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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Norman John
 

«Kur of Gor», John Norman

Prolegomena to the Tale

The thing was a monster, of course.

There could be no doubt about that.

Some of you, naturally enough, might suppose that the Kurii themselves were monsters, but that is distinctly unfair. That would be similar to regarding, say, leopards, or lions, as monsters. They are merely another life form. There is no symmetry involved here, incidentally. Kurii, for example, do not, at least on the whole, regard human beings, in their varieties and configurations, as monsters, no more than human beings would regard sheep, rabbits, squirrels, goats, and such, as monsters. The human being regards such life forms as simply inferior forms of life. And so, too, do the Kurii, on the whole, regard human beings, such small, fragile, weak, vulnerable, slow, fangless, clawless, hairless life forms, as merely an inferior form of life. And, one must admit, a case might be made along those lines, though it might pain one somewhat to recognize or acknowledge it. In some respects, attempting to assume a posture of objectivity in the matter, however briefly, this typical Kur view has much to be said for it. It is doubtless substantially justified, if not in all respects correct. The Kur does recognize, of course, that the human being has certain features worth noting, for example its two prehensile appendages, its upright stature, increasing scanning range, its binocular vision, its occasionally exercised cunning, and such, but these features are not unprecedented, and, indeed, characterize a number of rational and semirational species. The Kur itself, for example, possesses similar features, though perhaps with a keenness and ferocity which constitutes a dimension less of degree than of kind. The human being does possess languages, and cultures and traditions, the latter often alien and inimical to one another, and numerous devices and tools, and even technologies, of an incipient type. These are, however, the latter in particular, inferior to those available to the Kur, when it chooses to make use of such things. The Kur, in many respects, retains, celebrates and cultivates, as a matter of tradition and choice, a number of rituals, habits, responses, and practices which one might, if one did not understand them as the Kur does, be regarded as excessively cruel and barbaric, such as the contests of the rings, and such. But the Kur, which is often eight to ten feet in height, if it should straighten its body, which it seldom does, and several hundred pounds in weight, and is clawed, and fanged, and long armed, and agile, and swift, often moving on all fours when it wishes to move most rapidly, and that is far faster than a man can run, prizes such things as its strength, and its speed, and its sensitivity, that is, in this case, its capacity to be easily aroused to rage. It does not apologize for its strength, its speed, its formidableness, such things. Nor does it attempt to conceal them. The Kurii, as humans, have produced several civilizations, some of which, as those of humans, have survived. But they have taken care to see that what we might tendentiously call their bestiality, or animality, or such, should not have been lost in these civilizations, at least in the surviving ones, to the frictions and abrasions of socialization. If there were Kur civilizations of a passive or benign nature, their historical records have not survived. Whereas the human being is commonly trained to suspect, regret, denounce, and officially repudiate his animal nature, sometimes even to the point of pretending it does not exist, and that he is a mere societal artifact, of whatever sort is currently recommended, the Kur has not cared to avail himself of such extreme and dubious stratagems. To be sure, the animal nature of the human being, driven underground, despising the facades of an acculturated hypocrisy, continues to prowl within, and, by means of a thousand twistings and subterfuges, will have its say. Surely it would be difficult to explain human history without some attention devoted to slaughter, envy, passion, greed, deceit, hypocrisy, ambition, lies, theft, corruption, assassination, murder, contempt, hatred, betrayal, and a large number of such attributes.

The Kur, in a variety of ways, you see, for better or for worse, openly acknowledges and expresses, and fulfills, his animal nature.

I report this. I neither denounce it nor commend it.

I suppose this would count as a difference between the Kur and the average human being. To be sure, if one lacks fangs and claws it is seldom to one's advantage to grapple with those who possess them. The average Kur on the other hand could best, unaided with weaponry, a typical forest sleen, and might seriously tear and bloody even a larl, though the larl would doubtless be the last to feed.

The human being is not really a tame animal, but it pretends to be. Indeed, in its effort to appear tame it may even poison and destroy itself, or, alternatively, and more usually, it may lend its animal nature to others, who will direct it in their own interests. Under the aegis and anonymity of an ideology, for example, what crimes might not be perpetrated with a conscience as clear as distilled venom?

