Visions of Paradise

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sergeant Chip

The first story I read in Jonathan Strahan’s Science Fiction Book Club anthology Best Short Novels 2005 (which actually contained stories published in 2004) was perhaps the most acclaimed novella of the past year, Bradley Denton’s “Sergeant Chip.” That widespread acclaim raises high expectations in a reader’s head, especially since Denton has already had one of my selections for book-of-the-year in 1991 for Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede. And, let’s face it, how could I resist a story told from the point of view of a dog?

“Sergeant Chip” is a military k-9 involved in a mysterious war with his master to whom he is totally loyal. Denton does a good job of showing the personality and emotions of a dog as most people see them on a regular basis: loyal to his master, friendly whenever possible, but devoted to completing every assigned task as well as possible, cheered by kind words (such as good dog) and friendly pats on the head. We watch Chip train with his master, fight a very confusing war alongside him, and ultimately obey his master’s dying wishes to save and protect a family of innocent civilians.

My only problem with the story is that at heart it is a war story which really does not go beyond that very much. A great story must examine the human heart in some depth, or raise some important philosophical speculation, or have an important moral. “Sergeant Chip” examines the canine heart, but not greatly in-depth since even a trained dog is relatively simple-minded by human standards. It does not raise any important philosophical speculations or have any moral beyond showing that a good dog is always loyal to its master. So this is not the best novella of the year–even if no other novella is better, since a story must rise to a certain level to be considered great–but I really enjoyed reading it.


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