The Ugly Little Boy
by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg
reviewed by Paula Johanson
The Ugly Little Boy is a novel adapted from the classic short story by the late Isaac Asimov. This is the second such collaboration by Asimov and Silverberg -- the first was Nightfall, adapted from the most popular science fiction story ever written. The third "expanded" story, The Positronic Man, is available in hardcover from Bantam.
It's easy to see why Bantam Books expects these stories to be popular. "The Ugly Little Boy" as a short story was a brief, sensitive look at how science and time travel might affect living people. The novel-length version makes it clear that people who are not scientists might be affected very differently.
Asimov's original short story remains the same. A nurse, Miss Fellowes, is hired by Stasis Technologies, Inc. to care for a child from the past. She calms the frantic boy when he is plucked away from everything he knew, helps him cope with doctors' examinations, and teaches him the things a modern child of three or four would already know. Miss Fellowes has less trouble helping the child she names Timmie learn to dress, keep clean and speak a modern language instead of his own, than the trouble she has getting the Stasis scientists and executive Gerald Hoskins to treat Timmie as they would an ordinary child.
Timmie is a Neanderthal, brought forward from forty thousand years ago.
New to the story is the life of Timmie’s people in Ice Age Europe. This is probably Robert Silverberg’s contribution, and it evokes a hard nomadic life as the People, who have humour and religion and songs, are crowded from their usual range by the Other Ones, who are tall, skinny and flat-faced. Timmie’s Neanderthal people do not really expect the other, ugly people to act like humans. Neither do the Stasis scientists expect Timmie to behave like a real boy. “The child now in our custody has been dead for 40,000 years.”
But Timmie’s nurse sees him as a person; different in looks and abilities perhaps, but human.
Miss Fellowes made sure that everything the boy said was being recorded. It was vital evidence of his intelligence. Let anyone who imagined that the Neanderthals had been mere bestial shaggy half-men listen to Timmie retelling the story of Theseus in the Labyrinth! Even if he did seem to think the Minotaur was the hero of the story.
What really happened when our human ancestors met, Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal, is still being debated by anthropologists and popular writers. It has been suggested that Cro-Magnons were inventive enough to kill off most Neanderthals, and this novel hints at such conflicts. But both Asimov and Silverberg can imagine other possibilities for their engaging story.
Originally published by Under the Ozone Hole Number Seven – March, 1994