There’s A Critter in My Fiction! – Alma Boykin

There’s A Critter in My Fiction! – Alma Boykin


So you want animals in your story, or animals wander into your story, and you need to decide what to do with them. Not microbes, but visible animals, pet-sized or larger. I’ll be the first to say that I am not an expert on critters in fiction, or fictional critters. However, I’ve found a few things while writing and researching both fictional and real-world animals that you might find helpful (or cautionary). You’d think something as simple as, oh, a mule, would be easy to write. That’s what I thought, too. Heh.

First you need to sort out what sort of critter you are writing, and how detailed it needs to be. Cart horses, dragons seen only at a distance, rumored sea monsters, the cat that your character shoos off the chair and is never seen again, they don’t need much in the way of precise description and natural history. Most readers can fill in the details and are familiar with what horses, cats, and other things look like. If you are writing a more exotic setting, you might need to describe the wombat, echidna, and aardwolf a little more. However, if you are going to have an animal as a character, or have a completely new beast appear, you probably need to do a little research and thinking about “how does it behave/function?”

For example, Snow the Killer Mule in the Colplatschki books required some research. I knew that mules are not horses, and they behave differently. I did not know until I started reading about mules and donkeys that they require different tack because their shoulders are proportioned differently from a horse (for example), that they mature more slowly than horses, that they don’t run when startled but they tend to freeze, then run with a purpose rather than blindly charging off like horses. You can’t get a mule to charge into danger like you can a horse. On the other hand, mules don’t drink themselves sick like horses are known to do. I read a number of books about mules, some from the 1800s, some more recent, and used what I’d learned. I did fudge Snowy’s gait, though: I have yet to read about a mule with a running walk or paso. But he turned out to be a most mulish mule, which was my intent.

Let’s say I’d been trying instead for a pack-lizard that someone used in the steppes and savannahs. I’d need to bone up on reptiles, and I’d probably go back and read Bakker and others about the supposed characteristics of warm-blooded dinosaurs, in case I decided to make the beast endothermic. An endothermic lizard won’t need special protection from cold but it might overheat, unless it sweats, pants, or uses modified fins to dissipate heat. A cold-blooded pack-lizard would need less food in warm weather, but the drover is stuck where he is on cold mornings until the air and the beast both warm up. And he might be in trouble if a cold front with icy rain arrives while he’s on the trail. I’d also need to decide how the creature moves, if it is more lizardy (like a crocodile or skink) or more horse-like (straight line movement), because that changes how the packs are arranged. It would probably have feet with hard central pads (proto-hoofs) and semi-flexible toes so it could walk in grass and hard dirt as well as softer soil. If the pack-lizard was by nature a browser, the drover would have to bring softer food if he ventures into the grasslands, in case the beast has trouble chewing and digesting a pure grass diet. And how would the pack-lizard behave? Do pack-lizards act differently from riding lizards? David Drake’s The Forge with the canine cavalry might be something to review, to see how he uses dog behavior, then look at lizard behavior. After all, the more “realistic” my pack-lizard, the more believable the reader will find my world.

Which raises another category: uplifted animals. How doggy is a sapient wolf? A comment thread here some time ago brought up what sapient house cats would be like, and most people thought we’d end up with the Kzinti. Or Shere Kahn, neither of which are exactly charming creatures. One example, although not Uplifted from outside their own world (as far as anyone knows) are the Azdhagi. The Azdhagi descended from predators that hunted in packs, led by an alpha male and sorted by size. As they achieved sapience, that behavior became a lineage-based clan system, with the Pack, composed of all members of the lineages, having supreme power should the clan lord fail to act in the best interests of the Pack. This became part of the Azdhagi Imperial political system and remains so on the throneworld of Drakon IV, less so on the colony worlds. However, caste is still size based. And as Rada Ni Drako discovered, the Pack can, and will, eliminate anyone who poses a threat to its survival. She’s watched it happen three times, and on each occasion it chilled her to the bone.

I’d venture to say that in some ways the concerns about writing uplifted beasts blur into those for were-creatures. How much of the animal side remains after uplift/shift? I think it would be safe to have uplifted golden retrievers that worked hard, played hard, didn’t think too much, and loved team sports. I’m not sure about an uplifted Jack Russell terrier, but I’m pretty certain I would NOT want to spend a long trip in a small vehicle with her. She’d be a great camp councilor, though. “Great! You want to go hiking today? Sure, we can go hiking, hiking’s fun. The long trail? No problem, remember to grab two water bottles and let’s go!” She’d also be the one most likely to know all the ways to sneak out of he cabins, because she would have tried them already at least once. And you just might uplift yourself into the Rats, Bats, and Vats world, which would at the very least make communicating with your workers a bit of a trick at times.

And weres. Traditionally, at least in the early movies and some stories, the werewolf had no idea of what he’d done in animal form, and was horrified to discover what he’d become. Are were-creatures beings of evil, or unfortunate accidents, or something desirable? Or is it just something your character has to deal with: as you know, a shifted were-dragon in a small bathroom is not a happy creature, and neither is his housemate. Does the animal aspect reflect the human personality, or is it the other way, that the human over time takes on some of the animal’s patterns? (I know of a professor who’d make a magnificent were-heron. He’s tall, with a very dignified bearing, walks steadily and with a purpose, looks around often, and dips his head as he walks. His personality is more leonine, though.) No matter how you write it, you’d better do research into the animal in question, its size, diet, habits, and how the shift might occur. Rada, for example, grows a pelt in her full-animal (call it were-jaguar) and normal forms. She also sheds in spring. All at once, “blowing” that lovely, thick double pelt in a week or so. It could be funny (for those outside the shedding perimeter) or a major problem (someone trying to track her is going to have a very easy time of it). What if your were-person sheds fur or scales every time he shifts? Messy!

There’s as many possibilities for animals in fiction as there are animals. From small pets to livestock to major characters to comic relief to dangerous antagonists, animals have played roles in many worlds of fiction. Go forth and do likewise!

Now excuse me, I have to vacuum cat hair out of my keyboard.


276 responses to “There’s A Critter in My Fiction! – Alma Boykin

  1. Anything halfway between man and wolf has something doggy about them. I learned this from Terry Pratchett.

  2. Well timed; I was pondering using a more unusual type of wagon-beast, and think I may have to go with a paired set. The character I have in mind has a lifestyle based somewhat on the concept of wagon-living and traveling here and there, and I’m having fun thinking of how she has adapted to that.

  3. For my next book I will delve into the differences between Western and Eastern dragons, so this is a good reminder. If nothing else, how they move is completely different and I need to describe that.

    • Ooh, are you going to have any of the “Giant Snake” or “Flying Snake” type ones?

      I was delighted when I figured out that a lot of the really nasty dragons were snakes with poison breath or skin.

      • I wonder what inspired the dragon legends. I’ve heard the fossil theory but that doesn’t satisfy.

        • Here’s one that’s even less satisfying:
          “oh, people just make up big, scary monsters.”

        • I would not be at all surprised if they found some kind of animal, maybe something like that thing on the Ishtar gate. It’s not like kimodo dragons aren’t entitled to their name, after all….

