“Prodigal” online at Asimov’s


If you missed the December 2016 issue of Analog and thus didn’t get to read my story “Prodigal,” now’s your chance: it’s online at the magazine’s website in PDF form for the present.  That’s because it was a finalist in the AnLab reader’s poll, which means you can check out a metric ton of great stories on the website:

More happy writing news in a day or two, I promise, when I get a chance to catch my breath.



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  1. Kevin Kim
    Kevin Kim March 29, 2017 at 12:34 pm . Reply

    Read and reviewed. Very engrossing. It is indeed awesome that the anthology’s cover reflects your story.

  2. Kevin Kim
    Kevin Kim March 31, 2017 at 3:16 pm . Reply

    I think that’s a good point about enhancing animals: it’s not always going to be salutary. Interestingly, I suspect that the citizens of the country in your story must have believed it should have been a net positive, otherwise the procedure would never have become so widespread. One has to wonder how the humans failed to anticipate the possibility of an animal uprising… perhaps they proceeded in the delusional fantasy that creatures are “perfectible” and thus capable of changing their basic natures. And now, the silly humans must reap what they’ve sown. I’m reminded of the old parable, credited to many different cultures, of the compassionate woman who saves the poisonous snake, only to be repaid with a deadly bite because the snake can’t transcend its nature.

    re: Zeitgeist

    I pondered writing, in my review, that your story might be considered part of a tradition-stream that is itself a subgenre of sorts: the animal-enhancement-gone-wrong subgenre. (Or perhaps that’s the sub-subgenre, with the subgenre being “creation turns against creator.”)

    As for a sequel involving the “caninization” of humans—oh, I’d definitely be on board for that.

  3. Kevin Kim
    Kevin Kim April 1, 2017 at 3:22 pm . Reply


    Good points, all. And since it’s your story, what you say goes when it comes to intended meaning. I’m not a big fan of all that “death of the author” nonsense in which the author’s intentions are utterly ignored and any interpretation of the work is considered equally legitimate compared to any other.

    “Maybe, though the dogs’ nature is changed by the treatment, isn’t it? They become self-aware in a deeper way—a way that leads them to question things like pack hierarchy and their power relationships with their human “owners.” The dogs do in some sense transcend their nature, or are forced to do so… the creature that fails to transcend its nature in this story isn’t the dog, it’s the man. (Who is stuck in a state of human-centric arrogance.)”

    I’d agree the dogs’ nature has been changed, but my reading (which I concede may be entirely wrong in view of your above response) was that the dogs were still basically dogs. I don’t think this is an irrational conclusion to come to because the story itself seems to provide evidence that the dogs remain quite canine:

    1. Smellovision. Dogs are born with a certain sensorium that delivers the world to their minds in a certain way. Receiving the world primarily through smell isn’t something that’s changed by the procedure. The story even notes that dogs can smell fear, and possibly even lies.

    2. Benji in the park, listening. Benji and a group of dogs all listen while a dog orates. The canine instinct to be in a group and respond to a leader seems mostly intact.

    3. The murder of the guard. A pack of dogs tears apart a security guard. The whole thing is done in a canine—dare I say lupine—way. And again, we get pack behavior.

    4. Howling at the TV. An enhanced dog, when experiencing extreme emotion, is apparently still given to acting like a dog, according to the story. Our truest natures come out in extremis.

    5. Benji’s final utterance. The story ends with Benji growling—a purely canine utterance that says much despite there being no words.

    My point, in citing all the above, isn’t to declare arrogantly that the author’s take on his own story is wrong. All I want to do, here, is show that my interpretation isn’t entirely irrational: the story itself provides evidence for my perspective.

    But again, what you say goes. If you’re saying that the dogs have transcended their nature thanks to the unsolicited acquisition of a deeper sentience, then amen.

    By the way, I completely agree that the humans in the story are still being human. They somehow failed to figure out that you can’t “promote” a species to human levels of sentience and still expect them to be second-class citizens. Cf. the episode “The Measure of a Man” in Star Trek: The Next Generation. If you create a sapient thing, that thing is automatically invested with rights. I wonder how the developers of sentientization managed not to have that discussion. That sounds like a story in itself!

