“The Sharing of Flesh” by Poul Anderson – Classics of Science Fiction


“The Sharing of Flesh” by Poul Anderson first appeared in the December 1968 issue of Galaxy Magazine. It won a Hugo award for best novelette in 1969 and was also nominated for a Nebula award. As soon as I started reading it in The Hugo Winners Volumes I and II edited by Isaac Asimov I knew I had read it before. The trouble is I can’t remember when and how I read it before, and that annoys me. I do remember getting that issue of Galaxy back in 1968, but if I only read it then, it wouldn’t have been so fresh in my memory. With this reading, it felt like I must have read it just weeks ago. Everything portion of the story as I read it came back to me.

“The Sharing of Flesh” is about humans discovering a planet that was previously colonized by humans but forgotten. This is the third story in the past couple of weeks I read using this theme. The other was Anderson’s own “The Longest Voyage” and Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite. “The Sharing of Flesh” is a murder mystery with a sociological/biological twist. It’s the kind of story I don’t want to spoil by summarizing it. I would link to Archive.org so you could read it online, but that issue of Galaxy has the story removed, meaning the Anderson estate requested the cut. It is available in Call Me Joe: Volume One of the Short Fiction of Poul Anderson from NESFA Press. (I did find it online later.)

I checked ISFDB.org to see where “The Sharing of Flesh” has been reprinted, and I don’t own any of those anthologies or collections except The Hugo Winners Volume I and II. I suppose I could have read “The Sharing of Flesh” there, but I don’t think so.

I know you’re probably thinking I’m overly obsessed with memory, but recalling when, where, and how I read a story is important for two reasons. First, I’m getting old, and I’m slowly losing my ability to recall. Working to remember is good exercise for my mind. But second, and more importantly, the memorability of a story is a measure of its quality. If words etch into your mind and they stay there for years, there’s a good reason.

Despite all the millions of short stories published, and the thousands that I have read, the memorable ones only number in the low hundreds, and the ones worth cherishing over a lifetime, add up to just a handful of tens.

“The Sharing of Flesh” is memorable because it’s about something grotesque and horrifying, yet its resolution is about forgiveness. The story is about transcending upbringing and culture. It’s incredibly positive. Yet, I don’t know if I’d put “The Sharing of Flesh” into the all-time classic category. I might need to read it a couple more times before I decide. Still, it makes me think I need to read more Poul Anderson.

Even the illustrations from Galaxy are so familiar to me. I must wonder if I read it back in 1968. If I did, I don’t think I’m remembering that time. I wish I had kept a journal from the time I first started reading. I probably read “The Sharing of Flesh” recently because some blogger mentioned it, and I went and read it. If you remember, let me know.

That’s another thing I’d like to remember. I’d like to remember other people by the stories they love. I wish I had started worrying about memories when I was a child. Who knew they’d be so important to me now?

I’m beginning to realize that stories I love are like my genes, they define who I am.

James Wallace Harris, 2/1/24

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