          Giant snakes are an obvious possibility for exaggeration, and wings works for something that is representing the devil, but I vaguely remember that there have been four-legged, winged dragons in Celtic emblems well before the Romans got up there and thus before Christianity.

          I do kind of like the idea of triceratops skulls being the basis for gryphons, though.

          • I could see the triceratops connection and even mammoth for cyclops but hexapedal critters just aren’t seen outside of insects. I just wonder if there has been a large animal that’s been missed. Maybe in central asia where celts originate

            • It wouldn’t take much for the wings to be invented– maybe some really nasty shoulderblades?– but there still has to be SOMETHING to build it on.

              Heck, it could be something like that old Catholic symbol where the “king” of each group is shown with wings– winged man, winged lion, etc.
              Still have the problem of finding what seems to be a wolf or lion sized scale-skin.

              • Also wondering where Quetzocoatl came from. Although that one might make more sense. There is some evidence for a flighted bird with about a 20-ft wingspan that only became extinct relatively recently, and if it had a liking for boa constrictors, you could have essentially a winged snake flying overhead.

                • In prehistoric South America, there used to be these rather unpleasant looking velociraptor sized ostrich things called “murder birds” or “terror birds”. (6m years ago though).

                  It brought to mind the weird ostrich-mount things in the Final Fantasy series, Chocobos. Which also brought the unsettling realization that those chocobo things would probably have a similar temperament to velociraptors, and someone thought it was a great idea to domesticate them in the various FF-verses. 😛

                • The Centar method of mythology, yep.

                  I was trying to figure a similar bird origin for the Dragon wings, but… nope.

            • Went and looked up the Ishtar Gate dragon so I could point to characteristics off of it–
              paw front feet, bird looking back
              four legs
              long tail that looks kind of lion or snake-ish
              either floppy ears, fin looking things, or a huge scale/feather thing covering the ear-hole.
              curled horns that head back
              Snake-like head with horn above eyes
              snake-like tongue
              covered with either scales or feathers.

              Chest is more like a cat’s than a dog’s, as best I can figure their stylizing from looking at the cow/bull/ox from the same source.

              That sounds kind of like what you’d expect from some kind of a bird-cousin that didn’t develop wings; if we take as a given that birds are a branch of the dinosaur family, then it’s theoretically possible that there was another, much less successful branch that was finally wiped out some time after people started writing things down. We know bird skeletons don’t preserve well….

              • And the celts maintained a solid oral tradition right up to the Christian era. That’s quite reasonable and satisfying.

                • Alas, oral tradition is immensely unreliable. Even with trained bards (which they did have), it can’t be counted on after about 150 years.

                  • Oral traditions’ reliability depends a lot on which tradition, especially if you’re looking at a pre-literate one. Some had explicit error-correction tools built in to keep their stories straight. IIRC, one of the 19th-century british arctic expeditions overwintered with local Inuit, and a fairly recently-discovered diary from one of the expedition members contains accounts of events and even conversations that closely match locals’ stories of the same events and even conversations.

                    Once you come to widely depend on books/calculators/… unaided mental tools seem to degrade pretty quickly. We live in diminished times, thingie.

                  • Would still work for something like a big, impressive predator that folks would brag about fighting, though.

            • Aren’t there some crustacean hexapods? If some critter processed titanium into its chitin or crystallized aluminum you might get sufficient tensile strength to make flight possible.

        • Likely a variety of things from fossils to crocodiles. They’ve found at least one Viking long boat sunk off the coast of Egypt near the Nile. Couldn’t you see the story of the guys who made it back? (especially if the audience was unimpressed with the actual dimensions if the lizard)

          “It was this big and breathed fire and swallowed Sven WHOLE!”

          “And if you think that’s bad you should see their river pigs!”

        • I read one Jungian (IIRC) anthropologist who thought it was a composite of the three most dangerous predators early homonids and humans faced: snakes, feline predators, and birds of prey. David E. Jones in _An Instinct for Dragons_ it was. I didn’t find his argument that compelling, but it’s an intriguing take. *shrug* His arguments got a bit weak when dealing with Chinese dragons and their kin, but it’s been a while since I read it, so I could misremember.

          • Jungian archetypes can get blown out of proportion, but the dragon as a dangerous teacher doesn’t seem to be explained by that. Or I’m missing it entirely.

      • Yes, Beaker in Trickster Noir is a ‘flying snake’ and the Western dragons I will introduce in Dragon Noir are more the traditional hexapods we are used to. (four feet, two winghands)

  4. John in Philly

    How much of the animal side remains in an uplifted species, hmmmm. Must look in mirror to check this out. There is threat in mirror, must fight, wait, might have lice in hair, want banana, want female, must not fling pooh in human bathroom!

    Koontz has delved into recombinant DNA in a number of novels, yes the golden retriever story is the one I am thinking about.

    Weber has a small sideline of uplifted dogs in the Dahak series, I think it is in the last book, Heirs of Empire.

    When looking at uplifted animals, yes, Rats Bats and Vats springs to mind, how common are the animals? What is their impact on human society, and what does the society of uplifted animals look like?

    What about the physical effects? Would you be able to wear a were fur/hair sweater only by the light of a full moon? (Sure would save on closet space the rest of the month.) And depending on the dragon breed, what could you make from cast off dragon scales? Cookware, body armor, really tough seat cushions?

    John in Philly

  5. A couple of things:

    One, Werewolves. If you think about it, they’re the combination of two apex predators. Both terrifyingly efficient pack hunters, just one uses tools. Combine the two, and hooo boy.

    Also, another thing to consider: Werewolves are a combination between a wolf and a highly evolved plains ape. Wouldn’t the human cross over as well, as in tool using, climbing, ambushes and traps, etc?

    Two, the uplifted Jack Russel. Yeah, she would be that way. And if someone or some thing threatened her group, it would die a violent, bloody, screaming, death.

    Terriers traditionally used for rat and pest control, so in addition to all of those nice traits that they have, they also are fearless and will take you down or die trying.

    Which, come to think of it, would be a good thing to have in a camp counselor in the woods.

    • The idea of an uplifted terrier strikes me as frightening, depending on how you view the state they’d end up in. If they remained the same except for gaining the ability to communicate more effectively with their human acquaintances you’d end up with a hyperactive little friend who’s want to talk endlessly about going for stupidly long, fast paced walks over difficult terrain and occasionally go on little tangents about how they really want to kill something, anything and how much fun it would be to do so. Or at least that’s what I’ve gathered based on the terriers I’ve known, including my little Miniature Schnauzer, who, though we have worked hard to teach her restraint, has her bouts of extreme violence. She’d never hurt one of her toys or intentionally harm a person she knows, but she’ll gladly go after living things, finding joy in the violence that surpasses even what cats are capable of.

      Actually, that’s one of the things that always struck me as odd about people’s views of uplifted dogs versus uplifted cats. We have dogs who exist purely to catch and kill things, but we never take this into account when thinking about dogs as smart as we are.

