Dogs

by Nancy Kress

Reviewed by Bob Sojka


Besides dozens of stories in speculative fiction’s best magazines and 4 volumes of her own stories, Nancy Kress has published 19 novels--3 fantasy and 16 sci-fi. She has won at least one of each of the prestigious Hugo, Nebula, Campbell & Sturgeon awards. And I would say that you can’t call yourself well rounded in contemporary science fiction if you haven’t read her Hugo- and Nebula-winning Beggars in Spain. For years she wrote the “Write Great Fiction” column in Writer’s Digest. She is a popular author on the workshop circuit, teaches literature and writing at universities, and has authored 3 popular books on writing.

I bought Dogs a few days after Nancy told me at Odyssey 2008 that I couldn’t have a talking tree in my story linking Pinocchio to Hitler (Stop laughing!). I’m still working around the obstacles that advice poses, but during that conversation I got to know a lot about the depth and breadth of Nancy’s technical knowledge (which she disclaims with unwarranted humility). Nancy knows a lot about bio-technology; and I think she has a thing about FBI guys--by which I mean she’s got a bunch of FBI buddies that she mines very effectively regarding law enforcement, espionage, terrorism and stuff like that. But if she ever writes some sci-fi linking the Black Death and HIV, I want you future scholars out there to remember that I helped put her on to the idea.

And just as the epidemiology of the Black Death was exacerbated in the Middle Ages by ignorance, distraction, superstition and misdirection, when the dogs in Tyler, Maryland start turning mean it takes a while for the townsfolk to accept what is going on, let alone get a grip on the real causes. Pet politics, property politics, presidential politics, police politics, and plague politics produce a powerful potion of procrastination and paranoia. Meanwhile a tangled drama of terrorism and insanity unravels, exposing tendrils binding the Middle East, Europe, Africa, The Church, and nearly every facet of the public disaster in Maryland to one participant in the melee. 

In this decade defined by our society’s redefinition of the word terror, Dogs is a diorama of how asymmetrical warfare works. You fight your enemy by coaxing them into fighting among themselves. Since you cannot defeat your enemy’s armies, you defeat their comfort and sense of security. You destroy their economy by fooling them into loving their weapons so much that it bankrupts them, while tempting them to turn them on themselves. Insidiously, you make brutal, terrifying and effective weapons of the things that your enemy counts on for daily service, comfort, and even love. But worst of all, you do it without even being present on the battlefield.

If you like multi-layered action stories with characters across the full spectrum of quirky personalities. If you like intrigue and enjoy being confused about who the good guys and bad guys really are. If you like seeing divergent elements of contrasting cultures simultaneously trying to get along while clutching each other’s throats. If you like your sci-fi plots to hinge on a strong and oh-so-possible hard science premise. If you like spies and bubbas and strong sassy female protagonists with a soft spot for guys they ought to brush off. If you like any of these in your science fiction, you won’t be disappointed by Dogs.