The Great Fetish
|The Great Fetish|
first edition of The Great Fetish
|Author||L. Sprague de Camp|
|Cover artist||Gary Friedman|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Pages||ii, 177 pp|
|LC Class||PZ3.D3555 Gr PS3507.E2344|
The Great Fetish is a science fiction novel by L. Sprague de Camp. It was first published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in two parts, as "Heretic in a Balloon" and "The Witches of Manhattan", in the issues for winter, 1977, and January/February, 1978, respectively. It was subsequently published in book form in hardcover by Doubleday in 1978 and in paperback by Pocket Books in 1980. An E-book edition was published by Gollancz's SF Gateway imprint on September 29, 2011 as part of a general release of de Camp's works in electronic form. It has also been translated into German.
The book is both an adventure story and a satire on the scientific dispute over Creationism. It is set on the planet Kforri, where descendants of space travelers from Earth have reverted to a pre-technological society. The truth of their origin has faded into legend, and as a result the story of the space voyage and the scientific theory of evolution have become competing accounts of the genesis of humanity.
In an ironic reversal, the Religionists hold that man evolved from the native animals of Kforri, while skeptics against the received dogma, known as the Anti-Evolutionists, are more open to the spaceflight theory.
Schoolteacher Marko Prokopiu, has been found guilty of teaching the Anti-Evolutionist heresy, as established by the Holy Syncretic Church, but escapes from prison. He embarks on a quest to discover the truth by finding the Great Fetish, said to contain the real story. A parallel motivation is to recover his wife Petronela, who has run off with his friend Chet Mongami during his imprisonment.
The two are launched in the balloon and land by accident on the Island of Mnaen, populated only by female 'witches' who guard The Great Fetish. This is revealed to be a collection of documents with microscopically-reduced writing. Escaping from the witches, who follow the worship of the cult of Einstein, they attend a great philosophical convention.
Using an experimental microscope being demonstrated at the convention, the documents reveal information about the origins of Kforri, validating the truth of the anti-evolutionists. They further show that Kforri gained its name from that given by the discovering expedition (K40 became Kforri), and that the expedition members disagreed and dispersed. They eventually formed nations with cultures and languages derived from their native ones. The name of the Island of Mnaen, for instance, was based on the earthly Manhattan.
Using the documents, the inhabitants of Kforri rapidly advance their technology. They eventually hope to build spaceships to travel back to Earth.
De Camp previously wrote about the actual struggle between science and creationism in The Great Monkey Trial (1968), a non-fiction account of the 1925 test case against Tennessee's Butler Act, which made the teaching of human evolution in that state illegal.
- Laughlin, Charlotte; Daniel J. H. Levack (1983). De Camp: An L. Sprague de Camp Bibliography. San Francisco: Underwood/Miller. pp. 61–62. ISBN 0-934438-70-6.
- The Great Fetish title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Orion Publishing Group's L. Sprague de Camp webpage
- Amazon.com entry for e-book edition
- Full text of the Butler Act and the bill that repealed it