By Poul Anderson
Published by Blackstone Audio
Read by Tom Weiner
This starts out as a fairly interesting story. A rabbit, caught in a trap, suddenly starts thinking and manages to think its way out of the trap. Rabbits aren’t the only creatures who are suddenly much more intelligent than they had been, however. All animals start thinking and people suddenly start growing far more intelligent as well. The reasons for this is a mystery at first and not everyone reacts well to having greater intelligence, but the change is a broad and general one and has far reaching effects not only on people but on society as well.
Eventually we learn that sixty-five million years earlier the Earth entered a broad swath of space than inhibited electro-magnetic and electro-chemical reactions, causing the dinosaurs and a lot of other life to die off. It sounds a bit silly now, but in 1953 when the story was written, it was as plausible, I suppose, as a large asteroid impacting the Earth or wide scale volcanic eruptions.
The story is about several people and how they deal with the new world. As I said it was an interesting enough concept, especially since people’s personalities did not change, just their IQ. However, I kept finding myself wondering if the concept was explored deeply enough. I also had trouble understanding how anyone was thinking better with higher intelligence. The people certainly did not behave any more intelligently, unless you count thousands of laborers suddenly quitting so they could go somewhere and think. If they were all that intelligent they should have realized they would starve to death when the money ran out, but then it appears that more intelligent people are the less money is worth.
Well, okay, I suppose they got smart enough to realize that the Federal Reserve Note is backed by nothing at all, although at the time Silver Certificates were still the normal paper money, but as people got intelligent the only use they had for gold and silver was as conductors in electronics. Yeah, I didn’t but that either. With that many people not working and with the economy collapsing (which the author gets right, by the way) there should also been a lot of looting and rioting and demands from the now non-existent government to give the people what they needed to sit around thinking or at least create intellectual work for them to do. That does not happen.
I got the impression that something got edited out of the story because there really was no discussion about how people had changed. We are just told they are more intelligent, but not told how. That part of it all fell flat.
The story also seems to have just ground to a halt. I found the ending unsatisfying although some of the details were predictable. In all, the second half of the book just seems say, ‘You’re not smart enough to get this,” which is decidedly not typical of Poul Anderson.
Tom Weiner read the book fairly well. He did not resort to funny voices although he did fall back on a plethora of accents to delineate the characters, most of which seemed appropriate and may have been the way the author wrote them. I’m not sure as I do not have a copy of this one in print format. However, some of the folksy accents might have contributed to my feeling that the characters were not as smart as they supposedly were, since many of the accents were the sort common in areas where only a few have a decent education. I don’t think the accents would have changed with a sudden increase in intelligence, but making the characters sound uneducated in a story like this also makes them sound stupid.
However, these were not over-the-top accents and in all I found the reading pleasant to listen to.