  4. Kevin Kim
    Kevin Kim April 2, 2017 at 2:00 am . Reply

    “Realistically, certain (vestigial) traits can survive even when one’s nature has fundamentally changed. I think you’re looking at it in a binary way, when—as with any biomodification—that analog smear between binary absolutes is really crucial.”

    I’m not seeing this as a simple “dog/not-dog” dichotomy; I’d agree with a more sliding-scale way of looking at the matter. That said, I felt the story was showing that the canines were still, at heart, canines: they had not been fundamentally changed by the enhancement, except in terms of their relationship with humans (and even there, Benji held out hope, however briefly, of returning home). But again, maybe that’s where I’m just plain wrong. Perhaps I should reread the story.

    “Also, all those instances you cite have analogues in human behaviour: we favor vision over smell, we engage in group hierarchy that is clearly reminiscent of behaviour in lower primates; humans murder and exhibit (violent) pack behaviour; we shout at the TV when our feelings are provoked; and our facial expressions, body language, and nonverbal utterances also definitely seem to hearken back to our primate origins, if what we share in common with chimps and other great apes is anything to go by. And yet human beings do seem to have some fundamental difference from all the other apes—the capacity of our brain and our toolmaking skills hypertrophied radically, but it didn’t erase all our traits. Presumably for a modded dog, even one modded in utero, many canine traits would survive: you’d get Canine 2.0 (or 3.0, as 2.0 is domesticated dogs), but it’s still be characteristically canine, right?”

    I agree there are analogues in human behavior, so long as we aren’t zooming to a level of abstraction where we’re declaring that there’s simply no difference between humans and dogs.

    “My point, though was that it’s the human failure to transcend petty human attitudes (human-centrism, a paternalistic view of animals, etc.) that interested me more in this story. Depending on what you mean by ‘transcend,’ your interpretation may even be a good example of that, though I can’t be sure: I suspect you take ‘transcend’ to mean ‘become humanlike’?”

    By “transcend,” I merely mean “do something dogs normally aren’t capable of doing.” For example, there’s the classic problem of the leashed dog who has circled the tree several times and (depending on species) doesn’t know how to unwind himself because he lacks the cognitive capacity to figure that puzzle out. Contrast that with the enhanced dog who can easily reason his way out of the leash problem—and probably play chess to boot. Those would be instances of transcendence to me.

    “Which reminds me: it’s worth noting that the way the modified dogs are treated in many ways mirrors how children are often treated in comparison with adults: kids also enjoy second class citizenship in many ways.”

    Interesting topic. I think I agree with the overall thrust of what you’re saying, although I don’t think any adult ought to be giving kids full freedom to do what they like before they’re legally adults. (Granted that legal adulthood involves drawing an arbitrary bright-line distinction that doesn’t always work out justly: there are mature 15-year-olds who could vote intelligently and drive cars prudently, and there are stupid 20-year-olds who have no business voting or driving.) Kids’ opinions and rights ought to be respected, but I’d hesitate before letting a kid run the country. Hell, I’ve seen plenty of student evals that prove some college kids aren’t mature enough to know what’s good for them.

    You’ll be facing these issues in your own life as a dad, if you aren’t already. There will be times when you’ll realize that you can’t treat the kid as a little adult who can be reasoned with, and you’ll just have to put your foot down. A cerebral friend of mine told me, when his daughters had gotten older, that he had sworn he wouldn’t make the mistakes his parents had made… yet he found himself doing the same things his parents had, and realized that those things hadn’t been mistakes at all. At the same time, he held firm to his beliefs that children can indeed be reasoned with, and that physical correction (spanking, etc.) is never the answer (his wife, a stereotypically expressive Italian-American, thought and acted differently). I respect his stance, but I imagine it must have been difficult for him at times.

    A canine Blade Runner might be interesting. Starring Harrison Pug.

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