Science Fiction and Animals: from Jonathan Swift and HG Wells to Star Trek and Doctor Who; with Sherryl Vint, Robert McKay, and Tara Lomax

The Woking Martian. Pic CC-BY Ben Sutherland

Science Fiction and Animals

From Jonathan Swift’s talking horses to Star Trek’s Vulcans, from HG Wells to the Wachowskis, science fiction tackles the big questions about our relationship with other animals.

Join the experts who investigate where animal studies meets media theory. Discover the themes in famous books, film, and TV – as well as the cult sci-fi stories that examine food ethics, the boundaries of humanity, and alternative ways of living.

Discover what the experts really think of Planet of the Apes; what Soylent Green used to made from before they started using people; and hear everyone’s favourite Time Lord try to talk a monster out of eating humanity in our Doctor Who sketch.

Play or download (18.5MB MP3(via iTunes)

Guests

Dr Sherryl Vint

Sherryl Vint edited the Animal Studies Issue of the Journal of Science Fiction Studies and has written Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal.

She is a professor of English at the University of California, Riverside, where she reads science fiction and popular culture. She previously lectured at Brock University in her native Canada, which is a centre of animal studies theory.

She calls herself a “vegetarian with vegan tendencies”; those tendencies include eating vegan apart from honey, alcohol filtered in non-vegan ways, and similar exceptions.

Dr Robert McKay

Robert McKay lectures in English literature at the University of Sheffield, England, specialising in animal studies and literature after 1945.

He is part of the UK’s Animal Studies group, and contributed an essay to the collection Killing Animals. The Introduction and Conclusion by Erica Fudge are available to download via Academia.edu. He is vegan.

Tara Lomax

Tara Lomax is a PhD candidate in screen studies at the University of Melbourne, and a vegan activist. She is currently working on a conference paper on animal issues in Twleve Monkeys.

Tara is vegan and a campaigner.

Books, Films, and TV cited

Gulliver’s Travels

Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, by Jonathan Swift, 1726

Frankenstein

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, 1818

Sherryl Vint mentions that the creature was made of human and non-human animal parts.

When petitioning Victor Frankenstein to create him a bride, the creature promised to take the vegan pledge:

If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall ever see us again: I will go to the vast wilds of South America. My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment. My companion will be of the same nature as myself, and will be content with the same fare. We shall make our bed of dried leaves; the sun will shine on us as on man, and will ripen our food. The picture I present to you is peaceful and human, and you must feel that you could deny it only in the wantonness of power and cruelty.

To be fair to to Victor Frankenstein (and to angry torch-wielding mobs everywhere) the creature had already killed at this point. Hat-tip to Philip Armstrong for the quotation.

Mary Shelly was almost certainly vegetarian (although I haven’t tracked down a citation that would give me absolute confidence). Her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, was an advocate of Rousseauist “back-to-nature” vegetarianism under the mentorship of her father. After Percy’s early death, she was best known for publishing his works, including pro-vegetarian poetry.

Island of Dr Moreau

The Island of Dr Moreau, by HG Wells, 1896

Our hero Prendick returns home distrustful of other humans:

Then I look about me at my fellow-men; and I go in fear. I see faces, keen and bright; others dull or dangerous; others, unsteady, insincere,—none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul. I feel as though the animal was surging up through them; that presently the degradation of the Islanders will be played over again on a larger scale.

War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells, 1898

I mentioned that – despite comparing the carnivorous Martians to humanity’s own habits – HG Wells mocked vegetarians. For example his 1908 novel Ann Veronica features parody vegetarians Mr & Mrs Goopes.

Sirius

Sirius: a Fantasy of Love and Discord, by Olaf Stapledon, 1944

Beyond Lies The Wubb

Beyond Lies The Wubb, short story by Philip K Dick, 1952

I ended up leaving this out of the show, even though it includes a conversation about food ethics very similar to our Dr Who skit.

To Serve Man

To Serve Man, short story by Damon Knight, 1950

To Serve Man, Twilight Zone episode, screenplay by Rod Serling, 1962

Doctor Who

The clip is taken from:

The Bells of Saint John, written by Steven Moffat, 2013

The Doctor himself turns vegetarian in 1985’s The Two Doctors. A 1986 comic has him lapse; but Paul Cornell’s 1995 novel Human Nature (adapted for TV in 2007) suggests that he’s still vegetarian in his subsequent, seventh, incarnation. Either way, he was not vegetarian on his return to TV in 2005.

Planet of the Apes

The franchise begins with Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel. Tara Lomax and Sherryl Vint specifically discussed …

Planet of the Apes, screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, 1968

Escape from the Planet of the Apes, screenplay by Paul Dehn, 1971

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes has attracted praise and caution from animal activists. I mentioned:

Soylent Green

Make Room! Make Room!, novel by Harry Harrison, 1966

Soylent Green, screenplay by Stanley R Greenberg,1973

Bladerunner

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K Dick, 1968

Bladerunner, screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peeples, 1982

Star Trek

The clips are from:

The Slaver Weapon, by Larry Niven, 1973

Yes, I did begin this show with yet more carnivorous cats. Is that not a perfect segue from the last show?

Lonely Among Us, by D.C. Fontana and Michael Halperin, 1987

There are a range of commentaries on the franchise’s treatment of animals:

Uplift

Uplift, series of novels by David Brin, 1980-1998

The Matrix

The Matrix, screenplay by Lana and Andy Wachowski, 1999

Tara Lomax mentioned that the themes of the Matrix have been adopted by The Grace Communications Foundation in their series of satires The Meatrix. GCF argues makes an environmental and welfare case for non-intensive animal farming.

