Synopsis: Simon Kress collects exotic animals – just not the cute ones but the nasty, dangerous.
“I detest cute animals.”
Eventually, he finds a mysterious new shop. The owner introduces him to the Sandkings which are ant-sized, insect-like, telepathic hive minded creatures. The colonies construct castles replicating the face of their God like owners. Kress is sold by the promise that the sandkings will go to war at each other, and even build alliances.
Kress buys four of those colonies and put them into a terrarium. After a while, he gets bored because they only build but don’t fight. He begins to stare them and soon, a war over the provided food begins.
Fascinated, Kress invites friends to a party, introducing his new attraction. The guests are impressed and soon begin to start betting which colony will win the battle of the day.
After a while, things start to go terribly wrong, the sandkings escape their terrarium and grow in size and intelligence.
Review: Wait, what? You didn’t know that GRRM wrote anything else than his A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) fantasy? He was waist-deep into Horror and SF back in his younger days. In this case, the story combined the two genres masterfully and it won him the triple crown – Hugo, Nebula, and the Locus Awards – which few ever achieved.
The plot follows an interesting though quite predictable development with a straightforward prose, never sagging in the tension loop. All characters – even the four colonies – are well-developed, with a disgusting stubborn main protagonist. It is somewhat heavy-handed in the moral lesson part (treat your animals well) and obviously hints at the God-worshipper relationship with the “Baldur” and “Asgard” references.
It is certainly not for the weak-hearted bugophobes because it will let your skin crawl. I never had to check how far I’m in this great story, and fully recommend it. I just couldn’t give it 5 stars because of horror.
Meta: isfdb. Published 1979 in Omni. This novelette won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards.