Five Animal Stories that Manage Not to Be Twee
Animal stories have a certain quality that really lets writers play with emotions. There’s a reason White Fang and Black Beauty are classics. And plenty of speculative fiction writers have advantaged themselves of the approach. And OMG sometimes the twee factor runs far too high in this. It’s very easy to do in an animal story.
But we do it nonetheless. And sometimes succeed. Here’s five of my all-time favorite animal stories, all of which manage to escape the trap of sentimentalism.
- “Sergeant Chip” by Bradley Denton
Dog stories automatically have grabbiness for anyone who likes dogs. And this story plays on the things that we love dogs for: their enthusiasm, their loyalty, their whole-heartedness. A simple straightforward story purporting to be the dictated testimony of Sergeant Chip himself, this is a heartwringer that was published by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It won the 2005 Sturgeon Award and was nominated for a Hugo.
- “Rachel in Love” by Pat Murphy
Rachel’s been given a personality overlay that makes her one of the loneliest creatures in speculative fiction, trapped between her own species and humanity.
Rachel likes fairy tales and she likes happy endings. She has the mind of a teenage girl, but the innocent heart of a young chimp.
This is another lovely but tear-jerking story, told in beautifully simple and wonderfully clear writing. It originally appeared in Asimov’s in 1987, won the Nebula and Sturgeon Awards, and was nominated for a Hugo.
- “The Fate of Mice” by Susan Palwick
One of the reasons I like this story so much is that it’s a reply to another favorite work, Daniel Keyes’ Flowers For Algernon. Palwick gives Algernon a voice, but the story is much more than a retelling. It’s an amplification, a weaving upon what went before that creates a fabulous story.
Sadly, I could find no online version. The story is the title story from Palwick’s collection, The Fate of Mice, which appeared in 2007.
- “Spacetime is For Springers” by Fritz Leiber
Kitten Gummitch is that scrap of reckless, selfless courage that some can summon in the face of terrible odds. This is just such a charming story and I’ve loved it ever since I first read it. There is an affectionate humor throughout and linguistic play:
So to all outward appearances Gummitch was just a vividly normal kitten, as shown by the succession of nicknames he bore along the magic path that led from the blue-eyed infancy toward puberty: Little One, Squawker, Portly, Bumble (for purring, not clumsiness), Old Starved-to-Death, Fierso, Loverboy (affection, not sex), Spook, and Catnik.
In fact, the whole story, which appeared in 1958, is full of beautiful, quotable moments.
- “The Author of the Acacia Seeds and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics” by Ursula K. LeGuin
The first story in LeGuin’s collection, The Compass Rose, (1982) “The Author of the Acacia Seeds” purports to be lifted from a scientific journal. LeGuin makes the most of the trope, using its language to tremendous effect, and at the same time manages to create a revolutionary ant whose double-sided story is both poignant and exhilarating. Again, no online version.
Cat Rambo has worked as a programmer-writer for Microsoft and a Tarot card reader, professions which, she claims, both involve a certain combination of technical knowledge and willingness to go with the flow. In 2005 she attended the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Among the places in which her stories have appeared are Asimov’s, Weird Tales, Clarkesworld, and Strange Horizons, and her work has consistently garnered mentions and appearances in year’s best of anthologies. Her collection, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight was an Endeavour Award finalist in 2010 and followed her collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories. Her most recent collection is Near + Far, from Hydra House Books.
She has edited anthologies as well as critically-acclaimed Fantasy Magazine, is a member of the Codex Writers’ Group, and volunteers with Clarion West. Her work with Fantasy Magazine earned her a nomination for a World Fantasy Award in 2012. She teaches at Bellevue College as well as running a highly successful series of online classes.