I remember reading a text on my Fiction course back when I was at the University. It is about a person who chose to undergo trans-species change (I am sure that that is not the term, but I hope you get the idea). His end state is something that resembles a plant. I vaguely remember how it goes, but the man currently is undergoing the procedure. One scene is about how he felt when his feet started growing roots.

Initially, I thought it was Ursula K Le Guin but the comments below made me doubt if I remembered it correctly. Can anyone help me remember the title?

  • 1
    I've read a lot of Le Guin's work but this really doesn't sound like her; she didn't write much about non-humanoids that I recall.
    – Joe L.
    Jun 21 '15 at 1:05
  • Trans-species change is a common theme in Iain M Banks's Culture novels, could it be one of those?
    – Shevek
    Jun 21 '15 at 1:56
  • I might have misremembered it then.
    – gelolopez
    Jun 21 '15 at 2:27
  • 1
    Probably not this one; not by Ursula K. Le Guin, and the guy does not exactly choose to turn into a plant.
    – user14111
    Jun 21 '15 at 2:56
  • @JoeL. She did, however, write about Haleth (Ogion's teacher) turning into SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER. In Tales From Earthsea.
    – Lexible
    Jun 21 '15 at 3:43

I don't remember a Le Guin story on that subject, but Clifford D. Simak wrote a great story on the topic called "Desertion." Maybe that was it?

  • Hello and welcome to SFFSE! Could you please add a little more detail on the story 'Desertion' that you've identified to help the OP determine whether that might be it? Thanks! Jun 21 '15 at 1:39
  • 2
    "Desertion" is a classic, but I don't think that's it, because the end state in "Desertion" does not resemble a plant.
    – user14111
    Jun 21 '15 at 1:48
  • Right, my mistake...the man in the Simak story becomes an animal species, not a plant one. Le Guin did write a story called "Vaster than Empires, and More Slow" in which a man willingly chooses to mentally unite himself with a vast forest, but as far as I recall there was nothing about him actually becoming a plant.
    – jayn
    Jun 21 '15 at 21:03
  • Here's a quote from "Vaster Than Empires and More Slow": ...And before it panicked it had a—there was a serenity. I couldn't take it in, then, I didn't realize how big it was. To know the whole daylight, after all, and the whole night. All the winds and the lulls together. The winter stars and the summer stars at the same time. To have roots, and no enemies. To be entire. Do you see? No invasion. No others. To be whole ..." Look familiar?
    – Joe L.
    Jun 22 '15 at 22:23

This is a partial answer, which I hope someone can flesh-out. I will give what detail I can.

The story you are after sounds like one that I read perhaps as long as 30 years ago. I could have sworn it was by James Blish, but I can’t find it in any of my own Blish collections.

I’m not certain of the initial setup, but I think that it involves a newly-discovered planet, and an explorer helping a young humanoid native to escape from something or someone. The native goes along with this quite happily, I think out of cooperative innocence.

At the climax they are running through some open landscape, which I think must involve crossing a stream or river. The story ends with the native responding to contact with water by coming to a halt and reflexively bending over to grab his own ankles: his body quickly fuses into this new shape. His ‘feet’ do what they were going to do all along, and put down roots. The natural mature stage of his existence is to stop being a mobile ‘animal’ and become a ‘plant’. I suppose his mobile form achieves something a bit like thistledown, and once he reaches a suitable place to germinate (or whatever we should call it) its job is done.

The ‘rescuer’ (or perhaps just the reader, if I have invented this rescue story) suddenly has to realise that he or she was massively misinterpreting an alien life cycle that’s actually fairly straightforward once you have an informed perspective on it. Classic hard-and-soft sf.

  • 1
    I don't know if it's what the OP is looking for, but the story you are thinking of is "Unhuman Sacrifice" by Katherine MacLean, which was identified as the answer to this old question and this one.
    – user14111
    Mar 21 '16 at 9:09
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    @user14111 Thank you! That was driving me mad. Not Blish, then. Even more oddly, it's in the brilliant anthology Spectrum (eds Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest, 1961) that I have been using recently as an example in university lectures... but in wrestling with this question I never made the connection. The lecture thing was about various attempts to accept or promote sf as serious literature, which was Amis's purpose. Your information reminds me of why I had remembered Spectrum as such a significant publishing event in the first place! I haven't read it in years... obviously... Mar 21 '16 at 14:19

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