The Dragons of Springplace

“The Dragons of Springplace,” the title story of Robert Reed’s collection, is a complex, cautionary tale regarding genetics and nuclear waste. In the near future, Springplace is an immense plateau built atop tons of nuclear by-products. The deep jungle at its summit supports myriad life forms, including huge, genetically-engineered lizards whose purpose is deterring or killing intruders. When two unscrupulous men start dragonhunting for sport and profit, they resurrect the old threat of radiation and nuclear poisoning. At thirty-six pages, this is one of the longest stories; however, several shorter stories have equally thought-provoking plots.

A good example is “Decency,” which concerns a mortally wounded alien who crashes his ship on Earth. After his discovery, scientists do nothing for his pain; they squabble with the media over how best to manage the situation and its financial possibilities. Meanwhile, the alien screams in agony. Caleb, a dull Marine guard, is ambivalent about the great event. He is equally unimpressed by the pitiful alien but insists on treating it with decency. Finally, Caleb must take matters into his own hands.

Though most of Reed’s stories are serious examinations of social or personal dilemmas, some are light, even whimsical. “To Church with Mr. Multhiford” deals with a teenage prankster who is caught pressing an obscene word into farmer Multhiford’s prize cornfield. The eccentric farmer punishes the youth with manual labor and a sermon on the immense impact of corn throughout history. Multhiford predicts that corn will control the world in years to come. The boy dismisses Multhiford’s ravings until he has a close encounter with futuristic, sentient beings that eerily resemble corn.

Reed’s imaginative style is often muddled by sudden flashbacks within the plot, and overall the story quality is uneven. However, The Dragons of Springplace would make a good introduction to the genre of hard science fiction.