Conditionally Human • 1952 • SF novella by Walter M. Miller, Jr.


Summary: The overcrowded world led to family planning policy similar to China’s one-child policy. To satisfy the parental instinct of women, they get “neuts” as a replacement for own children: chimps have been genetically altered in such a way, that they don’t reproduce, stay at some certain age, and don’t consume too much food. Deviations are not to be allowed, and inspectors need to gas them. Some engineer goes rogue and creates such deviations, and the protagonist has to hunt them down. His wife has a different opinion.

Review: Are intelligent animals human? Given the current discussion and changes in regulations (like human rights for gorillas, e.g. in Spain), the novella’s ethical question is very contemporary more than sixty years after the publication. The rest of the story reads more like a historical piece – the protagonist’s wife in a typical role as a house wife; the technological state, e.g. why should stationary phones ever change, as they are already perfect? I’d say the topic would need a re-write to be more enjoyable, as some of the premises and behaviour are a bit hard to swallow nowadays.

Meta: isfdb. Published in Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1952 , revised several times.

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3 Responses to Conditionally Human • 1952 • SF novella by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    Regardless of whether you adored the story or not, I think we can both agree (I hope?) that Walter M. Miller, Jr. has the amazing ability to render complex moral issues. Here, overpopulation and maternal/paternal desire for children, and in “Death of an Astronaut” deathbed self-reflection of an industry (space travel) that uses its workers and isn’t really what the pulp writers envisaged…


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