“The Cage” by A.M. Dellamonica

October 24, 2010 at 4:57 am | Posted in Short Stories | 2 Comments

This week’s short story club story was “The Cage” by A.M. Dellamonica published on Tor.com. I guess you could call this an alternate history story, since it turns out that humanity discovered “monsterkind” in 2002 and has been struggling to deal with this right up to the present. Just what sort of monsters are out there isn’t specified beyond the werewolves around whom the story is centered, and while the story is told in a very down to earth, realistic tone the rules governing werewolf behavior are never spelled out. Does the werewolf remain a free moral agent while changed? Does their intelligence remain that of a human or does it regress toward that of a wolf?

The story doesn’t concern itself with such details, preferring to focus on werewolves and society. It seems that lycanthropes are on the receiving end of a great deal of hatred, prejudice, and violence. This is where my problems began with the story. Positioning werewolves as a stand-in for persecuted minorities is all well and good, but just like when the X-men movies did this, there’s kind of a weird dissonance. It’s taken decades to convince society that minority racial, religious, and sexual identities need not be threatening, yet when taken at face value, most of the mutants in X-men really are kind of threatening. If Scott Summers gets drunk and becomes careless with his glasses, he could kill thousands of people in a few minutes. In this story, werewolves are depicted as being extremely fast and deadly, but because the story never makes clear how functional the werewolf’s mind is while changed, it’s ambiguous just how valid the concerns of the anti-werewolf faction are. The story takes it for granted they are hateful bigots, of course, and makes them act the part, but the best evidence presented for the innocuousness of werewolves amounts to “no one’s been murdered when the moon is full lately.”

In fact, I spent the entire story struggling with the worldbuilding. Not the picture it paints of Vancouver, which seemed readily believable (and probably based to a large degree on the author’s experience there), but of everything having to do with the werewolves. It seems that werewolves successfully hid the fact they even existed right up to 2002, but now are helpless in the face of anti-werewolf vigilantes. Most of the action of the story revolves around the struggle to deal with a baby werewolf, and while that was an interesting spin on the werewolf concept, one I hadn’t seen before, it again doesn’t make sense given the story’s invented history. The werewolf’s surrogate mother comes from a long line of werewolves, and yet she seems to be inventing procedures for raising a werewolf baby from first principles. She knows a werewolf society that will take the child in but for reasons never articulated they will only do so at age five, even though it’s clearly in their best interest to keep poorly constrained baby werewolves from bringing disrepute and thus further persecution on werewolves as a whole. Also, I don’t know anything about Canadian law, but the villain apparently traveled to Canada, found a werewolf’s associate, tortured this person to get the werewolf’s location, went there and killed her, and now is in danger of escaping conviction because he said it was self defense. How is that even remotely believable? What about the whole torture thing? Was that self defense too?

Since I never got over my strong sense of disbelief in the story’s world, it’s not surprising I didn’t end up caring too much about the characters and their struggles. I did find it amusing that the author managed to find a way for her progressive characters to fight The Man, complete with a climactic stare down of police officers…while at the same time pinning all their hopes for the future in the Canadian court system. In general the story seemed a little confused as to the proper role of the government and rule of law in all this. On one hand, the government was the only thing restraining the vigilantes, but on the other, half the police department were themselves vigilantes and substantial swaths of the populace (the people who will be voting for the people writing the laws in the future) seemed sympathetic to the whole killing werewolves thing. Meanwhile, one of the characters mentions that having werewolves around can be considered a benefit because they “keep the rest of monsterkind away”, implying perhaps that werewolves are themselves anti-other-monster vigilantes, or else that, well, werewolves are basically like us, but these other monsters, they don’t deserve to be integrated into society and the rule of law. And how, one wonders, do werewolves keep the bad monsters away on those days (most of them, I believe) when the moon isn’t full?

I will note in passing that, in contrast to some of the other stories in this series, this one had a beginning, a middle, and an end. You wouldn’t think this would be unusual enough to be worthy of note, but, well, apparently it is.



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  2. […] this in relation to the short story “The Cage”, and while I didn’t mention it in my comments on that story, it goes like this: would someone from this minority be able to go on Oprah and effectively plead […]

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