Book Review: Nancy Kress – Dogs

Hi all…

In my opinion, Nancy Kress is one of the best science fiction authors of today. During the mid-1990s, I read Beggars in Spain and was immediately hooked. Kress has the magical ability of weaving amazing plot, believable science, and intriguing characters into a coherent whole.

The winner of three Nebula Awards, a Hugo, two John W. Campbell Memorial Awards, and a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, Kress has had a stellar career since starting to write in 1976. She’s written at least 16 novels (including Dogs) and had many short stories published along the way. In additon, she’s written three writing books for Writer’s Digest books. With a M.S. in Education and a M.A. in English, she’s used her writing skills and a love for science well during her career.

Dogs is another in that line of novels, pairing two of my favorite genres… Science Fiction and Thrillers. Think Lassie meets The Andromeda Strain and you’ll get the idea.

Tyler, Maryland, is a quiet town within commuting distance of Washington, D.C. Tessa Sanderson, an ex-FBI agent, just retired to Tyler after the sudden tragedy of her husband Sallah’s death. Mere weeks after moving to Tyler and beginning to get adjusted to her new life, Tessa is drawn into a bizarre series of incidents where tame, domestic, family dogs go insane and attack their owners.

Jess Langstrom, an animal control officer in Tyler, and his friend Billy are in the center of the storm as they are called upon to round up infected and uninfected animals alike, which raises the ire of many of the town’s citizens.

Once the CDC becomes involved and the dogs are found to be suffering from a mysterious virus, Tyler becomes ground zero for a political and scientific that’s the focus of intense debate across the United States. Political agendas and passionate pet owners collide to a spectacular conclusion.

Tessa has her own mission to clear her name and that of her husband when they’re linked to a possible terrorist action. She ties it to what’s going on in Tyler and goes on an international quest for details.

Meanwhile, Jess is caught up in the battle between the government’s aims and that of Tyler’s citizens, doing what he can to help Dr. Latkin get the samples he needs to find a cure or at the very least slow the spread of the virus…

Though I enjoyed this book, I have to say it’s not my favorite of her works. She did a great job of tying the story back to Tyler, but I was left wondering about the criminal(s) behind the scenes. There were hints at a much larger terrorist agenda that were never followed up on. I was interested in the international aspect as she explored the childhood friendships of her dead husband, and many questions were left unanswered.

I was also curious about the death of one of the main secondary characters during the big fight at the conclusion of the novel. It seemed sudden and not really to be part of the main plot. To build up hope for that character to change and then remove him seemed unnecessary.

That said, Dogs is still a quick, fun read in the spirit of the Andromeda Strain and definitely worth reading. If you want a better Nancy Kress novel, I strongly suggest reading Beggars in Spain. Check out her website for her biography and current projects.

Nancy Kress was kind enough to answer a few questions for me via an e-mail interview.

Q: It’s quite obvious that you are a dog lover from the way you handled the dog owners in Dogs. And you, like one of your main characters, Tessa, have a toy poodle which figures prominently in your life. Was it difficult to approach the crisis in the book from the perspective of a dog lover as well as someone wanting to take a more hard-nosed avian flu approach?

A: Actually it was not difficult to kill off all those dogs, no (although you notice that I did not kill off Tessa’s toy poodle). I guess that means I’m either calloused or able to remember that — ahem! — these dogs are imaginary. However, I will say that I was flabbergasted at how much other people minded this idea. Three different publishers — count ’em, three — turned down the book because “the content would offend dog lovers too much.” And my cousin Sue, who has three dogs she loves passionately, won’t read the book at all.

Q: As a follow-up question, how does Cosette (under the pseudonym Minette) feel about being written into a biological threat-themed thriller? And has she accompanied you to Europe while you’re teaching in Leipzig? (Kress accepted the Picador Guest Lectureship at the University of Leipzig in Germany. She’ll be there from mid-October 2008 to mid-January 2009, teaching both SF and creative writing.)

A: Cosette, although very smart, is illiterate. I’ve tried to remedy this, but she has simply refused to learn to read (also to roll over and to stop barking frantically at the pug down the street, Sadie). A willful beast. No, she is not in Germany with me. She’s staying with a friend, which she loves to do because he takes her to McDonald’s for a hamburger.

The full interview is now available in a separate article. Click here to see what else Nancy had to say!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick this up at your local bookstore or at Amazon:

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