The Real Kings
I have wanted to talk about this story for quite some time now. The problem was finding it again. You see, when I first encountered it was way back in the late 80s to early 90s, and even then the story was old. George RR Martin won a Hugo with the story Sandkings back in 1980. Did I mention that we would be talking about he Sandkings yet? No? Oh, sorry, well there it is. I bet you never heard of it (forgive my hipster reference, it wasn’t intentional).
Today when you hear the name George RR Martin the first thing that comes to mind is Game of Thrones and Song of Ice and Fire. Of course there is the legendary battle between fans and Mr. Martin that he is taking forever to come out with the next book and blah blah blah. I have said it in other places but probably not here, I am not a fan of those stories. I don’t care for the HBO series either. I don’t even see any of that as his best work. Sure it is probably his most popular but that doesn’t mean it’s his best. In fact there was a time when I didn’t think I cared for his work at all until I was doing some digging and found that he had written one of the short stories that will always have a place on my favorites list.
A little background…
Aside from winning him his second Hugo, Sandkings has been in publication a number of times and even had been the front runner story for the Outerlimits when it returned to television in the 90s. The novelette and the television show share similar concept but they are dissimilar stories at their hearts. My introduction to the story came through Omni Magazine. They had carried it in an issue that I am pretty sure I ended up reading at the local college library, one of the many times I had been in school.
There were a few great magazines back then to find stories; the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Heavy Metal (for comics), and Omni. Omni was great for some scientific speculation as well as science fiction stories. These were my go to magazines and where I spent quite a bit of my time.
But I digress…
Okay, Sandkings, the general concept is pretty simple. Alien creatures that dwell in terrariums and have societies similar to ants but much more complex. Between the tv episode and the actual novelette the difference comes in how the creatures are obtained and then in the interactions within the story itself.
In the Outerlimits episode Beau Bridges is a scientist who follows a god like path to self destruction. The show is a study of science taken to the extreme and how it can have disastrous results when taken too far. And all of it in a study of alien creatures.
The novelette has a similar theme but the person who takes on the pets is a rich playboy with too much time on his hands. His penchant for exotic pets is his undoing. There is still the idea of playing god within the theme but at the same time the path of destruction is much more gruesome within the novelette than it is within the television show.
At one point I think I might have said that I won’t dig through the show for this but as I am going I realize that there are enough similarities and they play off each other well enough that I can’t dismiss it without taking something away from what the story itself is sharing with us. And by that I mean the main idea of what each version of the story is sharing with us. The main theme of each has less to do with man playing god and more to do taking responsibility for how we interact within the world around us. In the show we see a man who becomes maniacal in his quest for scientific discovery. Bad decision after bad decision leads him further along this destructive path in his quest for fame and glory.
In the novelette bad decisions are the stepping stones that lead the main character toward his eventual doom. Of course the deaths that come about on his path are little more than his decision to cover up his errors instead of taking responsibility for his screwed up life.
Wow, I don’t know if I did a thing toward selling this story to you. What I will say is if you can’t find the book (and there are a number of great stories within the book too) then at least watch the show. Both series of The Outerlimits are available on Hulu. I have seen the book for sale on Amazon for around 200 bucks in the past (I won’t pay that much, no way). The copy I read I managed to find through my local library. The stories in the volume are well worth your time.
In case you were wondering, in the novelette, just about everyone dies. Maybe he was getting ready for Game of Thrones…
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