Dolittle's World

Deviation Actions

QuantumBranching's avatar

Literature Text


The year is circa 1940 or so, a century after Dr. Dolittle's first trip to Africa to help out some sick monkeys . The knowledge of how to talk to animals long ago spread beyond the Doctor's small circle – first a young naturalist who had seen the doctor in action begged Tom Stubbins to teach him: Charles Darwin got involved, and things ballooned from there. An aging Doctor, sick of the now-enormous fame that left him no time for his work, and no longer as closely involved with Stubbins (who had found wuv and started to raise a family), ended up returning to the Moon (with the aid of his animal friends in arranging a signal visible across space), to spend a peaceful retirement studying all the wonders of the Moon's biology.

The world is very different from our own, as a result of the discovery of animal sentience. This caused major crises in every religion that did not follow a dogma of reincarnation and the virtue of vegetarianism: Hinduism is doing fine, and Buddhism has expanded greatly among Europeans and Americans. Christianity and Islam, with their doctrine of fundamental separation between the human and animal worlds, have not fared as well: meanwhile, there has been an explosion of new sects and religions.

All nations (aside from a few, like Afghanistan, which are fundamentally in Denial) nowadays have greatly modified their legal and political systems to accommodate the reality of animal intelligence, although only a couple nations (most importantly, the UK) have actually granted them citizenship, and even then on a limited franchise involving block voting: after all, the notion of humans being outvoted by dogs and cats and pigs is still too hard for most people to swallow. (And only for some species – we're talking birds and mammals: few humans have mobilized to fight for the rights of reptiles or insects). After all, OTL, dusky-skinned humans lacked a great many rights around the world in OTL 1940.

Said dusky-skinned humans made an increasing fuss about having no more rights than (literally) dogs did, and in the US the civil rights movement achieved political success by the 1930s: the vote for women was similarly advanced by a generation.

The biggest problem has been the "eating" thing. Chickens were OK with continuing the egg thing, sheep with the shearing, cows with the milking, horses with the plowing, as long as some improvements in housing and treatment were made: but pigs, for instance, weren't very happy with becoming bacon.

Oddly enough, pigs – and cows, goats, etc. – although they will strongly resist being killed, do not translate this into a general antipathy towards carnivores and omnivores. After millions of years as prey, they accept the predator's need to eat them: they simply do not feel any hatred towards bears or wolves or lions as a whole. (Weasels and cats are widely disliked, but because of their cruelty towards their prey, not because they are meat-eaters). A pig will have no problems being friends with a man who has a couple rashers of bacon for breakfast. (This tends to drive human ethicists and thinkers on morality up the wall.)

As a result, although killing animals for food is now legally verboten in most countries, only a few (mostly in Asia) make it illegal to consume animal flesh: there are still animals dying in accidents and of old age and non-infectious diseases, and most animals find the human practice of hiding their dead in little boxes underground rather bizarre. There are the meat-leggers, of which little good can be said. And then there are the New Darwinian knife-and-spear hunters: the families of aggressive, violent animals such as bears and lions and boars will rarely bring charges in the case of a fair and agreed-on fight.

Humans are more of a problem: if animals accused of attacking humans now get their day in court, they also can be tried and executed. The medieval habit of inflicting capital punishment on misbehaving animals is now seen as a legal precedent rather than blind ignorance: a number of animals were shot for insubordination during the Great European War. Animals have new rights, but also new obligations: horses were deeply annoyed that they were now expected to do scouting by themselves without human riders sharing the risk. (The difficulty many animals have with the concept of "patriotism" is one of the reasons so few countries actually give animals citizenship).

Humans also make a pest of themselves attempting to establish appropriate behavior and legal relations between animals, which the animals, especially the predatory ones, greatly resent. (The human-founded Society to Promote Vegetarianism in Felines did not work out at all well).

With communication and animals becoming part of the cash economy, animals have now become a market as buyers rather than products. The industry in tools and prosthetics for animals lacking fingers or their functional equivalent is now a multi-billion dollar one, as is the construction business for making animal-suited housing and furniture. Most big cities now have an animal "ghetto", and there are some entire cities inhabited by cooperative animal societies: the rats and mice and other rodents have built, with the aid of human tools, some impressive underground cities. (The clothing for animals business has been less successful, although some of the vainer species spend quite a bit on accessories).

With a vast expansion in the population of vegetarians, diets have perforce grown more varied and the minerals-and-supplements crowd has prospered. The food situation has been substantially improved by the rapid growth rates and tremendous nutritive value of some of the plants that Dolittle succeeded in cultivating on earth after bringing them back from the Moon. Fishing is still carried out in some places (fish languages are very hard, fish are not cuddly, and the Pope still holds that fish have no souls).

It is a different world from ours politically, although there are some rough parallels. Africa is carved up into colonial areas and protectorates, but differently from in our world, China still has an emperor, and the Kingdom of Jolliginki is now a British protectorate. It is not a peaceful world: human beings are no less foolish and aggressive than they were a century ago, and the Germans have as OTL ended up with an unpleasantly racist regime that has taken New Darwinism to its logical apotheosis (as yet, the rumors of ritual cannibalism have been dismissed as propaganda cooked up by the Eurasian Union of Sentient Peoples, where even chipmunks are in danger of being sent to the Gulag, and some species – not just humans – are more equal than others). Rumors of war are in the air, and everyone wonders uneasily if that crow that flew by is a local or a spy for the Other Side.

