You Shall Know Them. Vercors (1952)

Science fiction writers have long wrestled with the
question of what it means to be human, or at least
an intelligent being, examining it from various angles. How does one decide when an alien creature
is sufficiently advanced to become a
person? Is our
interpretation of intelligence the only proper one?
How about artificial intelligences, as in computers
or robots? How much of our bodies can we replace
with mechanical parts before we can no longer
rightfully consider ourselves human beings?
Vercors was the pseudonym of Jean Bruller, a
French writer who also produced an interesting
fantasy novel,
Sylva (1961). His single significant
science fiction novel is the story of a discovery of
a tribe of primitive apemen living in New
Guinea—so primitive that there is considerable
disagreement about whether or not they should
be considered human, despite their ability to interbreed with modern humans. The protagonist
takes the dramatic and somewhat drastic step of
fathering a child and murdering it, then confessing to the crime to force society to determine the
legal status of the aborigines. He is subsequently
acquitted, but only because his crime was committed before the legal ruling that declared the
child human.
The novel, which also appeared as
and as The Murder of the Missing Link, was filmed as
Skullduggery (1969) in a screen translation so bad
that the author insisted that his name be removed
from the credits. This classic novel, which consists
largely of a trial and backstage legal maneuvering,
set the precedent for such similar novels as
LITTLE FUZZY (1962) by H. Beam PIPER and WHEN
HARLIE WAS ONE (1972) by David GERROLD, both
of which involve trials to determine the rights of
an alternate form of intelligence, and
Ancient of
(1985) by Michael BISHOP, which describes
the difficulties experienced by a man determined
to marry a woman who is one of the last of a dying
strain of protohumans.