|Published in||Astounding Science Fiction|
"Microcosmic God" is a science fiction novelette by Theodore Sturgeon. Originally published in April 1941 in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, it was recognized as one of the best science fiction stories of all time by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1970, and was named as one of the best science fiction stories in polls by Analog Science Fiction and Fact (the renamed Astounding) in 1971 and Locus in 1999. In 1976, it was also published as a comic version (drawn by Adolfo Buylla) in issue 3 of Starstream: Adventures in Science Fiction, a comic anthology in four issues by Gold Key Comics.
A highly secretive and reclusive biochemist named Kidder produces inventions that transform human life, spanning every aspect of science and engineering. Unbeknownst to anyone, Kidder has developed a synthetic life form, which he calls "neoterics." These creatures live at a greatly accelerated rate, and therefore have a very short lifespan and produce many generations over a short period of time. This allows Kidder, by presenting them with a frequently changing environment, to "evolve" them quickly into highly intelligent lifeforms who fear Kidder and worship him like a god. Kidder can control his neoterics' environment, and thus force them into developing technology far beyond that of humans. While earlier inventions had been his own, Kidder created the neoterics with the intention that they would become the source of many newer and greater inventions which he could claim as his own.
Kidder's banker takes over the island on which he has built his laboratory, hoping to use a neoteric design for a new source of power to take over the world. When the banker strikes to kill Kidder and the workers who had assisted in building the power plant, Kidder asks the neoterics to throw up an impenetrable force field.
The story ends years later. It is unknown whether or not Kidder is still alive under the shield, and certain that the neoterics have continued to develop technology far in excess of anything controlled by humans. The reader is left to suppose that, if the neoterics were to decide to take the Earth, nothing would stop them.
Awards and criticism
"Microcosmic God" was among the stories selected in 1970 by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one the best science fiction short stories published before the creation of the Nebula Awards. As such, it was published in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.
The novelette was also recognized as the 13th best all-time short science fiction story in a 1971 Analog Science Fact & Fiction poll (tied with Cyril M. Kornbluth's "The Little Black Bag"), and as the 42nd best all-time science fiction novelette in a 1999 Locus poll (tied with Edmond Hamilton's "What's It Like Out There?").
The Neoterics make an illustrative reappearance in the 2008 management book Groundswell, developed by employees at Forrester Research: Neoterics are said to "outpace any human research lab since they try, fail, and adapt so much more quickly than ordinary slow-paced humans", and are thus presented as "apt metaphor for the current state of the Internet", where Web 2.0 technologies and the many people involved generate similarly "rapid prototyping, failure, and adaptation."
John W. Campbell, the editor who bought the story for Astounding Science Fiction, wrote for its blurb, "Kidder had a system for inventing things in a hurry - and he thought he had a system for handling the results. His method was inhuman - but his agent was human - and dangerous!" Science fiction author Gene Wolfe wrote, "The first [sf] story I read was 'Microcosmic God' by Theodore Sturgeon. It has sometimes occurred to me that it has all been downhill from there."
- "Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll Listings". The Locus Index to SF Awards. 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-23.
- "Locus All-Time Poll Listings". The Locus Index to SF Awards. 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-23.
- STARSTREAM #3
- Li, Charlene, and Josh Bernoff. Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Cambridge MA: Harvard Business Press, 2008, pp 11-12.
- Sturgeon, Theodore (1995). Paul Williams, ed. Microcosmic God: Volume II: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books. p. 357. ISBN 1-55643-213-5.