Animals and the Looming Apocalypse, A Brief Essay on How Non-Human Life Features in the Novels of Children of Men and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

When a deer from Magdalen meadow comes into a chapel in P.D. James apocalyptic novel Children of Men, the chaplain exclaims, after chasing it back out, "Bloody animals. They'll have it all soon enough? Why can't they wait?" This sentiment later explains why, upon Dr. Faron's ex-wife's cat having kittens, they must exterminate all but one of them. Artificially, the cat population is kept down. From this, it implies that all domesticated animals, with possibly the exception of the food animals, are being artificially driven down to small numbers, matching the declining human race. When humanity goes, it seems that it wants to take as many animals as it can with it.

In contrast, Philip K Dick's seminal novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is infused with pet worship. Animals have become the de facto status symbol. The symbolic test, the Voight-Kampff, which separates the human for the inhuman android, is largely focused on reactions to various forms of animal cruelty. When Deckard asks Rachel Rosen the hypothetical question about her reaction to the nude spread of anther woman, it is not to test if she is homosexual, as she inquires, but to see if she reacts to the fact that the old nude spread includes a bearskin rug. Her missing of this fine detail, a minute one that the reader him- or herself often misses on first pass, is what leads him to initially believe that Rachel is a android (or, to use the more correct term, a gynoid).

The in-novel difference might be found in the mechanics of the world. The fall out of World War Terminus, a great bloody war with no clear victor that lasted long enough and involved so many people that no one really seems to recall why it was fought, has lead to the general destruction of the animals worldwide in Dick's Androids. The owls were the first to go, the beginning of Chapter 2 informs us and later, as Deckard muses, we learn that whole species were given obituaries as one after another were led into extinction.

James' Children, however, is centered around an unknown cause that has led humans to be infertile; leaving animals alone. It is generally assumed that humanity will simply wilt away and animal kind will bound back and be the final victors over the world. Considering the youngest human is already in their mid-twenties, there is less than twenty years before the population drops below the critical mass and humans will return to a dark age without electricity, running water, or even a hope to keep them alive through the night.

In other words, Dick paints animals as a scarcity. Scarce things become more valuable. More than that, they represent the loss of the purity of the Earth, the one step too far. The death of animal kind is a sign of the tragedy upon those humans that remain as much as "hearing" the sound of empty apartments. James, however, has animals as a sign of the end of humanity. They are the Ark that will keep life alive. James' prose never quite lets us side with the animals. We see them as a sign of mourning, a life we as humans have been denied. Neither of these novels seem to give humans an option of surviving (at least on Earth) by simple hard work and perserverance. Either they will survive by factors outside of their control or they will not. This is important, as it means that there is no survival need in either killing the animals (for food or otherwise) or for keeping the animals alive. Except for some supposed moral reason, the fate of humanity matters not one bit on the fate of animals.

This mechanical difference underlies, though, an author's decision. Omega, the seemingly ubiquitous end to humanity in Children makes no more real sense than Dick's description of a fall out that comes and goes like storms but is really only the most minor of teratogen or carcinogen. They are devices that are used to reflect upon particular ideas of humanity. James has it leave animals alone, except as a side-effect of the human reaction. Dick has it affect animals first. Whether this would make a difference between animal worship or jealousy against animals in a real world sense is meaningless. What it does is highlights the state of humanity by contrasting their meaning with the survival of the race.

Even in the animal-sympthay drenched world of Androids, animals are merely an extension of human interests, a clinging to the way things used to be. Deckard's fear that his sheep will be found to be a fake underlies a human need to overcome one's neighbors. Land is plentiful in Androids. Animals are the mark of the class of a person, a religion of possesion, and many live in apartment complexes to be near other humans with small plots of land on the roof. Androids, on Earth, are despised as artificial life. Artificial animals, however, are mostly pitied.

In Children, people have celebrations around the birth of a pet, then kill off most of the offspring.

Both novels use the ready conflict of interest to show that humans, in a state of rapid decay, become transient beings on a planet they had assumed was theirs to dominate. They are unsure how to take the world. While both declines are arguably traced to biological conditions, in other words, the animal-ness of the human, they are treated as borderline spiritual events and humanity finally separates itself once and for all from its biological origin.

It is stated, both times, that humans will judge their end based on the end of the other species and that humans, to the end, will likely consider themselves the epitome of evolution and the caretakers of the planet they have now failed. Ultimately, though, it is not so much that humans are looking to animals at all, but it gives a convient way for them look way from themselves, like the hope of an offworld colony where life might live again. It is a hope that this is all only a pause, a small restful note, before the return to the great empire of Man.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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