Friday, October 6, 2017

Microreview [novella]: Strange Dogs, by James S.A. Corey

A delightful—because contained in scope—science fiction-y “what if”  

Corey, James S.A. Strange Dogs. Orbit, 2017.

Buy it here.

I am of the considered opinion that this little novella represents a return to form for Abraham and Franck (aka “James S.A. Corey”), as they retreat from the flamboyant villainy of Marco Inaros into something much more provincial, as it were. Of course, the tale they tell has important implications for future Expanse novels: it helps show the broad outline of the threat—and opportunity?—Holden, Nagata et al will soon face from the rogue Martian operations led by Duarte. Since, up until this point, Duarte and his entire world has been shrouded in an impenetrable veil of mystery (from the perspective of the Roci’s crew), it was a great decision by Abraham and Franck to: a) take us behind that veil, and b) hang the story around a child (of limited but growing understanding), who sees the world through (relatively) innocent eyes.

When this child encounters the arch-nemesis of the solar system, Duarte, in the flesh, she of course knows nothing of his infamy, and finds him kind and accommodating. And when the child stumbles upon some of Duarte’s top-secret experiments, she finds them rather less monstrous than the reader has been conditioned to expect. That’s why having the story be told through a child was such a good idea: she doesn’t have any pre-conceived notions that proto-molecule tech = evil, and as a result, is able to see opportunities denied to those more judgmental adult humans who have encountered proto-molecule hybrids in the past. Is it perhaps fair to say that the only ‘evil’ in the proto-molecule is the foul intentions of the humans (like Jules-Pierre Mao, etc.) who sought to use it for their own ends?

Finally, ask yourself this question: if something terrible happens to someone you love, and a couple of glowing alien ‘dogs’ seem to offer that person a second lease on life (of a sort), would you reject them? And if so, why? Isn’t any kind of life better than the awful finality of death? And besides, there’s no evidence (yet) of that sort of miraculous assistance being weighed down with any Mephistophelean baggage. Our young heroine certainly comes to that conclusion, and I think many of us would follow her lead, even if (like her) we can’t really understand or predict the far-reaching implications of accepting alien organisms’ help. It seems we must stay tuned for the next entry in the Expance series to hear whether she chose wisely or (like Donovan!) ‘poorly.’

The Math:

Objective Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for drastically limiting the scope of the story, +1 for giving us a ‘child’s eye view’ of the world and its ethical quandaries

Penalties: -1 for, in my opinion, exaggerating the degree to which children’s understanding is primitive (they grasp intuitively a lot more than many adults appear to realize), and having her stream of consciousness be correspondingly ‘kid-like’

Nerd coefficient: 8/10 “Take that, Babylon’s Ashes!”

[Does this score seem low to you? Check our scoring system here to see why it’s plenty high!]

Like Zeus’s brainchild Athena, this review sprang fully formed from the mind of Zhaoyun, a devotee of speculative science fiction (even more than space opera!) since time immemorial and contributor to Nerds of a Feather since 2013.