Recently, I chanced upon Ray Bradbury’s novella, The Creatures That Time Forgot (also published as Frost and Fire) and got immediately and completely hooked on its bizarre story telling.
The story is simple: some years ago, a group of space explorers travelling in rocketships crashed on an inhospitable planet, where the days are too fiery hot and the nights too icy cold for survival. This leaves an hour of dawn and dusk each where life flourishes and humans are able to breathe the air safely. Because of these conditions, the survivors and the subsequent generations live for exactly eight days, their metabolisms in overdrive. As a survival mechanism, they have “racial memory”, where they imbibe the memory of their ancestors from the womb and from their spatial senses. They spend most of the eight days in caves, running free, gathering food and burying their dead on hills during those two bearable hours.
The novel is a fascinating thought experiment on the human nature under such incredible duress—Bradbury compresses the entirety of a person’s life and its multiple stages into this microscopic window of time. Interestingly enough, the people on this planet still experience the (in this context definitely) unnecessary problematics and follies of human nature—pride, jealousy, spite, fear and hope. The novella dubs them ‘creatures’: their lives are so brief and because of their rapid growth, they have to spend every waking moment eating to sustain themselves. They also have to rush during two short hours to collect whatever food they need. The author’s nomenclature of them sets up the expectation that under such pressure, the humanity in human should not matter. Only primal instinct—to eat, drink, mate and survive—should remain. Yet, the many characteristics that supposedly and traditionally set humans apart from animals are still present. Granted, they exist naked and their movements are described almost animalistically, yet the sense of their humanity is still very much there.
The story follows the character of Sim, who is determined since birth to reach an undamaged spaceship on a distant mountain to escape. Yet, the abrupt ending of the story as he finally does so suggests that this spaceship goal of his is but a necessary narrative catalyst to the story. More likely, Sim is the subject through which Bradbury’s though experiment on human nature is fleshed out and expressed.
This novella is an excellent introduction of science fiction as it isn’t too abstracted from normal life; rather, it has a foot in both abstraction and human nature.
As always, happy reading!