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Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord by…

Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord

by Olaf Stapledon

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343831,955 (3.89)17
  1. 10
    Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (earthisdumb)
  2. 00
    Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov (Michael.Rimmer)
    Michael.Rimmer: Both feature dogs endowed with human intelligence, though they seem to inhabit different ends of the moral spectrum.

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I wrote a 10-page analysis of Last And First Men, Stapledon's 1930 fiction debut. I wasn't fully convinced by it, but I understood its historical relevance. I didn't really plan to read another Stapledon title, but I came across Sirius in a second-hand store for 5 euros, and both the cover and the subject appealed to me, so I took my chances.


I have to admit I was charmed by the fact Stapledon chose to stress the corporeal nature of the dog, and writes about a bodily intelligence - not some detached soullike mind. But it quickly contrasts with all the talk about the spirit, and ultimately the novel is not about a human mind in a dog's body, but about an ultra-smart dog with language capacity raised partly as a human, not fitting in human society.

The book's theme might seem original, but on closer inspection isn't at all. The main conflicts in the protagonist's mind are simply those of Frankenstein's monster. What might be called homage by some actually amounts to theft. Like the monster, Sirius ponders why he was created. Like the monster, Sirius wants a mate that is like him. Like the monster, Sirius feels lonely in the world of men. Like the monster, Sirius feels unacknowledged. And like the monster, he kills in a rage of self-defense.

While Frankenstein's monster is tragic and believable, the dog not only manages to write a letter, but folds it in an envelop, puts on a stamp and posts it. All by himself. The epistolary effort is not portrayed as easy - Stapledon goes to some lengths to describe the practical inconveniences of having no hands - but still, Sirius is a "super-super-sheep-dog", so there you have it. He also gets the girl - spoiler, oops - and at the end there's some strange passages in which the girl's husband - that narrator novelist - discusses the dog having sex with her - I'm sure the essential, quintessential "spirit" of this novel.


Please read the full review on Weighing A Pig ( )
  bormgans | May 19, 2017 |
Frightening foray into the realm of speculative sci-fi with dogs that talk. Poor Sirius suffers the fate of many humanity's creations. ( )
1 vote dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
In the 1920s Cambridge scientist Thomas Trelone attempts to increase the capabilities of the human mind by experimenting first with dogs. By injecting hormones in pregnant bitches he produces some super-intelligent sheepdogs with large capacity brains; but it is only with a predominantly Alsatian puppy called Sirius (after the dog star) that he manages to breed an individual capable of human mental processes and feelings. Unlike normal dogs Sirius ages and matures at the rate corresponding to that of humans and is even just able to form intelligible speech. But here’s the conundrum: what kind of being is this, and how should one treat it?

By presenting his work as a fiction the author manages to raise big philosophical questions around what it means to be human as well as trying to get the reader to gauge what their emotional response should be. It’s to Stapledon’s credit that he largely persuades us to invest in Sirius as a credible character. We see the puppy, brought up by Trelone’s own family in a Welsh farmhouse, treated much the same as Plaxy, a girl close in age to Sirius, to the extent that the two — like siblings or even twins — remain almost inseparable. We learn how Sirius finds the lack of hands frustrating but still manages to engage in everyday human activities. He develops skills as a working dog herding Welsh sheep but is well able to act on his own initiative; he participates willingly in aptitude tests and assessments at Cambridge University; he experiences life in the deprived and disadvantaged East End of London. But the Second World War is looming, and when it comes disaster not only threatens but strikes.

This is an extraordinary realisation. I found it slow at first, and in its almost dry-as-dust way it read like an academic report. But then I was drawn in, intrigued by Sirius’ existential musings, by the innate conflicts between his canine nature and his human brain and by the reactions of the humans who come into contact with him. At times I was reminded of the Houyhnhnms, the intelligent horses of Swift’s savage satire Gulliver’s Travels who make the narrator ashamed of his fellow humans. At other times it felt like a version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which the doctor creates a being whom he fails to nurture and understand properly, thereby initiating the countdown to potential tragedies of one kind or another.

In Sirius’ dealings with his foster-sibling Plaxy there was more than a hint of the Red Riding Hood and the Wolf fairytale — but with several twists, one of which is that we view all from Sirius’ perspective. And, if the subtitle (“a fantasy of love and discord”) wasn’t enough of a clue there is also a New Testament echo of Sirius’ reception and treatment; though he brings a message of love and hope the man-dog, being of two natures, is also feared, for we always fear what we do not understand. With a little adjustment the famous Isaiah prophecy — “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” — is, though some may see it as blasphemous, a fitting commentary on Sirius’ fate.

