"Sandkings" by George R. R. Martin

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dreamsongsvone.pngGeorge R. R. Martin's 1979 short story/novelette "Sandkings", which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, has been anthologized in several collections including the recent Dreamsongs Volume One, whose cover is seen on the left, as well as having been adapted as an episode of the late nineties Outer Limits series.  It's still one of the most frightening science fiction/horror thrillers ever written. 

Set sometime far in the future on an Earth-colonized planet, the story focuses on selfish, narcisstic playboy Simon Kress, who likes to collect bizarre exotic animals from other worlds & plays with them until he gets bored and loses interest.  One day,after irresponsibly letting some of his pets die,  Kress drops by the Wo and Shade imports shop and discovers the insect-like Sandkings, who are segregated into  specific hives based on their individual shell colors (black-colored ones make up one hive, white ones another, and so on), and controlled by their respective "Queen Bees", the Maws

Talked into buying them by the shop owner Wo, Kress sets the Sandkings up in an oversize aquarium tank, where the creatures build tunnels and castles, the latter with Kress' face on them.  Wanting to see them fight each other, Kress begins withholding food from the Sandkings in order to goal them into putting on a show for his fellow jaded guests.  But then Kress, who's begun noticing that the depiction of his face on the Sandkings' castles isn't very flattering, starts taking things too far.  And when the tank is smashed after Kress has an unfortunate fight with his ex-girl friend Cath, that's when things really get messy...

Without giving away  the stunning revelation about the Sandkings themselves or the shocking ending,  I can say that "Sandkings" is both a nifty little parable on social and political class warfare and a terrifying horror tale with science fictional tropes.  Martin skillfully sets up the story's situation and it's dark, downbeat tone.  Aside from Cath, Kress and the other characters in the story are shown to be despicable and petty monsters who torture the Sandkings and other creatures for no other reason than to have fun.  They're sadistic, charmless goons, and the reader will enjoy watching them, and especially Kress, get their comeuppance. 

As mentioned earlier, "Sandkings" appears in Martin's Dreamsongs collection along with other classics by him, including  "Nightflyers", "The Way of Cross and Dragon" and the merciless "Meathouse Man".  You can reserve our copy by clicking here.

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This page contains a single entry by Ed published on December 10, 2010 1:42 PM.

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