Space Mowgli (original Russian title: "Малыш", lit. "The Little One") is the seventh novel by the Strugatsky Brothers to be set in the Noon Universe. The English title is obviously a reference to The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.
During a planetary survey, a group of Earth explorers discover a young survivor from a ship that crashed there several years before. He was "adopted" by the planet's non-humanoid natives. The leader of the expedition sees an opportunity to contact the locals (with whom humans are incapable of communicating directly due to vast biological, psychological and sociological differences). Ultimately, the Earthlings are forced to come to grips with the fact that pursuing this goal may be both impossible, and immoral.
Tropes found in the novel:
- After the End: It is hinted that the planet has undergone an explosion of its star. At the end, it is hinted that the planet is kept in this "sterile" state by the aliens themselves. Either way, it was pretty much the end for the most of the planet's life.
- Beneath the Earth: Where the Starfish Aliens live.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Although the ethics of the aliens is never revealed in the book, and although Gorbovsky speculates that rescuing the human baby was a "moral reflex" of a sufficiently ancient civilization, their behaviour is sometimes horrific by human standards. While their alteration of the Little One's body helps him to survive in the hostile environment, they also seem to have changed him for no apparent reasons. They don't seem to have problems with using the Little One as a mere communication device for the other side (something that is a moral dilemma for the humans for the entire book). And they don't hesitate to torture the little boy by making him feel more and more uncomfortable, so that he would ask the humans to leave.
- Cosmic Horror Story: Although the main topic of the novel is certainly the morals of using the boy For Science!, Strugatskys also captured the Lovecraftian feeling of helplessness, incomprehension, and almost supernatural dread that humans felt seeing ancient Starfish Aliens who live by entirely different laws of physics. The same feeling is commonly invoked in other books whenever the humans have to deal with the Wanderers' legacy. On the other hand, this might be a case of Lovecraft Lite, since the Terrans hold their ground pretty well and never lose hope to learn to understand the aliens.
- First Contact: Played with a lot. For example, the Little One does not even recognize the aliens who take care of him as sentient beings or even creatures. He believes that he is alone on the planet.
- Higher-Tech Species: Although the inhabitants of the planet show no signs of an industrial civilization, they are able to understand human physiology on the fly and alter it according to their wishes; they grant the Little One the ability to fly; and they are capable of reading and influencing his mind, and, to a lesser degree, even the minds of the human researchers.
- Homeworld Evacuation: It is mentioned in passing that the whole reason Terrans came to Ark was because they were looking for a planet to accommodate the Human Alien refugees from Panta, a planet whose sun was about to explode.
- Inscrutable Aliens: The Ark Megaforms, though they do attempt to communicate with humans via the title character.
- Mad Scientist: Kamov, to some degree
- Motherly Scientist: Mayka
- Raised by Natives
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?