This is a pretty stellar work of speculative fiction: heartbreaking, thought provoking and very unusual in the way that it’s written and executed. As a piece of sci fi, it’s great. As a book that delves into everything from company- and human- exploitation to ethics and morality, as well as what it means to be human.
The story is about Rex (a Good Dog): a genetically engineered Bioform who has been created specifically for the purpose of fighting and killing others. Together with his squad Honey, Dragon and Bees, he does the bidding of his ‘master’ and operates across southeastern Mexico, covering up his company’s misdemeanours, killing locals, and not asking questions. He’s intelligent enough to carry out orders and engineered enough to follow them without complaint. But what happens when the lines aren’t as clear cut as they first appear? Who are the real enemies, and what happens when other people find out what’s been going on?
Though this does appear like a straightforward sci-fi novel, it quickly evolves into a discussion on what it means to be human, whether genetically engineered creatures- or living weapons, even- have rights, and what happens when those creatures slip the leash and start to think for themselves. Tchaikovsky tells his story from a multitude of points of view, both human and Bioform, changing narrator, setting and tense with such rapidity that it can get a little confusing, but it does give a variety of perspectives to work with and a better platform to talk about the weighty topics that he’s discussing here- and bring all the plot threads together.
I was also impressed by the effort that he put into humanizing Rex and the Bioforms he worked with: not only was the concept really original, but he managed to make genetically engineered weapons sympathetic people, with their own character arcs and stories to tell. Rex in particular was interesting: though his vocabulary was limited to begin with, it developed as he gained intelligence and autonomy and by the end you weren’t in any doubt that he was the hero of his own story: that of course makes the subsequent court case all the more interesting.
Tchaikovsky reveals his plot strands gradually, drawing them together of the course of the novel to create a narrative that spans several different viewpoints, and lets him delve deep into the really thorny questions, as well as his characters. He goes to great lengths to stress that there are never any easy answers, no matter whether you’re human, Bioform or whatever Bees is (which, by the way, I did think was extremely cool).
Overall, this is a bold, interesting look at the future, and at the capability humans have for creation, destruction and cruelty. As a thinking man’s sci fi, it’s amazing, despite the slightly overdrawn ending: read it. I promise you’ll never see dogs in the same way again.
Book cover taken from Goodreads.