Earlier this year SciFiPulse chatted with Fauna author, and academic, Dave Hartley. If you missed it, then you can still listen to that episode of SFP NOW. Dave’s latest book, Fauna, was released just recently. It’s published by the fantastic U.K. small press, Fly On The Wall. They also have other books that fall within the fantasy/sci-fi genre too, although not exclusively. But we’re here to assess Dave’s latest offering. So, we’re going to take you through the books many strengths and facets. They include some truly brilliant ideas . . .
Premise and Conceptualization
The individual stories in Fauna aren’t interconnected, in that they contain a single narrative thread. However, the strange tales do have a unique style, apparent in each offering. For example, the opening story, ‘Broadcast of the Foxes’ repeats a similar motif in the third story, ‘A Place To Dump Guinea Pigs’. The first story opens up with the line: “The fox has made a nest in your satellite dish and feast on your children’s fingers”. The third story concerns another type of animal. Hartley opens with this line, “Heard his ‘eartbeat before I saw him and yeah, I was excited, but I was also like; ay up, a live one”. The lines offer us a glimpse of who Hartley is.
A little later into the collection, there are yet more examples of how Hartley thinks of animals. The wonderful ‘Betamorphosis’ concerns a cockroach’s consciousness. These stories put animals, insects and other creatures of sentience at the centre of them. Their right to live is explored, and indeed their suffering too. This is again apparent in that story, in the line: “He tried to move, but couldn’t even turn his head“. Furthermore, Hartley employs his considerable array of talent to further explore these ideals. The results are inspiring.
Descriptions and Creativity of Expression
Hartley uses sharp and spare phrasing to transmit imagery to the reader. In ‘Hutched’, there’s a beautiful phrase: “She can feel her skeleton quivering, urging her to collapse“. The line is particularly powerful given the fight of the rabbit, central to the plot. As well as wonderfully conveying a concrete detail, there’s a deftly emotional haunting aspect to it, too. Hartley manages to separate the rabbit into parts by this description. More crucially, what comes through potently is that this has very much been done to the rabbit.
There are a great many examples of language used with precision, and clarity. But its how they manage to have grace and beauty that really makes them resonate. In ‘A Time Before Horses’ we hear of “A desperate, wriggling flap of a nose“. A paragraph or so later another fine phrase reads: “With sleek muscles and a thick neck“. The tension of opposites in this descriptive work is deliberately employed as a clever device. There is what is done to it, and then there is how nature made it. Again, human meddling is put on trial.
Themes and Relevance
By now, many of the themes in Fauna have been identified. However, their relevance is the true feature worth unpacking. We are living in an age where more and more people are beginning to question their relationships with animals and the natural world. Rather than just simply look at the morality of eating meat, or the way people justify, or ignore animal welfare issues, Hartley delves much deeper.
The penultimate tale ‘The Bycatch’, reminds us how long humanity has written about the ocean. More pertinently, it asks why. Stories of ancient mythology were steeped in morality. Here, Hartley harnesses mythology to comment on the rapidly deepening ecological crisis we’re facing. The narrator states: “I could see flecks of bright blue plastic embedded in his skin“. This is the mighty Poseidon, now polluted by modern ways. The Sea God also has “Twists of worn rope gripping his neck“, which is a devastating, stark warning.
Dialogue and Characters
Whilst the characters in Fauna don’t get to develop as those in a longer piece, they do stand out. That’s thanks to some original and thoughtful dialogue. and novel use of conventions. In the final story, ‘Bug-Eyed’, we see what we’ve witnessed all through the collection: great use of form. In almost every story there’s a distinct lack of traditional speech marks, Hartley highlights the suffering in silence of sentient beings that can’t argue back, can’t vocalize their own struggles. They are discussed; they do not discuss themselves.
But it’s through Hartley superbly employing italics that we “hear” an inner monologue: ‘We heard you‘, is the opening line (the speech marks are quotation marks by me) of ‘Bug-Eyed’. Evidently, Hartley is fully aware of this use . . . Italics conveys the thoughts of the character in question, but not directly. They are sparsely and carefully repeated throughout the story, weaved in as things unfold. Perhaps the line ‘There is much to learn‘ best demonstrates what’s happening. The “italics voice” can be read as a voice of morality,
Fauna creates its own fictional universe, by taking ideas very much grounded in reality. Yes, there are bizarre goings-on, but it’s what’s underneath the strangeness that truly resonates. The very last line of the last story, the aforementioned ‘Bug-Eyed’ sums this up, aptly. It reads: ‘They do not realize that this will be the first day that they go hungry‘. Food for thought, indeed . . . Hartley knows we’re causing irreversible damage. What’s more, he knows that it’s not too late yet. So, there’s hope, and he sees that. But he knows that we have to majorly begin to change our perspectives. These important stories offer us a way to begin doing so, but only if we choose to.
- Premise and Conceptualization9.5
- Descriptions and Creativity of Expression9.9
- Themes and Relevance10.0
- Dialogue and Characters9.8