The Inferior (book, Peadar O Guilin, 2007)
I was on a bit of a man’s lib kick when I read this story for Death Ray 5. It was awesome. I will be reading it to my son as soon as he is old enough to kill his first alien and eat it raw. The sequel, The Deserter, is on my “to read” pile, and I look forward to devouring it.
UPDATE – I read The Deserter in 2013. Equally brilliant and full of even more high SF concepts, centre stage is shared by Stopmouth’s partner, a great female character.
Peadar Ó Guilín /David Fickling Books/£12.99(HB)
Read this, and remember why science fiction lit your fire in the first place. Just stay out of butcher’s shops for a few days afterwards…
Bloody, visceral, and unashamedly masculine, once The Inferior sinks its teeth into you, it will not let go.
A gory story introduces us to a tribe of humans in a ruined city who ceaselessly war against rival bands of aliens. The reason? There’s nothing in it to eat but each other… There’s a great SF idea concept, revealed through the adventures of the stuttering Stopmouth, and its theme, masculinity in the modern world, is tackled so well The Inferior should be required reading for boys.
The upbringing of males today is predicated on the denial of the masculine , with the warlike ways of our ancestors – acquiring resources through force – seen as wrong. They are, but unfortunately a chunk of the male psyche has evolved to allow us to be very capable of doing precisely that, and the problem is we’re supposed to learn to live with this darker side without acknowledging it. It doesn’t help that men are often portrayed as poltroons, irrelevancies to their children and irritations to their wives, while other parts of the media glorify violence as being both desirable and free of consequence. This schizophrenic treatment of maleness leads to untamed aggression, while the positive attributes of traditional manliness – honour, mercy, bravery, self-sacrifice, emotional fortitude – are neglected.
The Inferior examines this by pitching us into the most violent situation imaginable, where a talent for fighting is not just admired, without it you are dead. But this is no paean to war – the story’s portrayal of battle is unflinchingly grim. In Stopmouth’s world, being a warrior is a brutal fact of life, and that makes the hero’s realisation of a broader concept of humanity all the more powerful. This is a character who comes into a balanced maturity aware of both sides of his nature.
Restraint is the greatest virtue of modern manhood, but you cannot tame the beast by ignoring it, and this book acknowledges that. Our inner warriors increasingly have little place in our society, but books like The Inferior can only help us make our peace with them by allowing us, briefly, to see through their eyes.