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The First Men by Howard Fast

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“The First Men” is a 1960 science fiction novelette by Howard Fast. It is about a group of gifted children, raised in a controlled environment, who evolve into super humans.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

Redwoods“The First Men” is a story in two parts. The first part is an exchange of letters between Harry Felton, a man living abroad, and his sister Jean, a child psychologist living in the United States. Through their exchanges we learn that Jean and her husband have received a grant for a project to raise high IQ children in an absolutely free and loving environment. The goal is to create super humans (“man-plus”) who are intellectually and physically superior to current humans. So begins the project.

In part two we see Harry again after 18 years – this time chatting with some military big-wigs. The information he discovers about his sister’s project astounds and frightens everyone – but he’s not sure there is much to be done about it!

How shall I tell you of an American Indian boy, five years old, composing a splendid symphony? Or of the two children, one Bantu, one Italian, one a boy, one a girl, who at the age of six built a machine to measure the speed of light? Will you believe that we, the adults, sat quietly and listened to these six year olds explain to us that since the speed of light is a constant everywhere, regardless of the motion of material bodies, the distance between the stars cannot be mentioned in terms of light, since that is not distance on our plane of being? Then believe also that I put it poorly. In all of these matters, I have the sensations of an uneducated immigrant whose child is exposed to all the wonders of school and knowledge. I understand a little, but very little.

If I were to repeat instance after instance, wonder after wonder–at the age of six and seven and eight and nine, would you think of the poor, tortured, nervous creatures whose parents boast that they have an IQ of 160, and in the same breath bemoan the fate that did not give them normal children? Well, ours were and are normal children. Perhaps the first normal children this world has seen in a long time. If you heard them laugh or sing only once, you would know that. If you could see how tall and strong they are, how fine of body and movement. They have a quality that I have never seen in children before.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • This story takes an idea that seems plausible (haven’t we all heard that only 10% of our brain is being used?) and builds a very interesting story out of it.
  • The constant references to scientific studies of children is fascinating – whether they are true or not.
  • If you enjoy secretive “cold war” stories about classified military experiments then you will enjoy “The First Men”.

• The bad:

  • This isn’t an action packed story – it is about a scientific experiment. It doesn’t get less action than that!
  • If you are easily offended by the “liberal” idea of children living in an *absolutely* free environment, then maybe you should skip this one. C’mon – a group of children allowed to do anything they want? Use your imagination here!

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 17
• Word Count: 11,403

Where you can find “The First Men”:

  • This novelette first appeared in the February 1960 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
  • “The First Men” is included in several collections – but they all seem to be outdated and unavailable. If you are really interested you can see a list of them at the Author Wars website.
  • You can read a free online version of this story at Steve Trussel’s Howard Fast web site.

Some Interesting Links:

  • You may ask yourself “Who in the world is Howard Fast?” I did. It turns out that he was a fairly popular writer, especially during the 1940’s and 50’s. You can learn more about him at Wikipedia.
  • Oh, and Howard Fast wrote a little novel you may have heard of – Spartacus!

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Ender’s Game, about an eleven year old boy who is drafted to command other kids in a very important military game, by Orson Scott Card.

Special thanks to one of my readers, A. Kaplan, for recommending this great story! If you have any ideas for science fiction short story reviews be sure to send me a note!