Envoy to the Dog Star
Reviewed date: 2020 Dec 5
Earth sends an astronaut to Sirius to look for new planets to settle. The astronaut they send is a dog.
A dog-stronaut to the dog star
Yes, they sent a dog to the dog star. Not just any dog though. This dog is Canis superior, an engineered dog as smart as a human. Scientists created the species in a lab to use for experiments. Unbeknownst to the humans, Canis superior has evolved to communicate telepathically. That will come in handy later when--or no, it won't. It's sort of tangential to the plot. Oh well.
Our unnamed dog-stronaut is surgically removed from his body and his brain is implanted into a spaceship, which is blasted off to Sirius using an experimental FTL drive. It's experimental so they don't want to risk a human, but an automated probe isn't good enough because blah blah blah technobabble hand-waving whatever. It works, is all we need to know.
When he gets to Sirius he discovers four perfect Earth-like planets sharing an orbit. One is inhabited, so he lands. Earth has thoughtfully provided him with a robot body so he can leave the spaceship and go make contact with the natives. Less thoughtfully, the robot body is shaped like a man. That's tough for a dog to get used to.
Sirians are humans
He meets the Sirians, who are human down to the precise anatomical level. They ask him his name, and because nobody on Earth ever gave him one, he chooses a reference from literature: "Call me Ishmael." OK then.
The Sirians are named Callia, Darius, Cavallo, and Grampius. They take him to their village and explain that they live simple lives, in harmony with nature, and aided only by the technology of matter duplication. They simply duplicate themselves and have their soulless doubles work as slaves, so you see, it's a perfect society where nobody has to work except for their doubles, but they don't count because they just don't.
Dog-stronaut, Dog Star, Dogs
It will not be a surprise that the Sirian humans have dogs. The Sirians call them symbionts, but they are dogs. Our hero recognizes them for what they are, and suspects they are as intelligent as he is. He tries to talk to a symbiont named Rolland but Rolland acts dumb and pretends to be a regular dog.
And if you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you
For full disclosure, Ishmael shows the Sirians a documentary film about Earth. The Western Hemisphere is one massive over-populated metropolis. The Eastern Hemisphere is worse: parts are uninhabitable nuclear wasteland. In other parts--Europe and Africa--survivors of the last war eke out a miserable existence at a level barely above animal savagery. Sure human history has been nothing but war and conflict and near-total destruction of their planet, but humans are learning, Ishmael says. If the Sirians would allow them to come to Sirius and colonize the three uninhabited planets, humans would live peacefully and harmoniously like the Sirians. Right, and if you believe that I've got a bridge to sell you.
The Sirians should probably murder Ishmael on the spot, smash his spaceship to bits, and hide the evidence. Instead, they dither. They don't trust Earth, but they admit they also have made a right mess of things. They had a population growth problem too, which they solved by birth control and by using their matter duplication technology to make three new planets for themselves. Only problem was, the birth control accidentally sterilized their entire race. Every last one of them. Oops. The Sirians are a dying race and will be extinct in a generation. Still, they are unsure of bequeathing their planets to the violent humans of Earth.
Let's sleep on it
Grampius says they'll sleep on it. Ishmael retires to his room, where Callia tries to seduce him. Ishmael gets flustered and blurts out the truth: he's a dog in an artificial human-shaped body. Callia leaves upset. Rolland, the symbiont, has witnessed the whole thing and is more upset. Ishmael shouldn't have revealed that, and now he's in danger. Rolland takes Ishmael away and brings him to the secret headquarters of the symbionts, where he introduces him to Peralto and Chiendandros.
The symbionts are the true rulers of the planet. It is they who keep the matter duplication machines running. The symbionts allow the Sirians to think they're in charge, but the truth is the Sirians will soon die out and symbionts will reign supreme.
One and one and one is three
The symbionts agree that Earth can settle the three empty planets, but only if Earth's humans will grant dogs equal status with humans. They will also give humanity the secret to matter duplication technology. To prove it, they make ten copies of Spaceprobe-I and send them all back to Earth. When Ishmael arrives with the ultimatum--free Canis superior and treat them as equals, and three new planets and the secret of matter duplication are yours--the replicas of Spaceprobe-I prove that he's not making things up. Earth agrees.
Is it any good?
It would pack more punch if cut to twenty pages instead of 120 pages. Shaw writes competently, but there is only a novelette's worth of plot here, not a novel. That can work if the writing is unusually engaging or artistic or otherwise interesting, but that's not the case here. To his credit, Shaw does try to spice things up by introducing a prophetic dream: Ishmael dreams of chasing rabbits, who multiply and turn out to be himself. This foretells the matter duplicator and the multiple copies of Spaceprobe-I. But I didn't find that compelling or interesting.
Still, Shaw writes well. I would like to read more of his science fiction, but alas, this is his only work.