Animals

Animals, by Don LePan, 2000

Transhuman Space

Under Pressure, role-playing game sourcebook, written by David Morgan-Mar, Kenneth Peters, and Constantine Thomas, 2003

This near-future hard science fiction setting is notable for two reasons. Firstly, it posited a European Union that had banned land animal farming. And secondly, I contributed a few paragraphs – undersea “pan-sentient” activists who kidnapped fish-farm executives and forced them to relive the braintaped last moments of dying tuna.

[Spoiler Alert: Title Redacted]

Even naming this book in this context would spoil a major turn of the plot – a spoiler that was impossible to completely avoid in the show. The curious can follow this link, and find out about the film adaption via the studio and IMDB.

Wess’har

Wess’har, series of novels by Karen Traviss, 2004-8

The Doctor Who Skit

The skit was written by myself with Sally Beaumont; and performed by Sally Beaumont.

The skit references the Doctor’s acquaintanceship with Vegan miners working on PeladonLeonardo Da Vinci (and his vegetarianism), and (in the extended version) convention 15 of the Shadow Proclamation.

Sally Beaumont is an actor, playwright, and voiceover artist. She has played Ada Lovelace in a BBC documentary and sold Chewbacca a hair dryer in a TV commercial.

I am obviously very very grateful to her. Thanks :).

(No, Time Lords do not always retain the same gender across incarnations. Thank you for asking.)

See Also

Discussions of science fiction of interest at:

Thanks

… go to Robb Masters for the music and voiceover, Catherine Laurence for voiceover, the guests, and to Sally Beaumont.

Many academics took the time to help me with my research, but for whatever reason did not end up interviewed on the show. These include Nik TaylorJohn MillerClaire MolloySusan McHugh, and Philip Armstrong.

Copyright

Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, The Matrix, The Meatrix, and Bladerunner are copyright their respective owners. No challenge is made or implied. Short clips are used under fair dealing for the purposes of media criticism.

The Dr Who skit used freeware sounds “Connecting to Earth” by Philip Bock,  “Giga Core” by Cosmic Dreamer“Crowd Talking” by SoundJay. It also used Tardis, Sonic Screwdriver and Sting sound effects that are copyright BBC, and used without permission. I am grateful to the BBC’s tolerant attitude to unauthorised work, make no challenge to the BBC’s copyright, and will remove those sound effects if the BBC requests.

As I recognise that some of these corporations could, in principle, get out their lawyers and contest my fair use, and because I am using BBC intellectual property without permission, I cannot make this show available under a Creative Commons licence.

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About Ian McDonald

I'm a British new media person with a passion for radio, and interested in the kind of stories best told when we see humans as part of the world of animal minds. I blogged about why I'm producing The Vegan Option.

8 responses to “Science Fiction and Animals: from Jonathan Swift and HG Wells to Star Trek and Doctor Who; with Sherryl Vint, Robert McKay, and Tara Lomax”

  1. Jason says :

    Hi Ian,

    I discovered your podcast this week and thoroughly enjoyed this examination of science fiction from a vegan perspective. I remember Dr Who getting terribly excited about a fish finger sandwich not so long ago, in the episode where he met Miss Pond, and then in an episode hence, getting terribly upset about the enslavement of a giant whale, used as a big spaceship (or something).

    Another example of superior beings having ethical blindspots and inconsistencies is in the remake of ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, that I’m currently half-watching on Film Four (it’s on mute at this moment because it’s quite rubbish but I have it to thank for reminding me to write to you). The alien (Keanu Reeves) condemns humanity for its destructive ways, seemingly unswerving in his intention to blast us away for our own good, minutes after opting to eat a tuna sandwich from a vending machine.

    This elevated, supreme being is only concerned when humans are destructive toward each other, but isn’t too bothered about the suffering of non-human life to satisfy his supreme tummy. I also find myself remembering scenes from Babylon 5 where crew eat meat and go misty-eyed as they remark about meat eating back home on Earth. I’m glad you found more positive examples for your podcast.

    I’ve often thought how odd it is that science fiction writers can look ahead to a time of peace, where we’re no longer ravaging the Earth and blowing each other up over perceived differences, but where we’re still cutting animals into pieces because we like the taste of them.

    Thanks again for the podcast; I’m very much enjoying working my way through the archives. Keep up the good work – it’s very much appreciated.

  2. Ian McDonald says :

    Thanks for taking the time to comment – it’s heartening to know you liked it and are working your way through the archive. (If you have iTunes or another podcatcher, you should be able to download them all at once.)

    I came across lots of times when science fiction writers share the assumptions and inconsistencies of society at large. And these are a bit more glaring if you don’t share those assumptions … but you’re reading about a character from a different planet who inexplicably does.

    I suspect there are lots of people who would enjoy The Vegan Option if they heard about it, so please consider spreading the word and reviewing the show on iTunes (or whatever you use)!

  3. Jessica @Vegbooks says :

    I’m not a sci-fi fan myself, but was really taken by Rise of the Planet of the Apes because of the very themes you discuss in this podcast.

    My kiddo and I also enjoyed reading The Chicken Gave It to Me recently, which might appeal to some fans of the sci-fi classics you and your guests discuss. For Carolyn Mullin’s insightful review on Vegbooks, point your browser here – http://vegbooks.org/index.php/2010/05/04/the-chicken-gave-it-to-me/

    Also, I don’t think it’s giving too much away to alert your readers that Dave Loves Chickens [https://www.facebook.com/daveloveschickens] will present similar themes to younger readers and is certain to delight vegan families. We’ll post a review on Vegbooks shortly before the book’s publication.

  4. veronique2 says :

    Hi Ian, for your information, my blog “A Vegan’s View of Star Trek” has moved to a new platform. Here is the new link so your readers can find it. http://thevegancommunicator.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/a-vegans-view-of-star-trek/

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