Thanks to SF SIGNAL, one of my favorite SFF-related sites, I learned of the existence of this short story: it was co-written by GRR Martin and Howard Waldrop as they met during a convention in 1976, as recounted by Martin himself on a blog post. Since then this short story has gone out of print, and only recently – with GRRM’s blessing – has been made available in audio format on the Starship Sofa site: it was through the SF Signal’s interview with Starship Sofa’s owner that I became aware of it.
I have to confess that audiobooks are not my “thing”, since I prefer to hold a book in my hands and I know that I get easily distracted if I simply listen to a narrating voice. And yet I discovered a few wonderful short stories by GRR Martin, through audio recordings read by the amazing voice of actress Claudia Black, so I decided to try this one out, and it proved to be an interesting experience indeed. It seems only fitting to post this now that the Game of Thrones series has returned to our screens…
The story itself seems to widen the reader’s understanding in concentric circles, like the ripples you get when throwing a stone in a pool of water: information is presented in ever-expanding focus, and in the end you see the full picture – a very grim one. A group of explorers lives on an isolated research station on a faraway planet, where they appear to be besieged by the local fauna and in constant danger from a fungus whose spores seem able to take control of living organisms. The mood is claustrophobic, the sense of impending danger palpable from the very beginning and the descriptions of the place where the station was built do nothing to inspire the reader’s faith in an uplifting tale.
To reveal more of the plot would be a massive spoiler. What I feel free to share is that the overall “flavor” of this story brought me back to the old-style novels I used to read in my youth: a more… simplistic narrative frame, for want of a better word, where men find themselves battling alien creatures and there are no women included in the team. It’s clearly the product of earlier times in the evolution of the genre and in the personal journey of the author, so I can “blame” the lack of elements more suited to modern sensibilities to both the time-frame in which this was created and the still-growing skills of the writer. That said, the story was interesting enough to keep my attention focused, and the resolution at the end felt like a good payoff.
Last, but not least, a few words about the narrating voice, belonging to Nick Camm: he managed to create different personalities through changes in tone and accent for every character in the story, making it very easy for me to visualize them all as single individuals. A noteworthy performance, indeed.