“Song of the Axe,” Don Berry, 1957

“Song of the Axe,” Don Berry, 1957 — Disgraced eco-captain Kimberly is at a bar trying to hit on a dancing girl who’s just finished a striptease.  Kimberly, who missed the presence of dangerous insects during a survey and thus “murdered” the colonists who settled there and were impregnated with the insects’ larvae, has something to prove.  When he’s turned down by the girl, he launches into chauvanistic chest thumping, and he’s coolly rebuffed by the bartender and the locals.  He tries to follow the girl but he’s stopped by an attack; a Fire-Axe–a rare weapon from the lost history of the Procy’s, the natives–is thrown at him. He’s suddenly taken into custody and brought to Ecological Survey Headquarters, where he’s given the task of finding the Procy’s ancient ecological surveys. The ancient Procy seem to have conducted an ecological survey of even more planets than have been surveyed in modern times; finding their surveys would allow the modern government to plunder those planets more efficiently.

Kimberly takes the mission, investigates, and discovers the dancer he was watching earlier–named Neela–was performing a dance based on an old Procy ritual.  He confronts her and they wind up in bed.  The next morning, he awakes in chains, with her father and brother standing above him. She’s cold and withdrawn, but her father is talkative.  He explains that he took the Fire-Axe from its temple twenty years ago when one of the Procy’s ancient enemies, the Outsider (singular), appeared.  He had a disagreement with the other priests, who thought they should destroy the survey records, so he took the Fire Axe, which is needed along with a dance to open the vault.  His daughter was tasked with killing Kimberly; not knowing the Fire Axe’s purpose, she tried to use it to kill him.  Eventually, Neela and Kai perform a dance that retells the ancient conflict of the Outsiders and the Procys, which nearly destroyed both civilizations.  They return the key and try to close the vault, but a sudden bombardment by Outsider starts and the vault is stuck open. Kimberly leads a charge against the Outsider, tricking them into coming in close so the defenders can use their knives and the Fire Axe.  (The Outsider is not described during the battle.)  A Federation ship suddenly shows up and chases Outsider off.  Kimberly delivers the survey records and tells Neela she’ll make a great captain’s wife, as he “always need(s) a dancing girl around the house.”

Comments: Read in Tales of Superscience.  Perhaps interesting for the problematic portrayal of gender, native populations, the demonization of the Other (Outsider), and the inevitable and cynical exploitation of native populations.

Author: Wikipedia: “Don Berry (1931–2001) was an American artist and author best known for his historical novels about early settlers in the Oregon Country. He was born in Minnesota but moved to Oregon as a young man and came to think of himself as a native of that state. He attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon. During college his housemates included the poet Gary Snyder, who shared Berry’s interest in Eastern metaphysics. In 1960 he published Trask, a historical novel about Elbridge Trask, an Oregon settler in the 1840s who was the first white homesteader on Tillamook Bay. It was followed by two sequels, Moontrap and To Build a Ship. The novels have collectively become known as the “Trask novels.” His other works include A Majority of Scoundrels, a history of the fur trade in the Rocky Mountains. Besides writing, his lifelong artistic pursuits included bronze sculpture, sumi-e painting, and blues guitar playing. Berry was also an early adopter of the use of the Internet for writing, creating a large body of literature that exists only in cyberspace.”

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About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1946-1959, ecology/the environment, gender, masculinity, post/colonialism, the Other. Bookmark the permalink.

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