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"Animal Lover" in Daughter of Regals

 
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 4:10 am    Post subject: "Animal Lover" in Daughter of Regals Reply with quote

It's a tale with an interesting plot: the animal-loving special agent cyborg forced to face down genetically altered animals carrying weapons in order to bring the people who are misusing them for obscene profit to justice.

Not the sort of match-up I've recalled seeing before in a science fiction story. So it has something original going for it from that alone.

One major detail in the design going against the story when reading it today is that it should have been set farther into the future. I'm aware Donaldson wrote it in 1977, and it's extremely hard to see ahead to predict how things are going to work out in societal evolution. It's just that the "futuristic" setting becomes somewhat compromised by that setting now being in the past.

Quote:
Here we are in the year 2011--men had walked on Mars, microwave stations were being built to transmit solar power, marijuana and car racing were so important they were subsidized by the government--but the rooms where men and women like me did their paperwork still looked like the squadrooms I'd seen in old movies when I was a kid.


This imagined "future" Donaldson has created is still an intriguing place to me, with a compelling logic behind the government coming to subsidize hunting preserves, race car tracks, and marijuana for use by the general public to keep down the occurrences of violent crime. That makes sense, and gives this fictional "future" some appeal for me.

Our cyborg protagonist, Special Agent Sam Browne (works for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations, I presume), loves animals enough to go to these government-subsidized hunting preserves to rescue animals orphaned by the hunting activities and raise them before turning them over to zoos. He seems more human than those in charge of the private hunting preserve he's sent to investigate by his boss Morganstark: owner Fritz Ushre and chief surgeon/animal breeder Avid Paracels.

Quote:
He [Ushre] had the face of a boar, and he was looking at me as if he were trying to decide where to use his tusks.


Quote:
[Dr. Paracels] looked a good bit more than thirty years older than I was. His face was gray, like the face of a man with a terminal disease, and the skin stretched from his cheekbones to his jaw as if it were too small for his skull. His eyes were hidden most of the time beneath his thick ragged eyebrows, but when I caught a glimpse of them they looked as dead as plastene. I would've thought he was a cadaver if he wasn't standing up and wearing a white coat. If he hadn't licked his lips once when he first saw me. Just the tip of his tongue circled his lips that once--not like he was hungry, but instead like he was wondering in an abstract way whether I might turn out to be tasty.


Caught snooping in Paracel's lab adjacent to Sharon's Point hunting preserve after hours, agent Browne is knocked out and finds himself facing threats by genetically altered animals with weaponry somewhere within the preserve.

Quote:
A rabbit came out of the brush a meter down the path from me. I thought he was a rabbit--he looked like a rabbit. An ordinary long-eared jackrabbit. Male--the males are a lot bigger than the females. Then he didn't look like a rabbit. His jaws were too big; he had the kind of jaws a dog has. His front paws were too broad and strong.
What the hell?
In his jaws he held a hand grenade, carrying it by the ring of the pin.
He didn't waste any time. He put the grenade down on the path and braced his paws on it. With a jerk of his head, he pulled the pin. Then he dashed back into the bushes.
________________________
A rabbit that wasn't a rabbit. A genetically altered rabbit, armed with munitions from the Procureton Arsenal.


Quote:
Almost at once, two dogs went trotting by. At least they should've been dogs. They were big brown boxers, and at first glance the only thing unusual about them was they carried sacks slung over their shoulders.
But they stopped at the farthest mine crater, and I got a better look. their shoulders were too broad and square, and instead of front paws they had hands--chimp hands, except for the strong claws.
They shrugged off their sacks, nosed them open. Took out half a dozen or so mines.


Quote:
Three seconds later, there was a thrashing above me in the next tree over, and then a monkey landed maybe four meters away from me on the same branch.
He was a normal howler monkey--normal for Sharon's Point. Sturdy gray body, pitch-black face with deep gleaming eyes; a good bit bigger and stronger than a chimp. But he had those wide square shoulders and hands that were too broad. He had a knapsack on his back.
And he was carrying an M-16 by the handle on top of the barrel.


Quote:
Which told the bear everything he wanted to know about me. With a roar that might have made me panic if I hadn't already been more dead than alive, he reared up onto his hind legs, and I got a look at what Paracels had done to him.
He had hands instead of forepaws. Paracels certainly liked hands. They were good for handling weapons. The bear's hands were so humanlike I was sure Paracels must have got them from one of the dead hunters. They looked too small for the bear. I couldn't figure out how he was able to walk on them. But of course that wasn't too much of a problem for a bear. They were big enough for what Paracels had in mind.
Against his belly the bear had a furry pouch like a kangaroo's. As he reared up, he reached both hands into his pouch. When he brought them out again, he had an automatic in each fist. A pair of .22 Magnums.


