In a Dog’s World, by Mary E. Lowd – Book Review By Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
This novella is the third book in Lowd’s “Otters in Space” series following Otters in Space (2010) and Otters in Space II: Jupiter, Deadly (2013), although her short fiction “When a Cat Loves a Dog” in Five Fortunes (edited by Fred Patten) and “A Real Stand-Up Guy” (with Daniel Lowd) in Allasso volume 3 (edited by Brian Lee Cook) are also in the same “world”. Humans have become extinct, and uplifted cats, dogs, otters, and a few others have inherited Earth and its space outposts. The cats and dogs are theoretically equals, but in fact the dogs are socially and politically superior, with strong prejudice in both species against the other. Lowd’s protagonists – Kipper Brighton in the two novels, and Lashonda Brooke in the short fiction – are mature cats who are disinterested in the prejudice (in Kipper’s case) or actively oppose it (in Lashonda’s case; she is married to a dog and they both want to adopt children, but are turned down by prejudiced adoption agencies among both cats and dogs).
The protagonist of In a Dog’s World is Katasha Blake, a studious tabby point Siamese cat in an upper-class cat family; a high school senior planning to go on to college. Preferably prestigious Isleywood College of Science and Technology, but she’ll take the local state college that her littermates intend to attend if she can’t get into Isleywood – a dog college. Tash, whose goal is an engineering degree to qualify for the space program, is sure that she’s got the grades to get into Isleywood, since dogs aren’t known for their studiousness:
“‘They’re so noisy,’ Dominic [her brother] complained, seeing her watch the scramball players. ‘And they’re going to hurt someone, wrestling around the front lawn like that.’
‘Yeah,’ Katasha agreed without enthusiasm. That was one of the things she was embarrassed about. She didn’t really mind dogs being big, loud, and rowdy. They couldn’t help being like that anymore than she and her siblings could help being small, careful, and fastidious. Was it better for everyone to be like her? She knew she was supposed to think so.” (p. 9)
She doesn’t want to believe in her parents’ worries about her college chances being affected by prejudice as well as good grades:
“Katasha tried not to be disappointed. Nonetheless, she spent most of her computer archaeology class worrying about whether things would really be different at Isleywood College after all. She’d been acing science classes and doodling designs for rocket ships, spacesuits, and other zero-gee gear for years, but what if her family was right, and all her work didn’t matter? No one would hear her because she was a cat; her ideas would go unnoticed; and she’d never get to work on designing a real spaceship.
That couldn’t be right. Science was blind to species. It had to be.” (p. 18)
But Tash’s secret is that she doesn’t want to get into Isleywood just for its greater prestige or more serious education. She’s more emotionally drawn to dogs than to cats. Nevertheless, she does appreciate studiousness; she has no interest in the dog sports jocks of her high school. She sees Isleywood as the best chance to get both a good education and to meet a dog who shares her taste for learning.
All seems to to be perfect when she is accepted into Isleywood with a complete scholarship. She attends a mixer with her siblings for incoming Isleywood students, expecting to sit in a corner with the other cat applicants, until she is introduced to Howell Walker:
“‘See that yellow lab over there?’
Katasha’s heart practically stopped when she saw the dog Bruce was gesturing at. He had trim platinum blonde fur, flopped over ears, and a sturdy square muzzle, and was all dressed up in a closely fitted navy blue tunic with a mismatched green tie. Top it off with a slightly goofy but incredibly endearing grin, and that dog was gorgeous.
‘That’s Howell,’ Bruno said. ‘He’s an upperclassman, and I’m sure he can tell you anything you want to know. Now go meet the other cats! Have fun!’” (p. 28)
Tash daringly asks Howell to take her to her high school’s senior prom. He agrees, and Tash counts the evening as a success, although she doesn’t know if Howell is any more than amused. (See the wraparound cover by Idess; M. Idess Sherwood. Those are Tash’s littermates on the back cover.) At least Tash’s sister Corina stops trying to set her up with a cat boyfriend.
Tash prepares during the summer to move on from high school to enter Isleywood College. Her siblings – Corina, Dominic, and Dmitri – discuss their social life and plans for adulthood. Corina and Dimitri are entering the state college; Dominic is going to make his part-time student job as an auto mechanic his career. She’s pleased that her father and mother had approved of Howell as her prom date as a nice boy; she doesn’t know herself yet whether he is any more than that. This section is mostly a teenager’s social life, although there is some more background about the vanished ancient humans, and the dog-cat social inequality.
This takes In a Dog’s World almost halfway through its 181 pages. The rest of the novella is about Tash entering Isleywood and her first couple of weeks there: making new friends, what she finds there, and what her relationship really is with Howell and the other dog boys whom she meets. In one sense, it’s like any human high school grad entering college and getting adjusted to life there. In another, it’s unique to the sentient society of Lowd’s world of cats and dogs and their Uplifted States:
“His [Jimothy, a Jack Russell terrier student] bearded face gave him a serious look beyond his age, but Katasha knew that was simply an illusion of the breed. Or else, it might be. Bearded breeds tended to look serious. She wasn’t sure about this guy, though – with him, it might be accurate. So far, he’d been acting as serious as his bearded face made him look.” (p. 86)
“The last thing Katasha remembered was the dachshund and Turtle [a shaggy spaniel] competing to turn their heads fast enough to bite their own ears. Those two, with their floppy ears, had a chance. Katasha, of course, couldn’t possibly bite her own ear. The three of them fell apart in hysterics when she tried.” (p. 87)
“‘I’m sorry,’ Katasha said, ‘I thought this was Claire’s room.’
The dog looked Katasha up and down. She was a short, funny looking-dog with broad, pointed ears. Of course, short for a dog meant that she was about Katasha’s height. She was very handsomely dressed. Katasha thought this dog might be a corgi. She was clearly a herding bred like Claire. Katasha could tell from the shape of her muzzle.
‘I’m Claire’s roommate,’ the dog said.
Katasha tried to remember the name that Claire had mentioned on the hike. It was a kind of plant… A vine… ‘Ivy?’ she asked.
‘That’s right,’ Ivy said. Her eyes had turned distant, like she’d already written Katasha off as unimportant, exactly the kind of behavior that Katasha was used to from dogs.” (p. 140)
In a Dog’s World is unexciting, but it’s a rich portrait of an intriguing sentient animal society. I enjoyed it, and I think that you will, too.