Another dark, fascinating story in George R. R. Martin’s “The Thousands Worlds” setting. It’s interesting reading the story in 2016 because there are two aspects of it that are quite fun to see retrospectively; the first appearance of the term “winter is coming” in Martin’s writing, and the inspiration for the wookie (Chewbacca’s race) in Star Wars.
As for the story itself, it’s a melancholy look at human nature and faith. The worldbuilding is fascinating. I’m glad I’m reading these Thousand Worlds stories in sequence because, even though they’re not really a “series”, it’s enjoyable to see Martin steadily build up his setting with more and more detail and nuance.
This story covers a band of religious zealots claiming large amounts of alien land in true colonial style. Like in “A Song for Lya”, one could see some of the seeds for the Children of the Forest in “A Song of Ice and Fire” sewn in the aliens of this story, the Jaenshi. Their connection with nature, their golden eyes, and their reverence to wood and carving faces into wood are the elements I’m thinking of here. The religious cult of the story, the Steel Angels, would fall into the role of the First Men (or later Andal) invaders that destroy much of the Children’s environment and population, although they more immediately resemble the red priests of R’hllor in their zealousness and aggression.
The story also features murky prophecies being misinterpreted by various people, also a running idea in “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Martin clearly has an interest in the idea of prophecies and religious foretellings as inherently flawed because they incentivise humans, ever the seeker of patterns, to find evidence after-the-fact for themselves, now with an inset bias that warps their observation skills.
I found the ending of the story hard to understand at first, but found it deeply satisfying when I felt I had successfully parsed it. It speaks to how religions mesh and merge, and how colonial invasions sometimes feature cultural exchanges both ways, not always to the immediate pleasure of the invaders.
I very much enjoyed this story. There’s a lot of meat on this bone, so to speak. I give it four carved idols, and a planted vision.