Quote:
After that, the outcome was out of my hands. I was attacked again. At the last second, my ears warned me: I heard something cutting across the breeze. I fell to the side--and a hawk went shizzing past where my head had been. I didn't get a very good look at it, but there was something strange about its talons. They looked a lot like fangs
A hawk with poisoned talons?


Browne finds the blood placed upon him by Ushre and Paracels is attracting more deadly animals to him, so he has to hurry as unobtrusively as possible to a stream to clean up and hide until he can figure a way to get out of the preserve alive. While doing this he discovers he has a deeper sense of purpose for bringing Ushre and Paracels to justice, beyond survival and doing his job.

Quote:
With one hand, Paracels gave them guns, mines, grenades; with the other, he took away their instincts for flight, self-preservation, even feeding themselves. They were crippled worse than a cyborg with his power turned off. They were deadly--but they were still crippled. Probably Paracels or Ushre or any of the handlers could walk the preserve from end to end without being in any danger.
That was why I was so mad.
Somebody had to stop those bastards.
I wanted that somebody to be me.


A strong statement of purpose, and reading that made me wish him luck.

The ending, though, puzzles me.

Spoiler:
After Browne manages to "borrow" a hovercraft, confronts Ushre and blows him up as he tries to escape, though not before Ushre opens the hunting preserve's gates to allow the animal mutants to escape. Browne then has an encounter with Paracels and a giant gorilla bodyguard. Browne dispatches the ape by touching a handheld magnetic device to the power pack in his chest (it had been turned off by Ushre) while shoving his left hand--a laser weapon--into the gorilla's mouth, blasting its head apart. Then Browne disposes of Paracels by throwing a knife into his neck. After that, he takes off his belt to use as a tourniquet on his bleeding left arm.
QUOTE Some time later (or maybe it was right away--I don't know) Morganstark came into the lab. First he said, "We got the gates shut. That'll hold them--for a while, anyway."
Then he said, "Jesus Christ! What happened to you?"
There was movement around me. Then he said, "Well, there's one consolation, anyway." (Was he checking my tourniquet? No, he was trying to put some kind of bandage on my mangled hand.) "If you don't have a hand they can build a laser into your forearm. Line it up between the bones--make it good and solid. You'll be as good as new. Better. They'll make you the most powerful Special Agent in the Division."
I said, "The hell they will." Probably I was going to pass out. "The hell they will."UNQUOTE


Is Browne saying he feels his experiences on this case have dehumanized him enough already? If that's not the meaning, then I don't understand this ending at all.

Not being sure I understand the ending along with the dated nature of this being a story set in a future that has passed made me dismiss this story the last time I read it. On the other hand, I've always liked that this story was set in south-central Missouri, for I grew up in places like Rolla, Lebanon, and Springfield. I mean, I KNOW this countryside, with its oak-hickory forests interspersed with meadows and bluffs, with its tall sycamores and occasionally big ash trees (like the ash tree agent Browne climbs to get an overview of the preserve). This gives me a comfortable feeling of familiarity and makes it easy for me to picture the background.

Still, overall I remain rather neutral on this story. Neither love it nor hate it. But I certainly respect the opinions of those who love this story, for it's undeniably interesting. I also respect the opinions of people who find stories about genetically modified animals to be creepy. It's kind of intriguing, but doesn't compare to a masterpiece like "Ser Visal's Tale". But I would be glad to hear differing opinions of this tale from other Kevin's Watch members, regardless of whether they generally agreed or disagreed with me on this one.
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Cord Hurn
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 15, 2014 7:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the Introduction to Daughter of Regals & Other Tales, Stephen R. Donaldson wrote:
"Mythological Beast," "The Lady in White," and "Animal Lover" were all produced in 1977. Behind its simpleminded telling, "Mythological Beast" is a quasi-sf story with a theme I happen to feel strongly about. "The Lady in White" is a more classic fantasy, complete with tests and unattainable love. By contrast, "Animal Lover" is ordinary sf action-adventure. But don't be misled: the undercurrents aren't accidental.


I'm warming to this story more on my current re-read, really enjoying myself more, and I find I'm curious to notice what the "undercurrents" are, here. I'm interpreting the undercurrents aren't accidental as meaning "this is the way SRD really feels about this subject". Eureka So I'll quote some passages from "Animal Lover" to see if they contain undercurrent, and to see if I can fathom what that undercurrent really means.

In the opening scene of the story, Special Agent Sam Browne is visiting the cougar that he rescued some time ago, when it was injured in a hunting preserve.

Quote:
Back when I was a kid, I used to say that someday I was going to be rich enough to build a real zoo. The kind of zoo they had thirty or forty years ago, where the animals lived in what they called a "natural habitat". But by now I know I'm not going to be rich. And all those good old zoos are gone. They were turned into hunting preserves when the demand for "sport" got high enough. These days, the only animals that find their ways into zoos at all are the ones that are too broken to be hunters--or the ones that are just naturally harmless. With exceptions like Elizabeth every once in a while.


