The Pick of the Litter: Sci Fi and Fantasy’s Daring and Endearing Dogs



(picture: Pixie in her disguise as “Boba Fetch”)

I’ve always been a cat person, and came to love dogs late in life. Originally, our dog Pixie was meant to be my wife’s pet, but when I went to the animal shelter and saw Pixie’s big brown eyes, lop-sided ear and tail wagging in a tentative way that seemed to say “You’re new to this, I’m new to this, but let’s see if we can make it work”, I knew I was done for. I was no longer just a cat person – I was a cat person who had just discovered that he had plenty of love to spare for man’s oldest and best friend (even if said best friend seems to prefer my wife’s company to my own. My theory is that she keeps bacon in her pockets…)

I’ve read a good number of books about dogs – fiction and non-fiction – over the years since I first met Pixie. One of the most recent is Jon Katz’s Dancing Dogs, a collection of stories about dogs and the people who love them. Just like our lives with dogs, there are sad stories and happy ones in Katz’s collection. It’s a wonderful book, but I can’t guarantee that you won’t want a box of tissues around when you read it, or at least want to give your dog an extra good scratch around the ears when you put the book down.

While there are plenty of stories about dogs based in “real life”, our canine comrades have been a part of science fiction and fantasy literature as well. Let’s take a look at a few examples….

The Iron Druid Chronicles, Kevin Hearne
Oberon is Atticus O’Sullivan’s wise-cracking, tv-watching Irish Wolfhound sidekick. Like a lot of smart dogs, Oberon requires a great deal of attention, although most other dogs aren’t likely to get into a conversation about bacon… they’ll just eat it.

A Boy and His Dog, Harlan Ellison:
In a cycle of stories by Harlan Ellison, A boy named Vic and a genetically engineered, telepathic dog named Blood form a partnership of mutual dependence among the bombed-out ruins of post-apocalyptic America. The brilliant and cynical Blood needs the ignorant and somewhat naive Vic to help him find food, something Vic is happy to do provided Blood helps him locate women. Written back in the late sixties, it’s a scenario that today’s single guys who use their dogs to meet women can probably still relate to.

Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein:
Neodogs are the service animals of the elite military forces tasked with battling Earth’s enemy, the hellish Bugs. They’re genetically engineered super-dogs who can talk and are almost as smart as the average human being. The neodogs aren’t paired with anyone, though: Soldiers have to have demonstrated a likelong affinity for dogs, and once a neodog is paired with a human handler the relationship becomes symbiotic. If a neodog dies, its human partner suffers immense psychological damage. If the human dies, the neodog is put down.

“Rowf and Snitter”
The Plague Dogs, Richard Adams:
Rowf and Snitter are the dog protagonists of Richard Adams’s (Watership Down) heartbreaking novel The Plague Dogs. The two are escapees from a lab that performs animal experimentation. The dogs become the target of a manhunt after worry spreads that they may be carrying bubonic plague. Warning: This story doesn’t end happily…

Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling
Fang is groundskeeper Rubeus Hagrid’s pet. Despite the name, Fang is a gentle giant of a dog with a lazy and somewhat cowardly temperament. The same ironic principle was apparently at work when Hagrid named the vicious, three-headed dog that guards the philosopher’s stone “Fluffy”. Woe to anyone who might get the two confused.