Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Animals and Us



After seeing Dave's post about how he's trying to raise money to bring his animals with him to Australia, it made me realise how integral animals are to our lives. You can tell a lot about a person by their pet. For instance there are dog people and there are cat people, and then there's Dave.

No, seriously, authors seem to have a soft spot for animals, judging by the number that appear in fantasy and SF books. Here is an Amazon link to fantasy and SF books which feature animals as characters or significant others for characters. And I think it is only the tip of the iceberg.

We're always world building, creating animals for our fantasy worlds or re-engineering animals to populate our SF worlds. But even more than that, we often give the animals a voice, so that they become characters who move the plot forward.

After doing a very unscientific survey I came to the conclusion that there seem to be a lot of cats featured in fantasy and SF books. There are five anthologies alone, which feature stories about cats (Catfantastic 1- 5). Next we have horses and dogs. And then there are a whole swag of books that feature dragons.

Mythology features talking animals, hybrid animals and people-hybrid animals. The idea that people can take the form of animals appears in cultures across the world.

Children's stories abound with talking animals. When writing for children, if you want to avoid the questions of race and ethnicity, a writer can use animal characters to make a point.

Animal characters are great for parodying human vices, such as Wind in the Willows or Animal Farm.

I have fond memories of reading The Dragon and the George by Gordon R Dickson. I must have read it thirty years ago but as far as I can recall a mild mannered university professor gets trapped in the body of a dragon and has to find his way back.

Are there books which you recall because the animal characters were so memorable?

18 comments:

KylieQ said...

The one that comes to mind first is Marley and Me, which is (supposedly) a true story about a dog adopted by a family. Books like that should come with a warning sticker that the ending is not happy. I bawled my eyes out.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

KylieQ, someone warned me about that movie, so I didn't go.

RJ_CruzeJr said...

I'm definitely one of those folks that like the treecats in the Honor Harrington series (I know there's kind of a "love the little buggers/hate the little buggers" schism among the fan-base).

Another group of animals that I really liked were the Rats and the Bats in Dave and Eric's Rat's, Bats, & Vats and The Rats, the Bats, and the Ugly. You just can't beat a team of uplifted rats (elephant shrews actually) who've raised (or would it be lowered) debauchery into an art form, combined with a team of uplifted bats whose problem-solving skills primarily consist of "let's blow it up." :-D

One other critter I fondly remember was SKitty from a series of short stories by Mercedes Lackey (I believe they were "Skitty," "A Tale of Two SKitties," and "SCat.")

Chris McMahon said...

I seem to remember a Piers Anthony book where he managed to get a unicorn to gallop in a pentatonic scale.

One other SF golden age book I can't recall that had this fantastic description of a feline sentient - with fur running down the back of her spine. Don't know why but that has always stuck in my head.

David Gemmell characters (which are often good-hearted strays themselves) also have a penchant for adopting unlovable animals, building trust that is rewarded as they come to their rescue. Most memorable was one of the Waylander series, where he takes a former pit-fighting dog under his wing.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

As someone who is owned by cats and loves dogs, I am, of course, stuck with animals in my books. HOWEVER the oddest thing that ever happened, re: animals was when my cat, Pete, became Peter -- human and dragon -- in Soul of Fire. The personality is ALL Pete. I have no idea how.

matapam said...

Andre Norton had tons of animals in her books. I think those were my introduction to the concept of changing animals to be better tools, and finding one had created people.

I get very tempted to start a breeding program. Fortunately my husband throws in periodic doses of reality.

RJ_CruzeJr said...

matapam: Throwing doses of reality? At a writer??? That's just downright *mean*! :-D

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

RJ, sound like I'll have to get a copy of Dave's Rats & Bats book!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris, isn't it funny how one little thing from a book wills tick with you so that years later you can't remember the book or the author, but you remember the 'thing'?

A unicorn galloping in a pentatonic scale? I must ask my daughter what that is. She's almost finished her BA of music.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah, I'm not at all surprised that your character took on the personality of your cat. Cats and dogs do have distinctive personalities. I don't know how scientists can claim they don't.

Although, I think that is changing. I saw a documentary on how sheep were tested and it was discovered there were popular and unpopular sheep, and most of the sheep would rather hang out down the end of the field with the popular sheep. Imagine being stuck with the uncool sheep!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, a pet for your taciturn character to talk to, is a great way of revealing character motivation.

And RJ is right. It's cruel to taunt a writer with reality!

RJ_CruzeJr said...

Rowena, RBV and RBU are an absolutely wonderful pair of books. I've re-read them several times. You're not going to want to put them down. In fact, these books sit prominently on my special shelf of "comfort reads," right between the Vorkosigan saga and the Bolo series (which, with me, is definitely a place of honor). Dave and Eric's "Pyramid" books are also on that shelf as well.

If you want to see what you're getting into, both are available at the Baen Free Library (http://www.baen.com/library). Though, I trust that after a chapter or two, you will likely run -- not walk -- to your nearest friendly local book merchant to snap up these two for your collection.

Kate said...

The first one that comes to mind I don't remember either the title or the author. It was The Somethingorother Journey, I think, about (again, I think) two dogs and a cat that trekked hundreds of miles to get home. It was what Sluggy Freelance would describe as a "cockle-warming extravaganza" with much pulling of emotional strings - but as I recall the way the animals interacted rang true.

Dave's Rats, Bats & Vats and their friends is fantastic (especially Pooh-Bah and Ariel).

For absolutely perfect cat-ness, there's Not Dinner in Sarah's Gentleman Takes a Chance. Somehow, I don't think the shifters count as "animals".

Of course, the question arises about what kind of pets we'll have in the future - or will we be pets.

RJ_CruzeJr said...

Kate: Pooh-Bah and Ariel? Surely you cannot choose them over the absolute personification of macho, the only true hidalgo (at least in his own mind) in the entire story, that very embodiment of manliness... Fluff!

:-D :-D :-D :-D

Kate said...

But... but... Robert! Fluff isn't an animal! All you have to do is ask him, and he'll tell you so!

;-)

Mike said...

Let's see. Off the top of my head, Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper -- except he's sapient. Tick Tock in James Schmitz book -- Universe against Her? Collected in Telzey Amberdon, I think. But again, he is sapient. Maybe the animals in Beast Master by Andrew Norton? Or the companion in Doctor to the Stars, also called The Med Series. Horses -- just about everybody has horses. Although some horses are more than horses, like the Mercedes Lackey's Companions. Robert Heinlein... flat cats, Star Beast, and the cat who walks through walls? Janet Kagan -- several of the stories in Mirabile have animals, since this is a colony with a small genetic engineering problem. How about the kangaroo rex? Or Barry Longyear's Circusworld, City of Baraboo, and Elephant's Song? Anne McCaffrey's dragons. Steve Miller and Sharon Lee definitely have cats in the Liaden Universe. And Turtles, but they're people, not animals.

There's a lot of animals in those books!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Mike, how could I forget H Beam Piper's Little Fuzzies?

Mike said...

Perhaps because they're not animals... and they went to court to prove it! Definitely memorable, though.