were used by some of the "uplifted" hominids in question, and thus inspired the Biblical account.

    Example: Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  7. Stories that were never professionally published. After all, it is possible that someone will reply to this, telling me that they have a copy of an unpublished manuscript, written by their great-grandfather in the 1920s, which builds up to the surprise twist of "and these two characters were the original Adam and Eve!" It's possible that a hundred people, way back when, each came up with this surprise twist independently, within a few years of one another, for all I know! But if they never managed to sell their story to anyone (such as a magazine editor), then I don't want to be bothered with it. Especially since an unpublished manuscript would not be likely to have a profound impact on thousands of other readers (and authors) of science fiction.


So, now that you've read all of the above, do you have any suggestions regarding which professionally-published science fiction story, by which author, deserves the honor of being remembered as the one that first tried to surprise the typical reader with the revelation that two of the characters are still remembered today as "Adam and Eve"?

  • Would an episode of The Twilight Zone fit through the eye of this needle? – Spencer Feb 7 '17 at 3:36
  • Related trope: Adam and Eve Plot – jwodder Feb 7 '17 at 3:37
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    Also see: Shaggy God story, quoting: Brian Stableford notes in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2nd ed.) that "a considerable fraction" of stories submitted to science fiction magazines feature a male and female astronaut marooned on a habitable planet and “reveal (in the final line) that their names are Adam and Eve." - that's immediately following a quote from 1965 – muru Feb 7 '17 at 3:38
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    A couple things: 1) You've got 2 #3s here. 2) I think the length of this question is probably going to be off-putting and may dissuade answers. If you can be more concise, I think it'd help you. The Shaggy Dog story is so widely known, I don't think 10 paragraphs are necessary to describe it. – user31178 Feb 7 '17 at 3:50
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    @CreationEdge 1) I remember belatedly inserting a new #2 in my draft, and manually changing the old #2 to #3. Then I apparently got distracted, and failed to follow through. (Now corrected, thanks!) 2) When I was trimming a lot of words from my Very Rough Draft, I seriously considered removing the excerpt from "Present Perfect," as well . . . but finally decided to leave it in. If the total length scares off some potential respondents, so that I don't get as many votes and answers as I might otherwise have gotten, I will endure it stoically instead of whining about "why the low turnout?" :) – Lorendiac Feb 7 '17 at 4:02
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1942: "The Cunning of the Beast" by Nelson S.Bond, first published as "Another World Begins" in The Blue Book Magazine, November, 1942. I don't know if it's the earliest, but I think it's a perfect specimen.

The scientist who created the race of dangerous beasts has a suspiciously familiar name:

There has been much disagreeable comment on the case of our late brother, the Yawa Eloem, and we number amongst us many who feel that the punishment meted out to him, severe as it was, still did not exact complete retribution for the evil he loosed in our midst.

Some other suspicious names:

"Nay, these are no children of Kios, O Kron," I cried, "but the beasts—the beasts of the Yawa Eloem, turned like serpents against their masters!"

Great Kron cried loud in his thunderous rage; then turned he to the royal messenger. "Gavril!" he ordered. "Sound now your trumpet all over the land. Bid Eloem here instantly. Mikel, rouse your troops!"

And then I knew the fury of great Kron, for not in a score of centuries had the gleaming troops of Mikel been ordered into action. But without a word the commander of our armed forces turned and sped toward the armory wherein were carefully stored against the hour of need those dreadful weapons which our race holds ever in reserve.

The scientist and his monstrous creatures are exiled into space:

Thus ended the matter of the Yawa Eloem and those beasts which, through the greatness of his wisdom, he undertook to remold as fleshly servants in the image of himself. It is a sad and sickening story, and one I would not tell save that some critics have seen fit to cast aspersions upon the truly noble character of our exiled brother.

So ended, too—so far as our knowledge extends—the existence of the Yawa and his creations. As had been commanded, they were placed within my spacecraft, therein forever banished from fair Kios. Where, when, and how their journey ended, or if ever, I know not. Perhaps they wander still, their craft a tiny mote in the vastness of all-swaddling space. Perhaps somewhere they met cruel ending in the flaming heart of a star. Perhaps—and this I hope—they found somewhere a planet and upon it made a new home.

The names of the creatures are not mentioned till the end (not that they will come as a big surprise to anyone who is familiar with the original Adam and Eve story):

So—they are gone, the Yawa Eloem and they whom he created: the male to whom he gave the name A-dam the she who was called Eve. Yet mourn I my exiled brother, and ever is my soul sick within me when I think on that which overthrew him—

Oh, the cunning—oh, the dreadful, dreadful cunning of the beasts . . .

Update: "Evolution's End"

M. A. Golding has suggested Robert Arthur's 1941 short story "Evolution's End" as an earlier example of an Adam-and-Eve science fiction story. In fact, I considered "Evolution's End" before submitting "The Cunning of the Beast" as my answer, but I decided that it didn't meet the requirements of the question, for the following reasons.

For one thing, it violates #2 by naming the main characters in the first paragraph:

Aydem was pushing the humming vacuum duster along the endless stone corridors of the great underground Repository of Natural Knowledge when Ayveh, coming up quietly behind him, put her hands over his eyes.