Animals are increasingly organized politically, and tend lefty and anti-war: although animals lack a concept of nationalism, many of the land animals increasingly feel the need for "space of their own", where they can run their own lives without being bossed around by humans. Animal-run cities have already been mentioned, and some areas of African jungle are essentially self-governing within the colonial empires: the animals of the Serengeti are pushing hard for an administrative region of their own within British East Africa. Other animals organize to push change among animals themselves: the rodent Zero Population Growth movement is increasingly influential, as the underground cities get larger, food more expensive, and humans and rodent-hunting animals become increasingly paranoid about the "burrowers beneath."

Fine electrical equipment is assembled with the aid of the smallest animals, and towering skyscrapers are assembled with the aid of monkey and ape workmen, with birds carrying messages. (Animals are not much represented on assembly-line jobs, thanks to both Union hostility and animal inability or unwillingness to stick to fixed schedules.) Technologically, it is an essentially steam-punk/diesel/punk world, with submarines and Zeppelins and Mechanical Moles, rocket fliers and volcanoes tapped for power. It is a more extensively explored world, with dolphins and octopi bringing back reports of the deep sea, and moles and other burrowers exploring buried cities and the undersides of existing ones.

It is a different world from ours physically. The interior of Africa is rather different, and there are a number of islands that do not exist in our world (including a formerly floating one currently administered by Brazil). Much more significantly, in this world the Great Flood is not a matter of mythology but plain fact: some tens of thousands of years ago, a massive subsidence of the land and a colossal outbreak of underground waters drowned much of the world and changed the outline of the continents. The actual mechanisms of this remain somewhat obscure, but it had largely been confirmed by early geologists by the mid-19th century: since then, a number of fragmentary ruins dating back to the pre-flood era have been discovered. (A certain tank-sized turtle in the middle of Africa actually remembers the flood, but keeps mum, realizing he would never have a day of peace if the press found out). It is also a younger world: it is tens of millions of years, not billions of years old. Biological and planetary evolution takes place faster in this universe, and the Moon broke away from the Earth in a cosmic catastrophe only a million or so years ago: there are still some unimaginably deep abysses in the Pacific basin. The aether is real (Michelson and Morley came up with some rather different results from our world) and what is happening in the sun isn't quite fusion as we understand it.

The Moon has a considerable population of its own. The mass of the Moon is unevenly distributed, with the far side being slightly "downhill" from the perspective of nearside: over the ages since it broke away from the Earth, most of the water has migrated to the dark side, leaving the side that faces the earth largely uninhabited and desolate. The far side isn't so wet either, with a number of large lakes and little rivers rather than oceans, with only one fresh-water giant larger than the Black Sea on earth: areas of dense vegetation form a patchy network, separated by drier areas. Still, where there is any water, there is life, and the strange minerals of the lunar dark side (once deep, deep below the surface of the Earth) and the radiations that penetrate the luminous lunar atmosphere nourish an extraordinary vitality of growth among plants and insects and birds, creating grasshoppers big as whales, trees high as the Empire State Building, and other biological wonders.

It also is a place where things live much, much longer than on earth. Most living things last for millennia at least, and a few trees and the giant President of the Lunar Council are as old as the Moon itself. Although study of the plants brought back by the Doctor to Earth have yielded some remarkable advanced in the sciences of medicine and nutrition, they have not added to any great extent to the biblical Three Score and Ten.

Immortality, or close to it, is what the current Moon Race is about. Three great nations have built dirigible Aether-flyers, and will soon embark on lunar expeditions which reflect national prestige and competitiveness, but which are above all about obtaining the secret of lunar longevity, by hook, by crook, or by vivisection. Some see this great enterprise as possibly a substitute for looming war: some see it as a possible spark for the same.

Meanwhile, the great-granddaughter of Tommy Stubbins, her boyfriend, and her eccentric uncle are investigating a 2012 - DaVinci Code - type mystery, involving ancient archeology, geology, and the secret history of the Earth; Dr. Doolittle's new diet has finally brought his weight back down under a metric ton: and deep in space, an unimaginable menace is set in motion.

These seemingly unrelated threads will converge over the coming months. A number of oddball characters make an appearance, from the villainous Dr. Buzzby and his army of insect friends, to Sir Lester Bland, England's first pig PM, and his gorilla valet; the numerous descendants of the original White Mouse (including the World's Smartest Mouse and his insane sidekick), a now very decrepit (and very snappish) Polynesia, who due to wing arthritis must go everywhere by dog-back, the Puddelby Friends of Dr. Doolittle Society, the Crown Prince of Mars, Charles Lindberg, and Otho the lunar giant. After the threads of the tale join, Dr. Doolittle and his companions must embark on a desperate trip across the solar system to save the world from an implacable judgment and, before they get to their destination, figure out how to talk to a rock…

(Oh, and the return of Long Arrow from the Subterranean Kingdoms. He really should stay out of those caves).
The Dr. Dolittle series by Hugh Lofting are fun kids books, but if you think a little about the implications of almost all animals being sentient, it gets creepy rather quickly.
© 2011 - 2023 QuantumBranching
Join the community to add your comment. Already a deviant? Log In
InfernoMole's avatar
With a world of sentient animals, I must ask a rather nasty question., what are interspecies relationships like here? For example, human-animal ones?