Employment (short story)
|Author||L. Sprague de Camp|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction short story|
|Published in||Astounding Science-Fiction|
|Publisher||Street & Smith Publications, Inc.|
|Media type||Print (Magazine)|
|Publication date||May, 1939|
"Employment" is a classic science fiction story pioneering the concept of de-extinction by L. Sprague de Camp. It was first published in the magazine Astounding Science-Fiction for May, 1939. The story appeared under the pseudonym Lyman R. Lyon (the name of his maternal great-grandfather) as the magazine's policy did not allow the name of any author to be repeated on the same contents page, and de Camp had another piece in the same issue under his actual name (part one of his article "Design for Life"). It first appeared in book form in the anthology Imagination Unlimited (Farrar Strauss and Young, 1952; It later appeared in the anthologies Men of Space and Time (The Bodley Head, 1953), and Science Fiction Inventions (Lancer Books, 1967), as well as the de Camp collection The Best of L. Sprague de Camp (Doubleday, 1978). It was credited to de Camp's real name in all publications subsequent to its first appearance. The story has been translated into German.
The story is set in the then-future era of the late 1950s, and is presented in the form of a letter from the protagonist, geologist Kenneth Staples, to a prospective employer, explaining why he desires to leave his present job.
Staples has been working for paleontologist and inventor Gilmore Platt, whose stereoscopic prospecting device can locate and reveal buried fossils in full detail. From an archeological colleague, Dr. Wilhelmi of Zurich, Platt gets the idea of using an electrolytic bath to restore the specimens he has been retrieving to their original condition, just as the archaeologist can do with corroded bronzes whose atoms have partly dissipated into the surrounding soil. After much experimentation, Platt and Staples succeed in restoring complete animals, hair and all, from fossil skeletons and the matrices of rock in which they are embedded. First they reconstruct an extinct Canis dirus (dire wolf), reviving it by applying an electric starter to its heart. They repeat the process with an Arctotherium (cave bear), Stenomylus hitchcocki (an ancestral camel), Trilophodon (a primitive proboscidean), and Dinocyon gidleyi (a bear-dog).
They hire Elias, a former circus man, to manage their growing zoo, which they house in a concrete barn with a row of cages down one side. Staples has a close shave when the Dinocyon escapes its cage in an attempt to prey on the Stenomylus and sees him as an adequate substitute. Platt and Elias come to his rescue, the former with a gun and the latter with a stick of dynamite. It takes the dynamite to do it. Platt then calmly revivifies the bear dog again, but incarcerates it in a stronger cage! It is later sold to the Philadelphia Zoo.
News of the sale attracts a Mr. Nively, representing the Marco Polo Company, a membership corporation consisting of the whole country's wild animal importers and dealers. His clients want to buy out Platt's discovery, as the resurrection of prehistoric creatures has the potential to ruin the market for present-day animals, which they control. After Platt rejects a number of offers Nively resorts to threats, and is kicked out.
Meanwhile, Platt and Staples recreate their biggest animal yet, a specimen of Parelephas jeffersonii (Jeffersonian mammoth),which they name Tecumtha after the historical Shawnee chief. They also take on a new man, Jake, to assist Elias and help protect their menagerie against Nively. The precaution is well taken, but inadequate. Nively reappears early one morning and attempts to shoot Tecumtha. Enraged, the mammoth takes off after Nively, who tries to escape on Elias's bicycle. Staples, still in his pajamas, pursues both by truck. He eventually finds them in a nearby town square, with Nively perched atop an equestrian statue of General Sheridan while Tecumtha prowls about its base. When the mammoth pushes over the statue Nively transfers to a nearby tree. On Staples's advice, he then moves to the top of the truck cab to help lure Tecumtha up into the truck bed. With the animal secured, Staples extorts Nively's clothing from him and lets the villain go, only to get into a dispute with local police, who want to kill the creature as a dangerous wild animal. Rather than permit this, Staples drives off.
After shaking pursuit he calls Platt, who tells him the police have their lab staked out against his return. Accordingly, Platt suggests he drive to Chicago and sell Tecumtha to the zoo there before returning. Unfortunately, Dr. Traphagen at the zoo assumes Staples a madman on hearing his story, particularly since he can't even confirm his own identity, the only identification he can produce being Nively's. Led away by the men in the white suits, he calls to Tecumtha, whose trumpeting finally convinces Traphagen of his veracity. The sale is completed, and Tecumtha saved.
Afterwards, Platt hires more guards and has his compound properly fenced. He hires another paleontologist as an additional assistant and with him starts happily digging dinosaurs in Wyoming. Staples learns the two have found a complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, and in light of his experiences so far decides it's time to "clear out while I'm still in one piece."
Relation to other works
The plot feature of a disaffected businessman's designs on a recovered mammoth is echoed in de Camp's later Reginald Rivers time travel story "The Mislaid Mastodon" (1993).
- Laughlin, Charlotte, and Levack, Daniel J. H. De Camp: An L. Sprague de Camp Bibliography. San Francisco, Underwood/Miller, 1983, page 155.
- Employment title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections