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Bill Broun's Night of the Animals

BrounLondon, 2052. The UK is an extreme surveillance state governed by Henry IX, a.k.a. “Harry9.” Inequality and substance abuse are rampant (the drug of choice is Flôt, a legal hallucinogen with ruinous withdrawal effects). The natural world has withered away and most of the world's remaining “natural” animals (i.e., not genetic clones) are confined to zoos. To add to unpleasantness, the sighting of the Urga-Rampos comet is causing cultists to come out of the woodwork. They're conducting mass ritualistic suicide, and they're bent on taking animals with them.

Enter Cuthbert “Cutty” Handley—a homeless “Flôt sot” of some 90 years (lifespan extending medicine and artificial organs are one positive of this future). As a child, Cutty's brother Drystan disappeared while playing in the woods one day. Drystan may or may not have become a sort of “Christ of the Otters,” as evidenced by the large mustelid Cutty saw in his brother's stead. Since then, Cutty may or may not have gained the ability to communicate with animals. His grandmother called this gift “The Wonderments.” His primary care provider, Dr. Bajwa, calls it a sign of mental illness. Either way, Cutty has taken it upon himself to free the animals from the London Zoo—especially the otters—as an act of atonement, and as a way of seeking closure with his long lost brother.

At the risk of sounding cliché, this book is unlike anything I have ever read. The story works together speculative fiction, magical realism, and world religions (Christian, Sufi, and Sikh faiths play important roles in the characters' lives). The writing is an interesting patchwork of “fading and emerging” dialects, slang, and jargon, with footnotes to help us out when needed. I would recommend this book to fans of science fiction, offbeat literature, and animal lovers. I’m definitely interested in seeing what first time author Broun does next.

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