So I finally started to read the pile of books my father lent me, and I started with Manifest Destiny by Barry B Longyear. I started with this one because my father wanted it back, no other reason. So considering I basically had a deadline to read it and it wasn’t the first of the books I’d have chosen I found it absolutely brilliant to read. It had four main stories and some framing narrative of humanity deciding on where to attack and how to fulfill their manifest destiny throughout the universe. In the sense of humanity being excessively entitled and greedy it was startlingly realistic (I don’t even care that I’m throwing shade at my own species here, we’re horrible basically). I’m going to review each story individually with some short reviews. I usually wouldn’t do this with a collection but there’s only four stories so why not.
The Jaren – So in ‘The Jaren’ an alien servant of a human real estate agent tells the story of his youth and how he and five friends with a deep spiritual bond joined the army to fight against the humans. The story culminates with the alien’s friends all dying on the spot of land that the human is trying to sell and the story moves him so much that he doesn’t sell the land.
Though I wasn’t a big fan of the military element of the story I loved the sentimentality of it. I started the collection obviously thinking that it would be humans fucking shit up, but found that it was more about the small individual experiences that undercut the idea of manifest destiny as a concept. In that sense I felt the story set up the rest of the collection very well but other than that I didn’t really feel much about this story either way.
Enemy Mine – Now this is the real crowning glory of the collection (it was also made into a film of the same name that I have yet to watch). This story follows a human and a drac (bipedal reptilian alien) who after a battle end up stranded together on an uninhabited planet with a hostile environment. They learn each others languages and start to understand each others cultures and work together to survive. The drac becomes pregnant as they reproduce asexually and dies in childbirth leaving the human to raise the child. Of course the human becomes attached, but has promised to return the child to their home planet. Eventually they are rescued and separated and eventually reunited. But both have become so alienated to their own way of life and their species war that – along with some of the child’s family – they return to populate the hostile planet once more.
Now honestly, this blew me away. There are beautiful sections in which the two are clumsily learning how to communicate that shows Longyear as a real artist with a real understanding of how language works. It really is phenomenal. But what really struck me about this was the fact that they return to populate the planet. I do not read a lot of these kind of shipwreck narratives (after having been warned off of Robinson Crusoe so aggressively) but I loved the idea of becoming to distanced from the world that you can’t assimilate yourself. I love the idea of realising your enemy is so like you that you simply cannot return to war with them. It was just a beautiful piece and I can entirely understand why this was the one to be adapted.
Savage Planet – Now this one was a little strange. Humans have colonised a planet inhabited by horse/centaur (I think?) like aliens. All these aliens are born female and the dominant ones become male. They attend the university set up by humans to educate them but the struggle for academic dominance renders them impotent. Their tutor discovers this is essentially humanity’s way of killing the entire species to gain access to the planet’s natural resources. Eventually the “savage” aliens set up their own government so they can legally be seen as civilised and take true ownership of their planet.
Honestly, although ‘Enemy Mine’ struck me in a more emotional sense ‘Savage Planet’ got me for the sheer genius of it. How genius to think up a race that could be killed by education only for them to come up against a race that sees the educated mind as civilised and has a history of “dealing” with the natives in sick ways. How brilliant does a mind have to be to think up something so wonderful and horrific all at once? It has to be as brilliant as Barry B Longyear’s mind, obviously.
USE Force – Basically a guy enlists in the army, gets captured and put in a POW camp and stages a mutiny (is it mutiny if it’s not at sea?) against his superior officer whilst in the prison. And honestly, I cannot for the life of me remember how it ends.
I won’t lie this was my least favourite of the stories. As I mentioned when reflecting on ‘The Jaren’ I am not a fan of military SF I just don’t enjoy it. Nothing about it appeals to me, and USE Force was military SF in it’s purist form. I did enjoy the characters and their developments and interactions with each other, so I can assume this is probably a pretty good example of its subgenre. But it really wasn’t for me, as evidenced by me forgetting how it ends (I am quite embarrassed).
All in all I really loved this book, I honestly haven’t read a lot of books with aliens. I usually credit Octavia E Butler with creating my favourite aliens (in her Xenogenesis series) but Longyear is definitely a close second.