Planet Out of the Past



Book: Planet Out of the Past

Author: James Lincoln Collier

Cover Illustrators: Tom Cross and David Jemison

Publisher: Atheneum, 1983

ISBN-13: 978-0027228601

ISBN-10: 0027228606

Language level: 3

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 9-12 and up

Rating: ****4 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Collier, James Lincoln.  Planet Out of the Past (Published in 1983 by Macmillan Publishing Company, a division of Macmillan Inc., 866 Third Ave., New York City, NY  10022).  It is some unspecified time in the future, and Professor Joher sets out in a spaceship, along with his daughter Weddy, seventeen, son Nuell, sixteen, and research assistant Char, also seventeen, to explore the strange new planet Pleisto.  Their support ship has to turn back due to rocket problems, so the four go on all alone.  Once they land, the Professor takes off on an expedition but doesn’t return at the set time, so the three teens begin to track him.  They find evidence that he has been injured and carried away by someone or something in this frightening world that is very much like a prehistoric earth with saber tooth cats, Deinotherium, and primitive humans like Homo habilis, Australopithecines, and Ramapithecines.

Along the way, the trio discovers an injured Homo habilis being attacked by a group of Ramapithecines.  They rescue him, and, finding that his injury could have been caused only by the Professor’s specimen knife, they hope that he might know where Professor Joher was taken and be persuaded to lead them to him.  Is the Professor alive or dead?  Can Char, Weddy, and Nuell locate him and, if he is alive, rescue him?  Or will they themselves be captured?   This is fairly decent science fiction for young people.   One instance of cursing occurs where Nuell says, “Da** it, Char.”  There is also a lot of “philosophizing” about survival, self-awareness, primitive man, the violence of everyday life, feelings of competition and aggression, and what it means to be human that one may or may not agree with.

At the same time, the story also illustrates learning about human courage, love, generosity, and cooperation.  The biggest hurdle for me is the evolutionary assumptions underlying the entire plot throughout and the clear evolutionary teaching in the author’s note, “How Much of This Book Is True?”, at the end of the novel, with its claims like, “The transition from ape to humanlike types occurred at least five million years ago.”  For creationists, this will take some “suspension of belief,” but if one is able to put up with that, Planet Out of the Past is actually a pretty good sci-fi book.  However, I did not care much for My Brother Sam Is Dead which the same author, James Lincoln Collier, wrote with his brother Christopher Collier, even though it was a Newbery Honor Book.

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