Sunday, May 28, 2017

Odd dogs

In order to comprehend the meaning of this event, you must understand that the town was already full of surgically altered dogs and other kinds of animals, in various states of completion, most of them running wild in the streets, scavenging from garbage heaps. The tradition of turning them loose had been started shortly after Rank's day, as a way of celebrating individual successes and displaying them to the town. Most of the monsters, at that time, were too horrible to be kept as pets.
This article got me curious about Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis. Published in 1997, it's her only novel to date. I'll pay attention if she has a follow-up.

The account of a group of surgically modified dogs who move to New York after overthrowing the humans of the German colony in Canada where they were created, it's narrated in the main by two characters. One, Ludwig von Sacher - a name reminiscent of Leopold von Sacher Masoch - is a Monster Dog himself, and the designated historian of his people. The other, Cleo Pira, is an aimless human writer who gets a career boost when she profiles the Monster Dogs for Vanity Fair. It's a little unsettling to realize how much more central print was to culture when the book was written not too long ago.

The book feels like a spiritual heir to both The Island of Dr. Moreau and the Caliban portions of Shakespeare's The Tempest. The Monster Dogs are surgically altered dogs, yes. They're also humans, albeit uncomfortable in their skins as humans. And they're a commentary on German romanticism as well.

It's an unusual book, and arresting. I'll be talking about another book I'm reading soon.


susan said...

The article certainly makes the book sound interesting, albeit more than a little sad. One subject I've read about is the stem cell research that has led to the production of chimeric animals with the goal of developing a source of transplant organs for humans.

The story I remembered immediately was Redemption Ark by Alaistair Reynolds and his description of the hyperpigs wherein a spectrum of human genes had been spliced into those of the domestic pig. The intention had been to optimize the ease with which organs could be transplanted between the two species, enabling pigs to grow body parts that could be harvested later for human utilization... The genetic intervention had gone too far, achieving not just cross-species compatibility but something entirely unexpected: intelligence - as well as a lot of misery for the creatures who found themselves belonging neither in one place or the other.

On another level, a much more ancient one, humans honored animal spirits as guides in shamanistic rituals. The idea that nowadays we try to change animals to suit our own purposes seems wrong somehow. More than any other creatures dogs have already undergone a lot of dramatic physical changes instigated largely through human meddling. Poor Monster Dogs.

Ben said...

Much of the book is very definitely sad. Why? Because the monster dogs have no future, just in the nature of why and how they were created. The innovations that allow them to speak and function in this humanoid way are lost now, among other things. The Monster Dog we spend the most time with is tragically aware of all this.

Redemption Ark sounds quite interesting. Parts of the series it belongs to are probably very far off, if they happen at all. For that matter, predicting the future isn't really the job of science fiction. Other aspects are close or, on some level, here. There are ethical questions that need to be faced.

Carl Jung wrote about tribes in Africa who believed in "bush souls", which is to say that they believed they're souls were present in surrounding plants, animals, or geographical features. The truth in this is that animals make us more human, if we let them. Dogs - and yes, cats - are some of the nearest bush souls to us.