Life exists largely, one notes, of predators and prey, though sometimes these relationships are politely, if not modestly, veiled. Perhaps you have noticed this. Certainly the Kurii are well aware of this and do not feign to ignore it. Nature poisoned, they understand, does not cease to exist, but will thenceforth exist in a deranged and malevolent manner. One of civilization's problems, you see, is to give nature its due and still survive.

The Kurii, in their ugly ways, manage this.

The Kur, in its surviving civilizations, then, gives nature its due, willingly, eagerly. That is why, perhaps, the Kur is what he is, as quick, as formidable, as dangerous as he is. Those who were not did not survive.

The Kur, then, is not a tame animal. It prides itself on its nature, its strength, its agility, its terribleness. It understands itself as a predator and would have it no other way. Daintiness of sensibility does not bring a species to the summit of a food chain.

Like many aggressive, dangerous animals, the Kur, interestingly, has its sense of propriety, and even honor. To be sure these things are normally limited to intraspecific relations. Men, for example, seldom include insects, vermin, cattle, and such, within the community of, say, honor. And the Kur seldom includes the human being within its community of honor. It would be absurd for it to do so.

For generations human beings slew their foes. Later, a great advance in civilization took place, and its name was slavery. For example, women of the enemy, particularly if young and beautiful, might now be kept about, rather as domestic animals, for the pleasure of new masters. Women, throughout human history, have counted as prizes, acquisitions, loot, spoils, and such. And one would be naive not to recognize that this pleases their vanity, even as they might writhe helplessly in their bonds. And things are not really so different now, one supposes, on some worlds, though the rituals of their pursuit and claimancy are subject to considerable variation. The Kurii, on the other hand, do not commonly practice slavery. Most often they eat their foes.

It is alleged, and we suppose with good reason, certainly we have no reason to doubt it, that the Kurii once had a world, a planet. We do not know what world that was, nor what might have been its star. But apparently that world no longer exists, at least as a viable habitat. The ambition, territoriality, aggression, and greed of Kurii groups, coupled with a remarkable technology, apparently resulted in its desolation or destruction. One can imagine the axis of such a world being explosively shifted, disastrously, perhaps even accidentally, producing lethal, global tumults of storms and climates. One might speculate on mines capable of blasting continents into orbit, and, then, consequent upon diminutions of mass, oceans being sucked away into space. Perhaps, too, the world as a whole was literally fragmented, broken into hundreds, perhaps thousands, of irregular, tumbling planetoids incapable of holding an atmosphere. Or perhaps its orbit was explosively affected, merely hurling it too close or too far from its primary, exiling it from a habitable zone. Or perhaps there was a braking of its rotation, perhaps suicidally intended, designed to produce two hemispheres, one a world of unrelieved light and heat, a scalding, furnacelike world, the other a world of perpetual darkness, a silent, polar waste. Perhaps, on the other hand, there was merely a radiological sterilization of the world, perhaps one rendering it progressively incapable of supporting life.

Whatever the particular stimulus or etiology of their migration, the Kurii long ago left their world. They may have voyaged for generations. But it is possible, too, they did not have so far to go. They currently inhabit a set of steel worlds, perhaps hundreds of them, mingled within, shielded within, what we, or you, I suppose, call the asteroid belt. The asteroid belt is perhaps the debris of what was once a planet. It is not impossible, though I do not think it likely, that it is the debris of what was once the planet of the Kurii.

Though it might once have been the world of a similar species, an animal capable of, say, destroying its habitat, of rendering itself extinct.

Such species doubtless exist. Perhaps you are aware of one.

Even the fiercest of enemies may upon occasion unite in a common project, willing to suspend their inveterate hostilities in order to achieve a common goal, say, that of discovering and acquiring a world suitable for the purposes of their life form. Should they acquire such a world they may then, as they wish, and as they probably would, return to their ancient ways, and contest it amongst themselves. It seems a plausible supposition that whatever world the Kurii might claim and conquer they will eventually allot its acres according to the measure of the sword. It would not be the first time a planet was turned into a battlefield, and its continents became fields of blood. But one must first have a world, a mat, a terrain, an arena. One needs a coliseum in which to so entertain oneself, in which to so fervently practice such enviable skills, and sports.

And so, despite their many internal divisions, their ancient prejudices and hatreds, Kurii are quite capable of uniting in a temporary, dark brotherhood, in a brotherhood with a particular object in view, that of obtaining a world.


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