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Author Topic: PC060: The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the  (Read 11314 times)

Heradel

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PC060: The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change

by Kij Johnson.
Read by Heather Lindsley.

(It’s a universal fantasy, isn’t it?—that the animals learn to speak, and at last we learn what they’re thinking, our cats and dogs and horses: a new era in cross-species understanding. But nothing ever works out quite as we imagine. When the Change happened, it affected all the mammals we have shaped to meet our own needs. They all could talk a little, and they all could frame their thoughts well enough to talk. Cattle, horses, goats, llamas; rats, too. Pigs. Minks. And dogs and cats. And we found that, really, we prefer our slaves mute.

(The cats mostly leave, even ones who love their owners. Their pragmatic sociopathy makes us uncomfortable, and we bore them; and they leave. They slip out between our legs and lope into summer dusks. We hear them at night, fighting as they sort out ranges, mates, boundaries. The savage sounds frighten us, a fear that does not ease when our cat Klio returns home for a single night, asking to be fed and to sleep on the bed. A lot of cats die in fights or under car wheels, but they seem to prefer that to living under our roofs; and as I said, we fear them.

(Some dogs run away. Others are thrown out by the owners who loved them. Some were always free.)

Rated PG. for emotionally provocative (mis)treatment of animals.

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


Wilson Fowlie

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I wish I could say I liked this, but it just didn't work for me.  I kept finding myself looking at my player, thinking Is it almost done yet?

I think the story could have used the services of a good editor to pare it down - quite a bit - and tighten it up.  The idea of the story was good, I think, but the execution itself felt like a first or maybe second draft.

The reading was pretty decent, though.  There were one or two places where a word ending in a vowel ran together with a word beginning with a vowel and could have used a slight glottal stop to separate them, but on the whole, I thought Heather did alright, and even handled the dog voices well.

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ajames

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On an intellectual level, I thought there was a lot to like about this story. What if dogs could talk - how would it change them, us, our relationship? The idea of story telling and the trickster tales was well done, too. Unfortunately, I just could not get into this story. Perhaps that is a result of the format - the semi-formal One Dog/This is the same dog framing.

I wonder how I would have responded had I read this story rather than listened to it.



alllie

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Being an animal lover I liked this story but I felt it was not written by a real animal freak, by someone who really loves and understands animals.

I grew up in a world without leash laws. Dogs and cats hung around because they wanted to, not because they had to. Even today most dogs and cats are not slaves, prisoners maybe, but not slaves. Few of them work for us. I am sure if my dogs could come and go as they pleased they would stay just as the dogs stayed on my grandparents' farm. True, about once a year the males would go off "courting", i.e., they would follow a passing female in heat and come back about a month later as thin as a ghost. True, when they became old the time would come when they didn't return from one of these trips but that didn't mean they didn't try. Given a choice most dogs and cats want to live with humans.

Even now my cat comes and goes as she pleases. She likes to spend about half the day in the house and about half the day outside. But she is still young. I know from experience that once she gets a year old she will be less and less interested in going outside.

I think if my animals could talk the main thing I would learn is that I need to take them to the animal dentist and spend a lot of money on them. That and how much some of them hate each other. 

I did enjoy the story nonetheless.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2009, 09:05:46 PM by alllie »



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Thought provoking.  This story really had me pondering my relationship with my dog...



Doom xombie

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I couldn't get into this, maybe because I didn't believe that would happen. Theres a cat that hangs around my house and we don't even feed him. We just stroke it and tell him he's cute. He sticks around and then leaves to find food but he comes back.

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alllie

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I couldn't get into this, maybe because I didn't believe that would happen. Theres a cat that hangs around my house and we don't even feed him. We just stroke it and tell him he's cute. He sticks around and then leaves to find food but he comes back.

It's called "two timing". Cats like to have a spare family on the side so they will have an additional source of love and affection. And food.



Sylvan

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I truly enjoyed this story for the thought-provoking way in which it wove around two things:  primitive evolution of trickster tales and the relationship humans have with subservient animals as long as they do not have the ability to talk back or put their thoughts into words ... or even have thoughts.  This story proposes that with the words came thoughts and memory; intelligence and cogitation came with the communication and that, as much as anything, undermined the relationship that the human-shaped animals had with their former masters.  Earth went from being a planet with one dominant lifeform (based upon sapience) to a world with many.

The interesting thing that this story also did (by accident, rather than design) was inspire in me the observation that some science fiction and fantasy are very, very close to each other.  In this case, all that would have been required would have been a few paragraphs giving a scientific reason for "The Change" and this would have been S-F.  The fact that it did not makes it fantasy.

I like that and really appreciate this story for making me see the tale that way.

This certainly does not apply to all stories but "Evolution of Trickster Stories..." fits the model.

Spoiler (click to show/hide)

That said, this is one of my favorite PodCastles to date and I shall be listening to it again, very soon!

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)



Ocicat

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Only got about 20 minutes into this, and stopped the player.  It just wasn't working for me.

I was kind of interested by the central premise, that we wouldn't want our animals around if we knew what they were thinking.  I wanted the story to answer that, but it never really did.  Just told me that it was so.  Show, don't tell

And the "this dog/this is the same dog" formalism really grated on me too.  Both in ascetically, and because it just didn't seem... dog like. 

I'm with alllie - this doesn't sound like it was written by someone who really knows animals that well.



Doom xombie

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One thing that I recently noticed was that one of the animals that became sentient were pigs. What does that mean? People would have to either stop eating pork products or eat a sentient being. Another thing, it says it affects all mammals shaped to meet our own needs that means that whales and dolphins should be able to talk. I mean there are serious implications that would come with this, think of the cattle that can now talk. I mean it sounds as if poeple can't really eat anymore unless they chop up what they now perceive as sentient beings. Lots of people would now have a lot more moral qualms about eating beef..

Oh btw, as a native american I already believe that all animals have what is known as a soul. I believe that they are all sentient. Plants also have what is known as a soul, so anyone who may have suggested vegetarianism should know that... We as native peoples have known for a long time and accepted that all life is sacred. It doesn't mean we can't eat them.

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Talia

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I liked this though I had a few quibbles about it.. it went on quite a bit about the master/slave thing, but I dont feel that's how most people treat the relationship with thier pets. Some bad people, sure, but most people treat them like a family member (alabeit a child, for discipline and such..).  I suspect a lot of peole would get rid of their dogs if they could suddenly talk.. not out of guilt but out of the sheer weirdness. Tho perhaps not as many as implied in this story.

Also seemed a bit overestimating canine intelligence.. not in the whole language thing, but.. if you've seen the movie 'Up..' the one friendly dog's behavior is a lot more what it seems most dog's inherent intellect/mindset seems to be at, IMHO :p

I enjoyed the stories part of it, that was one of the best parts. And yay for (mostly) happy endings.



Loz

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I know we're supposed to write long critiques about these pieces but for me it can be summed up by saying that the I would have liked the story a lot more if it had been considerably shorter. As it was the story ran all the way through on my iPod but I'm not sure that now, only an hour or so later, I can remember anything that happened in the second half of the story, and by morning I expect the first half would have gone the same way.

But then, I'm a cat person.



Listener

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I read this, but didn't retain it, so I actually listened to it. And now I know how to pronounce "Kij".

I enjoyed the trickster stories more than the story of Linna, same as I did last time. But in terms of Coyote/Trickster stories, I've been spoiled by "Anansi Boys" and Spider-as-trickster. I agree it went on far too long with some of the introspection, but the ending was a good payoff -- people make stories real because they want them to be real.

Heather Lindsley is a good narrator. "Just Do It" was the first EP I ever heard.

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DKT

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I kept finding myself looking at my player, thinking Is it almost done yet?

I think the story could have used the services of a good editor to pare it down - quite a bit - and tighten it up.  The idea of the story was good, I think, but the execution itself felt like a first or maybe second draft.

Didn't the intro say this was originally in an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow? That's about as good as you can do, I think...(Though to be fair, I did check my iPod a couple of times, too.)

I still enjoyed it, though. Kij Johnson's writing is really lovely. Does she always write about animals? 20 something Monkeys and the Abyss, and she has a new story at Tor.com about cats.

Heather Lindsley's reading was pretty good, except when she read the parts about One Dog, which were GREAT and reminded me she read Fourteen Postal Experiements, too. Her reading of that was amazing.)


eytanz

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I didn't really enjoy this story. Or more accurately, I really enjoyed the trickster stories - I do like the "folk tales from a somewhat alien culture" aspect of it - but I really felt that the main story didn't work at all. Mostly, the narrator kept telling us what the motivations behind the actions of characters and the human and dog societies were, but they just really, really didn't ring true. I can't comment on how magically transformed dogs act, since I have no evidence, but we have a lot of historical evidence for how human societies view their pets, and their slaves, and, more importantly, what happens to a human society when the status quo is challenged. I'd be willing to buy that a lot of unpleasantness would result, but I don't buy the "pets as slaves" thing, and I certainly I don't buy the "collective guilt" angle. That's just not how humans work, and no matter how many times the story tried to insist that it would, it can't change that.




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I was so bored I could not even finish it.  I also felt like the author was implying that all people treat their animals like Michael Vick.  the premise had posibilities but every domesticated animal suddenly becoming smart was too much for me to suspend belief. 

D+  for an origianl idea.



skcll

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Spoilers for anyone who hasn't read Fox Woman (although if you know the premise of the story, I'm not really ruining anything except that I mention what I think are the themes of the book)

I've tried to read Kij Johnson's work before, the Fox Woman.  The main reason I read it was that Lloyd Alexander had written a blurb commending it.  Back to the point, I got through about half of the book before I set it down and never picked it back up to make progress.  It explored interesting themes of depression, a mid-life crisis, and isolation from one's own family on the part of one of two main characters (at least as far as I read), but the story just sort of floated on without any sort of clear direction and often times apparent purpose.  I got to the point where the fox family had finally used fox magic to cast an illusion that they were human so that the fox could pursue her forbidden romantic interest in the man (hence fox woman).  For whatever reason (mainly boredom I think), I couldn't keep going past this.  I could understand the author wanting to explore the themes of isolation and depression in an adult man, but I really couldn't figure out her fascination with the fox woman.  Yes, her themes of a woman wanting to escape the bonds and limitations placed on her by society may be relevant (can anybody who read the book tell me if I'm getting this right?), but often times I found she was boring me with meaningless musings on what it is like to be a fox.  But the biggest I had was that the story really wasn't going anywhere.  It's been two years since I took a stab at it, but as I remember it, to get to the part of casting of the fox magic to make the fox appear as a woman took nearly half the book.  I felt guilty at not finishing the book if only because I felt that there might be some statement about the above mentioned themes of the book.  So, I'd promised myself that I'd eventually finish it someday (no way would I reread it).  I feel that her story was trying to explore the human condition through fantasy as all exceptional/literary fantasy should.

So, I was pretty surprised and happy to see that she'd written a short story and that I'd get to listen to it on podcastle (it's easier to stick with a story and pay attention when you're listening to a story rather than reading it).  I'd finally get to see what she was all about.  Much to my dismay, I had exactly the same problems with this story.  Not only was it boring, but I couldn't figure out why she'd even written it.  What was the point?  Again, her fascination with animals and animal perspectives is apparent, but quite frankly such a premise is boring to me unless it serves some larger purpose, asks a more important question.

Maybe all she's interested in is the relationships between man and domesticated animal, but as person who's never owned a pet, this did not interest me.  I did not understand her idea that people would reject animals that could think and speak for seeing them as they really are. Are other people incapable of seeing them as they really are?  What I don't understand is why the animals do not reject us as soon as they become intelligent?  It's more like they come to reject us because we rejected them (as the trickster dog shows).

I've been waiting on this post for almost a month, but I figure it's about time I posted it.  I'm interested in finding out what you guys think is the reason the author wrote this story (what she was trying to say).



LaShawn

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It's been a week since I listened to this story, and I'm still thinking about it.

I really loved the formal structure of the stories the dogs told. It also got me thinking about the relationship between pets and humans as a whole, though I think a lot more people would have kept their pets. As I understand it, having a pet is more for companionship, not a master/slave thing. I guess its that word "ownership" that the story is wrestling with. I did enjoy the story and the questions it raised.

BTW, I don't own a pet, but I do have a 5-year-old, so it's almost the same thing, except there are days when I think the 5-year-old owns me... ::)

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As a dog owner (2 dogs) and inveterate dog lover (that's in the platonic sense) I was disturbed more than I care to say by this story.

If my dogs started speaking, what would happen? What would they say? Is it true, as I maintain, that my beautiful black Kelpie girl is as smart as they come? And that my Goldie/Basset X boy is blissfully unencumbered by intelligence? Or is it more accurate to say, the one conforms to human norms of "good" behaviour than the other?

I don't know.

But I liked this story a lot.


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I did love the offhand remark about cats being "pragmatic sociopaths."  It's funny 'cause it's true.

((I think mine are trying to kill me.  Especially when I'm late with the kibble.))

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Jagash

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I am not a dog person, yet I find the introspective and contemplative nature of the story fit me quite well.   The storytelling of the dogs was beautifully done and built so much depth into the canine culture, even for a culture so young.

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JoeFitz

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I liked the central premise and the academic frame. I was disappointed by the slave/master narrative because that is really not the pet/owner narrative and the pet/owner narrative is not slave/master. While the juxtaposition creates some narrative possibilities, I found it diminished the slave/master narrative and aggrandized the pet/owner narrative in an awkward and ultimately unsatisfying fashion.

I kept thinking how insulting it was to compare pets to slaves as a substitute for animal/human. It was a little annoying, actually. I consider slavery to be forced labour where the coercion is enforced by ownership of the labourer. A pet, however, is kept as a companion. Various types of companionship exist, from the noble to the ignoble, but "pets" are not "slaves". Were some slaves kept as pets? Maybe.

Maybe working animals, or livestock or lab animals, if they became able to speak would fit with that master/slave narrative, but using pets seemed a tad melodramatic.

I also agree with the above that "One dog... this is the same dog" phrase became tired quickly.



Scattercat

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I think the contrast between pet/owner and master/slave was purposely highlighted, actually.  We think of them as separate roles, that we keep pets for "companionship" and it's nothing like slavery, ew, but really, we have taken and trained these animals for tens of thousands of years, altered their very genetic makeup to better suit ourselves, and why?  Selfish desires.  Originally, after all, pets were domesticated to work; dogs guarded houses and helped with hunting; cats kept pests out of food stores; cows and pigs were food animals.  The reason the pets are compared to slaves is itself an attempt to get us to re-examine our relationships with our pets.  Why DO we keep them around?  What do we get out of it?  What would they think of the arrangement if they were able to examine it abstractly and logically, as we do?

That discomfort is the whole point of the story, I think.  It's not meant to draw a clear and bright line connecting pets to slaves, nor saying that the two states are equivalent, but by making the jarring juxtaposition to help us think more deeply about our actions and motivations and perhaps understand our pets a little better.

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monkeystuff

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It is a deeper look into our relation with domesticated animals... Its funny, the story almost gives the animals a soul just because they can talk. IRL we don't typically imagine animals to have souls, but is that really true?   Could we pass our souls along to the animals by talking to them, expanding their and our own knowledge of existence. or would they be born with souls?   Maybe it says a lot for speech, we do define our selfs in comparison to others, and being able to talk to animals might just make us define our selfs differently, which could explain how some people wern't able to accept reality and abandoned their animals when other people in the story were able to remain friends with their animals.

Also, I liked how the dogs told stories, it reminded me of the graphic novel "the sandman" were there was one cat who told a story to all the other cats about how they were in charge of humans at one point in existence.  Though the cats didn't really talk in this story.  The familiarity helped make a good story more enjoyable.

