Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Balanced Ecology": James H. Schmitz

Balanced Ecology is a Nebula award nominated short story written by James H. Schmitz in 1965. Short stories are often just small slices of action committed by characters that we do not get to know because of our limited time spent with them. We don't have the luxury of getting to like or dislike the characters. What we do have the time to do however, is appreciate the action that these characters take. We can applaud or disavow, feel joy or shame in just a few pages of action that our author drags us into.

James H. Schmitz sets this one up quickly and rivets our attention. He dumps us into a beautiful forest of "diamondtrees" and strange animals that can only survive in this "Balanced Ecology". If the animals are taken out, they die. If new animals are put into the forest, they die. The only species that can survive that is not natural to the habitat are humans. The writer's description of the fauna is bizarre enough to keep us interested through 7,500 or so words. One of the natives is an animal that can repeat anything it hears, but it repeats it at several times the rate of normal human speach. Think of several 45 record players sitting around you playing the spoken word, all pumped up to 75 rpm and you have the idea of a "humbug". Here is schmitz description. "The humbugs were small, brown, bobtailed animals, built with spider leanness and very quick. They had round skulls, monkey faces, and the pointed teeth of animals who lived by catching and killing other animals." The descriptions employed by Schmitz set's up for the action for the finale.

The two protagonists in the story are Ilf and Auris, and through inheritance, own 100% of the forest. They will make enough money off the harvesting of the tree's that they will not need to work for the rest of their lives. Enter the corporate villain, who wants to clear cut all of the trees in order to create demand for the product and make a killing off the harvest (does this sound familiar). Enter the forest itself. The diamondwoods have a different idea of how it wants to manage the land. It takes care of the problem in a creative way using one of the creatures that can only live under it's "silver-blue" branches. The way the enemy get's it is pretty cool as well as satisfying. Take that you corporate baddies.

The action tells the tale. Schmitz' rapid fire delivery kept me engaged and interested in how the story would finish. This is a fun little diddie that can be read in about fifteen minutes. It's engaging ideas about ecology and taking care of nature are satisfying. In our modern corporate society, it's a dog eat dog world, but on the planet of Wrake, it's more like a giant turtle eat person world.

5 out of 5

As a side note, it is a little disheartening to me that the short story seems to be going the way of the dinosaur. The medium is such a great way to create ideas and put them out there for consumption. I hope that there is a revival of short stories. If there is, I think it will be lead by individuals using the medium of the internet to push forth cool (hopefully free) short stories.

The story is posted here for your reading pleasure:

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading this in ANALOG in the mid-1960s. I can't help wondering if the story was partial inspiration for the movie AVATAR - or maybe the corporate baddie vs nature is just a universal theme. (AVATAR was, of course, much expanded and complex, in the same way that 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY was greatly expanded from the short story THE SENTINEL.)