There’s no denying George R.R. Martin’s abilities to create a fictional and mythological world quickly and easily, he does it time and time again throughout these stories. But there is also an undeniable grimness and sense of futility that pervades these worlds. From the first story, The Way of Cross and Dragon in which an Inquisitioner serving an interstellar Catholic Church of the distant future who believes in Truth above all else discovers himself to be a liar , to the last eponymous and most famous of the stories, a Hugo winner badly botched by the revived Outer Limits, Sandkings, which can be seen as A Portrait of Dorian Gray with carnivorous alien lifeforms, human effort is usually destructive and at best a meaningless blink in the vastness of eternity.
In the House of the Worm takes a look at a Time Machine like future in which the sun is a dim cinder, the surface of the Earth is uninhabitable and humanity is divided between the last remnants who hold lavish grotesque balls and have faith in the inevitability of decay, and the Grouns, altered versions of men who have come up from the deeper bunkers. As the story unfolds, the decadent nobleman who stumbles into the dark discovers their nature, the error of his own people’s belief system, a new source of technology, and the lairs of the Changemasters who genetically engineered great White Worms who are working their own way up through the bunkers. However when he returns home, his stories are nothing more than a diversion that no one believes and he barely survives execution.
This is typical enough of George R.R. Martin’s stories in Sandkings. Action and adventure may occur, but they will always give way to futility. Fast-Friend, the weakest of the stories in the collection, involves a main character whose use of a genetically engineered miniature woman “angel” with the mind of a child for sex, places him in a borderline evil category, schemes to capture the woman he once loved before she became a Fast Friend, an interstellar being capable of traveling across star systems, with his ship, before deciding to let her go. And that too is another reminder that women rarely come off too well in these stories.
Story after story offers nothing but a grim look at humans and highlight the futility of human activity. From the start of the collection to the final end when Simon Kress is being dragged into the home of the orange Sandking maw by its spawn who wear his face and reflect his evil nature, the stories in Sandkings have nothing even faintly positive to offer, and their only peace is the peace of death.