Something has gotten into the dogs in the tiny community of Tyler, Maryland. They are turning on their masters, normally well-behaved pets suddenly engaging in grisly, unprovoked attacks. What’s gotten into them, it turns out, is a virus that attacks the brain’s rage centers, transforming poodles and pitbulls alike into dangerous predators. And, when it becomes apparent that the virus is spreading, the CDC moves in, quarantining the town and rounding up dogs, initially as a precaution and then, later, for experimental purposes. This, of course, doesn’t sit too well with many of the local dog owners who start taking steps to safeguard their four-legged friends.
Among Tyler’s concerned residents is former FBI agent Tessa Sanderson who moved to the community following the death of her husband, Salah. Tessa comes across a couple of mysterious emails on Salah’s computer and, when she contacts the senders to inquire about their relationship with her deceased husband, she receives a cryptic a message back that leads her to wonder whether she may well have uncovered a bio-terrorist link to the mounting crisis in Tyler.
Tessa investigates and, while her search for answers takes her across the globe, the residents of Tyler on both sides of the “dog issue” decide to take matters into their own hands…
A while ago, I wrote an entry titled “What Scares You?” in which I discussed the personal nature of horror. For me, the possible (ie. bio-terrorism and murderers) is far more frightening than the impossible (or, well, highly unlikely – vengeful ghosts). Throw in an emotional connection – in this case, the prospect of my lovable furballs turning against me – and you have the makings of a terrific thriller. Which Dogs certainly is. Author Kress sets up a truly horrific scenario, grounding it in present-day anxiety about terrorist threats, biological or otherwise. The response of the town’s inhabitants to the scenario is chilling – and disquietingly believable. One group want to err on the side of caution and wipe out all of the dogs, infected or not, while another group risks everything to rescue the lives of the animals they consider family. While many of the town’s residents offer little depth beyond their respective agendas (no doubt owing to the sheer number introduced), other characters like Tyler’s Animal Control Officer Jesse Langstrom, former fed Tessa, and the various dog owners struggling with the effects of the virus, are very well-imagined.
I was surprised to read some of the early responses to this book – specifically, the fact that some of the dog-loving readers of this blog refused to read it because of the subject matter. Well, in retrospect, I think that those of you put off by the prospect of animal cruelty would be well-advised to steer clear. Kress pulls no punches in detailing the dog attacks and the attacks on dogs. Most disturbing for me was the implication that the healthy dogs, unaffected by the virus, were being earmarked for experimentation. In one particularly troubling scene, one of the character saves a dog’s life by switching its cage label with another, condemning the other to the lab. While it may have been intended to convey a sense of relief that this dog, belonging to one of our main characters, had managed to avoid a grisly fate, it, instead, had me wondering about the other dog doomed by the switch and how, without a doubt, it too had a loving owner anxiously awaiting its return.
The narrative is divided into three sections tracking events in Tyler, Tessa’s globe-trotting investigation, and the machinations in Washington where power-players seek to exploit the crisis for political gain. While I found the first two engaging, I was less enamored of the Washington scenes that, unlike events in Tyler or Tessa’s adventures abroad, lacked a character with the depth to give them weight. The politicos were fairly standard opportunists and, at the end of the day, I would have rather spent more time focusing on the psychological meltdown in the tiny, isolated community.
By book’s end, the mystery is solved, the situation dealt with, but a certain ambiguity remains with regard to the source of the virus. Suitably vague or disagreeably confusing? In my case, a little of both.
All that said, the story moves briskly and, while I’m loathe to use the cliché “page turner”, it pretty much sums up this novel. It’s tightly paced and, despite her hard SF background, Kress keeps the science brief but credible, never slowing things down.
So, now that I’ve weighed in with my preliminary thoughts, what did everyone else think? This was an interesting one and I look forward to reading your comments – and seeing whatever questions you may have for author Nancy Kress. Start posting.
Speaking of questions – I’ve lined up two very interesting Stargate-related guest bloggers. Once I’ve finished gathering up questions for Nancy Kress this Wednesday, I’ll make the the grand guest announcements.
Ooops. Carl poked his head into my office and corrected my faux pas. Episode #9 isn’t called Judgment as I originally reported (although I think that Judgment is a more appropriate title). Rather, #109 is titled Justice. Someone please head over to Gateworld and change the name of the discussion thread.