      • From my blog:

        Not intended to be entirely novel or surprising, but has anyone noticed the stark difference between a little human girl and her cute fuzzy toys and a girl dog and their cute fuzzy toys?

        Little Girl: It’s cute and fuzzy and I want to nurture it.
        Little Dog: It’s cute and fuzzy and IT NEEDS TO DIE! (shake-shake-riiiip-waggle-waggle)

        • Pretty much, which is why I kind of wince when people depict dogs as being like innocent little children. They’re fully capable of the most endearing things, but there’s a certain drive that all dog breeds possess. It’s not directed at the same thing in all dog breeds, but it’s there, retrievers will pretty much kill themselves to bring something back to their owner, scent hounds need to be stopped from working themselves to exhaustion when they’re on the trail, dogs with even the smallest hint of guarding instinct will protect things, sight hounds will chase and catch anything if given a chance, terriers possess a trait called gameness which means that they are capable of ignoring severe injuries in their efforts to kill something, herding dogs will work on through broken limbs. Most people don’t realize that all dogs have their own version of it in them, somewhere, but it’s there. That might be part of the reason that you see so many poorly behaved dogs now a days. A woman doesn’t realize that her rodent sized poodle descended from a long line of hunting dogs and therefore is fiercely intelligent and on some level is aware of the need to bite and hold on at all costs.

          Ack, just looked at what I wrote, long dog oriented rant that it is. I can’t help it though. I’m kind of obsessed with dogs to the point where my latest mental project (to keep me from going crazy on slow days at work) is to imagine what different types of dogs would act like if they were as intelligent as humans.

          • Newfies will charge for water, sheepdogs will merrily herd leaves or bouncing balls. . . once, someone left a collie alone in a kindergarten class, only to come back and find all the children herded into a corner and crying.

            • And besides breed-specific traits, there’s the individual trait of the animal in question. My shih-tzu lives up rather well to the “little lion dog” reputation of the breed – she is sweet and affectionate but plays like a larger, rougher dog. She also has the loudest bark, pound-for-pound, of any dog I’ve ever known, much louder for example than the shih-tzu across the street, who yaps and yaps but to little effect.

              In any such story it would be quite interesting to see how individuals who are “against breed type” fare in their societies.

              • Depends on the nature of the society and the breed in question. Does the society accept that not all individuals of a given breed are the same, or does it have a sort of caste system based on breed? If society as a whole accepts that not every retriever actually wants to retrieve the biggest problem an individual would likely face is their family being disappointed in them to the point where they get disowned in a worst case scenario (imagine a collie with no interest in herding, but possessing an abnormal interest in hunting). If their society believes that breed trumps all they’d be in for a much tougher time since they’d likely be forced into a profession they have no interest in simply because the general belief would bee that their breed is only good for certain things.

                When I imagine such things I tend to view the situation as being one where there is a constant level of bias/racism that is worse for some breeds than others. The real question is, are we looking at a world where the size of the dog is the same as our world? Because in that case things would get interesting. You could have a Yorkshire Terrier or something similarly small being interested in a military career due to them possessing the tenacity and action oriented mindset typical of terriers unable to follow their dreams due to the desired field being geared towards far larger breeds.

                • “imagine a collie with no interest in herding, but possessing an abnormal interest in hunting”

                  Imagine having neither.

                  One of the classic early 20th-century arguments against marrying outside one’s race was that when mutts came from two such lines, they often were neither herders nor hunters, and since you could not cull such humans for not fitting in either culture, you had best stop it up at the source.

                  • And with this the imaginary world of uplifted dogs gets frightening.

                  • I’m imagining Catcher In The Rye as an uplifted collie’s tale …

                    I am also surprised to have read this far down the comment tree without seeing any mention of uplifted beagles (The Beagle Boys?) or uplited wiener dogs.

            • SheSellsSeashells

              I had a friend whose Newfoundland would not allow her to shower alone. Apparently “the top of your head is wet” is close enough to “drowning” to trigger all the rescue instincts. 😀

          • terriers possess a trait called gameness which means that they are capable of ignoring severe injuries in their efforts to kill something

            We induced THAT human trait in a dog breed?

            No wonder folks love their terriers.

            • Terriers were bred for a number of insane tasks. Bull terriers, IIRC, were intended to grab onto a bull’s throat and hang on until a human could finish the brute.

              I cannot, at the moment, recall which breed was developed to hunt badgers … in their dens.

              • Wasn’t that the dachshund?

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  Just looked it up, the dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers in their dens. Some of the smaller ones were bred to go after rabbits underground.

                  • That would make for some awfully awkward conversations at family gatherings.

                    “Hans, this is your cousin, Siegfried. He was bred to kill badgers in their dens. Siegfried, meet your cousin, Hans.”

                    “So, Hans, what were you bred to kill in their dens?”


                    • It might not be so bad, though. Is the rabbit in question related to the one in Caer Banagh?


                    • Mmmmm … I believe the rabbit in question had a name. Something like “Bun-bun,” IIRC.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Don’t know that rabbit but if the dog took on Bun Bun and won, that would be bragging rights enough. Even a draw against Bun Bun would be something to brag about. [Grin]

              • That would be the dachshund (full size NOT toy or miniature). Like the terriers dachshunds don’t seem to understand they’re a small dog and just charge in. Probably safer to uplift a Maine Coon than any of the terriers breeds or a dachsund.

                • *sigh* I was aware of this as a kid, and I always, ALWAYS felt sad for the dachshunds I’d see. They were invariably fat, roly-poly and often reminded me of slugs. There were a few sad specimens that from being overly pampered and fed, had scars on their belly from dragging along on the ground.

                  The one time when I saw a healthy looking dachshund, she was an active, playful thing that loooooved to run and dart into every. Single. Bush. And root-hole, ever.

                  She also would bring back dead rabbits.

              • Wiener dogs, IIRC.

              • Jack Russell Terriers were originally bred to hunt fox in their dens, but have been used on all sorts of hole varmints, including badgers. If you read the breed standard for Jack Russells it states that their tail should be docked so that as adults it will be one half to one inch longer than the width of an average man’s hand. This is so when they go into a den after a fox, they grab a hold of it and hang on; then a man can reach down in there and grab them by the tail and pull both them and the fox out.
                As you can imagine this tends to be a tad rough on the terrier, but most of them love their job.

                • Wayne Blackburn

                  I kind of wish I had trained mine to go after animals larger than mice. Sadly, she’s not willing to close with anything larger and take it on, even though she’s the fastest dog I’ve ever seen, and would likely be able to take on a full-grown groundhog without too much trouble (We lost a Beagle when I was a little boy to having gotten into a fight with a groundhog that was too big for him).

                  • There are a number of people who use both Jack Russells and dachshunds to hunt groundhogs back east. Spending hours digging after a dog with a groundhog caught in its den doesn’t sound like the absolute height of fun to me, but I gather they have few problems with getting permission from farmers to practice their sport on the farmers property.

