Dogworld: Operation Stray Cat, by John Woods – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Dogworld: Operation Stray Cat, by John Woods. Illustrated by Miro Dimitrov.
Los Angeles, CA, Out of the Woods Publishing, July 2015, trade paperback, $10.99 (358 pages).

This is a military novel with dog and cat soldiers, or Canoids and Feloids, emphasizing the species’ senses:

“Enemy detection in the field was the job of big-nosed bloodhounds, stubby-legged Basset Hounds in a pinch, or even those spastic little beagles the suits in the Capitol somehow deemed fit for military service. Sure, there were better scent hounds in the ranks, and if he really needed one, he’d get one, but what he was looking for in this cornfield even a flat-nosed pug with a head cold should be able to sniff out,” (p. 3)

The setting is a planet with two suns and three moons, where civilization is represented by the Canoids and Feloids. The enormous homids are dumb beasts, only good for their dung for fertilizer.

That’s assuming the Feloids can be considered civilized. Lieutenant Colonel Angus Rex, a Canoid commander (Rottweiler), doubts it.

“As far as the colonel and most of his people were concerned, cats, as Feloids were more commonly called, had no place in modern society. The self-serving and savage Feloids seemed only to exist to foul the land his people toiled to cultivate, more importantly, to civilize. Destiny favored the technologically and intellectually advanced dogs. Everyone knew that. Everyone but the yellow-eyed devil cats themselves and the remnants of their army now gathered somewhere out there beyond the corn.” (p. 4)

The war has been going on for ten years.

“The colonel lowered his binoculars and looked back at his army. A thousand pairs of eyes looked to him and awaited his order to begin the final push of the decade-long fight the country’s newspapers were starting to call The Great Cat War. The Rottie huffed at this exaggeration and wondered if future historians would indeed label a ten-year mission of unapologetic, organized slaughter an actual war when every major battle fought was a near-total rout. Some would argue putting fifty-caliber canon [sic.] fire against simple bow and arrow could not possibly be considered an actual war, but the motive-spinning nose-breathers in charge deemed it a war, so the colonel long ago reasoned what he was doing was just. Besides, he rationalized, his duty was not to argue the political, philosophical, or even moral aspects of the mission; but to simply follow orders and get the job done. And, like most of his people, he was obedient; he would do whatever was necessary to complete the objective.” (pgs. 5-6)

The protagonist of Dogworld is “Corporal Cooper Bigby, a likeable young beagle-sheltie mix” (p. 9). He is in awe of the final battlefield. “Bigby imagined the grand concrete and steel memorial certain to be built, probably exactly where he now stood.” (p. 10)

If Bigby had been a wolf, he would be an omega. As a puppy, when he and his friends played Cats & Dogs, “he always ended up being picked to play one of the Feloids, never a triumphant Canoid. […] Having only been assigned to his first combat unit just days earlier, Bigby had never experienced battle, never fired a single shot in anger, and figured he likely never would. He had qualified at the range, but just barely. The army required proficient marksmanship of all its soldiers, and he had made the cut by the narrowest of margins, but with his small frame and short arms, it was difficult to steady an assault rifle obviously designed for a much larger Canoid.” (pgs. 11-12)

Bigby spent the war “as radio operator for the Supply company to which he had been attached following Basic Training.” (p. 13) But although the war is officially over, lines of communication on the enemy side were lost at the end. Bigby’s company is assigned to go with the Canoid troops sent into the vast, inhospitable desert of the Western Territory, the last area of the fighting, to contact the last Felinoid soldiers and convince them the war is over. “He [Bigby] and his new squad now had the opportunity to venture out and explore a faraway land where no one really knew what might unfold. Maybe he would even get a chance to encounter an actual Feloid, something he had yet to do in his young life.” (p. 21)

Bigby is second in command to Staff Sergeant Rufus Rocko (bulldog) in squad Bravo One Zero Charlie. Other members of his squad are Private Ronin Axis (Doberman Pinscher), PFC Archie Duke (Great Dane), Specialist Jedidiah McCoy (bloodhound; scout), and Specialist Sam King (German Shepherd; armored truck driver); with Simon, their official Felodian translator.

“The team – or pack as they were called in the army – continued listening to Rocko, and, just as Bigby had thought, the packs were tasked with the military’s effort to inform, register, and prepare for transport any surviving Feloids still unaware of the war’s end. After ten years of lopsided Canoid victories, no one expected much, if any, resistance.” (p. 26)

Bigby begins Operation Stray Cat imagining “himself as a daring explorer about to embark on a grand adventure”. Sgt. Rocko is aware that his troops are all losers in some respect – McCoy is a top sniffer, but with thick-lens eyeglasses who could not see much beyond his own snout; and Bigby is a hopeless idealist who has never experienced battle – and Simon, the Felinoid, loathes them all and can’t be trusted.

Their assignment is to enter and explore a deep “hidden valley” that “headquarters had simply designated WT-V437-02.” It takes them over an hour to maneuver the ten-ton armored truck precariously along a narrow ledge to the valley floor. Once there, they are on their own. “Because the valley was located so deep within the high canyon walls, Rocko knew before the pack descended into it that communications with the outside world would likely be difficult, if not impossible.” (p. 50)

What happens in the valley is the rest of the novel.

Dogworld (cover by Yevgen Kaminskyy) is an unusual blend of animal anthropomorphization and reality. The cats, dogs, and homids are their real sizes:

“Bigby watched the cat effortlessly hold the [cigarette] smoke in his lungs, fascinated that the fearless creature actually seemed to be considering further antagonizing the dog easily three times his size.” (p. 36)

Their life spans are also realistic. The ten years of the war is almost a lifetime for most of the dogs, and is more than a lifetime for the short-lived Great Dane. The result is a bizarre military melodrama that is certainly more than a standard war story with funny-animal soldiers.

Fred Patten

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