[originally posted here at Castalia House]
Duel on Syrtis by Poul Anderson appeared in the March 1951 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.
One is a big game hunter who complains about liberals and suffrage, the other is a cute Martian owlbear just trying to make it in the cruel world.
Riordan has a spaceship, a monstrous hawk-thing, an alien hunting-dog, a gun, a spacesuit and a radiation perimeter to cordon off his prey. Keegan has only his wits and affinity with the planet.
Duel on Syrtis shifts back and forth between the perspectives of these two characters as they slug it out over several days while Riordan aims to bag the most dangerous game: Owlbear hobos who might be allowed to vote someday.
I really can’t fault the writing or the action in this story, both of which were impeccable, but I just did not enjoy this one. The human character we spend half the story sharing a perspective with was thoroughly despicable, but it was hard to revel in Keegan’s eventual triumph. It was more a feeling of “thank god that asshole Riordan’s dead so I don’t have to hang out with him” than a “yay, the good-guy triumphed over evil!”
I hesitate to say “here we see some of the New Wave creeping in,” but this definitely isn’t the sort of story I’d gotten used to from the 40s issues of Planet I’ve read. Several other stories have tackled the issues of colonialism and racial friction, such as The Martian Circe or Mists of Mars, but those stories at least offered some glimmer of hope for the future. Duel on Syrtis forewarns of Owlbears abandoning their highly evolved hippy ways to relearn the technologies they once left behind to punish humanity for their prejudice.