                    I had a Jack Russell growing up, and along with innumerable squirrels and birds she managed to tree a sow and two cubs while on a walk with my mom. Annie (yes I got her shortly after reading Where the Red Fern Grows) had no qualms about closing with anything, regardless of size. Unfortunately while she wasn’t the least mean to other dogs, this also translated into an absolute refusal to run away from larger dogs. This contributed to her arthiritis as she got old and an infection that caused her to go deaf. The neighbors had a bunch of cow dogs (some high dollar, uncommon breed) that would travel in a pack and they came onto our place and chewed her up fairly badly, multiple times.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Mine came upon a family of groundhogs waddling down our driveway one day. She went and barked at them, but that’s all:

                    • Our family had a policy:
                      dogs that came and attacked our animals would be tracked home, and their owners warned.


                      After that, we’d do our best to make very sure that they didn’t come home hurt.

                      This is both above and beyond what is legally required, and pretty @#$@ generous to animals that will chew the living guts out of a calf, or other even more horrific things. Animals. Aren’t. Nice.

                      The one time that someone threatened to call their lawyer, mom handed them a printout of the relevant laws, and an invoice for the animals lost to their dog, and informed them that if they tried they’d also be billed for the time it took her to get a clear shot on the dog.

                      All the other places in the valley either called the police/animal control frequently (who told them there was nothing they could do, it was the job of the folks in charge of the animals being harassed to shoot the threat) or just shot any animal harassing the animals. There was a big to-do even on the West side of the state, because a pack of supposedly feral dogs were going after horses– when they got shot, it turned out a lot of these “feral” dogs were registered pets that supposedly never left the house without a leash.

                      There was a brief media push to change the law… and then the horse people started putting out pictures of the mother horse that died protecting her foal.
                      It was nasty.

                    • Yes, I’m always leery of such things, because people have a habit of shooting or threatening to shoot dogs just because they don’t like them. On the other hand dogs attacking domesticated animals (off of the dog owners property) need it.
                      In this case after the dogs in question had cornered my terrier in the barn and had her stretched between three or four of them until I beat them off with a shove; my dad went over to the neighbors and told them that if they didn’t keep their dogs at home, the next time they came over and attacked his sons pet or any other animal on our place his son and wife had orders to shoot them, and when he got home he would kill any dogs the didn’t get… and he didn’t care if the dog in question was in the neighbors living room when he did it.

                      My dad is fairly mild mannered (I get my temper from my mothers side) but he has a way of stating things in a matter of fact voice that people just don’t challenge.

                    • Seems immanently reasonable to me but I come from mountain folk.

          • A woman doesn’t realize that her rodent sized poodle descended from a long line of hunting dogs and therefore is fiercely intelligent and on some level is aware of the need to bite and hold on at all costs.

            And THAT is why I hate poodles.

            It’s not really that I hate poodles– it’s that I have yet to meet anyone who respects the breed and has one. No, it’s so “cute” when their menace charges over to bite someone, and if the kid objects and kicks the violent dog that’s been TAUGHT that doing this means Pack Head will reward them with attention and food, they scream bloody murder at the human that doesn’t want to be bit, or just WAS bit. “But she never bites meeeeee, you must have done something.”
            You idiot, that is a DOG, not a kid, and you– as pathetic as you are– are the pack leader.

            My grandmother accidentally trained her old mutt to attack a dear friend with that method– when she charged in and bit, she got attention and treats and special play time after the friend left. My mom bought the lady’s car, and we all went to visit grandma. The mutt jumped a five foot gate in full attack mode when we piled out… and flew right back over it because my mom don’t play that game. (The dog was fine, and never attacked either grandma’s friend, or my mom. If she’d ever deliberately attacked us kids, she’d have been put down, because grandma also didn’t go for that. All I can figure is that her friend must’ve found some way to blame herself for that dog’s behavior and that’s why nothing had been done before.)

            Ack, just looked at what I wrote, long dog oriented rant that it is.

            It’s great!

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              I’ve always believed that there is no such thing as a naturally “bad dog”. If a dog is “bad”, it’s that way because a human (or humans) have made it bad. Either by mistreatment or by allowing “bad behavior”. The little “yappers” get away with yapping or “nipping” because their owners let them. A large dog wouldn’t be allowed to do the stuff that a small dog is allowed to do.

              • I explained it to my kids as some people drive their dogs insane.

                Not the dog’s fault. Dog still usually pays the price, but not his fault.

                • With some of the recent rather insane seeming breeding practices (looks, looks, who cares about health, character and practical use of the breed) maybe it is possible some individuals are now born more or less brain damaged. Although then it is also of course the fault of humans, in this case those who breed them, and those who buy ones bred only for looks.

                  • Yes.

                    Everybody breath a sigh of relief that poj made this point before I came along and wrote a long involved and probably convoluted comment on the subject.

                    • Just a well I was late reading this, or I’d have one too, especially about the practice of INTENTIONALLY breeding for what are essentially genetic defects that people consider “cute”.

                    • “especially about the practice of INTENTIONALLY breeding for what are essentially genetic defects that people consider “cute”.

                      *spits, splutters, turns red in face, then with difficulty decides not to post long rant*

                    • Maybe we need a separate rant blog, where we can go post loooong rants. You know, just comment with “go see me over at the RantBlog”.

              • I used to believe that, too, but an acquaintance recently had a puppy from a reputable breeder that would spontaneously bite, snap and maul nearby humans. The owner had previously had success with a dog of the same breed and I have no reason to think she had done anything to corrupt the puppy (it was eventually returned to the breeder.)

                So I now accept the notion that some individual dogs have some form of inherent flaw.

                • We have bipolar disorders and schizophrenia in humans, I am willing to believe it is possible for dogs to also have similar disorders. It’s just harder to diagnose. And since a lot of the time it really is the humans fault when the dog behaves badly, it’s hard to distinguish between truly crazy dogs, and dogs that were made crazy humans.

                  • Oh yes. I’ve read with my own eyes a complacent “childfree” dog-owner telling parents not to let their children squeal about her dogs because they sound like rabbits, and that drives dogs to kill. There are some really bad parents out there.

                    • “There are some really bad parents out there.”

                      Parents, or dog-owners?

                      On second thought, that would depend on the parents response.

                    • Ooops.

                      I’ll blame the childfree for it. The sorts that say things like that also tend to portray their pets as their children and themselves as parents to try to draw a moral equivalence.

                      The logical conclusion of the glorification of whim.

            • I’ve generally never been impressed by poodles, because the ones I have met have been neurotic. However, a couple of weeks ago, I met the friendliest and most playful poodle I have ever seen. I would have taken a few minutes to romp with him, except that I don’t think the woman who was walking him would have appreciated it.

              • Re: Poodles and Chihuahuas

                At some point, someone had to look at a dog of normal wolf-like proportions and think “what if it was miniaturized, aggressive, neurotic, and goofy looking?” And then proceed on a breeding project. At some point, the breeding project would need to be handed over to another generation to carry on the work, until at last the final product had been acheived.

                And at no point did the 2nd/3rd generation minions ask themselves “My God? What are we doing to these noble animals?” Nope, it’s full steam ahead with the original plan.

