PC060: The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change

by Kij Johnson.
Read by Heather Lindsley.

(It’s a universal fantasy, isn’t it?—that the animals learn to speak, and at last we learn what they’re thinking, our cats and dogs and horses: a new era in cross-species understanding. But nothing ever works out quite as we imagine. When the Change happened, it affected all the mammals we have shaped to meet our own needs. They all could talk a little, and they all could frame their thoughts well enough to talk. Cattle, horses, goats, llamas; rats, too. Pigs. Minks. And dogs and cats. And we found that, really, we prefer our slaves mute.

(The cats mostly leave, even ones who love their owners. Their pragmatic sociopathy makes us uncomfortable, and we bore them; and they leave. They slip out between our legs and lope into summer dusks. We hear them at night, fighting as they sort out ranges, mates, boundaries. The savage sounds frighten us, a fear that does not ease when our cat Klio returns home for a single night, asking to be fed and to sleep on the bed. A lot of cats die in fights or under car wheels, but they seem to prefer that to living under our roofs; and as I said, we fear them.

(Some dogs run away. Others are thrown out by the owners who loved them. Some were always free.)

Rated PG. for emotionally provocative (mis)treatment of animals.

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22 Responses so far

  1. 1

    Divya said,

    July 10, 2009 @ 3:37 am

    Amazing story. As a dog lover myself, it made me wonder if I would treat my dog any differently if she could speak. I hope not.

  2. 2

    Gia said,

    July 10, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    I didn’t even bother to listen to this one because I read it recently and I hated it. Between this one and the one about monkey’s from Escape Pod a few months back, I get the feeling that Johnson’s style is to have a stupid woman ask a stupid question about animals over and over again. This question is especially inane because I don’t get it. The only thing that’s changed about dogs is that they can talk. Most of the dogs still love their human families and were kicked out for seemingly no reason other than being able to say “The food is bad.” (What a tragedy that they should say such things.) If we really are mistreating dogs, why should speech make a difference? They can show that they’re mad without talking. If things really were that bad, they would do something.

  3. 3

    Sandra said,

    July 10, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

    I read it, it was good.
    I still think that felines are from outer space.

  4. 4

    Julian said,

    July 11, 2009 @ 6:37 am

    I really liked this story, I found the concept of “onedog” to be like a fable but with a spin from a dog-perspective that I wouldn’t have thought of. The ending was satisfying and the stories Goldy told were very interesting. I couldn’t drift off to sleep on this episode because I was smiling too much. Great story.

  5. 5

    scatterbrain said,

    July 12, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

    Quite interesting and deep…for a taking dog story.

  6. 6

    Travis said,

    July 15, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

    I didn’t dislike this story, but otherwise I agree with what Gia said. Why focus on the dogs? The story mentioned that cows and pigs also started talking, so I’m thinking talking house pets would be a lot less significant in changing our society than would the cow and pigs commercially farmed for meat and/or dairy, if they suddenly started voicing their opinions about such treatment.

  7. 7

    Sabre Runner said,

    July 16, 2009 @ 1:58 am

    I agree with Travis. This story should have, or should be, the start of a joint writing project: “What would happen if animals started talking in today’s society?”. In my local scene, we did that several times with great success.

    On the story itself, it was touching. I couldn’t really turn it off. And it was interesting to note that most of Gold’s stories were focused around humans trying to hurt and kill dogs.
    My dog isn’t my responsibility, she lives with my parents, but I hope I would treat her the same if she started talking. I mean, for me, the collar is just so she’s identifiable, the closed gate is so she won’t go with us where she is not allowed. I would gladly take all of these away if she promised to wait outside buildings or always follow close behind when we’re around other people.

  8. 8

    Chris said,

    July 16, 2009 @ 2:36 am

    The story itself was very interesting, but did not like the constant slavery references though but that is probably because PETA and other total liberation nutters have been screaming that for so long.

  9. 9

    Librarian X said,

    July 19, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

    This was perhaps my favorite Podcastle story ever. It was sad and funny and engaging. I loved the One Dog stories.

  10. 10

    mister-duster said,

    July 22, 2009 @ 3:44 am

    As with most of the stories posted on Podcastle, I feel woefully inadequate to make worthwhile let alone intelligent commentary, but this one was pretty fantastic and I believe the author has received some unjustified criticism. Gia, if you didn’t understand the premise, maybe you should withhold comments until you’ve thought about it a bit more.

    I don’t think I particularly liked this story, but I respected what the author was trying to do. In my mind it was a courageous attempt to talk about dehumanization and how quickly a people can become monsters when a marginalized group (or species, here) suddenly has a voice.

  11. 11

    Gia said,

    July 25, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

    I didn’t understand the premise? The premise is “We are so mean to dogs. If they could talk, we would feel really bad about it.” There are only two times that the majority of the humans are “mean.” (1) When the owner, who had for the most part been loving up to that point, kick out the dogs because they were afraid of what the dogs would say even though the kicking-out was the only majorly mean thing that they’ve done. Before that, most of the dogs around Linna weren’t even all that unhappy with their lives. (2) When the police get rid of the dogs in the park, justifiably because that many dogs in one place is a potential health hazard.
    Humanity as a whole wasn’t really that bad so the entire premise of not liking dogs because they can tell us what big meanies we are doesn’t really have a point. It’s not that I didn’t understand the premise. It’s that the premise was badly carried out.
    Then again, my opinion is probably worthless because I obviously didn’t think about this one enough either.

