Short Reviews – Garden of Evil, by Margaret St. Clair

Friday , 7, October 2016 2 Comments

Garden of Evil by Margaret St. Clair appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.garden-of-evil

Garden of Evil is a short, sweet, absolutely delicious swipe at anthropologists.

When I had finally read some of Vance’s Gaean Reach, I had an “aha” moment—“So, THIS is what LeGuin was trying to do with her Hainish books!” I see now that she may have stolen a bit from Margaret St. Clair, as well. Given how awful the last Hainish book I read was, I probably won’t be reading any more LeGuin soon, but St. Clair is on my list.

Ericson is an ethnographer on the planet Fyhon, a lush world that is roughly equivalent to Cenozoic Earth, who’s recovering from violent drug addiction with the help of a green-eyed, green-skinned native girl named Mnathl. Ericson had gotten hooked on byhror, something similar to the coca plant, which he used to give him the strength and endurance he needed to return from a failed solo expedition into the wilds of the southern continent.

Once Ericson overcomes his withdrawal symptoms, Mnathl insists on taking him post-haste to Dridihad, the dark heart of the Southern Minor Continent. Despite feeling indebted to the girl who saw him through his addition, Ericson’s apprehensive about going into the interior without his equipment—so she drugs him, and off they go on their jungle adventure.

“You like see Dridihad,” Mnathl said, “All sorts of things for eth—ethnog—for man like you to look at. Come on. You like good.”

Ericson forgives this; after all, the girl saved him, and this could score him a permanent job on the planet. When they reach the city of the Deidrithes, Mnathl’s people, Ericson is pleasantly surprised to find that Mnathl is a person of some importance, and he feels himself an honored guest, attending and observing feasts and ceremonies and sacrifices that all seem to be building towards something.

Ericson is under the impression that the green girl is infatuated with him, and ‘what a shame that the girl loves him!’ because he’s just not attracted to her, and he’s had such a lovely time and owes the girl, but he just doesn’t see her that way. Mnathl had something else in mind altogether, though—who better to tell the gods how awesome the Deidrithes are doing than a cultural anthropologist? The story ends with Mnathl’s attendants going Apocalypse Now on Ericson.

I absolutely loved this story. Partly because I hated my college anthropology course so much. Our professor was a twit, and all of the readings were like something from a bad Hanna-Barbera cartoon—some anthropologist would be hanging with tribesmen and derp up, commit some faux pas, or make a dumb assumption; the natives would trick him, outsmart him or just call him on being a dumbass, and they’d all have a big laugh about it around the campfire. This story was a great send-up of those sorts of anthropology pieces.

2 Comments
  • Jesse says:

    Was it The Telling or Four Ways to Forgiveness? I couldn’t finish either one. Four Ways was boring and The Telling felt like a parody of Le Guin. I later discovered that she had a feminist awakening after Dispossessed, learned that she could write female main characters without being lynched by the patriarchy, and proceeded to write nothing but trash from ~1975 on.

    • cirsova says:

      The Telling was when I realized I needed to stop apologizing for LeGuin’s later Earthsea, that she had, at some point, legitimately gone completely to shit and wasn’t going to have written anything I’d want to read. I have a huge stack of post 1974 books by her that I need to get rid of because I know I will never read them now.

      The Telling was like, ‘dude, you can’t write a story about the importance of story telling and not tell a story.’

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