                Just my two cents. 😛

                • Actually there are full sized poodles, and they tend to be SLIGHTLY less problem-ridden than the miniature sized versions. Still it is extremely hard to believe that are current day poodles are the descendants of a breed originally bred and used for bear hunting.

                  • Check the old Basques in Northern California and Nevada. Some of them have ones that you’d believe it of. Personalities to match, though not vicious.

                  • one of the smarted mutts my dad had was a standard poodle/chow/english sheepdog mix … Sorta a chow shape, with sheepdog length hair in poodle curls.
                    He liked to kill skunks. The smell did nothing to him

                • I seem to remember that it was usually “breed toy to look like big dog” instead– and that the toys aren’t as neurotic if they’ve got jobs to do, like killing rats in Pack Leader’s bedroom.


                  I would like to get a dog, but with my tiny apartment and weird work schedule, if I do, it might be smarter to get a small one. But I would also like to do something useful with that dog if I get it. A chihuahua or a smaller poodle trained as a search and rescue dog sounds quite amusing… and there also seem to be poodles trained for that, I found a few when I did a google search. But that Japanese chihuahua seems to be the only police dog, although I have seen claims that the big poodles might actually make at least as good ones as any of the currently used breeds do being both big enough to have the necessary brawn, and very smart dogs – which I suppose may also explain their tendency towards being neurotic, if a smart dog ends with an owner who doesn’t give it anything worthwhile to do that seems like a logical end result.

                • If it’s true that the Chihuahua was largely bred as a protein source, is there any wonder that they’re typically twitchy little things. (Not that the Aztecs were by themselves, he said, reflecting on blackpowder rendezvous circuit’s “Tender Puppy Cafe”. The proprietor didn’t come up with the idea on his own.)

                  • If I was breeding something for a protein source, I believe I would attempt to breed something at least large enough to make meal for one person out of.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      it’s possible that what is essentially the Chihuahua is a very old breed. I read an article years ago about them finding what looks like a long-haired Chihuahua’s head in Amber, though I’m darned if I can find it now.

            • Oh, believe me, you have a MUCH higher opinion of poodles than I do. And I have a much higher opinion of them than either my current vet or my former one.

        • SheSellsSeashells

          I think it was Elizabeth Marshall Thomas who wrote about rescuing some infant possums and tucking them safely into a terrarium in her houseful of more-wolfish-than-average dogs (dingo crosses, huskies, etc). The dogs were intensely protective of the possums while they were still in the repulsive hairless curled-up stage, but as soon as they quit looking unfinished and fetal and got cute and bright-eyed and scampery, the dogs uniformly went from “protect the tiny thing” to “prey!!”

          While all the humans were watching and going “d’awww!” I’m just imagining mass canine incomprehension…

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            My beagle, Lilly, found a nest of little babies (not sure what kind of babies they were) after digging in our back yard. She brought them into our sun-porch obviously dead and expected (I think) praise. Well, I didn’t praise her or scold her, I just put them into the garbage can.

            On the other hand, there was this opossum she found in the back yard that I thought was dead. When I got it onto a shovel to put in the garbage, the opossum looked at me so I threw it across the fence. [Smile]

      • Patrick Chester

        There was a Dexter’s Laboratory cartoon short where Dexter gave a golden retriever the ability to talk.


  6. God never created any animals that reason. But mules reason, which doesn’t go against the good book because they were created by man. And they have a thirst for vengeance for any perceived wrong done them, and a willingness to wait years for the right opportunity to wreak such vengeance.
    At least those are Steve Mathes thoughts, and he devotes an entire to chapter to mules in his book Brave and Other Stories. From my limited (very) association with mules I have found no reason to dispute him.

    • I flew with a corporate pilot whose father raised mules (in Missouri no less). He took his first flying lesson while trying to force a mule to cross a wooden bridge. One of the two ended up on the other side of the creek. 😉

      • So after the Quaker has tried everything he could to get his mule to pull he finally gave up, walked up to her and whispered in her ear where no one else could hear: “Listen you stubborn mule, I may not be allowed to beat you, but don’t forget… I sure as hell can sell you to a Baptist.”

    • Some time back I saw some photos of a mountain loin hunt party getting attacked by the cat. It was a mule that was attacked and it was able to reach back, grab the cat by the scruff and start slamming it around. score one for the grass eater.

      • Zoo-keepers are more likely to be injured by zebras than by lions

        • I recall the Audubon Zoo folks mentioning 90% or so of their big cat injuries were the cubs playing a bit too rough.
          Zebras are mean things. But for hunters, the Cape Buffalo or Hippos are more dangerous. Also, in places where Elephants have been relocated from highly poached areas the hunters need to hide their guns even when they are not hunting elephant because they learned to attack if you got too close. If a military guy is out in the bush with an AK he is likely to get stomped by the whole group, no matter how far away he was when they saw him, so patrols in the area I saw would carry pistols and hunting rifles as they were less likely to have a run in. Apparently the poachers were using the Spray and Prey method and wounding much of the group.

      • I have a magazine around here somewhere with an article written by one of the guys in that party.

    • William O. B'Livion

      God never created any animals that reason.

      Parrots, monkeys and, oddly enough honey badgers.

      • Do parrots reason, or do they just do a really good imitation of reasoning?

        • Probably depends heavily on what you mean by “reason.”

          I notice in the older stuff, “reason” tends to be used to mean something like “applies logic” or sometimes “can work things out symbolically.” (applied metaphors)

          When I was reading stuff about animals reasoning in school, it was used for “solves presented problems.” Like horses opening gates, or the famous way that octopuses are the rogues of the aquarium world. 😀

          • Incidentally, I have had folks try to insist that the folks who described man as the only reasoning animal had simply not run into animals that could do that.

            When every. Single. Farm. That I have asked around. Cannot go a decade without getting a horse that undoes gates. (In some cases, you know those doggie clip things? They open those, unless you lock them on the OUTSIDE, with no slack.)

            Either horses suddenly got smarter in the last 200 years and it somehow skipped out on people who were around them a lot more, or “reason” didn’t mean physical problem solving.

          • Yes, I always used your definition of reason, but have ran into the other one fairly commonly.

            On the other hand I was stating someone else’s opinion (one I mainly agree with, but would not state in so strong of terms because there is a little doubt/grey area in my beliefs) in the original comment.

          • William O. B'Livion

            By the definition of “can work things out symbolically” a significant number of “humans” fail the test, and at least a couple higher primates can.

            I would stipulate that a horse being able to open a gate (even that honey badger working the wires off) is “just” an animal noticing how something works and applying what they see. However the Badger, some of the “higher” primates and a couple other animals can improvise tools.

            When you say “work things out symbolically”, you start to have problems telling what’s going on inside. See “Turing Test”.

            • When you say “work things out symbolically”, you start to have problems telling what’s going on inside.

              That’s the entire question– “what is going on inside.”

              Changing the question to be easier to answer doesn’t mean the original question is answered. (And a number of humans cannot do physical problem solving, either.)

              For crying out loud, there’s an Aesop about crows “using tools”– the one where he drops pebbles into the bottle of milk. So clearly that isn’t what they meant, either.

              • “(And a number of humans cannot do physical problem solving, either.)”

