I'm fairly sure it was in a collection of short stories, possibly a Year's Finest Sci-Fi or some such, but I haven't had any luck tracking it down.

The story takes place on an Earth that somehow has drifted into an area of non-causality, and things no longer make sense to most humans. One eats a lichen of some sort that was growing, and is fine. His companion then eats the same thing and dies horribly.

The only beings that are doing well are those who were somehow adapted / synced to this form or reality, and it's alluded to that they may have been crazy before it occurred.

The story ends with Earth coming OUT of the area, as it witnessed by one of the adapted creatures attempting to simply walk across a huge gap (as they apparently normally can), and instead falling into it, and the humans expressing some degree of happiness that it is their time again.

Off the top of my head, it FEELS kind of like a Jack Vance story, but I've yet to be able to track it down. Any ideas?

1 Answer 1


It is indeed a Vance story. It is "The Men Return" (1957) by Jack Vance.

As you describe, at the beginning the story tells us:

Then came the terrible hour when Earth swam into a pocket of non-causality, and all the ordered tensions of cause-effect dissolved.

Then at the end:

The shrouded sky was gone; the sun rode proud and bright in a sea of blue. The ground below churned, cracked, heaved, solidified. They felt the obsidian harden under their feet; its color shifted to glossy black. The Earth, the sun, the galaxy, had departed the region of freedom; the other time with its restrictions and logic was once more with them.

In between we have the random events you describe including the scene with the lichen:

Temporarily his belly was full. He started back up the crag, and presently found the camp, where the four other Relicts waited - two ancient males, two females. The females, Gisa and Reak, like Finn, had been out foraging. Gisa had brought in a slab of lichen; Reak a bit of nameless carrion. The old men, Boad and Tagart, sat quietly waiting either for food or for death.

The women greeted Finn sullenly. "Where is the food you went forth to find?"

"I had a whole carcass," said Finn. "I could not carry it."

Boad had slyly stolen the slab of lichen and was cramming it into his mouth. It came alive, quivered and exuded a red ichor which was poison, and the old man died.

  • 1
    Ah, hah! I THOUGHT it felt like Vance! Many thanks!
    – K-H-W
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 14:19

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