“Cute,” said Kress. “And common. I have no use for either, Wo. I want something exotic. Unusual. And not cute. I detest cute animals. At the moment I own a shambler. Imported from Cotho, at no mean expense. From time to time I feed him a litter of unwanted kittens. That is what I think of cute. Do I make myself understood?”
Wo smiled enigmatically. “Have you ever owned an animal that worshipped you?” she asked.
I’ve been looking for this particular anthology, Nebula winners edited by Frank Herbert in 1980, and in Hay-on-Wye I finally found it.
At first glance sandkings are merely sophisticated ant colonies, but Jala Wo is careful to emphasize that they are not insects. An alien lifeform of obscure origins, sandkings have a rudimentary psionic sense and build castles depicting the face of their owner-god. Like goldfish, they grow larger depending on the size of the aquarium. Most importantly, sandkings are brilliant at war. Each colony shares a single hive-mind, and complex, strategic war is a cornerstone of sandking ecology. The kitten-killing Kress is soon inviting friends over for weekly wars amongst his four sandking colonies. In the hands of this angry god, things don’t go well at all. Maybe this synopsis sounds predictable, but I first read “Sandkings” at 14 and still remember it vividly after that lifetime has doubled in years, books, and continents. GRRM is no mean storyteller.
Speaking of benign and destructive gods, here’s a fun li’l BBC video of a gecko demanding tribute from a bug.