Short Story #86: Unhuman Sacrifice by Katherine Maclean

Title:  Unhuman Sacrifice

Author:  Katherine Maclean


Damon Knight - A Century of Science Fiction
Two engineers take a preacher to a habitable planet with sentient life.  The preacher sets to inspiring the being with long winded lectures on his beliefs but the beings don't understand him.  The two engineers, Charlie and Henderson are still in the process of training the translator box.  Over the course of a few days, as they learn more about the inhabitants, the preacher insists on saving them from themselves and their rituals.  They discover that the beings are broken into two groups--adults and children, with the adults being worn down while the children do all the heavy lifting.  They befriend Spet, a child whom they poorly communicate with.  They realize that maturation process that he is about to enter can possibly kill him or turn him into one of the elders.  For different reasons, they try to conspire to keep Spet from suffering the ritual and try to bring him aboard before the flooding occurs (a part of ritual is the annual flooding).  However, in taking him away from this process, Spet turns into a large bush (an action that happens to many lifeforms on this planet when encountering moving water).  Afterwards, Henderson, who took particular interest is known to be taking a bush with him whereever he goes and occasionally talks to it.  However, the story reveals that Charlie had switched out the actual "Spet" plan for a regular plant.  


Though a bit bizarre, the story is a rich example of thinking about how other lifeforms may move through life and like all alien planet stories, smacks of colonial criticism with the science and the religion of a dominant group, trying to force itself onto a supposedly ignorant group.  That the engineers and the preacher are at such odds in much of the story but still aim for the same purpose, I found an interest dynamic that doesn't always get much exploration; that is, despite very different viewpoints, they are ultimately joined in interfering with these indigenous people.    

Short Story #86 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/22/2014
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. Simon & Schuster, 1962.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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