Is Stephen R . Donaldson saying we shouldn't have zoos unless the animals have enough to roam to avoid their deterioration of spirit? I sympathize with this, but wish to note that some specimens in captivity can be symbols to convince people to preserve the wild populations they represent. Cat Also, by putting the word sport within quotes, is he making a personal comment on the unfairness of shooting at something living that can't shoot back, or should I assume that's just Browne's position? Rocket

Quote:
He was the only Inspector in the Division who was sometimes human enough, or stubborn enough, anyway, to ignore the computers. He played his hunches sometimes, and sometimes his hunches got him in trouble. I liked him for that. It was worth being roasted once in a while to work for him.


Inspector Morganstark is admirable, and I think the author would like us to notice that, because he cares enough in stopping crimes to be willing to look beyond what the machines are telling him. Mick Axbrewder of The Man Who series also likes to play hunches compared to his deductive partner Ginny Fistoulari. Coincidence? I think not. And such a person is worth the personal efforts of taking risks when his hunches are usually right, it seems to me. Pose

Quote:
Every hunting preserve is required to insure that its animals can't get loose, and to staff a small clinic to treat injured customers (never mind the crippled animals).


These preserves aren't truly civilized if only providing for comfort of the human customers, yet not for the animal victims. Applaud The problem is, the preserve owners see no profit in that.

Quote:
So I was feeling like I knew what I was doing (which probably should've told me I was in trouble already) when I left the duty room to go arrange for transportation and money.


This may be just for purpose of providing the lead character with self-deprecating humor, but may be a more serious warning to the reader about the blindness of overconfidence. Warden Dios

Quote:
Hoping there might be another hunter or two around. But except for the bartender the place was empty. So I perched myself on one of the barstools and tried to find out if the bartender liked to talk.

He did. I guess he didn't get a lot of opportunity. Probably people who didn't mind paying a thousand dollars a night for a room didn't turn up too often. Once he got started, I didn't think I would be able to stop him from telling me everything he knew.

Which wasn't a whole lot more than I already knew--about the preserve, anyway. The people who went there had money. They threw their weight around. They liked to drink--before and after hunting. But maybe half of them didn't stop by to celebrate on their way home. After a while I asked him about what kind of trophies the ones that did stop by got.

"Funny thing about that," he said. "They don't bring anything back. Don't even talk about what they got. I used to do some hunting when I was a kid, and I never met a hunter who didn't like to show off what he shot. I've seen grown men act like God Almighty when they dinged a rabbit. But not here. "'Course"--he smiled--"I never went hunting in a place as pricey as Sharon's Point."


I don't pretend to know SRD, but am trying to understand what he's saying within this apparent undercurrent because that can lead me to better appreciation of why he wrote this story (besides entertainment). I think he's saying some of the rituals of hunting are childish. I agree they can be, but also think hunting serves a useful purpose of winnowing populations of the slow and giving more food and habitat to the swift and /or smart animals. But Donaldson may be just deepening the mystery surrounding Sharon's Point for suspense purposes, not trying to make a deeper comment. Confused

Quote:
Paracels was watching me, enjoying himself. "That's the one thing I can't understand, cyborg." I wanted to yell at him to shut up, but he went on maliciously, "I can't understand why society tolerates, even approves of mechanical monstrosities like you, but won't bear biological improvements like Cerberus. What's so sacred about biology? Recombinant DNA research has unlimited potential. You're just a weapon. And not a very good one."

I couldn't stand it. I had to answer him somehow.
"There's just one difference," I gritted. "I chose. Nobody did this to me when I was just an embryo."

Paracels laughed.


SRD may be commenting through his villain Paracels what he considers to be the hypocrisy of opposing genetic improvements while approving superhuman prosthetics. But, whether he is or isn't, he is probably using his hero Browne to remind us of the importance and morality of consent in what we do in the name of medical progress. This is my gut feeling about that passage.

These are the guesses I have about this story's undercurrents, and that's my "two cents' worth". twocents
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Cord Hurn
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 20, 2016 8:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This story gets more likeable for me on every re-read, and I've gotten to really like it this time around. There's not much that I can add to what I've already posted, except to say I think I've spotted another story "undercurrent".

Quote:
Which just goes to show that being cyborg isn't everything it's cracked up to be. Cyborgs are in trouble as soon as they start adjusting to what they are. They don't rely on themselves anymore--they rely on their equipment. Then when they're in a situation where they need something besides a blaster, they don't have it.

Two years ago their wasn't a man or animal that could sneak up behind me. The hunting preserves taught me how to watch my back. The animals didn't know I was on their side, and they were hungry. I had to watch my back to stay alive. Apparently not any more. Now I was Sam Browne, Special--Agent--cyborg--hotshot. As far as I could tell, I was good as dead.


These days, we all depend upon technology, but we have to be on guard that it doesn't make our brains lazy. It's possible SRD is trying to make this point, here.
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