It is easy to see many aspects of Stapledon’s own concerns reflected in this novel. His academic career as a philosopher and his pacifist convictions (as a conscientious objector he served as an ambulance-driver in the Great War) inform the story of Sirius as retold by Plaxy’s lover Robert. To give the bald outline of the plot is make the novel appear like a pulp SF story, but Stapledon’s careful assembling of detail and reconstruction of conversations within a logical timeframe conversely give it a very human dimension (a point well made by Graham Sleight in his introduction) and allowed me to invest in and believe in Sirius as a real character. Paradoxically I was less convinced by many of the humans, though Welsh shepherd Llewelyn Pugh I felt came closest to a credible individual.

My appreciation of Sirius was heightened by my several years spent in the Preseli Hills — Welsh upland similar to the Trawsfynydd area and the Rhinog range where Sirius is raised — especially having experienced the seasonal changes and cycles which dominate the working lives of sheep farmers. But viewing human life through the fictional eyes of this more-than-canine sheepdog, especially in the varied contexts of Cambridge, London’s East End and Merseyside during a blitz, is eye-opening in a Swiftian way. It’s enough to make one despair that there will ever be an end to man’s inhumanity to man. Unlike Romulus and Remus brought up by a she-wolf there will be no lasting legacy from this dog raised by humans.

http://wp.me/s2oNj1-sirius ( )
1 vote ed.pendragon | Nov 4, 2015 |
[Sirius: A fantasy of Love and Discord] by Olaf Stapledon
The Mind of a man trapped inside a dog's body might scream out at you from a gaudy cover had this 1944 science fiction novel been published recently in an attempt to appeal to a mass market. The fact that to my knowledge it never has (although this would be an excellent short description of the novel), but has usually had a more tasteful cover like the excellent S F Masterworks cover above, shows the high regard in which this book is still held by many readers.

It is a familiar premise for Stapledon readers: a lone scientist experiments with the foetus of dogs in order to produce super intelligent puppies, but with the puppy Sirius he manages to produce an animal that melds the mind of a dog with that of a man. The puppy develops at a very slow rate keeping pace with the scientists daughter born around the same time and the novel describes his development and learning experiences through his youth to early adult hood. Stapledon paints a believable portrait of a human mind that is painfully aware that he shares the characteristics of a human being and a dog. He thinks of himself as a man without hands that is subject to the call of the wild and it is the dog like actions of Sirius; hunting, chasing bitches in heat, using his olfactory powers explained in human terms that makes this such a fascinating read. Sirius puzzles long and hard about where he fits in to society and like Stapledons earlier novel [Odd John] it becomes clear that there is no place for him. A loving relationship develops between Sirius and the scientists daughter (Plaxy) which goes through all the tribulations of young people growing up, and Stapledon is not afraid to tell of it's sexual nature. This together with the backdrop of England during the second world war places this novel firmly in context and provokes sympathy for Plaxy and Sirius and all those who seek to protect them.

Stapledon is able through the structure of the novel to pass comments on Human society as seen through the eyes of Sirius, here is what he says about the scientific community with whom he works:

"They were so very distinguished, and all so seeming modest and so seeming friendly; and yet every one of them, every bloody one of them, if he could trust his nose and his sensitive ears, was itching for personal success, for the limelight, or worse scheming to push someone else out of the limelight, or make someone in it foolish or ugly. No doubt dogs would be as bad really, except when their glorious loyalty was upon them. That was the point loyalty with dogs could be absolute and pure. With men it was always queered by their inveterate self love. God! They must be insensitive really; drunk with self, and insensitive to all else. There was something reptilian about them, snakish"

Stapledon allows Sirius to communicate with those people who have the patience to understand his intelligible doggy sounds and he also gives him the ability to make music with his voice that is far superior to most humans, but he is a freak and like [Odd John] the reader fears for him as he tries to make his way in an alien world. The novel never descends into bathos as Stapledon continues to explore intelligently the dilemma that is at the heart of this novel. There are some brilliant descriptions of Sirius working as a sheep dog and running free over the moorland and the love story with Plaxy is both insightful and desperate. There is plenty of literary merit in this novel and as an achievement it ranks with Odd John, but because the themes are so similar and as Sirius came along nine years after, then I would rate it at 4 stars. ( )
5 vote baswood | Jul 19, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Olaf Stapledonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chesterman, AdrianCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klee, PaulCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pelham, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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