This is a remarkable and very moving story. It’s been described as ‘Terminator’ meets ‘The Incredible Journey’ but that is to miss much of the nuance and power of the book. In a very short span it presents, with the barest minimum of words, a complex arc from madness and perversion through to a tentative restoration of order and justice.
The story is simplicity itself. Three lost pets have been converted into prototype superweapons. An ambitious senator – a very ambitious senator – likes the idea of animate superweapons, but doesn’t like the fact that they can talk, so orders them destroyed. And they don’t like that, so they escape from their base and go on an increasingly bloody rampage, fighting off every attempt by the military to stop them. The animals seek ‘home’ and, in an extremely moving moment, find it not as a place, but as a state of mind.
But what’s it about? Well, one could look at the surface and say that it’s about how weapons / war / etc are bad. All fine and dandy, but most of the violence we see is committed by the ‘heroes’ against humans, so unless we have a double-standard, that doesn’t wash. Or we could say that it’s about the good old Frankenstein complex, which it might be at a superficial level, but I believe there is something deeper going on. Remember that the senator doesn’t like the animals because they can talk. He wants the weapons to use animals, but in such a way that no-one can feel sympathy for them. Similarly, the idiotic general or colonel or whatever, who sends wave after wave of men to a horrible death, refuses to accept that the animals are more than just machines, and hence he underestimates them always. He even, at one point, complains of the horror of teaching a weapon to talk.
And that is the key. We live in an age where combatants of all hues – military, terrorist, whatever – dehumanise their opponents and dehumanise their fighters. So we get ‘collateral damage’ instead of ‘civilian casualties’, and soldiers are viewed as pawns to be manipulated by commanders, rather than people who fight from an act of will. The senator’s objection to talking animal superweapons is no different from the carefully sanitised view of conflict presented to us by its managers. Fighters and fighting are, as the book says, essentially amoral, but we can make them moral by the way we treat them. If we treat them as games, then we ourselves become immoral.