Dreamwish Beasts and Snarks by Mike Resnick
Dreamwish Beasts and Snarks by Mike Resnick (Golden Gryphon 57, 2009) takes us off hunting in a collection ranging from allegory to a traditional African culture transplanted to another planet to gain the chance of maintaining their culture, to slightly more fantastical beasts caught in the crosshairs of the author’s imagination.
“Hunting the Snark” is one of these safari stories which dumps a group of four immensely wealthy people on a planet that’s never been explored let alone surveyed for dangerous wildlife. The tour company provides a highly experienced hunter, beaters, skinners and cooks. It promises to do its best not to let anyone die. The notion of virgin territory for hunting commands a very high price. Unfortunately, this planet proves to have a predator on top form and so begins the game as, in one kill after another, the home ground advantage proves decisive. The story also asks some nice questions about the different between sentience and intelligence. Not surprisingly, it was nominated for the Nebula Award for Novelette 2001. “Stalking the Unicorn with Gun and Camera” and “Stalking the Vampire” are full of practical hints and tips for the hunter. Remember to take notes as you read these essential guides and, when you leave on the next hunt, don’t forget that vital comb. “Two Hunters in Manhattan” is an alternate history story in which Theodore Roosevelt is mayor of a rather different New York. As a part of his drive to rid the city of organised crime, he finds he has hired Dracula to do what he cannot do: eliminate the kingpins. Unfortunately, Big D prefers draining them rather than handing them over for trial. This makes him a murderer in Roosevelt’s book and so begins a contest. Although this is relatively modern, being published in 2007, it has a pulpy feel to it which makes it rather superficial albeit reasonably entertaining at this length. “Safari: 2103 AD” is true to its ironic theme which is that, to a generation that has no conception of what a wilderness looks like, a walk in the park is a dark and dangerous experience. So what to these futurians is excitement personified is rather pedestrian and dull to us.
In “The Lord of the Jungle”, Lucifer Jones encounters a Tarzan substitute avoiding his English creditors in the heart of the rain forest and working with the gorillas to create a socialist republic. Fortunately the good Lord earns enough to pay off his creditors through his language skills and Mike Resnick cracks some good jokes. “Bwana” is one of the Kirinyaga stories and rather beautiful. Suppose an African tribe takes the opportunity to relocate to a new world that can be shaped into a Utopia for them. They can live in balance with nature, respecting the environment and relying on the animals they take with them for the better management of life and death. If that balance were to be disturbed, there might be some who would call for outside help but that would be dangerous. It might tempt the tribe into forsaking the old ways and embracing new technology. To prevent lasting harm would require great wisdom, and it’s provided with elegance and subtlety by an old man who acts as a guardian of their traditions and religion. This is a story of great passion and an outstanding meditation on the role of a leader who must understand when being seen to do nothing is actually the most aggressive posture.
Finally, we come to “The Soul Eater” and “Nicobar Lane — The Soul Eater’s Story” which examine what makes a person a hunter through the joint lens formed out of Captain Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick and the fate of the Flying Dutchman. Back in the early days of humanity, the ability to hunt meant survival. Later, the role of the hunter changed to the more routine task of food provider for a community. As farming took over, the majority of hunters quit, only a few persisting as hunting became a sport. The mentality required once basic skills have been perfected is patience and self-confidence. You have to trust yourself to survive and have the patience to keep learning about the animals being hunted. Top professionals will study the anatomy and habits of their favoured prey, identifying the best places to find the animals and the best angles from which to take the shot. This kind of dedication often makes the hunter solitary. From there, it’s only a short step to loneliness and obsession. In this pair of stories, the hero, for want of a better word depending on your view of hunters, is paid by museums of natural history and zoos to hunt down different rare species of animals. His preference is always to kill but, if the price is right, he will control the urge and merely capture. In the longer first story, he finds himself increasingly fascinated by a strange creature he finds out in space. Except, given the vastness of space, if he meets it more than once, is this his superior tracking skills or is the beast seeking him out. If he should finally kill it, what would he do afterwards? Although the story is more than thirty years old and shows its age through a slightly pulpy style and lack of characterisation, it nevertheless nicely captures the nature of the man and the life choices he must make. The second switches point of view and views the hunter from the creature’s side of the relationship — yes, as the pursuit develops, who’s to say the creature’s view of the hunter does not evolve.
Dreamwish Beasts and Snarks is still available to buy at a discount directly from the publisher who deserves our support. There are far too few publishers who believe in the power of the short story, novelette and novella. Golden Gryphon deserves to survive. As to Mike Resnick, there’s no better writer of short fiction around. When he’s on song, the music flows and the ideas are richly developed. Even when he shows his more pulpish side, he’s still immensely readable.
For reviews of other books by Mike Resnick, see:
The Cassandra Project with Jack McDevitt
The Incarceration of Captain Nebula and Other Lost Futures
Stalking the Vampire.