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Your Robot Dog Will Die

March 22, 2018

At the ICFA conference last weekend in Orlando, I went to a fiction reading because I wanted to hear Kij Johnson read (her story was wonderful, as always) and discovered Arin Greenwood, who read the first chapter of her novel Your Robot Dog Will Die and made us all laugh and cry.

Arin is an animal welfare journalist, and such a good writer that she can make you care–I’m not a dog lover, particularly, but I teared up when the robot dog died, even though the character kept reminding herself that it was only a robot getting “replaced.”

Some things are irreplaceable (that’s one of the points of my blog title) and this novel is so well-written and inventive that I read the whole thing while still at the conference, with lots of other distractions.

Set in a future world, the novel begins on “Dog Island,” somewhere in Florida after a prolonged drought, where three teenagers are testing a new version of a robot dog every year. At first it’s not clear what happened to the “organic” dogs. We find out that robot horses never caught on to replace the organic ones, and that “robot cats are being developed as a sort of insurance, in case what happened to the dogs happens to other animals as well.”

Gradually we learn that the narrator’s name is “Nano” and that her family was one of the “’founding families’ that moved to the sanctuary when the dog population got dangerously close to disappearing altogether.” We find out that there are six dogs in a refuge on the island but that humans who visit them have to wear special suits to hide their appearance and scent so the dogs won’t attack. Eventually we’re told that “about twenty-five years ago, some scientists thought it would be a smart idea to try and tinker with some dogs’ genes.” The effect was to create “a laboratory full of dogs who really hated humans” and then “somehow the changed DNA spread” until no one could keep dogs as pets anymore and the creator of one dog sanctuary, seeing how unhappy the dogs were, decided that she needed to end their suffering and worked with a biochemist to develop a quick euthanasia method called “Kinderend.”

The action of the novel begins when Nano visits the refuge and finds four puppies. “Three bare their teeth while hiding under their mother” but “one does something miraculous, and impossible: begins to wag its tiny tail.” Nano rescues the friendly puppy, because policy dictates that the other three must receive “Kinderend,” as the refuge can’t support more than six of these fierce dogs. When Nano questions the policy, her mother tells her “our species can’t be trusted. These innocent animals, beings, would have suffered. That would have been their fate.”

Nano and the puppy, who she names Donut, have to leave Dog Island and learn about how animals are treated in the outside world in order to figure out why everything she has been taught is a little twisted, why it might be better to let animals live rather than guarantee they will never suffer.

When Nano returns to Dog Island, she confronts the people in power, who declare that “we will not indulge the selfish desire to possess animals. It causes them suffering that cannot be measured.” There’s a terrible scene with an 80-year-old male macaw and her 80-year-old female owner because “he will probably live to be 150 years old. She will hopefully live to be 90.”

Eventually Nano manages to pave the way for the Dog Islanders to let more animals live and also make sure that they will be cared for.

It’s a good story, and a fast read. If you love animals, you will love it. Certainly it solidifies my view that we should always use the word “adopt” about animals, rather than “own.”

(Note: this novel will be available in April from Soho Press; I read an advance copy.)


2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2018 7:48 pm

    Aw, this sounds great! Soho Press does such a great array of weird books — I don’t read enough of their stuff, and I always mean to change that.

    • March 26, 2018 3:31 pm

      Once I’d started reading, I couldn’t put it down. And I was at a conference! There were other things to do!

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