I can't remember much of this, I read it pre 1992 in the UK. It was either a novella length or a slim book.

What I recall.. Protagonist arrived on a planet, he may have been an envoy or a troubleshooter, I think his role was to get the population to transplant to another world - maybe to demolish the existing one but I'm unsure about that.

The planet has been home, for several generations, to hardy pioneers despite extensive volcanic activity and earthquakes. Their motto, repeated on posters/banners everywhere, is "The old man says dig". (The old man is their name for the planetary leader)

The protagonist learns they spend most of the time basically 'stitching their world together' - I think that phrase was used in the story. They are forever digging out for continent wide concrete reinforcements to the world's crust.

He is stymied when they refuse to transfer to a paradise-like planet that has been chosen for them by the Galactic Council, flat out refusals everywhere. He spends a lot of time trawling inns and taverns to get an understanding of why, then he realises the reason is they're accustomed to this daily battle.

He contacts the Council and then pitches a new proposal to the population, he tells them of another world where life is an even tougher struggle and mocks their prowess on their volcano planet as scratches only compared to the new rough planet.

Stiff necked pride asserts itself and as one they volunteer to take on this harder challenge. Their old man will now say dig harder

  • 1
    Ah well, I almost got it right . Well "the old man says" bit anyways
    – Danny Mc G
    May 9, 2020 at 17:45
  • 1
    I've read it. Your description is sorta right but the fine points about the ending are almost all wrong, from "He is stymied" down
    – Valorum
    May 9, 2020 at 18:07
  • 1
    Long time and perhaps a like story intruding on my memory
    – Danny Mc G
    May 9, 2020 at 20:11
  • 2
    Sounds like a nightmarish game of Lemmings.
    – J. Mini
    May 9, 2020 at 21:58

1 Answer 1


This is The Case of the Perjured Planet by John Baxter and Ron Smith.

For the record, The Old Man doesn't say 'dig', he says 'BUILD'

Signs of the old Napoleon became obvious almost immediately. On a wall he found the tattered fading remains of a poster, dating from the bad old days. It was largely obliterated by later signs but Quist recognised the familiar pattern. There was the face of Marcus Obolensky, ravaged, fissured like old marble, a stern unsmiling mask. The message was simple, in plain black type: The Old Man Says BUILD. Quist looked at the poster and began to understand better what had made Napoleon 6 a habitable planet. The Old Man Says BUILD. It was good press relations, worked out perhaps by a man without training, but good press relations all the same. The figurehead, paternal, demanding, stern but compassionate. If you failed, you had to face the anger of those cold grey eyes. If you succeeded, you might feel that rough hand laid on your shoulder, perhaps even a word of commendation, from the man who, almost single-handedly, had built this world. If the old man said 'Build', you built.

There are mentions of planet-wide constructions of concrete and steel intended to hold continental plates together

The fissure was interesting, but other things about it were more interesting still. Now that the initial shock was over, he noticed that the crack was more than just the memento of a giant earthquake. About fifty feet down the side of the opposite cliff, he saw a buttress jutting from the rock. It leaped out over the abyss, presumably connecting up with his side of the crack. Moving closer to the edge, he saw another buttress, and then more, a string of them regularly spaced all along the cliff. Quist recognised their use, though he had to look to find a name. They were sutures, stitches of iron and concrete strong enough to hold a world together.

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