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The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi

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The People of Sand and Slag

by Paolo Bacigalupi

• Word count: 7559
• Page count: 20

“The People of Sand and Slag” is a 2004 science fiction novelette by Paolo Bacigalupi. It is about three genetically enhanced guards who find a strange life form roaming on their employer’s property.

This short story follows three gene-modified human guards who are called out to hunt down and destroy a life form that has trespassed onto their employer’s mine in a far future Montana. When they finally corner the intruder they realize it is nothing more than an ancient animal: a dog. Puzzled that it could still survive in their day and age they bring in a biologist to extract its DNA. When one of the guards becomes attached to it they decide to keep it, and then constantly struggle to keep it fed, clean, healthy and alive. This proves to be quite a challenge in a world where humans can regrow limbs, create bizarre biological life forms and have the weeviltech in their stomachs process anything they choose to eat.

“The People of Sand and Slag” starts out all weapons and technological warfare, but quickly morphs into a story about caring for something other than yourself. A surprise, really, that it was able to change directions so thoroughly, yet I found it to be really cool. There are some neat science fiction ideas contained in it, like the ability to regrow limbs, but I thought the idea of weeviltech – tiny worms that live in their stomachs and are able to eat anything – was the best. How cool would that be! This story, which takes its name from the fact that the guards eat sand and slag anything that moves, contains some strong language and adult situations – so be careful of that.

“The People of Sand and Slag” was nominated for the 2005 Hugo Award, the 2006 Nebula Award and the 2005 Locus Poll for Best Novelette.

“Hostile movement! Well inside the perimeter! Well inside!”

I stripped off my Immersive Response goggles as adrenaline surged through me. The virtual cityscape I’d been about to raze disappeared, replaced by our monitoring room’s many views of SesCo’s mining operations. On one screen, the red phosphorescent tracery of an intruder skated across a terrain map, a hot blip like blood spattering its way toward Pit 8.

Jaak was already out of the monitoring room. I ran for my gear.

I caught up with Jaak in the equipment room as he grabbed a TS-101 and slashbangs and dragged his impact exoskeleton over his tattooed body. He draped bandoleers of surgepacks over his massive shoulders and ran for the outer locks. I strapped on my own exoskeleton, pulled my 101 from its rack, checked its charge, and followed.

Lisa was already in the HEV, its turbofans screaming like banshees when the hatch dilated. Sentry centaurs leveled their 101’s at me, then relaxed as friend/foe data spilled into their heads-up displays. I bolted across the tarmac, my skin pricking under blasts of icy Montana wind and the jet wash of Hentasa Mark V engines. Overhead, the clouds glowed orange with light from SesCo’s mining bots.

“Come on, Chen! Move! Move! Move!”

Where you can find “The People of Sand and Slag”:
• This short story originally appeared in the February 2004 edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
“The People of Sand and Slag” is included in Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut collection of eleven short stories Pump Six and Other Stories .
• It has also been included in Gardner Dozois’s anthology The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Second Annual Collection .
• You can read a free HTML version of “The People of Sand and Slag” on the author’s web page: windupstories.com
• You can also listen to a free MP3 version of the author reading this story at The Agony Column. (This is a podcast which contains some other stuff too – just so you know.)

Check out another thought provoking review of this story (as well as other 2005 Hugo nominees) on Niall Harrison’s livejournal page.

Did you know that Paolo Bacigalupi won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best science fiction short story of 2006? Yep. You can learn more about this up-and-coming science fiction author by checking out the bio on his website.

If you liked this story you may also enjoy Salvador by Lucius Shepard – a short story about a group of specially trained US soldiers using drugs to enhance their fighting abilities in Central America.

8 thoughts to “The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi”

  1. Blue Tyson,

    Yeah, the military part of “Sand and Slag” seemed to be fairly similar to military parts of “Salvador.” It is all that other “in between” stuff that really separates the two. Where “Sand and Slag” evolves into a little bit of “aw – how nice”, “Salvador” more or less evolves into “Ooh – that is crazy!”

  2. This was bizarre, I pictured the people as x-men-ish. Some interesting thoughts on evolving as a species I suppose. I liked the interest they showed in the dog, the things they learned about it showed their humanity, uh…up until the end…

  3. Cin,

    I agree that there were some bizarre ideas in this story, like what they eat, and those parts at the end on the beach, but I think that is part of what makes it so interesting. A little mind stretching going on there!

  4. Omphalos,

    Yeah, this was a bizarre but cool story. The only other story I have read from Paolo Bacigalupi is The Fluted Girl – which I liked even more than this one. It was also creepy, but cool at the same time.

  5. I think he has a collection coming out soon, which I may buy. I heard that The Fluted Girl was great, but everyone also liked The Calorie Man, which was pretty boring, IMHO.

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