Looking for the name of a science fiction story that I read around 2001. I think it was part of an anthology.

From what I remember there were some astronauts that went to a planet and everyone there looked very similar (if not the same). Maybe they all had red hair and similar skin tone but retained some different bone structure. I think the people were either colonists or from a previous mission that landed there. Anyway, I think there was some plot device about the astronauts also changing to look similar to the people on the planet.... maybe it was if they removed their helmets they would start to change?

  • I know I've read this one - probably in the Project Gutenberg archives. Will post when I find it
    – Andrew
    Jun 5, 2022 at 16:51
  • 1
    Stuff Things, if your question has been answered to your satisfaction, you can "accept" an answer by clicking on the check mark next to it.
    – user14111
    Jun 5, 2022 at 21:17
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    This sounds very much like a Ray Bradbury short Martian story I have in a collection but annoyingly I can't remember enough to Google Jun 6, 2022 at 13:06

5 Answers 5


Contagion by Katherine MacLean.

From what I remember there were some astronauts that went to a planet and everyone there looked very similar (if not the same)

She addressed a question to the tall colonist on outside sound. "What should a person look like, Mr. Mead?" He indicated her with a smile. "Like you." June stepped closer and stood looking up at him, considering her own description. She was tall and tanned, like him; had a few freckles, like him; and wavy red hair, like his. She ignored the brightly humorous blue eyes. "In other words," she said, "everyone on the planet looks like you and me?" Patrick Mead took another look at their four faces and began to grin. "Like me, I guess. But I hadn't thought of it before. I did not think that people could have different colored hair or that noses could fit so many ways onto faces. I was judging by my own appearance, but I suppose any fool can walk on his hands and say the world is upside down!" He laughed and sobered. "But then why wear spacesuits? The air is breathable."

The description of the faces seems very similar to yours ("Maybe they all had red hair and similar skin tone but retained some different bone structure".)

But each face she looked at was the same. Watching them dissolve and regrow in the nutrient solution, she had only been able to guess at the horror of what was happening. Now she knew. They were all the same lean-boned, blond-skinned face, with a pin-feather growth of reddish down on cheeks and scalp. All horribly—and handsomely—the same.

maybe it was if they removed their helmets they would start to change?

They were looking at Max. June stepped silently out of the tank room, and then turned and went to the airlock. She opened the valves that would let in Pat Mead's sister.

  • I had never heard of this writer before but when she passed away in 2019 she was one of the last of the older generation of sci fi writers, I think. The wikipedia bio has a picture of her and Fritz Leiber in 1952, quite a while a go indeed.
    – releseabe
    Jun 5, 2022 at 18:33
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    She was a great author: check out "Snowball Effect" gutenberg.org/files/50766/50766-h/50766-h.htm
    – Andrew
    Jun 5, 2022 at 19:07
  • If the OP accepts this answer, we can close the question as a duplicate. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/128063/…
    – user14111
    Jun 5, 2022 at 19:56
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    I read this story when I was a kid (and not yet paying attention to authors' names), and it's haunted me (for low levels of haunt) for decades. Thanks!
    – user888379
    Jun 5, 2022 at 20:34

Could it be Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed by Ray Bradbury? Colonists to Mars begin to start acting oddly, and both them and their imported plants and animals begin to change physically.

From Wikipedia:

Strange events begin to affect the life brought as part of the settlement effort, including the seeded grass sprouting purple, the family cow growing a third horn in the middle of its head, and other anomalies with the vegetable garden. Harry's discomfort on Mars increases and the thought of returning to Earth on the next resupply mission soon becomes his only comfort, much to the concern of Cora. This comfort is taken away as Bittering is informed that the war has led to an atomic bomb devastating New York City and destroying the only spaceport capable of supporting travel. Frantically, he begins work on building a rocket to return himself and his family to Earth. As he works on the craft, the colonists themselves soon begin to manifest Martian traits. Harry notices that his own eyes have started to turn gold, and the townsfolk's skin turns to a dark reddish brown

The colonists start referring to themselves with Martian names, and decide to move to Martian settlements in the cooler mountains as the original colony becomes too hot over summer.


[After the war, Earth soldiers] encounter a large Martian settlement in the mountain villas, where the native Martians are pleasant and have a remarkable affinity for English. Convinced they had nothing to do with the original colony's disappearance, the group agrees to attempt a second, larger settlement using the town built by the first.

It's in various collections of his.

  • Interesting that Bradbury's story was published in August 1949 and MacLean's just a year later.
    – shoover
    Jun 6, 2022 at 15:40
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    I miss the days when you could just write "what if we just popped over to Mars and built some huts and started farming" Jun 7, 2022 at 10:58

This sounds something like the Priest's Tale portion of the novel Hyperion by Dan Simmons, where an offworld priest, Father Duré, visits a group of people made up of a remote and isolated colony of people, the Bikura. Over the weeks and months of his time with the Bikura, Father Duré notices that they all appear strangely alike (they had been a human colony, but now appear to be a group of largely featureless, hairless and sexless humanoids).

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    Did they all have red hair, as in the question and in the other answer?
    – user14111
    Jun 6, 2022 at 2:18
  • Are the Bikura the people with the cruciform symbiotes? Jun 7, 2022 at 2:04
  • @AntonSherwood Yes!
    – Lexible
    Jun 7, 2022 at 3:50

The Witch's Gift by Christopher Pike bears some similarities (or vice versa - not sure of publication dates) to "If You Was A Moklin", a short story I've heard dramatised for radio (I believe 'X Minus One'). Can't rememember the author, perhaps Murray Leinster? Fritz Lieber? Clifford D. Simak? It was somewhat humorous, at any rate, and is one of my favourites.

Edit = first published Galaxy Magazine '51, and authored by Murray Leinster


It can also be "The Witch's gift" (1998) - 24th book in series "The Spooksville" by author Christopher Pike.

Internet archive link to the book: https://archive.org/details/witchsgift0000pike

I don't have the book at hand to quote exact wording, but it also included plot like that. It has lots of similarities to those mentioned in question:

  • Astronauts (humans) went to a planet
  • Everyone there (aliens) looked all same
  • Aliens had different bone structure
  • Aliens were colonists (had plan on colonizing earth, and imprisoned one of humans)
  • There was some prominent mention of helmet too, but I cant recall what it was

One difference:

  • Aliens could change to look similar to whoever human they wanted to copy (and not the other way around)
  • This seems to be part of a series, not part of an anthology? Also, can you include some indication of how astronauts started to change to look like the people they meet? That doesn't seem to have much relationship to this story.
    – DavidW
    Jun 6, 2022 at 16:30
  • I have removed the anthology part, I conflated series with anthology. I have included the part of the creatures change their form. Does this help? Jun 6, 2022 at 16:36

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