Plot Details/Summary

I'm afraid this is going to be one of those longshot questions. I remember reading this story, but I can only recall a few details.

The setting is a new world in which human beings, now capable of FTL travel, have settled. I believe the protagonist is a male, and he has a love interest as well.

The basic plotline is, soon after the first colonist from the ship begin living on the planet, strange mutations begin taking place. People are becoming brute-like, and (IIRC) are reverting to earlier states of evolution. I remember the protagonist, fearing contagion or some other planet-borne threat, orders the remaining colonist and crew to stay aboard the ship, which is still in orbit. His love interest is one of the people ordered to stay aboard.

The revelation that comes late in the story is that it is not the new planet that is causing the mutations. It's far worse than that. It is that Man has reached the end of his evolutionary possibilities. Not just on the colony world, but aboard the ship, back on Earth, and on every other planet, spaceship, etc. where human beings are. Some deep genetic trait in all human beings has been tripped, and it's humanity's inescapable collective fate to de-evolve back into its primate roots.

I recall a line near the end of the story where the protagonist realizes no one aboard the orbiting ship is capable of operating the vessel anymore, and no more people could come down to the surface. Not that it would make a difference.

Publication Details

I think this one came out in the 1970s or 1980s. I read in a sci-fi mag of some sort, I'm almost 100% certain of that. Can't remember anything else about it, unfortunately. Again, this one is going to be a longshot.

2 Answers 2


Pretty good odds that you're looking for "The Locusts" by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. First published in Analog in 1979.

But I don't believe FTL was involved. It was a sleeper ship of some kind

You might recall one couple cheating a little on the timing of being permitted to conceive. The children are being born as primitive hominids, and there is initially a thought that the sleep process might be at fault somehow. For practical reasons the children are eventually brought up in a common space. Eventually the first of the colonist's grandchildren arrives and is also of the primitive phenotype.

Hope for a fix is extinguished when the colonists receive a radio message appraising them that the same thing is happening on Earth and elsewhere.

In the end

One of the colonists loads the children into a flying vehicle and takes them into the wilderness away from the colony to start their new life.

The title is a reference to a metaphor one of the characters makes to explain the change

To the way some grasshoppers transform into locust under environmental stress, spread far and wide then revert to their usual form. That is it is homo sapiens that is the 'locust' form, and their progeny are the standard lot of humans.

This makes the story, to my mind, even more disturbing than it is to start with.

  • This almost certainly is the story I was looking to find. My memory being fuzzy on this one would account for any discrepancies (i.e. I mis-remembered a few things).
    – Helbent IV
    Aug 15, 2017 at 19:30
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    Is that real? Can grasshoppers change like that?
    – Danny Mc G
    Aug 16, 2017 at 2:05
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    @Danny3414 Well, the author's may have taken some liberties in the character's understanding (in particular I'm not sure a biologist would describe a locust as a grasshopper even in good times), and my recollection is doubtless imperfect on top of that but ... the hugely different behavior and structural differences between good time and poor is certainly a thing. Aug 16, 2017 at 2:17
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    @dmckee The Wikipedia page on "Locusts" starts out by categorizing them as "certain species of short-horned grasshoppers in the family Acrididae that have a swarming phase." In other words, it seems that locusts are a subset of the larger group known as grasshoppers.
    – Lorendiac
    Aug 16, 2017 at 2:25
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    Hmm. Learn something every day. Aug 16, 2017 at 2:29

It could be a story titled 'Moon of Mad Atavism' mentioned by Brian Aldiss in the introduction to Section 2 of his Perilous Planets anthology:

... The story was entitled, with commendable reserve, 'Moon of Mad Atavism'. The crew jumps on to the surface of (I recall) the Moon, and sniffs the air. There is some nasty gas in it; it is very much worse than Earth's. The villain (if memory serves, the crew consisted of hero, heroine, mad scientist, and villain) begins to turn into animal form, finally ending up as a Tyrannosaurus Rex - in which state it is killed by the hero just before it rapes and/or eats the girl and/or mad scientist. The 'explanation' (my recollection is hazy, but not all that hazy) was that the gas in the air caused human beings to revert along the evolutionary path to their primitive beginnings.

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