  12. 12

    Divya said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

    Gia, the story is based on the premise that human beings are uncomfortable with what they don’t understand and are not used to. Throughout history, we tend to bully the species/race/bunch of human beings that do not fit into our concept of “right”. There are a few brave ones who find the courage to think outside that concept and sympathize with the “rest”.

    In the story also, the people who threw out their dogs didn’t do so because they were worried about what the dog would say. They found the whole concept of a talking dog creepy, and were not comfortable with that. Like the woman who felt guilty when asked if the dog was hers – she didn’t stop loving the dog, or suddenly become evil. But she just couldn’t bear the idea of living with what her dog had become.

  13. 13

    Gia said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

    Thank you, Divya, for actually taking the time to explain it and do it well. I understand what you mean. Like most people, I got caught up in the dog aspect (and I have a cat-person bias). Still, even though the question now has an answer, did we really have to go over it so many times? If the was less “Once again Linna has returned to the park where the dogs are still sad” and the point of the story was clearer in the beginning I wouldn’t have hated it half as much as I did.

  14. 14

    Jax said,

    August 6, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

    Unfortunately not the first Podcastle I have not finished (the elf month almost sent me running for the creepy embrace of Pseudopod)

    But this felt both cack and heavy handed.

    Yes I ‘got’ the story but the foundations of the idea were so deliberatly uninformed that it appeared distorted to the point of delusion.

    The writing was OK but nothing special, ditto to the narration.

    The over the top PETA politics also put me off.

    I can’t believe this was short-listed for awards.

  15. 15

    not a dog hater said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    I understood the story. I simply didn’t like it. Regardless of the author’s personal beliefs, which I do not know, the story vaguely reminds me of the perspectives of a militant PETA member (and I say this as a liberal AND animal lover). It’s just too heavy-handed for me to enjoy it. And while I love fantasy, this story is a bit too ridiculous for my tastes. And I also do not believe that should animals one day talk, humans will treat talking animals in the manner depicted by the story. I understood the slavery references but I should also like to remind the author that human culture has come quite a way since the era of slavery. That is not to say everyone is a humanist, just that we are less tolerant of social injustices these days than say a hundred yrs ago.

    I just don’t like this story. I’ve disliked lots of stories that I’ve heard on various podcasts but this is my first comment ever. I think that speaks volumes.

  16. 16

    not a dog hater said,

    August 10, 2009 @ 11:51 am

    Also, I do not think the problem with the dogs is that they can “talk” but rather their intelligence has increased to the point where they are capable of logical reasoning. Perhaps the humans in the story were uncomfortable with the idea that there is a second species that might be able to challenge humanity’s dominion over planet earth. That said, I still think the story sucks. My compulsive need to finish what I began forced me to finish listening to it but it was certainly a painful ordeal.

  17. 17

    Gwen said,

    August 17, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

    I liked this one. Like her monkey story, it didn’t make me go “oh wow!” right when it finished, but it kept popping up in my mind in the days and weeks that followed. For me, that’s one of the marks of good fiction.

  18. 18

    skippy_2 said,

    August 19, 2009 @ 1:51 am

    I liked this a lot, especially the ‘One Dog’ tales, and the fact that “…this is the same dog”, signalling the ongoing development of the trickster stories. Like Gwen, above, the story stayed with me and in fact I tweeted the link I enjoyed it so much. Having just finished Dave Eggers ‘How We are Hungry’ with the story ‘After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned’, a first-person dog story, maybe this had a little more resonance than it would have otherwise, but a fine story and nicely realised.

  19. 19

    Mari Mitchell said,

    August 19, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

    I myself am am a cat lover. I would own a dog again. But does need so much. They need more than I can give. And if I gave to One Dog, there would be more who would have puppy dog eyes and need more. There is no end.

    I’ll stick with cats. We love each other on our own terms. Mostly dictated by what he wants. We come and go. Love is always there… so it can wait.

  20. 20

    Nathaniel Lee said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 1:49 am

    I thought this was fabulous. I especially loved watching the actual “evolution” of the trickster stories as the dogs gathered and honed their skills, the stories growing more complex and reflecting the changing attitudes of the dogs to the way they were treated by the humans. I found the idea that dogs would be abandoned in this manner to be distressingly plausible, though I did appreciate that at least some people were able to adjust to the concept and accept the dogs and their alien worldviews. (I particularly liked the offhand reference to cats being “pragmatic sociopaths.” Personally, I know exactly what I’d hear if our cats started talking.)

    All in all, a very intriguing and subtle insight into nonhuman points of view. (Arguably too subtle, to judge from some of the comments thus far.) I find this a fascinating thought experiment and would cheerfully purchase an entire anthology set around similarly themed stories. (“After the Change,” perhaps.)

  21. 21

    trouble said,

    August 25, 2009 @ 7:59 pm

    late to the party here, but I had to stop listening because the parallel to human slaves felt pretty gross and racially insensitive to say the least – making animals a substitute for categories of humans is tricky at the best of times, but by the discussion of Martha Washington freeing her slaves and how she felt vs. how dog-owners felt.. well, I get the feeling that we the listeners are assumed to identify with the dog owners. But if you have a differnet relationship to slavery, I think you might possibly be thinking more about how the other side was feeling – but the dogs are alien entities, discussed in that old-school anthropological specimen-type way. the emotional depth is assumed on the slaveowner side. feh!

    just think: if you consider slaves to be your people, i.e. are descended from them.. it’s a big stretch to think you’ll be happy to identify with dogs, don’t you think? wouldn’t you find this kind of insulting?

  22. 22

    “The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change”, by Kij Johnson « moonlitworld said,

    September 26, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

    […] story’s text This story’s audio This story for sale at […]

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