                And then the question becomes, are those humans reasoning? Thinking of some of those in politics who seem incapable of problem solving, I would be tempted to answer, “No.”

        • Do they demonstrate any abilities not normally shown by children until the age of seven — also known as the age of reason?

        • William O. B'Livion

          Do humans reason, or do they just do a really good job of making you think they can?

          Do *you* reason?

          Parrots–at least the African Grays–are reported to be able to put together new sentences that make somewhat sense, and solve simpler puzzles. Purportedly about the level of a 4 or 5 year old child.

          I know those two Honey Badgers showed team work and tool using. That’s close enough for me to take them off the menu.

  7. Heh, I might have to send this to a friend of mine. She’s one of those people who wants to write, really, she does, but there’s very little logic or consistency to what she does, especially when she writes animals. I’m a dog person and her werewolves cause me mental pain. I’ve tried to help her out, offering suggestions based on what I know about the different animals she tries to write about, but she usually just goes with ‘it’s fantasy, they don’t act like normal (insert critter here)’. That always feels hollow to me since everything has to have a reason it acts the way it does. I’m hoping if I send her a link to this so she hears it from someone else she’ll start giving some serious thought to it.

  8. I grew up with dogs. Always had a dog. One of my earliest memories involves a dog. Spent a lot of time with them. Most of my relatives had farms. My cousins had horses. Several others had dairy cattle. We also had cats; barnyard cats to hunt mice in the granary

    My mother’s family was a big one, and all her brothers and sisters had kids, who had kids, who now have kids. So there always were infants, toddlers, young children around any family gathering. We also had crazy uncles. Some of them had . . . .No, some of them should have had warning labels attached. .

  9. This is also useful in creating fantasy and alien races that only superficially resemble their animal ancestors (the way humans resemble apes.) What KIND of animal (or whatever) did they come from? How does it shape their culture, how much do they try and pretend it doesn’t?

  10. Still nominating—-19th-century-authors

    Philosophical note: all nominees thus far have a connection to the armed forces. 0:)

    • Well you are talking about nominations by a bunch of Huns, is it any surprise that they are a pack of myrmidons?

      And I believe all are available on Gutenberg, so price shouldn’t be an issue.

  11. Wayne Blackburn

    An uplifted Jack Russell? Oh, heck no. Mine’s too dang smart already. Use the same word for the same thing 3-4 times in a row, within a short time span (like, say, a week), and she learns what that word means. She even associated the word, “Constitutional” with “Going for a walk”, even though all we used it for was to ask one another if she had been outside recently. The simple fact that we went for a walk after the question sometimes was enough for her.

    • In my experience Miniature Schnauzers are the same way. They can pick up on the meaning of words, as well as context.

    • Ah yes. Some friends of mine have accidentally taught their dog that the phrase “the W word” means walk. They now have to try and use a variety of different synonyms in order to discuss walks

      • I ended up having to do the same thing with my late Fuzzy (the Chow mix who is my avatar) for anything that involved a walk or a trip to the vet(which she loved). Including spelling the words.

    • SheSellsSeashells

      I know what you mean. One of our kuvasz (livestock guardian dog) by the end of his 7 years, had learned “out”, “walk”, “stroll”, “amble”, , “excursion” and “perambulate”. Smart dogs are fun but not easy.

    • The Atomic Nerds discovered that their Akitas were pre-killing varmints and stashing the bodies so they could get rewards at a later date.

      Yeah, just a wee little bit “hmmmm” inducing.

  12. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    With alien critters, I think the thing to avoid is making them Earth Animals with just a different name.

    IE, the writer calls an animal a Dnuoh but its appearance and behavior is that of an Earth Hound.

    • I once wrote a story with hoppers. I knew the rule about not calling a rabbit a smeerp — but they had short ears. Ain’t no way that no colony is going to call a short eared critter a rabbit.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Thanks, I couldn’t remember the term smeerp. [Smile]

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        I once created a critter similar in appearance to the raptor dinosaurs with the personality of the traditional “one man dogs”. Friendly & obedient to its master but at the best only tolerant of other people.

        I called it a smeerp. [Grin]

        • Sounds rather like a semi-sentient critter I invented – somewhat cheetah-like in that they were very fast and hunted by sight, usually in small family-groups; but a large subset had been domesticated many centuries before, primarily to be raced.

          My main character has a companion of this race and their interactions are sometimes tricky to manage.

  13. “A comment thread here some time ago brought up what sapient house cats would be like”

    Did anyone else think “Tobermory”?

  14. It helps to know the animal you’re uplifting or changing into. Even if you want to modify some of their behavior, there’s a lot of basic things that can can keep you dog doggy (focus on food, chasing things that move) no matter what else you do to them. What? Your uplifted cat never has hairballs? That’s because she vacuums herself regularly.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      After hearing some cats yowling, I came to the conclusion that the ‘singing’ of tsundere catgirl idols might well be something I find intolerable.

      • Fox girls might not sound so nice either. Lots of foxes around where I live, and since I sometimes go for walks well after midnight on those nights I’m not working I have been startled more than a couple of times by their screams. Once right next to me, made me nearly jump out of my shoes.

        And hedgehogs can sound like a much larger animal when they are barging through dry grass or such. Skunks seem to do the same too, I suppose they don’t have much to worry about, when I worked that summer in Ontario I occasionally also went for nightly walks (I have always had some problems sleeping through the night, and I love moonlight) and I met a couple. End result, one woman frozen in place while the critter nonchalantly walks by, or the second time, decides to investigate something about a meter from me. I didn’t get sprayed. And there were bears in that area too, it was in the middle of nowhere several kilometers from the nearest village so I suppose it wasn’t particularly smart, although I kept the walks short and stayed on the road (had to, in that area the forest was nearly impassable even when you could see well) and close to the firefighter base where we were staying.

        • Coyotes might develop four-part harmony, though.

          Would rabbits be drummers? And if so, could they truly be considered up-lifted?

    • That’s just her excuse to get out writing.

    • The Other Sean

      Uplifted dog as bounty hunter?

    • Do cats usually have hairballs, though?

      I’ve been around them my whole life, we’ve had them for roughly twenty years, and the first hairball we ever saw was when the fluffy one started chewing himself crazy because the kids brought fleas in from the yard.

  15. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Everyone here is familiar with Freefall, right?

    It is a fairly good hard sci fi involving an uplifted wolf. The quality of the work he has done on this subject really shows with the case of an uplifted spoilers.

  16. This is just my inner eight year old asking because he’s too lazy to do the actual research.
    What about dinosaurs?
    Ever imagine riding into battle on the back of a T-Rex. How much meat would you have to feed that thing to ride every day? Or would the lazy lizard just sleep all day after being feed? How do you keep him from whipping his head around and using you as a quick snack?
    How many wagons could a brontosaurus pull? Or would it be like the rocket equation and you would have to carry more food than cargo?

