A- #BookReview: Feed Them Silence by Lee Mandelo

A- #BookReview: Feed Them Silence by Lee MandeloFeed Them Silence by Lee Mandelo
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: climate fiction, science fiction
Pages: 105
Published by Tordotcom on March 14, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

Lee Mandelo dives into the minds of wolves in Feed Them Silence, a novella of the near future.What does it mean to "be-in-kind" with a nonhuman animal? Or in Dr. Sean Kell-Luddon’s case, to be in-kind with one of the last remaining wild wolves? Using a neurological interface to translate her animal subject’s perception through her own mind, Sean intends to chase both her scientific curiosity and her secret, lifelong desire to experience the intimacy and freedom of wolfishness. To see the world through animal eyes; smell the forest, thick with olfactory messages; even taste the blood and viscera of a fresh kill. And, above all, to feel the belonging of the pack.
Sean’s tireless research gives her a chance to fulfill that dream, but pursuing it has a terrible cost. Her obsession with work endangers her fraying relationship with her wife. Her research methods threaten her mind and body. And the attention of her VC funders could destroy her subject, the beautiful wild wolf whose mental world she’s invading.

My Review:

Considering that it’s recommended that doctors not treat themselves or their loved ones because they lose their objectivity, while lawyers are told that any who represent themselves have a fool for a client, then what should be said about scientific researchers who go into their supposedly objective study fully intending to use themselves as one of their subjects? There was that strange case regarding Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…

Not that Dr. Sean Kell-Luddon actually becomes a monster – or even turns into the wolf her experiment intentionally bonds her with. And not that, occasionally, her wife doesn’t think that Sean’s being more than a bit of a monster to her.

When Sean manages to tear herself away from her research to be physically, intellectually and emotionally present in their marriage. The one that’s falling apart around her. Just as it turns out, she is.

The year is 2031, and between climate change, coastal erosion and habitat encroachment, species are going extinct at an alarming rate. To the point where, for entirely too many species, it’s a tide that can no longer be turned – merely documented.

That’s particularly true for the charismatic megafauna, not just the really big animals like elephants and lions, but species much, much closer to home, like the gray wolves of Minnesota and neighboring states. Today.

Sean and her research team have submitted a controversial proposal to enmesh the brain of a member of one of the few surviving wolf packs in Minnesota with the brain of one of the scientists on her team. From Sean’s honest perspective, the one that she does her damndest never to display to her academic colleagues, this entire project is a dressed-up, scientific gobbledygook-filled last chance for her to live out one of her childhood dreams – to run with the wolves – before its too late.

For the wolves, that is. And, quite possibly, for Sean herself.

However, just as her research was proposed with ulterior motives on Sean’s part, the cutting-edge technology company that has chosen to fund it AND to provide the equipment that will make it possible, has a hidden agenda of their own.

An agenda that puts both Sean, and her wolf, in crosshairs that neither of them knew existed.

Escape Rating A-: I admit it, I had a bail and flail this week because yesterday’s book just wasn’t working and I didn’t get out early enough. But that cloud absolutely had a silver lining, because I bounced straight into this book and it was terrific.

To the point that I’m wondering what took me so long, but I’m quite happy to have gotten here in the end – even if this is a far from happy story. Which is exactly the way it should be, because species extinction is tragic, the fate of the wolves and other wildlife species is awful and Sean’s marriage isn’t doing well either.

But that’s what happens when one partner eats, sleeps and breathes their work to the point of obsession. Sean is entirely too realistic in that regard – as is the fate of the wolves and the corporate greed that condemns Sean’s one and only chance at fulfilling her lifelong dream.

Feed Them Silence had me hooked from the first time Sean interfaced with her wolf, Kate, through a machine that was intended to give her an inside track on the wolf’s thoughts and feelings, even if it unintentionally did quite a bit more on both sides.

The process of becoming one with her wolf sounded exactly like the process portrayed in the Assassin’s Creed game series that allows someone to live through the day to day memories of one of their ancestors at a pivotal point in history. But the result, that Sean sees and experiences Kate’s world through Kate’s eyes and mind and heart and memory, felt even more like the mammoth experiment in the awesome – and awesomely bittersweet – The Tusks of Extinction by Ray Nayler. That the experiments in the two books are markedly different in design and purpose doesn’t stop them from being more in dialog with each other than expected – because the experiments have become necessary for the same set of all-too-real reasons of climate change, habitat shrinkage, and humans so greedy they are willing to ignore the laws designed to protect the animals they are hunting for sport.

So the entry points for this story literally pulled me in, as I adored The Tusks of Extinction and the Assassin’s Creed series makes GREAT television – meaning that I get to watch the action while someone else plays.

But what really made this story work for me was how plausibly its science fiction encompassed so very much of the real world. Not just the present and predictable future of species elimination, but also the grind of academia, the damage that one partner’s obsessive hyper-focus on work can do to ANY relationship, the way that the entire world feels like that mythical frog in the pan of heating water – and then the complete immersion and identification of Sean’s identity with that of her wolf.

We see it all happening and are with her as she can’t help herself and we understand exactly why – even as the rest of her world falls apart. And it’s awesome and captivating and heartbreaking every step of the way.

Especially because even though the exact story isn’t happening right now – it really is.

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