“Have you ever owned an animal that worshipped you?”
I was probably nine the first time I read Sandkings. It's a story about an ant farm. I had an ant farm; a girl came over, picked it up, shook it and destroyed everything. The ants were dead two days later. I could see the tank in the middle of the living room, a tower in every corner, red mood lighting shining down in the empty darkness. And I could feel the wasted potential of primitive, tiny little worshippers going about their pseudolives driven to "artless and degrading" warfare through deprivation.
it appears that no one has made the formal connection between Sandkings and Pikmin, the game that George RR Martin would have written if he were Shigeru Miyamoto. Suffice it to say my hardship with Pikmin is all the pikmin you have to kill to serve your own selfish ends.
The formative thing that Sandkings left me with so long ago was the maxim, expressed by countless people, that power doesn't corrupt it shows the corruption that was already there. Kress is a terrible human being surrounded by terrible human beings and when he's allowed to express his terrible nature over the powerless he does so with gusto. But more than that, Wo and Shade - a sentient being selling his own larvae (his own "sperm") into servitude for money. In the end Kress gets it but there remains an infestation of insane aliens spreading out and taking over an alien world because the greedy are also careless.
“Do not be absurd,” Wo said. “A first- stage sandking is more like a sperm
than an infant. The wars temper and control them in nature. Only one in a
hundred reaches second stage. Only one in a thousand achieves the third and
final plateau, and becomes like Shade. Adult sandkings are not sentimental
about the small maws. There are too many of them, and their mobiles are
Fundamentally, Sandkings was the first story I read that takes place in a universe utterly without empathy. People love pointing at Ellison's I have no mouth yet I must scream but the computer knows the suffering. It wants the suffering. Sandkings exists in a universe where the principle characters don't care about anything but themselves. The inspector? Willing to write anything off for money. The girl who loves puppies? She just projects cruelty in another direction. GRRM did a great job of going "there are monsters afoot and this is how they think" while also engaging the reader enough to care what happens to them. There's a very Poe-like transformation of Kress as soon as the white maw's psionic power hits overdrive. Echoes of Renfield.
I think it's telling that the maws grow stronger even when fed poison. There's an allegory there. Once upon a time I curbsmiled a simp on Reddit back down to negative karma for getting mad at my criticism of Clarence Thomas. Four years later he founded /r/TheDonald. And when a bunch of antisocial geniuses code social networks, what we're left with is gamification of invective.
We're all sandkings now.