    • In terms of behavior, treat predatory dinosaurs like being half way between birds and crocodiles if you’re going to use them as riding or hunting animals. They can be trained, but you’d have to be super careful and aware of their behaviors. Herbivores acting as beasts of burden would probably need to be directed constantly to keep them from getting distracted. As for metabolism, I’d imagine them all to be more active than modern lizards based on body plan. Making them as bird like as possible would probably be a safe bet.

      Then again I’m not a dinosaur expert and my knowledge of them is kind of out of date so if a real expert comes along I’ll happily admit to being totally wrong if it comes to that.

      • OTOH, consider the effects of selective breeding. Silver foxes were domesticated in a few dozen generations, albeit with intensive control.

        • Selective breeding is a fascinating thing since you have to work with what’s already there. Foxes had traits that we could more easily relate to and understand. A bird or reptile might be a bit more difficult since a different set of instinctive responses would be coming into play.

          Also, there’s the law of unintended consequences that may very well come into play. In the foxes you mention neotenic traits quickly showed up, such as curled tails, floppy ears and the retention of juvenile behavior, traits which are also seen in many breeds of domestic dogs. The domesticated silver foxes also have the tendency towards having white markings, which is fascinating since white is a color quite common in domestic species.

          In the end, domestic dinosaurs could very well end up being very different from their wildtype counterparts, which is where the real fun begins.

          And having said all that, I’ve got no clue where I was going with any of this.

          • What does it matter? As long as the place is fun and/or interesting.

          • Hm. If you bred a dinosaur species for intelligence, would you get something like African grey parrots? Pet parrots usually seem to be rather friendly, but would that still hold if it was several times bigger than you?

            • BTW, about those parrots, I have a vague memory of some story where the good guys had uplifted parrots fighting on their side – if I remember right they looked like normal parrots, but were able to reason on about human level, and one scene perhaps included them going into an enemy spaceship or space station as a flock (although I don’t remember what they were supposed to do there).

              Rings any bells?

      • I think that Steve Stirling handled the “herbivorous dinos as beasts of burden” thing best – in his sort-homage to E R Burroughs’ Venus, the Earth visitors did simple brain surgery to install very basic computer controls.

        The rationale? The dinos *were* classic dinos (described to be “as dump as geckos”), while their space drives were not much more efficient than current technology, and supplies from Earth – even relatively low mass things like light bulbs and cartridges – were hideously expensive.

        So the brain implants were a cheaper way of getting sorta-kinda heavy equipment.

        The same book had a very good example of “how to train a large doglike carnivore you raised from a puppy” – the “greatwolf” was a lion-sized pack-hunting canine relative with – fortunately – instincts similar enough that with supervision and training it could safely coexist with humans.

        • Sorry – the book was “The Sky People”, the first book of his “Lords of Creation” dualogy.

    • See the Ringo/Weber Prince Roger books (March Upcountry, March to the Sea etc.)

    • How much they’re going to eat is going to depend on which theory you use.
      My dad and a colleague found grooves on dino bones that match pretty closely the grooves on goose bones where the air sacs are. Which, if their theory is right, knocks a few tons off the bigger dinosaurs masses and would certainly change their calorie requirements. Now whether they are right about those grooves is still being debated, since air sacs don’t fossilize, it probably always will be. (If you want papers’ locations and titles, I can do that.)

      • Open access or behind a paywall?

        • I’m not sure how they’d be available–probably a library would be cheapest/easiest, unless you’ve already got a membership. We have actual physical journals somewhere around here, but I usually spend an hour or two making Dad dumb down the details enough for me when I want to get a glimmer of understanding of his research.
          Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 2000, by Akersten and Trost, Function of avian air sac diverticula, implications for sauropod cervical biomechanics.
          Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 2001, Akersten and Trost, Studies on the function of avian air sac diverticula and possible comparisons with saurischian vertebral biomechanics .
          Journal of Morphology, 2004, Akersten and Trost, Air sac diverticula as passive support devices in birds and saurischian dinosaurs: an overlooked biomechanical system. (The abstract is here:

          Do you want me to ask Dad (Akersten) if I can have his files for you? He likes science fiction: I think he’d be happy to share them if the publishing rules allow. (Especially if I tell him they’re for a Finn: that’s his ethnic background–the name got Swedified.)

    • Selective breeding offers a better explanation for T-Rex’s absurdly tiny arms/forelegs than anything out of Darwin.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Yep, in Toolmaker Koan by John McLoughlin, the intelligent dinosaurs had breed T-Rex’s as a herding animal. The T-Rex’s couldn’t hunt well without the “gripping” arms but the herds of plant eating dinosaurs still feared them.

  17. Wayne Blackburn

    A couple of thoughts on “beasts of burden”:

    Consider smaller animals, and the issues with using them for carrying or pulling supplies. Everyone knows about sled dogs and their uses, then there were the smaller travois used to have individual dogs haul packs. What changes to your hardware have to be made to accommodate using low-slung draft animals? You need to have the point of attachment near the level of the center of mass of the animal in order to get best performance; if it is too high, they are adding their own weight to the sled/cart/wagon, and if it is too low, they are forced to partially lift the burden, rather than simply pull it.

    What other special accommodations do the animals need? Special food? Those cooling spines mentioned for raft reptiles (a sail like a Dimetrodon, perhaps?) – that could get in the way of the tack for hooking them up to the cart, so how do you handle that? All sorts of complications can arise and be explored.

    • A sail – would piercing it inconvenience the animal too much? A hole or series of holes down low, between the spines might work if not.

      • Just throwing it up there as something else to think about. I was thinking that if they wanted to have something like that, the author would have to decide whether piercing it between the spines would be practically painless, so they could poke holes and tie through them, or if they would have to come up with a more exotic solution.

        • Yep, but can’t throw something up and expect to get no speculations. Not around here where it’s the natural response. 🙂

          And piercing seems like the most likely solution. At least it would be then for a practical reason rather than something like cutting a dog’s ears and tail for the sake of fashion.

          • Each family group or corporation could use a different pattern of piercings, as a form of branding/identifying mark, as well as for the harness and so on.

  18. I will note that if you write a werewolf that’s merely a human being with an odd physical configuration, you are on firm ground. Bisclavert features one, and is solidly medieval.

  19. I’m surprised that there’s been no mention of David Brin’s Uplift books. His Terrans include two uplifted species (dolphins and chimpanzees). Most of the books focus almost exclusively on humans, but uplifted dolphins are prominent in Startide Rising, and The Uplift War focuses on uplifted chimps.

    As for alien animals, well…

    People tend to assign names to things based on what the thing reminds them of. Weber references this from time to time in his Honorverse books, and on at least one occasion notes that multiple worlds have animals with very similar names that are nothing alike, all because the creature in question has some superficial similarities with a species back on Earth.

    Brandon Sanderson does similar things in his Way of Kings books (two volumes out so far). On Roshar, the ecology is nothing like that of Earth (with one exception). One character notes that an “axehound” is nothing like a hound – which confuses his listener, as the listener has no idea what a “hound” is. Only one place on the world (Shin) has an ecology that is anything like Earth’s, and that place is the only location on Roshar that supports avian life. As a result, all birds are known as “chickens” everywhere else on Roshar… even when the “chicken” in question is doing things that immediately identify it to the reader as a parrot.