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I really liked this story, it was very disturbing to listen to which is always a good sign.  I agree with JoeFitz that the master/slave analogy doesn't really capture whatever our relationship is with the animals we live with.  The story seems to be much more about the human reaction to the dogs than the dogs themselves.  The acquisition of language highlighted how humans treat and mistreat dogs, while the dog themselves seemed to stay the same.  That's probably why I felt the 'one dog' stories (while I enjoyed them) were beside the point, more useful as showing the dogs as dogs, rather than showing the development of a radical separatist doggy sect.  But overall a story that makes me consider how I am with my dogs.



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I really liked this story, in fact I'd rank it among my favorites, though there were plenty of things I didn't like about it.  The "This is the same dog" repitition rang very nicely to my ears, and I enjoyed the trickster stories much more than I did the main narrative.  I was looking forward to the next story as I was listening to the rest.

As others have said, I didn't much care for the master/slave imposition on the human/animal relationship.  Most dogs these days are pets, though some do of course carry useful employment such as seeing-eye dogs, hunting dogs, drug-sniffing dogs.  Even those working dogs have a mental disposition that it's not slavery, they are rewarded with treats and/or affection in a way that is very fulfilling to them.  Yes, the existence of dogs was created by mankind's bending of the animals to their own wills over the course of millennia, but that does not make my dog a slave or myself a slave owner.  Domesticated dogs existed before I was born.  Furthermore, my three dogs are rescue dogs, which would have been killed if someone had not taken them in.

Another way that the story didn't mesh well is that everybody's relationships with their dogs became so antagonistic.  Spoken language or no, once you get to know a dog it's not very difficult to read their emotions in their body language, whether they're happy, angry, sad, scared, sick, etc...  So if my dogs were able to speak, it would be along the same lines of expressing the same emotions they've already expressed.  And would probably be much more along the lines of that beer commercial where there is an obscure brand of beer that supposedly lets you understand animals, and the dog is just sitting there and yelling "Sausages" over and over again.  The pooches are smart, but yeah sometimes they have a one track mind.

I didn't believe that the police could get away with poisoning a park full of dogs without anyone protesting it. 

And where was PETA in all of this?  Some PETA supporters already get very militant about animals rights the way it is now, don't you think that would magnify if the animals could speak for themselves?  Even non-PETA groups might argue for animal rights if it could be argued that the critters are sentient. 

And much more interesting than the dog relationship is the livestock relationship, which I was disappointed that the story didn't explore at all.  The story even mentioned hamburger, so presumably they're still butchering the cows who can now talk to them.  Me, I don't think I'll ever give up meat, but if cows started talking, I would go vegetarian immediately.  It seemed like the author just wanted to stick to the dogs, but then it would've made more sense to just make the dogs alone able to talk.  Ignoring the consequences of the rest of the domesticated animals just made the world seem more like a thought exercise, an allegory, than any place that could exist even within its own rules.  I still really enjoyed the trickster tales, but that made it hard to get into the main part of the story.




nojojojo

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Wow.  I don't often comment here, but this story was powerful and beautiful enough to draw me out of my lurker silence.  What a crazy, beautiful, terrible metaphor for slavery and exploitation.  I wouldn't have bought the idea that humans would mass-abandon and mass-murder their pets, if it had just been a story about dogs and cats learning to talk, and people freaking out.  But the underlying message that people like having power over others and they don't react well when they lose that power... that made the story.  It's happened so often in our species' history, just between us humans and even between male and female.  So I have no trouble believing it would happen between us any any other species on this planet that suddenly became sentient.

And I loved the use of folktale styling throughout -- the stories of OneDog (this is the same dog) blending into Coyote legends... the implication that the dogs were developing their own culture... wow.

Going to go see if this was first published in 2009; hopefully I can add it to my Nebula nominations.



nevermore_66

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I think the contrast between pet/owner and master/slave was purposely highlighted, actually.  We think of them as separate roles, that we keep pets for "companionship" and it's nothing like slavery, ew, but really, we have taken and trained these animals for tens of thousands of years, altered their very genetic makeup to better suit ourselves, and why?  Selfish desires.  Originally, after all, pets were domesticated to work; dogs guarded houses and helped with hunting; cats kept pests out of food stores; cows and pigs were food animals.  The reason the pets are compared to slaves is itself an attempt to get us to re-examine our relationships with our pets.  Why DO we keep them around?  What do we get out of it?  What would they think of the arrangement if they were able to examine it abstractly and logically, as we do?

