Friday, April 11, 2008

Review - "Enemy Mine", "Sandkings", "The Way of Cross and Dragon"

Michael Whelan
1980 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist

This is a bit of a funky year. First off, Michael Whelan begins his dominance of the artist category. Get used to seeing his name up there, he wins again in ten of the next twelve years.

Second, this is the first year where an author has won multiple Hugo awards in the short fiction categories. Other authors have won multiple awards in a year but they have been spread out.

Third, two of the three stories below have had adaptations made. One a feature film and the other as the pilot episode for the revival of The Outer Limits.

"Enemy Mine"
by Barry B. Longyear
1980 Hugo Winner for Best Novella
1979 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

Two pilots on conflicting sides of an interstellar war crash onto a hostile world and have to learn to live with each other to survive. It's a simple enough formula but Longyear manages to tell the story pretty well. Unfortunately he also takes a lot of shortcuts for the sake of his story that significantly reduce its impact.

The parts that work are the story of survival. Two people from very foreign cultures gradually learning to live with each other is an interesting story. What didn't work for me was the fact that the human was the only one changed by the experience. The alien who crashed with him doesn't learn about humanity, the flow of changes and re-examination is only one way. In addition when a child is born it ages in a matter of months to the equivalent of an eight year old human so that the world can be explained to him.

This makes the story come across as rather heavy handed ("Oh how foolish humanity is when explained to a child or a person from a perfect culture!") and in the end I see it as a fine effort but not quite good enough.

by George R. R. Martin
1980 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette
1979 Nebula Winner for Best Novelette

This isn't a deep story; the characters a paper thin caricatures that you've seen before. This isn't an unpredictable story; it follows the standards of horror fiction very closely. What this story has is a very good telling of those common elements.

A man who enjoys exotic pets purchases colonies of "sandkinds". Hive mind insects that build elaborate castles and wage war against each other. He starves them and makes them battle against other creatures for his entertainment but eventually they get lose and madness ensues.

Despite following a standard pattern Martin still somehow manages to make each turn in the story surprising. He ratchets up the horror regularly and somehow always finds another worse level to go to. This is not a story to read if you have any kind of fear of insects.

So I wouldn't read this story looking for a brilliant insight into the human condition but it is chilling in the best possible way and I enjoyed it.

"The Way of Cross and Dragon"
by George R. R. Martin
1980 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

In the distant future the Catholic church has adopted new ways to deal with alien species and interstellar travel. A new heresy has sprung up on a planet where they have sainted Judas Iscariot and an inquisitor travels to that world to confront the heresy. The new Bible created features an immortal Judas being slandered as the betrayer and spending eternity attempting to atone for sins he committed between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Once on the world the inquistor confronts the head of the new religion and is very surprised by what he finds.

And I can guarentee that the reader will as well. As I read the story I thought I knew where it was going and then in one sudden sharp line Martin overturned everything. And then just when I thought I knew the new direction of the story he manages it again. It's almost like he was trying to make up for the predictability of the general plot of "Sandkings" by piling on the plot twists here.

The story on the whole works very well giving real thought to how large organized religions would react to interstellar travel and some real thought on what religion means to people. The story as a whole is spectacular and worth seeking out.