Dazzle Resplendent: Adventures of a Misanthropic Dog, by Scott Bradfield – a book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Dazzle Resplendent: Adventures of a Misanthropic Dog, by Scott Bradfield.
London, Red Rabbit Books, January 2017, trade paperback $9.99 (174 pages), Kindle $4.99.
Scott Bradfield has been a professor at universities in California, Connecticut, and London. He is also a literary reviewer, and an author of short stories. This is a collection of his eight Dazzle stories, originally published in literary magazines and Fantasy & Science Fiction between 1988 and 2011. Many of them have been also collected in earlier Bradfield collections, but this is the first collection of all eight of them.
Dazzle has been described as a wise-cracking talking dog, but he is more accurately a sardonic motor-mouth who talks incessantly whether anyone is listening or not. Here is how I described “Dazzle Redux” in my review of Bradfield’s Hot Animal Love: Tales of Modern Romance, for Anthro #10, March/April 2007:
“Dazzle, now living as a feral dog in the mountains around Los Angeles with a complacent bitch and her pups, is happy; but could be happier if he would learn to just shut up!
“Maybe I’m not all I should be in the family skills department,” Dazzle confessed that night to his erstwhile mate, Edwina. “But getting through to those kids of yours is like having a conversation with a block of wood, I swear. If I try to instruct them in the most basic math and science skills, they’re not interested. If I try to teach them which way to look when crossing the street, they’re still not interested. If I try to point out the most obvious cultural contradictions of multinational capitalism, why, just forget about it. They’re really not interested. If you can’t eat it or fuck it, it’s not important; that’s their attitude.”(Etc., etc.; Edwina is sleeping through all this. pg. 31)
Finally despairing of trying to get his foster pups interested in geometry or Nietzsche or even not running with the local coyotes, Dazzle sets out to find his own father in the alleys and dumpsters of L.A.
“Dazzle”, the first story, introduces him as “a dog with bushy red hair, fleas and an extraordinary attention span – especially for a dog. He was particularly fond of pastry, philosophies of language and Third World political theory.” (p. 3) Dazzle is the pet of the Davenport family: Father, Mother, and children Billy, Brad, and Jennifer. Billy is the one who takes Dazzle for walkies. Dazzle is quiet around the humans – he doesn’t care much for them — but he regales “Homer, a resolute and well-groomed Dalmatian who often roamed the park during Dazzle’s afternoon walks, and Dingus, the hideous Lhasa Apso who snorted at Dazzle through the slatted pine fence of Dazzle’s backyard.” (p. 4) The two dogs give little signs of understanding Dazzle’s monologues, but he doesn’t let that bother him.
Dazzle becomes so lethargic that the Davenports grow worried. They call the veterinarian and a dog psychiatrist. They don’t know that it’s all being undercut by Dazzle’s listening with them to the TV evening news. “The entire world was rapidly being transformed into a gigantic petrochemical dump, Dazzle thought. We are all being steadily infiltrated by carcinogens, toxins, radiation and some sort of irrepressible sadness that is probably the only underlying meaning anyway.” (p. 10) This lasts until somebody leaves the Davenports’ backyard gate open, and Dazzle escapes. He wanders about what becomes identifiable as Los Angeles’ outlying suburbs, meets Edwina, tries to educate her pups, and develops a respect for antibiotic medicines.
In “Dazzle Redux”, Dazzle decides to stop trying to educate Edwina’s pups, who aren’t listening to him anyhow, and he leaves on a personal quest to find his father. He does immediately, and the reader gets Pop’s excuses and philosophy of life. “Pop invited Dazzle to spend the night in his home – the basement of a condemned Pizza Hut – and even offered to share some of his moldier blankets and food stuffs. But he refused to acknowledge any moral responsibility for Dazzle’s life, or manifest the slightest degree of remorse.” (p. 29) After a near brush with a dogcatcher in Encino, Dazzle brings his Pop home to Edwina and the pups. “‘For crying out loud! Dazzle’s dad was often heard exclaiming through the warm, fir-scented air. ‘It’s a rhomboid, for Christ’s sake! Don’t you idiots know what a rhomboid is?’” (pgs. 38-39)
Dazzle finally talks to people in “Dazzle’s Inferno”. He’s caught by the SPCA and selected by UCLA’s new Department of Animal Linguistics for experimentation on how to teach dogs human language. “When Dazzle awoke, he found himself drifting in a huge, gelatin-filled tank in a wide, omniscient laboratory buzzing with video cameras and metabolic gauges. His eyes were sewn open; his paws were bound by see-through plastic tape. And an array of multicolored, follicular implants sprouted from his forehead like a cybernetic toupee.” (p. 51) “Dazzle wished he were the sort of dog who could resist such an invitation. But of course he wasn’t.” (p. 52) Dazzle tells the scientists what he thinks of them. Which leads to …
There are five more stories: “Dazzle Gets Political”, “Dazzle the Pundit”, “Dazzle Joins the Screenwriter’s Guild”, “Dazzle Speaks with the Dead”, and “Starship Dazzle”. The last begins, “At an age when most dogs are contemplating retirement by a shaggy fireside, or the looming possibility of euthanasia in the rubber-gloved embrace of some smirking vet, Dazzle convinced the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to send him into space on a rocket.” (p. 153)
Dazzle Resplendent (cover by Bradfield) is a sarcastic criticism of humanity and modern civilization through the device of a talking dog; but the dogs aren’t spared, either. It’s for readers who enjoy intellectual parodies as well as dramatic fiction. It can either be read all at once, or in installments.