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Review: The Left Hand of Dog by Si Clarke

by AK Krajewska

I read a lot of heavy shit, recreationally and professionally, so I'm also always on the lookout for its opposite, the snarfable science fiction comfort read that's like climbing into a warm bath, only not really, because baths are kind of boring what with all the waiting around for them to fill up. No, what I look for is more like a bubble tea with little crunchy bits of grass jelly that are kind of spicy, you know, no, these metaphors are getting away from me.

The point is, I like to read some fun science fiction but a lof of recent "cozy" fantasy stories have not done it for me. I need a little spice in my solace, or maybe a lot, anyway it needs to be the right amount and no, I can't explain it. And this book was just the right flavor and texture and mix of things.

When the cover of The Left Hand of Dog by Si Clarke got reposted into my Mastodon feed, I wanted it immediately. I mean, look at it:

Cover - The Left Hand of Dog by SI Clarke - A pink teapot flies through a starry sky over the silhouette of a person and a dog on a hill

First, the title, immediately evoking and lovingly taking the piss out of Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. Second the giant, glowing teapot, which the book blurb quickly tells you, is a spaceship, an obvious and hilarious allusion to Russell's teapot.

And that's pretty much the vibe of the entire novella. Our hero, or point of view character anyway, is a pretty normal human named Lem. While enjoying a vacation in lovely Canadian wilderness with her dog, Spock, Lem gets abducted by aliens, yes along with her dog. The aliens travel in a spaceship that looks like a huge, pink teapot. I don't want to give too much away, but hijinks ensue. We get scifi classics like universal translators, and learn about their pitfalls like the false familiarity of Figurative mode and get the running gag of them saying "No frame of reference" when things don't have an equivalent--which is fairly often.

Given the title, you'd think that Spock is pretty important to the story, and she is. A lot of the heart of the story come from the relationship between Lem and Spock, and a lot of the hilarity comes from non-human aliens constantly being confused about who is the pet in the relationship. The confusion is not at all aided by Lem just saying over and over "She's my dog" as though that explained everything. In the end, it kind of does. Spock gets her own universal translator, and I think it's not a spoiler to say that it turns out she's just as much of a good dog as Lem thought she was.

Finally, after reading this novella before bed I had a long dream about a very nice dog that wanted to cuddle with me. In my dream the dog was a black lab, unlike Spock, who is a German shepherd, but clearly the dog in my dream was based on Spock. That's the kind of book it is.

Where to get it

You can buy The Left Hand of Dog directly from the author's website, White Hart Fiction. As I publish this post, the ebook version of the novella is on sale for 99 cents. When you buy it, you get an email in a few minutes with directions to download it, and (this is important) you can read it on any ebook reader.