the Little Red Reviewer

Sandkings by George R R Martin

Posted on: January 26, 2020

What if I told you that Game of Thrones was Martin’s weakest work?

First, you’d punch me.

Then, as I was getting up off the floor, you’d say “wait, he wrote something else?”

Yes! Many something else’s! Lots of really good something else’s! Lots of excellent horror and science fiction!

If you enjoyed Game of Thrones even the tiniest bit, do yourself a favor and find some of Martin’s non-fantasy short stories. “A Song for Lya” will make you weep. “Fever Dream” will make you enjoy vampire fiction again. “The Pear Shaped Man” is creepy AF. I never get sick of rereading “Nightflyers”. And “Sandkings” is enjoyable as hell. And that’s about one millionth of all the great stuff he’s written.

“Sandkings”, published in Omni magazine in 1979, barely counts as Vintage Science Fiction (at least how I arbitrarily reckon). This story won the Hugo and the Nebula. Unless you are willing to dig through dusty back corners of used bookstores, your best bet for reading “Sandkings” is to buy a digital copy, or get your hands on either Martin’s Dreamsongs volumes or the Vandermeer edited Big Book of Science Fiction. Dreamsongs and Big Book go for about $30 a piece, and in my opinion are a steal at any price.

Spoilers ahead.

So what is “Sandkings” about? It’s about how easy it is to think that something small must be stupid. How easy it is to think that something that communicates differently, that thinks differently, that grows differently, must be dumb. And making dumb animals do silly things for our entertainment is fun, right?

I love how this story plays with foreshadowing, and how Jala Wo plays Kress like a violin. She knows when she has him, and she strings him along, and it is horrible and wonderful and I don’t feel bad at all that Kress gets exactly what he deserves. Remember the movie Gremlins? That’s the rated G, very kindergarten version of “Sandkings”.

Simon Kress likes to have exotic pets. He craves being able to brag that he has something that no one else has. He’d never heard of Wo and Shade’s shop until that day, but isn’t that where one buys the oddest things, at store’s no one has ever heard of?

 

Wo sells him some tiny sandkings, along with the required giant aquarium, and the instructions to keep them fed, and treat them kindly. The tiny sandkings, about the size of beetles, have a hive mind and a bit of telepathy. Treat them right and they will see you as their god.

Of course Kress can’t resist!

On reread, I’m laughing, because I can see in every sentence how Wo has drawn him in, that she has perfected the art of the sale. He was hers the moment he walked in the door of the shop. It’s funny, the first few times I read this story, I read it as being “about Kress, and that he’s an idiot”, on my most recent read of it, I paid 100% attention to Wo, and how she does what she does, and why she does it.

Kress buys four sandkings, has them installed in a giant aquarium in his house. He invites his friends over to see his new exotic pets.

He follows Wo’s care and feeding instructions, sort of. Because Kress thinks he is smarter than Wo. He thinks the sandkinds are stupid little insects, he thinks he has purchased a glorified ant farm. The critters won’t “perform”, and aren’t as entertaining as he expects, so he pokes them. He starves them. And when he does eventually feed them? The stupid little things will view him as a god, right?

Stupid little insects? Ant farm? Oh ho ho ho! No, not at all! Because “Sandkings” is a brilliant science fiction horror story. Kress’s actions hit the horror beats just perfectly, until the very end he really does believe that he can outrun a horror that he’s created. Kress is an egotistical asshole who gets what he deserved, but if these sandkings ever run wild? If they are ever set loose on Earth? We are totally, irrevocably fucked.

I wish Martin had written more Wo and Shade stories, I’d love to know more about their relationship and how they keep their, um, secret.

If you’re not familiar with Martin’s earlier work, with his short stories, do yourself a favor and check some of them out.

If you’ve got a weak stomach, “Sandkings” might not be for you. There is gore, it is gruesome, people die, some gross things happen. But damn is it good.  If you could handle the blood and death in GOT, this is nothing compared to that.

18 Responses to "Sandkings by George R R Martin"

WHAT!?!? HE wrote something else! HAha – I must go and investigate. Great post.

Liked by 1 person

lol! yes, he wrote tons of stuff. lots of really good stuff! I’m pissed off that he isn’t more famous for his horror.

Liked by 1 person

I’m now a proud owner of a couple of his other books 🙂 I bought Tu Voyaging and his Nightflyers short story collection.

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wonderful! Nightflyers is fantastic! you are in for such a treat with both of those!

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I’m a big fan of, the edited and partially written by GRRM, Wild Cards!

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a while ago I tried a WildCards book, couldn’t get into it. My brain couldn’t quite handle shared worlds written by many authors, but same characters showing up in different stories. What’s your fave Wild Cards book? I really do need to give them another try.

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I have to admit, I have never read a single thing by George RR Martin. Not one. Didn’t see the TV series either… That said, it’s interesting how authors often become known for ‘one’ thing when, often, they have written widely.

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All of that is totally ok. 🙂 I wish Martin was better know for his science fiction and horror. He’s much better at those genres than he is at fantasy soap operas, in my opinion. What’s nice about his science fiction and horror is that most of it is novella length or shorter!

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Ha! I would definitely not punch you for calling ASoIaF weak. I would nod and shake your hand.

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Interesting! I’m going to try to find these stories.

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Your best bet, is his Dreamsongs collections. they came out maybe 10 years ago, there is two volumes (that I know of). test them out at the library, see what you think.

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I was lucky enough to actually read this when it came out in Omni; it floored me. On the subject of other works: ‘Fevre Dream’ (y Martin) remains my favorite vampire novel of all time.

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Read this when it came out? I AM SUPER JEALOUS!!!!!!!!!!!

How did this compare to what was coming out around the same time?

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I’ve only read Fevre Dream which I admit I wasn’t so keen on but I would like to try some of his other stuff at some point. Thanks for this!

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Fevre Dream seems really polarizing, people either love it or hate it. It didn’t work for me, but I’ve loved a lot of Martin’s other stuff! (Another problem I had with Fevre Dream was I read a graphic novel version, and I found the artwork to be distracting instead of complimentary to the story, so maybe if I read it with no picturs I’d do better?)

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I listened to the audio and honestly just couldn’t deal with the overwhelming amount of n-word in the book. I mean obviously it there were racist characters and the main characters weren’t but hearing it over and over…not a good choice on my part to listen to the audio maybe lol. But also there were things like ‘why aren’t they waiting for daylight to attack, Abner knows their weakness!’ Just made it a bit irritating to me lol. So, idk. I do get why people like it though, it feels like one of those classic vampire stories, before they got all sexy. But it just wasn’t for me either lol.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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