The Perfect Meal by Stanley Wilkin


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Post August 09, 2013, 12:26:59 AM

The Perfect Meal by Stanley Wilkin

This story seems to echo Heinlein's Starship Troopers a little. There's a first person narrator who is a soldier in a war against the native lizards of a colonized planet that seem to bear a resemblance to Heinlein's Bugs, even coming in different sizes the way the Bugs belonged to different Castes. Of course there is just a hint of sentience on the lizards' part; there seems to be a growing indication that their attacks are coordinated and their motive seems to be an acquired taste for human flesh. But even though intelligence is hinted at, the possibility of communicating with them is never considered.

I'm not sure what to think of this type of story. Do we take it as an illustration of the horrors of war? Humans are the interlopers on the alien planet in the scenario, the colonizers; they've brought the war upon themselves to a degree. But the native species are described as inhuman monsters with no redeemable qualities. (No big blue Na'vi here.) So in this scenario we can only sympathize with the humans, in which case the story seems to focus on the soldiers who never give up in the face of growing odds against them, but then does this glorify violence as the only solution. Then there is a line like this:
Ned was lifted into the air by two quarrelling flyers. A hundred feet up, his body appearing red before the blue and white dome, he was pulled apart as even more flyers descended on his carcase.
Is this a reference to the American flag? Or more likely the British flag considering the author's bio? I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, or how exactly to interpret it in the context of the story if it is a flag reference.

There doesn't seem to be any real growth or change in the main character. He just describes the events of the war with a certain resignation and even reveals the details of his wife's death with what I think is an unrealistic detachment even describing it in gory details:
She lasted two seconds before they carried bits of her away. All that was left to me was her skull which one of the larger beasts spat out. That was unusual. They normally devoured every bit of the humans they caught, ligament, bone, organs and flesh. They found us highly nutritious. I mourned for a year, my only solace shooting the creatures whenever I could. I tore up her photographs, preferring the vivid nature of my memories.

I think the revelation that he had been hiding while his wife was killed was a real missed opportunity in this story. It could have been a turning point for the character and climactic point for the audience, but instead it is mentioned like a mere afterthought. It seems like the character should have had either an incredible hatred of the creatures for killing his wife at that point or a hatred of himself for failing in his role as protector/soldier/husband. Either way it would have more powerfully propelled the story toward its ending, even if it is a hopeless one.

I haven't read much military science fiction, so I'm not sure how this story compares to others in that subgenre. But from my reading it looks like military science fiction often carries a political message about war with it. Is that the case with this story? I'm not sure.
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Post August 11, 2013, 02:17:06 AM

Re: The Perfect Meal by Stanley Wilkin

I can't quite figure out why, but this story didn't move me much. Maybe it's the pacing; not enough variation, perhaps. Then again, maybe not; we don't get much description of the way this soldier feels. He talks about his feelings, but they don't get described; their effects on him don't get described.

I think that's it. Stanley, go here and get some of this stuff:

http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/

It can only help; it can't hurt; great reference at a good price. Freebies on site too, but I bought the book myself and recommend it.
I was raised by humans. What's your excuse?

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Post August 11, 2013, 11:45:24 AM

Re: The Perfect Meal by Stanley Wilkin

I think Lester voices what my main issue with this story was; the characters were too antiseptic. I'm sure emotion was there somewhere ... I just couldn't find it.

Plus, I'm not a fan of the "everybody dies" sort of story, particularly when everybody dies for no reason other than that they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, that's just my personal taste in reading -- I'm sure others will have different tastes, and I can respect that.
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Post August 11, 2013, 02:24:11 PM

Re: The Perfect Meal by Stanley Wilkin

Can't stand it when everyone dies? Well it happens; we've done to a number of species that taste good, shoes on the other foot.

How about shark fins, or rhino horns or dolphins that think, have memory, call each other by name?

I liked the story. I put myself in the shoes of the defender/offender. I didn't need all that laid out for me, my imagination works just fine, no prechewed over cooked explainations, thank you.

I'm not sure we taste that good, however, the Aztecs when forced to quit eating their sacrifices did claim that pig was a close taste to human.

Bacon and eggs anyone?

yummy!

RT


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Post August 14, 2013, 02:16:54 PM

Re: The Perfect Meal by Stanley Wilkin

Great fun! I always love it when we "humans" are the butt of the joke (or a good meal, as in this case). We are silly beings when one stops to consider it...

This story was just an outstanding example of good old fashioned sci-fi fun!!! Reminded me of the great black and white sci-fi flicks from the 1950s. Good stuff!

Thank you, Mr. Wilkin for sharing it with us.

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