  20. I kinda handled it this way:
    “The horse snapped at him. Withdrawing his hand quickly, Pieter remarked.
    “Temperamental beast isn’t he?”
    Jones shook his head,
    “No man from here would ever put his hand out like that to an Ogan horse.”
    He reached back behind the forward pointed ears, brought his left hand down alongside the horse’s head until he grasped the halter mount alongside the horses head. Holding the horse by the halter stiffly he brought his right hand around and grasped the horse’s lip carefully.
    “Look at this animal’s mouth, especially the teeth.” Frieda backed away fearfully.
    “Those aren’t teeth, they’re fangs, what do you feed these things.”
    “Beef, small animals, vegetables and brush, sometimes an unwary human.” He replied.”
    I imagine the reader’s imagination will take care of the rest.

  21. Imagine if your human form were allergic to the form you shifted into.

  22. Kind of an aside here, but when you’re making up fictional animals, it’s best to consider the WORLD those animals originated on. Consider how those creatures evolved on the world they’re on, what their place is in the animal hierarchy (herbivores/carnivores/scavengers, etc.), and how they fit their environment. Since I like to deal with aliens a lot, I do a lot of that kind of thinking. Sometimes it’s fun, at other times it’s the source of some almighty bad headaches. And if you get it wrong, SOMEONE will be sure to tell you!

  23. Two old articles from Analog come to mind:
    The first was about using terrestrial animals as inspiration for alien races, using a lowly garden snake as the example creature. Don’t remember the author or issue.
    The other was “The Long Stern Chase” by Rick Cook in July ’86 issue. It was about the fact that there are only 2 known predators with hunting strategies that center around endurance… outlasting your prey: Canines and Humans.

    How would a creature evolved from an ambush predator differ in personality… in culture… in problem-solving and technology.

  24. I think it would be safe to have uplifted golden retrievers that worked hard, played hard, didn’t think too much, and loved team sports.

    I recall a William Tenn story — “Null-P” IIRC — that ends with a shipwrecked pack of labrador retrievers attains sapience and breeds the remnants of humanity for various qualities of stick throwing.

  25. And off topic, but Finland has its first suspected Ebola case, a man returning from Liberia has been hospitalized after getting high fewer about 20 days after his return.

    Well, quite likely he only has flu or something like that, the test results will come in a couple of days, but anyway, good example of the fact that with modern travel no place can be considered safe from any contagious disease epidemic anywhere in the world.

    • And when you have idiots that believe it is their god given right to traipse around in public while infectious, and insist on doing so, containing it is virtually impossible. At least as long as those in power agree with them, and by the time they change their minds it will likely be too late.

      At times I believe we could make serious improvements in the average IQ of government if we had honey badgers and grey parrots in charge.

      • Yes.

        “I’m not symptomatic and you can’t be contagious without being symptomatic (and besides of course I don’t have it anyway, I’m too good a person and was careful and it just wouldn’t be RIGHT!) so of course I have the right to do whatever I want!”

        One almost hopes that latest case you have, that nurse who intends to sue everybody and their cousin, actually has the damn thing and will become symptomatic in a week or two. Almost. Would probably help with the handling of the next one. Would look bad to the voters and that idea might help the politicians to grow bit of a spine. Or at least some cartilage? Maybe hoping for bones is too much.

  26. Everyone wants to uplift cute fuzzy mammals. What about uplifted social spiders or parasitic wasps?

    • The Other Sean

      We already have uplifted parasites. We call them politicians and bureaucrats.

      • Man sized intelligent spiders are the best reason are ever heard to scour a globe with nuclear fire.

        • Even if they were the good guys? 🙂

          • Yes! I don’t care if they eat politicians and pee gasoline, they must be excised from the universe.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Well, it’s the wasps that plant their eggs into other insects that worry me if they were human sized and uplifted. Those wasps are the basis of the Aliens from the Aliens movies.

            Mind you, if they were uplifted, they might be smart enough to use animals not humans to “grow their young”.

            • Andromeda* did that– one of the main characters was a member of a species that could only reproduce via other creatures…and if they didn’t use an intelligent one, the child was also not intelligent. I want to say he went by Rev….

              *You know a series is good when Kevin Sorbo in his early 40s IS NOT the primary eye candy for the ladies. Not that he can’t pull it off, but they actually had a variety of cute guys, and attractive women, and they all had a purpose.

              • Rev. Bem, to be exact. (Yes, Bug Eyed Monster) The actor who played him developed an allergy to the makeup, ala Buddy Epsen, and the character was written out. I didn’t like it as much without him.

    • My first response is “kill it with fireeee!!!!!!” After that, I’ll let someone else take over the discussion.

      • And then drown it in diesel, to make sure.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          Er, maybe it would be better to drown it in diesel first? Then the “kill it with fire” becomes easier.

      • Come on, there are lots of fun possibilities here…

        I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.
        – Charles Darwin

        • I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.
          – Charles Darwin

          *raises eyebrows* So all the normal animal predators, which feed by ripping out chunks of their living victim and eating it as soon as it can’t get away from their teeth, are just fine– but the wasps just break it?

          I know he was trained by the English Church– did he skip the day where they went into the various theories of how pre-Fall “lions laying down with the lamb” type stuff worked?

          Oy, what a weak appeal to emotion.

      • Aw, come on, what about trying to talk with them first?

        Heh. I like the idea, btw, for story purposes, the good guy aliens being some totally disgusting creepy crawlies (and the bad ones perhaps looking cute). Of course it has already been done, by Alan Dean Foster among others (and I find praying mantises several times worse than spiders) but always room for more, yes?

        • The second Lost Fleet series does this. The “bear cows” (or Kicks) are mentioned above. I won’t mention any additional details as the series is still in progress, and thus spoilers are a problem. But Jack Campbell definitely has fun with the idea that you describe.

  27. That gets you into Mad Science territory.

  28. overgrownhobbit

    Just a quick addition to the discussion of “uplifted” animals: It’s been done, and done well, and is part of the science fiction canon (but I’m an old coot, so pardon my crankiness): Cordwainer Smith. I turn your attention to any of his “Underpeople” stories (hit google or or your local library: the magic words are “inter-library loan”). What he includes and no one seems to have mentioned: Why do you suppose a creature “uplifted” to include human mental capacity will automatically fail to include a soul? A capacity for ethical choice? And anyways, how is a Kzin any scarier, than well, us?

    For writers: Animals are the aliens who live among us. Pay attention to them and you will be rewarded with completely alien viewpoints. Learn to love them (and be loved in return) and your capacity for writing other worlds cannot help but improve, in the same way that Paul Johnson, an outsider who loves America, managed to write one of the best of our histories (here)

    N.B. For feline-ophiles, do try to check out the late lamented Terry Carr & his wife’s short story “Some are Born Cats” (And some achieve catness). It’s a hoot.

    N.B.B. I got a free copy of the shapeshifter series Ms Hoyt wrote and I LOVE it. Just my cuppa. So I bought Witchfinder. I don’t know if I’ll care for it or not, but fair’s fair.