Short Reviews – The Exiled, The Hunted, George Guthridge

The Exiled, The Hunted by George Guthridge appeared in the June 1977 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

The Exiled, The Hunted is one of those Jungle-Planet-with-Cat-People sword and planet type stories. Only the Cat People aren’t native to the Jungle Planet and they don’t use swords. And they’re not really Cat People. But given that they’re primitive tribal mammalians with tails, they fall enough into Cat People trope that it works well enough as shorthand.

Guthridge’s story involves an environmental mystery, an inter-species love triangle, giant mudbeasts and cat people (sorry for the reductive term, George, but that’s what I’m sticking with) who hunt them, all set against the tragic background of the native lost cause (but in space!). Viewed as a simple planet adventure with naked cat girls and telepathic monsters, it’s a fun enough read, but looked at as some kind of social commentary on science vs conservatism, it will make you squint your eyes and say “I see what you did there.”

Nassam is the chief of the tribe of cat people who have been exiled to a planet of swamps, mud and tasty tasty mudbeasts. Speaking of tasty, he’s in love with Leeani, a huntress of his tribe. The problem is, he’s married to Chola, a human woman who had joined up with Nassam and his people during the war that eventually led to their exile. The main reason Nassam married Chola is that the cat people share a mystical empathetic bond with their family, and humans are more adaptable and innovative than cat people, so Nassam thought it would be awesome to have human kitty kids, but that didn’t pan out.

Nassam is faced with the problem that his tribe is dying out, suffering sickness, and he is falling under the strain of both leadership and the mysterious illness that’s afflicting the kitty folk. He is ultimately forced to put his faith into his wife, who has always had faith in him, and move the tribe because holy cow, the planet they were exiled to is radioactive as crap! They end up having to make multiple moves, because while things get a bit better now and then, the problems don’t go away. The tribe begins to doubt their chief and resent his ailing human wife.

In addition to being tasty, the mudbeasts are telepathic. Nassam gets the drop on an exceptionally large mudbeast who promises to reveal the secrets of the swamp and how to survive the planet’s radiation if he’ll spare its life. Nassam promises to spare the creature and order his tribe to stop hunting the mudbeasts in exchange for the knowledge it imparts, but just having told him how he can save the tribe, the beast is killed by Leeani. Nassam getting all contemplative while Leeani complains that he let her kill sink into the endless muck kicks off the epilogue in which the sadder and wiser chief will guide his people, love his wife, and make do on the crappy mudball planet, and the dying beast ominously contemplates the future of the cat people who might someday become mud monsters as well to survive, or something.

There is a lot going on in The Exiled, The Hunted. It deals with race, generational issues, scientific acceptance (or perhaps even faith in science) and the potentially disastrous consequences of conservative reactionary objection.

Generational issues are only briefly touched on, so I’ll knock those out first. The cat people’s empathic ability is sort of the reverse of the typical mystic indian trope; instead of connecting with ancestors, elders connect with youth, vicariously enjoying the thrills of the young in their old age. Unfortunately, the young cat people have radical notions of privacy and don’t want grampa empathically watching them all the time.

Race is one of the biggest issues, and is at the forefront because of the inter-species love triangle. While Nassam is kinda meh about humans and kinda meh about his wife, Leeani actually hates them, so she double hates Chola for being a human and being the chieftain’s wife. I don’t remember if it explicitly says it, but I think that humans were the ones who drove the cat people off their planet in the first place. Chola is one of those exoticists, a gone native type, who for various reasons has decided that she identifies so much with the “other” that she joins up with them and wants to be one of them and even marries herself a chief! Needless to say, a lot of the catfolk besides just Leeani resent the whole ‘gone native’ thing, but what struck me was that while we’re shown the anti-human racism of the catfolk in a negative light, Chola’s fetishization of the exotic, noble and primitive cat warriors is presented uncritically. And her human (white) know how is what ultimately saves the tribe!

Ignorance of Science (and radiation) will destroy the tribe and only science (mystic mudbeast knowledge + Chola’s human know-how & reasoning) can save them. Leeani embodies conservatism in the story: she has regressive ideas about race (hates all humans), has regressive ideas about science (doubts the human with her plans to escape the radiation), and figuratively kills knowledge and progress when she kills the mudbeast that had just given Nassam the secrets of the swamp. Shame on Leeani! Shame on the doubters and racists!

The Exiled, The Hunted is not a bad story. In fact, it’s probably one of the best in the issue in terms of writing and storytelling. It’s just that if one looks just below the surface, the messaging is so strangely off-the-wall that you find yourself wondering just what Guthridge was really trying to say here. Probably symptomatic of being written in the mid-70s before mainstream progressivism went totally insane, but read today this story is one that seems like it wants to have both a progressive social and pro-science message while coming across as a story about how at least one catman came to understand the white (wo)man’s burden from his wife who helped him save his tribe. “Look, guys, we have to do what this human lady says, she knows more than us about things, so let’s take her word for it.” Sure, she was right, but still…

The Exiled, The Hunted is one of Guthridge’s earliest published works; noting that, the skill with which he writes is impressive, so if he only got better, he’s worth checking out.

This is the last of the stories from the June 1977 issue of F&SF; there is a fascinating essay by Asimov on the nature of and means of observing and detecting black holes which I do not feel qualified to comment on save that I find the Dr’s non-fiction far more enjoyable than his fiction.  Later this week, I’ll be picking up with more from the January 1976 issue.

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