Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sandkings

George R. R. Martin

Sandkings is a science fiction novella (or novelette if you're wikipedia) in which the protagonist, Simon Kress, obtains a quartet of "sandkings", insect-like creatures controlled by a "maw", which is the psychic 'queen' that births the "mobiles". The sandkings are so called because they build elaborate sand castles bearing the image of their owner—and because they fight intricate battles with one another. (Steve and I think this would make an awesome strategy game. They remind us of pentapedes in some ways.) Into their castles, they build the face of their owner, as though in worship.

Simon is, to put it mildly, a jerk. Eager for his sandkings to battle, Simon starves them, creating resource battles, and even inviting his friends over to watch and wager on the outcome. But things quickly get out of control, as you might expect.

I really enjoyed the story. The pacing and length were good, and the imagery was quite vivid (though it may have helped that Steve read it aloud to me). At times I was sympathetic toward the Sandkings, and at others I was terrified of them. The descriptions of their castles made me wish for a set of my own sandkings... nearly.

Sandkings has also been made into an Outer Limits episode ("The Sandkings"), although the episode is only loosely based on the novella. In it, Simon Kress is a government researcher investigating creatures found in Martian sand samples instead of a playboy. He's still a jerk, though he's less of one. When his project is canceled due to security breaches, he steals some sand in order to continue the project at home. This, predictably, has disastrous results, with the predictable "oh noes!" shocking twist at the end that is The Outer Limits' trademark.

I didn't enjoy the episode as much as the novella. It was too long and slow, and I dislike when a story is made more 'mainstream', although I understand why it is done for television (cost and appeal to casual science fiction fans, as opposed to hardcore fans). But, I did enjoy the opportunity to see (a realization of) the sandkings and their castles, even if it wasn't exactly how I imagined it.

So, I would highly recommend the novella, if you can find a copy. If you think the Outer Limits episode sounds interesting, you might give it a try, but otherwise, I'd pass.
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