Title: An Oath of Dogs
Author: Wendy N. Wagner
Publisher: Angry Robot
In the 23rd century, large swaths of the galaxy have been settled. Earth itself is an overcrowded hellhole, with people packed on top of people. Kate Standish has gotten a rare opportunity to escape this. She has been hired by the Songheuser Corporation to be a communications engineer on Huginn, a paradisiacal new forest-world that Songheuser is developing for its trees – non-Earth poisonous trees, but beautiful.
Actually, Huginn is a large moon of Woden, a gas giant planet. Woden has another, smaller moon, airless Muninn. But this is an astrophysical quibble. What counts is that Huginn is large, green with towering forests, and full of exotic life. Standish (don’t call her Kate) has suffered traveling for over a year in cryosleep, through a wormhole, to get there.
(Standish, with her dog Hattie, has just been thawed out in Space City, Huginn’s capital, and is being taken by ecologist Dr. Peter Bajowski to her new headquarters in rural Canaan Lake.)
“Standish’s mouth fell open. ‘What are those things?’
Three creatures the size of sheep, roughly the same design as a potato bug but tinted the colors of rainbow sherbet, made their slow way across the road.
‘Greater trudgees. We call this ‘rush hour in Huginn.’” He pointed ahead. ‘They like the highway because of all the exposed rock. See where they’re going?’
She rolled down the window to follow his gesture. She stared at the rock field beside the highway, which stretched at least fifty meters before the rocks began to form the slope of a steep hill. Nearly every centimeter had been claimed by rock-eater lichen. Its orange and pink tendrils wrapped the rocks like a net, clashing with the chartreuse spots of Devil’s bogey and the shimmering rainbows of Huginn’s puffball. A few trudgees were already making their slow nibbling way among the rocks,” (pgs. 27-28)
Canaan Lake appears to be a rustic paradise, settled mostly by the farmers who provide the food for Songheuser’s lumberjacks and sawmill workers. Standish expects to be shown the details of her new job by Duncan Chambers, the communications manager. Instead she finds that he has been missing for over a month and is presumed dead – and she is immediately promoted into his position. Also, the farmers around Canaan Lake are predominantly members of the Amish-like Church of the Believers of the Word Made Flesh, a conservative religion that favors all life. Standish got Hattie, a large Swiss shepherd, from a Believer on Earth.
But the Believers of Canaan Lake are all hostile to large dogs.
That’s because most of the Believers used to have large farm dogs, and let them roam loose. The dogs have run off into the wilderness and formed a large pack. Since the native life on Huginn is poisonous to Earth life, the dogs have been preying on the Believers’ livestock in their fields treated for Earth plants. Huginn has the potential to become the largest agricultural center in two star systems, but with the feral dogs killing their livestock, the Believers have come to distrust all dogs.
“The pack bayed with full voice as they surged out of the woods. It was a clear night; the planet’s light rippled on their sleek coats and wet muzzles. One of the smaller dogs leaped over the nearest headstone, his back arched high and smooth, an echo of the stone’s shape. The pack leader put a burst of speed into his paws and caught up with the smaller creature.
They were all big animals with thick coats and the disparate pieces of mixed breeds. A husky tail, a ridgeback hackle. The broad chest of a mastiff. They could have been any kind of dog, every kind of dog. The idea of a dog made real by sound and movement and the certainty of shadows. The pack leader slipped past a brightly painted cross that stood higher than his muscular shoulder and stopped at the edge of the naked clay soil.
The other dogs crowded around, overspilling the boundaries of the fresh grave, their paws sinking into the dirt. The alpha barked.
They began to dig.” (pgs. 17-18)
Standish doesn’t believe it. Everyone’s dog has run off? or been allowed to run off? The dogs can’t be found within Huginn’s vast forests, where all the native life is poisonous? They have all formed a single pack to return to kill and eat the settlers’ sheep, goats, and cattle in the Earth-plant fields? Besides, Standish’s Hattie is more than a pet. She’s a therapeutic dog that Standish needs because of her agoraphobia. Hattie is not likely to run off, even if Standish would let her run loose, which she won’t.
Standish’s investigation into what has really happened to the dogs around Canaan Lake is soon sidetracked by her discovery that Duncan Chambers was murdered, by humans. By Believers, or by Songhauser employees? For personal reasons, or because he was learning why the settlers’ dogs have really disappeared? By Peter Bajowski, or is somebody framing Peter? And what is happening to Huginn’s dogs? Can Standish prevent the same thing that happened to the other dogs from happening to Hattie? Or what happened to Duncan from happening to herself?
“An Oath of Dogs” (July 2017, paperback $7.99, 430 pages) is an imaginative novel that all fans of science-fiction and murder mysteries will enjoy.