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Literature / The Ugly Little Boy

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First published as "Lastborn" in Galaxy Science Fiction (September 1958 issue), by Isaac Asimov, this Novelette was quickly republished in Galaxy's UK, French, and Italian issues (in November 1958). The title was changed by Dr Asimov.

Edith Fellows enters Stasis One with a plan to help Timmie, then has a Flashback to when she was offered the job at Stasis Incorporated to explain How We Got Here.

Dr Gerald Hoskins runs Stasis Incorporated, and interviewed Miss Fellowes because he needed someone that loved children and understood complex physiological and chemical processes. The company has been manufacturing Chronoscopes by analyzing mesons and building Time Machines in preparation for this grand experiment; they will take a child from forty thousand years ago.

Miss Fellowes immediately takes charge of the scientists and gets the boy cleaned, dressed, and fed. Over the next three years, she sings, teaches, and begins to love the boy despite her professional approach. After an incident where Timmie fights with Dr Hoskins' son, she decides that she needs to rescue Timmie from Stasis, catching up to the opening.

Dr Hoskins has come to a similar decision, and was preparing to send Timmie back to the past that night. Unable to take Timmie with her into the present day, Miss Fellowes deactivates the Stasis bubble and goes to the past with Timmie.

This story was adapted into an episode of Classics Dark and Dangerous in 1977 directed by Barry Morse and Don Thompson. In 1989, Tor Books published it as #9 in their Double-Sided Book series, with The Widget The Wadget And Boff on the opposite side. In 1992, this story was adapted into a novel co-written with Robert Silverberg. In addition, "The Ugly Little Boy" was republished twenty times, including eight of Dr Asimov's collections: Nine Tomorrows (1959), The Best Science Fiction Of Isaac Asimov (1986), Robot Dreams (1986), Other Worlds Of Isaac Asimov (1987), The Asimov Chronicles Fifty Years Of Isaac Asimov (1989), The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990), Die Asimov Chronik Die Vierte Generation (1991), and Foundations Friends Stories In Honor Of Isaac Asimov (1997).

"The Ugly Little Boy" provides examples of:

  • 10,000 Years: At the start of the story, the furthest back that Stasis can look is prehistorical times, and this is often referred to as "more than ten thousand years". It's a big celebration when they can finally target someone in the fourteenth century AD.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: This work could be recreated at nearly any time, since the advanced technology is mostly fancy sci-fi sounding words. There's blink-and-you'll-miss-it references to a Mars landing, telenews, and pocket-viewing-plates. The major tech-level change is the Time Travel that Stasis Incorporated provides, which is leading the field.
  • Advertising by Association: For the Tor Double-Sided Book, the Tagline also credits Dr Asimov as the author of Prelude to Foundation, which he had first published the year before.
  • Affectionate Nickname: When surprised by the reporters, Nurse Fellowes immediately names and nicknames the titular neanderthal boy. His name is Timothy, but throughout the story, she calls him Timmie.
  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: When the Time Travel research company starts, the most recent time period they can access is caveman times, and they pull a child "forward" into Stasis. The child himself looks ugly because of the differences between modern humans and neanderthals.
  • Billed Above the Title: For the Tor Double-Sided Book, Dr Asimov's name is printed as large as the title itself and above everything except "Tor double no. 9".
  • Chronoscope: Dr Hopkins and Stasis Incorporated use mesonic intertemporal detection to "see" the past. It works by sending meson particles backwards into time and analyzing the way they're reflected. It doesn't create clear pictures, but it's a necessary component to their Time Machine.
  • Contemporary Caveman: A neanderthal child has been brought "forward" to our time thanks to Time Travel experiments done by a research organization.
  • Dated History: One of the first complete neanderthal skeletons discovered is that of a male with a twisted, bent spine, a wasted lower jaw, and a pronounced hunchback. Archaeologists assumed this was a typical neanderthal skeleton, extrapolating them as hunchbacked, chinless knuckle-draggers. In this story, Timmie is described as a younger version of this overall shape, unable to quite master an American English accent because of a difference in his mouth structure. Later skeletons, however, showed that the original was atypical, being over sixty years old; suffering from severe arthritis and bone wastage. Current theory suggest that a neanderthal would likely look very similar to a modern human.
  • Double-Sided Book: Tor Books double-sided book series: #9 is The Ugly Little Boy and The Widget The Wadget And Boff.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Timmie, the titular character, is a Neanderthal youth scooped out of the past and kept in a suite of rooms specially "time-shielded". Bringing him fully into the present would require the expenditure of a mass-equivalent amount of energy proportional to the distance he traveled in time. The various rooms of different time-shielded artifacts are constantly costing energy because of air from the past escaping into the present (the present-day air heading into the past isn't costing energy).
  • Exactly Exty Years Ago: From context, it's clear that Dr Hopkins is using round numbers because the system Stasis Incorporated uses to choose a target in time isn't precise enough. Timmie, for example, is said to come from forty thousand years ago, and they're initially unable to "see" anything closer than 10,000 Years.
  • Frazetta Man: The In-Universe portrayal of Timmie by the newspapers is an "ape-boy" to sensationalize stories told to an ignorant public. Averted Trope by the child himself, who is intelligent, learns to speak and read English, and plays with the Director's son, who is roughly the same age.
  • Future Society, Present Values: The lack of any ethics, or any requirement for ethical approval, is shocking—especially given that ethical treatment of research subjects was a very hot topic (due to the disclosures of Nazi experimentation on concentration camp victims just 13 years before the story was written). It's not certain that a Neanderthal would be considered any more of a person than a chimpanzee is, which was probably Dr Asimov's point. Outside of Ms Fellowes and Dr Hoskins, Timmie is known as "ape-boy" rather than a person.
  • How We Got Here: The story opens with Edith Fellowes visiting Timmie for the last time, because she plans to save his life. Then it goes back three years to when she was first offered a job by Stasis Incorporated.
  • Motherly Scientist: Edith Fellowes was a pediatric nurse before applying for the job at Stasis, Incorporated. She was hired to take care of an experiment; taking a boy from forty thousand years in the past and bringing him to the present. After three years of caring for the boy, bathing him, dressing him, feeding him, helping him sleep, teaching him how to read/write English, naming him, Ms Fellowes has fallen in love with Timmie. The boy, in turn, thinks of her as his mother.
  • Mr. Exposition: Dr Hoskins is both the Director of Stasis Incorporated and the person Miss Fellowes learns the most from. His narrative role is to provide answers, but the way several of these answers are provided round out his characterization and deepen their not romantic relationship.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Miss Fellowes develops a crush on Dr Hoskins, but his wife and family are used to clearly shut down the possibility of a romantic relationship developing. Despite that, Miss Fellowes must struggle with her feelings for him, seeing an ersatz relationship through the way they created Timmie (it was his mathematics and company that "gave birth" to Timmie, while she's been taking care of his physical and emotional needs).
  • One-Word Title: The original title is "Lastborn".
  • Orwellian Retcon: Dr Asimov didn't like the original title, so when given the chance, he changed it back to his Working Title.
  • Secondary Character Title: Both versions of the title refer to Timmie, whose role in the story is to be cared for by Edith Fellowes. The story follows her perspective and actions, her role within Stasis Incorporated as Timmie's caretaker. Usually, we only discover what Timmie is feeling based on what she's telling the other characters.
  • Tagline: "What is the price of one boy's life?" — Tor Books double-book #9, 1989.
  • Technobabble: "Mesonic intertemporal detection"; Dr Hoskins' explaination for their ability to "see" the past and choose what area of time/space they create a bubble of "not time" around to bring forward into the present.
  • Time Machine: Stasis, Incorporated is a business that constructs entire rooms that can pull a cubic volume of matter from the past into the not-present. Any matter that escapes the room/bubble of not-present which originated in the past causes massive power loss, even air.
  • Time Travel: Stasis, Incorporated is a business where a Time Machine is used to move objects and people in a very limited capacity. When they perform the Stasis One experiment with Timmie, that's the nearest to their present-day that they can reach. As their technology gets better, they prepare to replace the Neanderthal experiment with Project Middle Ages.
  • The Watson:
    • Candide Deveney, the science writer of the Telenews, is used to ask questions of Dr Hoskins about the nature of Time Travel in this work. It gives a basic explanation to both Miss Fellowes and the audience.
    • Edith Fellowes, nurse and guardian for Timmie, only knows as much about Stasis, Incorporated, as the audience does. Dr Hoskins offers to guide her on a personal tour of the facility. He explains several of the finer details about the technology, laying the groundwork for some of the events later in the story.

Alternative Title(s): The Ugly Little Boy 1958, Lastborn, The Ugly Little Boy 1989