March 17, 2018

Review: Animosity, Vol. 1

Animosity, Vol. 1 Animosity, Vol. 1 by Marguerite Bennett
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I hang out at a SFF fanzine, File 770, that offers plenty of book recommendations, and I've found a lot of interesting new books this way. Of course, each recommendation is something of a crapshoot; sometimes you find something you like and sometimes you don't.

This definitely falls into the latter category.

After reading it, it took a couple of days for me to realize why I so disliked this book. The premise sounds exciting and high-concept: in the wink of an eye, some Unknown Event wakes all the world's animals to sentience, and understandably, a great many of them immediately start killing the humans who have mistreated them for so long. The story focuses on an eleven-year-old girl, Jesse Hernandez, and her bloodhound, Sandor (named after a George R.R. Martin character from The Song of Ice and Fire, "the Hound"). Sandor is loyal to and loves Jesse, and will do anything to protect her and get her out of the abandoned wasteland that is now New York and across the country to San Francisco, where her half-brother Adam lives.

All well and good. But I grew more and more dissatisfied as I read; something about this premise was setting my teeth on edge. After a bit, it finally dawned on me what the problem was: in my opinion, the concept is implausible, and the worldbuilding is crap.

Yes, I know that's quite a thing to say about a comic book, and especially so given that I've read a lot of superhero stories, and one of my favorite series is Ms. Marvel. Green mutating Terragen mist, anyone? However, bear with me here, and remember that what follows is the reason why this story doesn't work for me.

One of my most important criteria for a good SFF book is the worldbuilding. I can suspend my disbelief to a point, and a lot of the books I read would not, shall we say, fit in well with the established, observable universe. This is fine, as long as your invented universe is logically consistent and makes sense within the rules the author has decreed for it.

This is precisely where Animosity falls short, and it's made clear right on the third page.

Yesterday, God was in his heaven, the average American consumed 38 lbs of meat per year, and there were roughly 20,000,121,091,000,000,000 animals on planet Earth.

This number can be expressed as 20 quintillion, or the equivalent of 20 billion billions, and includes 500 trillion krill, 50 billion chickens, 1 billion cattle, 1 billion swine, 1 billion domestic sheep, 850 million goats, 600 million cats, 400 million dogs, 60 million horses, 40 million donkeys, 3 million whales, 500,000 elephants, 200,000 chimpanzees, 30,000 American bison, 20,000 polar bears, 8,000 cheetahs, 4,000 Komodo dragons, 1,500 pandas, 500 Siberian tigers, 100 red wolves, 45 Amur leopards, 5 two-horned rhinos, two billion tons of fish, and 10 quintillion insects.

There are also 7,250,000,000 humans, but who's counting.

As of 2016, there were over 1,203,375 species of animals, and one species of human, but as more than 10,000 new species are identified and categorized each year, these statistics are nebulous.

And since we got the data from the Animals, who knows? Maybe they're fucking liars.

Mostly, what we know is this: One day, for no goddamn reason, the Animals woke up. They started thinking. They started talking. They started taking revenge.

We call it the Wake.

It's less dramatic than the Funeral.

Really? Are you kidding me? So every...single...animal on planet Earth woke up? All the mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, insects, spiders, crustaceans, cephalopods, and amphibians? Hell, why not throw in the amoebas, tardigrades, worms, bacteria, viruses, fungi and plants while we're at it? (Now that's a horrific thought, having one's gut microbes suddenly talking with and fighting one another. Or how about sentient kudzu vine, growing three feet a day with the hive-minded aim of claiming every square inch of land for itself, and mushrooms that crawl down your throat to spread their hallucinogenic goodness!!)

You see where I'm going with this? It's illogical, it's overkill, and for me, it destroys the story. If every single animal on earth is suddenly intelligent, and realizes that they cannot feed on other sentient beings (although goodness knows, that never stopped cannabalistic human societies), THEN WHAT THE HELL IS ALL 20 QUINTILLION OF THEM GOING TO EAT? There's not enough plant matter on the planet, or seaweed in the ocean, to feed every other living thing, especially when you have to let some of it grow, or harvest and replant it, to provide your next meal. And that's not even getting into the problem of obligate carnivores, like lions, tigers and house cats, that have to eat meat or they die. There's some vague handwaving in the direction of tofu and human-produced fake meat, but when the awakened Animals are also killing off the only species with the global reach, civilization and technology, and incidentally the manipulative digits, i.e. thumbs, to maybe solve this know what all this leads to? Complete and total disruption of global food chains and mass starvation of all life. In other words, an extinction event.

Not the cutesy story of A Girl and Her Dog, Fighting the Good Fight.

I can't imagine someone didn't point this glaring flaw out, somewhere along the way. And it's so easily fixed. You can have almost the same story, and by my lights a far more interesting story, simply by limiting the Wake's effects. Instead of all the animals, only have a few animals awake to sentience: those who are already regarded by many as being on the cusp of true intelligence. To name some off the top of my head: elephants, orcas, dolphins, the great apes (gorillas/bonobos/chimpanzees/orangutans/possibly baboons), octopus and squid, parrots and crows, and perhaps a smattering of domestic animals--the border collie, for instance. And once they're awake, don't have them immediately start acting like human beings, either, including using the F-word. (Which is another thing that bugged me--all these animals suddenly talking? THEY DON'T HAVE THE PHYSICAL APPARATUS TO DO SO!! Namely, the lips, tongues, teeth, and larynxes [not to mention areas of the brain] that can produce language!) They would not be like humans; they would be more like aliens who have abruptly found themselves on Earth. Furthermore, they would have to recover from the sudden transition to self-awareness, which would cause considerable trauma all by itself; learn a language; and finally, begin to cope living side-by-side as intelligent beings with humans and their fellow awakened Animals. (That is, assuming that said humans, being the nasty top predators they sometimes are, don't automatically kill every animal who wakes up. Some would try, of course, and some would fight to protect the newly sentient animals, which would add another layer of conflict.)

Now that might be a story. It's certainly not this story, and the more I thought about Animosity, the more it fell apart. So no, I'm not recommending it, and I'm not keeping it. Surely the library can put it to better use.

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