I read this story online years ago but can no longer find it.

It was written by a scientist in the early 1950s, (it was actually written by an engineer in 1980, please see user14111's response) I believe he was a well-known physicist but I'm not sure about that.

The punchline of the story is when the tribal chief rants at Og (the caveman fire inventor's name is Og, not Ugg as I had thought when I first posted, although there is another character in the story called Ug) that Fire is a dangerous new technology and the effects of this new technology are "unclear". There are several variants of the statement -- fire is a dangerous new technology and the effects are unclear -- in the chief's rant, and the whole story was clearly a send up of the position of the Concerned Scientists Against Nuclear Testing movement of the time. A pun on "nuclear" and "unclear".

The tribe's medicine man also speaks against this revolutionary new tech.

The tribe expels Ugg as a troublemaker and soon after they all freeze to death when the glaciers come.

Before they freeze they paint on a rock "Come Back Ugg, All Is Forgiven" but Ugg never sees this because he has gone down the valley to join the Homo Saps tribe, and stays there happily inventing.

I believe that as he was wandering in the valley he met the inventor of the wheel who was a Sap and that Ugg and the Sap used the wheel and fire to "buy in" to the tribal protection of a nearby Saps tribe. But possibly I may be conflating that with another story by the same author.

We only discover that Ugg's former tribe (one of the pre-dawn man-like species who died out) had ever made the plea because after the ice thaws some stone-age Homo Sapiens travellers see the rock .

The caveman's name may not have been Ugg - it could have been some similar one-syllable name.

I don't agree with the author's position that people who are against nuclear testing are too stupid to live, but I loved the story. It was an extremely funny story and I'd like to trace any other stories by this author too, if possible.

If you know this story and have any link to it, would you include the link in your answer, please? Many thanks for the help.

  • While not directly related, the caveman-fire-nuclear-power analogy remembers me of this scene from the film "Onkalo - into eternity" about nuclear waste: youtu.be/ayLxB9fV2y4?feature=shared&t=1705
    – hitchhiker
    Commented Jun 26 at 21:40
  • Hi hitchhiker Thank you for this fab documentary clip!> As you say it is not related to the story, but it is related to the concept and I found it very powerful, thank you! Commented Jun 27 at 13:17

2 Answers 2


"Neander-Tale", a short story by James P. Hogan, first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1980, available at the Internet Archive. You may have read it in one of these compilations.

The inventor of "artificial fire" is named Og:

"How this could be made safe and why we should bother anyway is still unclear," he told them. "Everything about it is unclear. Anyone who still wants to mess around with unclear energy has to be soft in the head." He turned a steely gaze towards Og. "The penalty for that is banishment from the tribe... forever. The law makes no exceptions." Yug and Ag nodded their mute agreement, while a rising murmur of voices from the tribe signaled assent to the decision.

When the ice age comes, Og's tribe is sorry they kicked him out:

The winter turned out to be a long one—over twenty-five thousand years in fact. When it at last ended and the ice-sheets disappeared, only the Saps were left. One day Grog and Throg were exploring far from home near a place where the Neanderthals had once lived, when they came across a large rock standing beside a stream and bearing a row of crudely carved signs.

"What are they?" Grog asked as Throg peered curiously at the sign.

"They're Neanderthal," Throg said.

"Must be old. What do they say?"

Throg frowned with concentration as he ran a finger haltingly along the row.

"They're like the signs you find all over this part of the valley," he announced at last. "They all say the same thing: OG, COME HOME. NAME YOUR PRICE."

  • Yes, Neander-Tale is the one, thanks very much! Sorry I got the date wrong, I'll edit the Q. Love this story! Commented Jun 24 at 11:25
  • PS Thanks for the compilation. Turns out I read it in The Mammoth Book of Comic Fantasy, thanks again Commented Jun 24 at 12:08
  • You're welcome!
    – user14111
    Commented Jun 24 at 20:45
  • 12
    By the way, story-ID questions commonly have misremembered details. Such discrepancies should be pointed out in the answer, but it is not customary here to edit them out of the question. Nothing wrong with doing so, but it's not required or expected.
    – user14111
    Commented Jun 25 at 2:46
  • thanks for letting me know! Commented Jun 27 at 13:12

Update: user14111's find Neander-Tale is obviously the correct answer and the story I found is just a coincidental match. I'll leave this answer here for interest's sake, but please upvote user14111's answer rather than this.

Memo from the Big Chief by David A. Roach, published in the April edition of Analog 1980.

The story is written as a series of memos. It starts:

TO: Dr. Wugg, Ph .D. Chairman, Department of Research Funding & Systems Development Allocations, LCBCWR
Dear Son,
My office has received an inor­dinate number of complaints from irate citizens who are upset about ex­periments conducted under t he auspices of your department by one Dr. Ugg, a research physicist on sab batical from Little Cave University, who has been working on a new inven­tion which was funded by your depart­ment.
Ugg calls his invention 'fire.' If I've ever seen a more useless discovery, I'd be hard-put to name it.

Although this story does differ from your description in some key ways. It's from 1980 not 1950, and Ugg does defect (one of the memos refers to him defecting) to another tribe, but there isn't anything about Ugg's former tribe being wiped out. There's also no message on a rock. But the story seems too close a match to be a coincidence. Maybe there was a follow up story where Ugg's former tribe got wiped out?

The story doesn't have a word play relating unclear and nuclear, but it's full of tongue in cheek allusions. For example NASA is the National Arrow and Spear Ad­ministration and CIA is the Cave Intelligence Agency.

This is the title page in case it helps jog any memories:


  • Could it be that the OP is conflating two stories and there's some entirely unrelated short story, perhaps from the 1950s, with the unclear/nuclear wordplay? The latter seems too memorable to have been entirely misremembered.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 24 at 10:53
  • 2
    SORRY< I read the Comment-trail wrong. user14111 found the story I was looking for, many thanks user14111. It is called Neander-Tale. Thank you also John Rennie for the charming story Memo from the Big Chief which I have not read but look forward to reading, as it sounds like fun! Commented Jun 24 at 11:38
  • Rand al'Thor, thank you fro your helpful comment. Yes, Neander-Tale is the story I was searching for Commented Jun 24 at 11:41
  • Lumnist archive has a copy: s3.us-west-1.wasabisys.com/luminist/SF/AN/AN_1980_04.pdf Commented Jul 5 at 6:56

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