That discomfort is the whole point of the story, I think.  It's not meant to draw a clear and bright line connecting pets to slaves, nor saying that the two states are equivalent, but by making the jarring juxtaposition to help us think more deeply about our actions and motivations and perhaps understand our pets a little better.


My reaction was pretty parallel to Scattercat.

A lot of pet lovers didn't like the some of implications...and I don't think you're meant too. The discomfort was the point. I personally think this is someone who knows animals. I could be wrong, but I do not think the author is saying that we're all horrible slave masters of our pets.  This isn't really a story about people who beat or torture animals.  This is about everyday people who love their pets...but it explores a less comfortable side of that relationship, which I think shows depth, the way another story might explore the darker sides of our human relationships with lovers, siblings, parents, etc. (people we genuinely love).

As far as showing accuracy in the relationship between dogs and humans...it's not...it's showing that relationship with a wrinkle, a complication.  Speech, an increased intelligence, and a developing society with an oral tradition throws a huge monkey wrench into the social dynamic; even if it worked fine before, it's changed now.  We love, cherish, feel connected to our dogs, true (and I don't think the story challenges that), but that dynamic is set with us as dominant (no matter how much of an animal wuver you like to consider yourself). Change the power-scale, and the system might suffer.  The dog is not a pet...it's almost more of a roommate.  How do you explain to your roommate why you had to cut off his genitals?  How do you tell your roommate that no, you get to eat all the pizza and no, no sex for you?

Think of all the things that you don't have to answer for, to your pet.  It's easy to rest assured that you did something in your animal companion's best interest, when there is no one to challenge that notion but your own smiling reflection.

How do you explain to an overly miniature Teacup Yorkie why she is the way she is--bred over thousands of years, from her powerful, primal body, into something so small and impractically designed for living (for the sake of cuteness) that by all laws of nature she should not exist--in fact is punished by that abhorring nature with a list of bodily problems (long enough to almost smack comedic) including joint complications, mood swings, an undersized esophagus causing breathing problems and heart strain leading up to a relatively young death by exploding heart (my Mom's dog in a nutshell...this story made me wonder what she might have said to me).

I don't think the author was showing us THE horrible truth about our relationships with our pets...but a possible truth, a dark little back alley in our otherwise loving relationships.  And that is a level of complexity and nuance I can admire.  And I'm certainly not an activist who wants to end the practice of pet ownership (I've had many in my life and will likely have many more).

But that's just my thoughts on that one issue.  I loved the trickster story.  I really liked the repetition of "One dog" and thought it was a good refrain and very accurate to a developing oral story tradition.

One of my all time favorite Podcastle stories thus far.
« Last Edit: February 04, 2010, 12:42:08 AM by nevermore_66 »

"There is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportion."
~Edgar Allan Poe, "Ligeia"


Malapropos de Rien

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The dog is not a pet...it's almost more of a roommate.  How do you explain to your roommate why you had to cut off his genitals?  How do you tell your roommate that no, you get to eat all the pizza and no, no sex for you?
Think of all the things that you don't have to answer for, to your pet.  It's easy to rest assured that you did something in your animal companion's best interest, when there is no one to challenge that notion but your own smiling reflection.
So, are we thus to assume that along with gaining speech, the dogs are losing their pack mentality?  Because if not, then I think a dog would understand these things better than a human roommate would.  There will always be a top dog, or a leader of the pack.  For our pets, we are that leader. 

If you have more than one dog, you will probably find them working out for themselves which one of them is in charge of the others -- which one gets the first pick of the food, the better sleeping place, etc.  Second and third in command after the humans.  And those subordinates who don't submit to the whims of the dominant dogs are punished with claws and teeth.  This is a pretty common social structure out in nature, so really I think if anyone would have a problem with it, it's the humans, not the dogs.  These humans would perhaps feel uncomfortable not because the dogs seemed more human, but because it reminds us that we are also animals.

(I don't comment on the genitals, since that's a complicated issue, and I haven't taken any action on that subject myself.)