I claim that it also violates #1 by being set in our future.

1. The "Masters" who rule the world at the beginning of the story have evolved big heads, as in many science fiction stories of the far future:

To an untrained eye, all Masters looked much alike—a great, globular head set upon a small neckless body, the neck having disappeared in the course of evolution of the great head, so that the weight might be better rested on the stronger back and shoulder muscles.

2. The saber-tooth tiger has been extinct for "uncounted years":

"The saber-tooth tiger," Dmu Dran said. "When it reigned on this Earth uncounted years ago, it was master of Aiden, the world above, a scourge feared and hated by all other animals. For many thousands of years it grew more and more powerful, its dominance contested by few. By its great teeth it was known—terrible weapons for rending and tearing its prey. But in the end it ceased to be. Why did a beast like that, which no natural enemy could oppose, die, think you?"

3. The first Master, ten thousand years before the time of the story, had a normal present-day name:

"There"—and Dmu Dran, with one short arm, indicated a figure as tall as Aydem, but differing from the one just before it in that its head was half again as large—"there is the first of the Masters. A mutant, with a brain-weight double anything ever known in man before. John Master, his name was, and it was appropriate. For in the last ten thousand years, all humankind save slaves have been his descendants—not men now, but Masters. I have often speculated upon the chance that saw him born, and wondered if, had he never been conceived and brought to issue, the human species might not have turned in quite another direction."

4. I'm reading the story in the anthology Adventures in Tomorrow edited by Kendell Foster Crossen. The stories are arranged chronologically and divided into sections:

ATOMIC AGE—1960 A.D.–2100 A.D.
GALACTIC AGE—2100 A.D.–3000 A.D.
STELLAR AGE—3000 A.D.–10,000 A.D.
DELPHIC AGE—10,000 A.D.–1,000,000 A.D.

"Evolution's End" is at the beginning of the Delphic Age section.

  • "Adam and no Eve" by Alfred Bester, Astounding September, 1941 is not, repeat NOT, a earlier example than "The Cunning of the Beast". But I have to wonder if its title and topic are only inspired by Genesis or possibly partially inspired by earlier examples of the Adam and Even trope. – M. A. Golding Feb 8 '17 at 19:57
  • @M.A.Golding Bester's "Adam and No Eve" may well have been inspired by earlier science-fictional Adam-and-Eve stories, but it seems to me that most such stories are, like Bester's, set after some future catastrophe. – user14111 Feb 8 '17 at 22:42
  • "Adam and no Eve" doesn't fit the criteria given, but it's not set after a future catastrophe. "And with glazing eyes, Stephen Crane smiled up at the stars [...]Stars that had not yet formed into the familiar constellations, nor would they for another hundred million centuries." – cometaryorbit Feb 11 '17 at 5:40
  • @cometaryorbit I figured that passage was just Bester not making sense. It's not set on our planet either, if he means our familiar constellations. And naming a character Stephen Crane in a story set ten billion years ago (without time travel) is also kind of silly. Like having a Luke in Star Wars. – user14111 Feb 11 '17 at 6:28
  • @user14111: the name is probably just translation convention, like the characters speaking English. I think it is our planet, and the last sentence means that the constellations don't look like ours yet because the stars move over time. Disregarding that the Earth isn't 10 billion years old (quite possible that's a conversion mistake and Bester meant 1 billion - the fossil record was thought to begin with the Cambrian back then), most of the constellations IIRC wouldn't be recognizable even 1 million years ago. – cometaryorbit Feb 13 '17 at 8:39
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"Adam and no Eve" by Alfred Bester, Astounding Astounding September, 1941 is not, repeat NOT, a earlier example than "The Cunning of the Beast". But I have to wonder if its title and topic are only inspired by Genesis or possibly partially inspired by earlier examples of the Adam and Eve trope.

According to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction article "Adam and Eve" the earliest SF sort story with this trope may be Robert Arthur's "Evolution's End" April 1941 Thrilling Wonder Stories involving protagonists Aydem and Ayveh.

It also mentions George Babcock's Yezad: a Romance of the Unknown (1922) - available online here). However, the article does not describe the plots in sufficient detail to be certain that either story totally fits the trope.

And the review in this site indicates that "Evolution's End" probably qualifies for the trope:

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    If it's available online, why don't you read it and report back whether it fits the trope or not? – Valorum Feb 8 '17 at 21:03
  • I looked at "Evolution's End* too (since it's earlier than "The Cunning of the Beast" but I decided that it was set in the future so it didn't qualify. But maybe I skimmed it too quickly. I'll look at it again. – user14111 Feb 8 '17 at 21:37
  • I have edited my answer to include an explanation of why I rejected "Evolution's End". – user14111 Feb 8 '17 at 22:43
  • Quickly skimming Yezad, I see that the Moon and Earth were colonized from Mars, but I don't see any Adam or Eve characters, and no parallels to the Genesis account. I may have missed something. – user14111 Feb 8 '17 at 23:24
  • I considered posting the Bester story, but decided it does not fit the trope, since there is definitely no Eve, and Adam is dead. – Organic Marble Feb 9 '17 at 2:35

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