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Literature / Green Patches

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It was a loveable little creature, anxious to help solve the troubles of the world. Moreover, it had the answer! But what man ever takes free advice?
—Introduction in Galaxy Science Fiction

First published under the name "Misbegotten Missionary" in Galaxy Science Fiction (August 1942 issue), by Isaac Asimov. This is a Science Fiction Short Story about an alien Hive Mind that wants to help humanity (and all living things) join their collective. It was also printed in the first French issue of the magazine, Galaxie Science Fiction (#1 issue, November 1953).

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The story begins In Medias Res; our Villain Protagonist has made it aboard the ship and is trying to hide himself. The story changes perspective every so often, between the little alien missionary disguised as a wire and the humans aboard ship. Both the humans and the alien reflect on the activities of the other lifeforms on the ship, presenting contrasting views.

Two of the humans discuss Saybrook's Planet and the planet's namesake. Meanwhile, the stowaway from the planet replaces some inactive wiring and contemplates how desperately the "life fragments" need to be part of a unified society, one where everything works in blissful unity. If the stowaway manages to reach Earth, it has the totipotent ability to convert all life there into a single organism with a unified consciousness — and green patches of fur instead of eyes.

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Outside of the original Pulp Magazine, this story has been reprinted several times, and Isaac Asimov would include it in five of his collections/anthologies; Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), Isaac Asimov Presents The Golden Years Of Science Fiction Sixth Series (1988), The Asimov Chronicles Fifty Years Of Isaac Asimov (1989), Die Asimov Chronik Robot Ist Verloren (1991), and The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1991).


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"Green Patches" provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: This story takes place in a future with casual Faster-Than-Light Travel, where a scientific expedition can be launched to a quarantined world.
  • Assimilation Plot: The Hive Mind of Saybrook's Planet wants to infect every lifeform it comes across. New organisms infected with the "unified life" have a pair of green patches that allows it to communicate to the rest of the lifeforms.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: Lifeforms on Saybrook's Planet have tufts of green hair-like structures on their surface, which allow them to sense the interconnections that link all life forms on their world into one vast gestalt consciousness. Earth organisms — everything from bacteria to the next generation of animals — develop these same green patches in place of eyes if exposed to Saybrook biota.
  • Bizarre Alien Sexes: The Saybrook organism doesn't understand sexual dimorphism because they can always reproduce asexually, and impregnate anyone capable of gestation and cellular reproduction with their Telepathy. As far as the Saybrook lifeform is concerned, the ship's lifeforms can be divided into sterile ones and life producers.
  • Deflector Shields: The research ship set up a barrier as part of the system to prevent Saybrook's Planet lifeforms from gaining access to the ship. The story kicks off when, unknown to the humans, one of the creatures did get through.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: The lifeforms of Saybrook's Planet are able to telepathically induce pregnancy in any lifeform capable of reproduction (including asexual and females of sexually dimorphic species). This ability also ensures a hybrid organism will gestate that possess the same green patches that allows Saybrook lifeforms to use Telepathy. (These patches are how Captain Saybrook identified the Assimilation Plot in the first place.)
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: While the human characters are given some reasonable descriptions, the ship itself could be any shape, colour, or size, and this problem extends to the interior as well.
  • Genius Loci: Every organism on Saybrook's Planet, from the lowest bacterium to the most advanced terrestrial animal, is merely a part of a single, amalgamated mind. (Referred to in the story as "unified life").
  • Hive Mind: The organisms of Saybrook's Planet have green patches that grants Psychic Powers. Their Telepathy is used to facilitate a Genius Loci where life has formed a global organism that lives in blissful cooperation with everything else.
  • Men Are Generic, Women Are Special: The alien creature from Saybrook's Planet uses masculine pronouns to refer to himself, although there's really no explanation as to why he might identify with one gender/sex over another.
  • The Namesake:
  • Naming Your Colony World: The planet is named after Captain Saybrook, not just because he discovered it, but because he was willing to sacrifice his ship and everyone aboard to prevent the Assimilation Plot of the planet from reaching Earth.
  • Obliviously Evil: The Saybrook lifeform intends to assimilate all Earth life into a Hive Mind like itself, but it genuinely believes it's doing us a favor — it literally can't understand the value of individuality, and wonders to itself how "fragments" can stand their isolation. From its point of view, it's saving us, despite our own irrational fear and inability to understand the gift it offers.
  • Orwellian Retcon: When this story was first published, the editor of Galaxy Science Fiction decided to change the name to "Misbegotten Missionary". Since Isaac Asimov didn't like the name, he changed it for inclusion in his Nightfall and Other Stories.
  • Starfish Aliens: All of the aliens encountered here share a Hive Mind which can design parts of itself to look like anything, including pieces of wire, and which is desperate to incorporate life on Earth into itself.
  • Telepathy: The life on Saybrook's Planet have evolved green patches that allow it to sense the minds of other living things. From the "little multipliers in the darkness" (bacteria) and "the non-movers, which, [...] were green and lived on the air, water, and soil" (plants), to "moving runners" (mice and hamsters) and "keen-thinkers" (humans).
  • Villain Protagonist: Half of the story is told from the perspective of a a Saybrook organism that was genetically engineered to match the appearance of insulated wires.

Alternative Title(s): Misbegotten Missionary

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