Before Richard Matheson and Steven Spielberg's Duel, before Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive/"Trucks," Theodore Sturgeon built the first intelligent (?) rampaging killing machine. Our planet had another intelligent race inhabiting it before ours--a race destroyed by the metal-inhabiting aliens.
The last remaining mutant alien inhabits a pocket of neutronium on an obscure Pacific island. I suspect Sturgeon's use of the term goes back to Andreas von Antropoff's 1926 usage as an element with an atomic number of zero--first element of the periodic table. This gives it an atomic feel and perhaps fear of the mysterious coming atomic power (publication date 1944).
The story is familiar, but it is an early model of its kind. Without a doubt, this is a meditation on men and machines. We built machines, but can we master them? Any motorhead is enchanted by their mechanical puzzle, their cohesive ecology that comes together to do work. But what if it strikes back? What can we do to stop it? What if it finds ways to work around its limitations?
This may be also be a meditation on race, but if so, I will need to reread it a few more times to tease out the details.
Availability (list from Locus & William G Contento online)
- Astounding Nov 1944
- Best of Science Fiction, ed. Groff Conklin, Crown 1946
- Best of Science Fiction, ed. Groff Conklin, Crown 1963
- Spectrum 3, ed. Kingsley Amis & Robert Conquest, Harcourt, Brace & World 1964
- Wondermakers, ed. Robert Hoskins, Fawcett Crest 1972
- Strange Orbits, ed. Amabel Williams-Ellis, Blackie 1976
- The Great SF Stories 6 (1944), ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, DAW 1981The Golden Years of Science Fiction: Third Series, ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, Bonanza/Crown 1984
- Machines That Kill, ed. Fred Saberhagen & Martin H. Greenberg, Ace 1984
- A Touch of Sturgeon, Simon & Schuster UK 1987
- Cinemonsters, ed. Charles G. Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg & Frank D. McSherry, Jr., TSR 1987
- 13 Short Horror Novels, ed. Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg, Crown/Bonanza 1987
- To Marry Medusa, Baen 1987
- The Mammoth Book of Golden Age Science Fiction, ed. Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg, Robinson 1989
- Astounding Stories: The 60th Anniversary Collection, Vol. 2, ed. James Gunn, Easton Press 1990