by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Dear Patch; Here is my review of Needle and Through the Eye of a Needle by Hal Clement that I wrote for Cubist’s Anthro several years ago. Maybe only one fan in a hundred will take the trouble to track these down, but they’ll probably be glad if they do. Another way of looking at it is that Dogpatch Press will have the only mention of these proto-furry books before there was a furry fiction genre.
Needle, by Hal Clement.
Garden City, NY, Doubleday & Company, March 1950, hardcover $2.50 (222 pages).
Hal Clement, whose real name was Harry Clement Stubbs (1922-2003), often told of how he wrote Needle as the result of a dare. John W. Campbell, Jr., the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, the most prestigious s-f magazine in the 1940s, was given to making lofty pronouncements that were understood by his writers to be dares to disprove them. On one occasion, Campbell had said that it was impossible to write a genuine science-fictional mystery story. Any such would turn out to be a standard mystery with s-f trappings, such as being set in the future or around a superscientific macguffin; but stripped of those elements, it would turn out to be just a standard mystery. Clement wrote Needle, which Campbell conceded was a genuine mystery that could only exist as also a genuine s-f story. Campbell bought it as a two-part serial for Astounding in its May and June 1949 issues.
Needle begins with two spaceships streaking toward Earth. Their alien occupants are, for the reader’s benefit, referred to as the Hunter and the Quarry. They are a jellylike or amoeboid lifeform, used to living inside a larger lifeform in a symbiotic relationship:
“The Hunter was a metazoon – a many-celled creature, like a bird or man – in spite of his apparent lack of structure. The individual cells of his body, however, were far smaller than those of most earthly creatures, comparing in size with the largest protein molecules. It was possible for him to construct from his tissues a limb, complete with muscles and sensory nerves, the whole structure fine enough to probe through the capillaries of a more orthodox creature without interfering seriously with its blood circulation. He had, therefore, no difficulty in insinuating himself into the shark’s relatively huge body.” (p. 15)
The Hunter’s people live within the bodies of animals called perits in a symbiotic relationship evolved on their world over eons. By themselves they look rather like jellyfish, and the Hunter briefly impersonates one on Earth. The metazoons provide the intelligent direction and the perits provide the physical mobility. When the Hunter’s spaceship, pursuing the Quarry, crashes into the South Pacific Ocean, his perit is killed and he is forced to move into an Earth host body:
“The Hunter’s attitude toward the animal [perit] resembled that of a man toward a favorite dog, though the perit, with its delicate hands which it had learned to use at his direction much as an elephant uses its trunk at the behest of man, was more useful than any dog.” (p. 12)