Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Doggone Magic with Guest Blogger: Cliff Dunbar

Win an autographed copy 
of Silver’s Treason 
& meet author Cliff Dunbar 
today at the Book Boost!

He’s here to talk about the magical mutts and here's what he had to say...

Silver’s Treason is a novel about a military dog with paranormal abilities.  Silver is a hermesdog, one of a hypothetical breed named after Hermes Trismegistus, an ancient Greek/Egyptian figure associated with magic, science, and alchemy.  In the book, hermesdogs are the product of an experimental breeding program conducted in secret by the US Army.

The Hermes Project uses selective breeding techniques to develop and refine their successive generations of dogs.   Selective breeding is a simple enough process.  Some animals get to pass their genes on to the next generation.  Some don’t. The next generation then looks and acts marginally different from the current one.  Those differences add up after a few generations.  What do you have then?

With natural selection, individuals are eliminated as a result of environmental factors.  Deer that are slow do not survive attacks by fast-moving predators and don’t live long enough to reproduce.  Deer that are fast survive and pass their “fast” genes on to the next generation.

With artificial selection, we (humans) decide we what want to see in the next generation.  Want cows with more milk?  Breed the high-producers only.  Want faster horses?  You’re not going to breed the slowpokes.

Dr. Ralph Crandall (a/k/a “Crackpot Crandall”) puts the dogs through a series of tests designed to measure the H-Factor, an umbrella term used to describe clairvoyance, psychokinesis, precognition, etc.  The dogs’ performance is scored and ranked.  The top ten percent are bred, and their offspring are put through the same tests.  This continues for generation after generation.  What do you get at the end of that?  We can only speculate, since we haven’t actually done the tests (though we could, if we had the resources, patience, and interest).

One of my goals in writing Silver’s Treason was to portray completely canine characters, without even the slightest hint of anthropomorphism.  To that end, I did quite a bit of background research on canine evolution, intelligence, communication, etc.  When the novel was published, I sent a copy to two authors who had greatly influenced my thinking:  Ray and Lorna Coppinger, authors of Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution.  They were kind enough to respond in an e-mail that I “got the dog behavior down really well”.  I felt pretty good about that.

The Coppingers provide a fascinating theory of canine evolution in their book.  The most likely ancestors of our present-day dogs were the wolves that approached human dwellings to feed on their garbage.  Because no two animals are exactly alike, some wolves were friendly with humans and some were not.  The friendlier wolves were treated better by humans, which helped them survive.  That furry little wolf over there looked cute to an early human; he survived to produce furry little offspring that looked even cuter.  That other wolf over there liked to snuggle; his offspring liked to snuggle too.  Traits that appealed to humans were therefore bred into wolves; as the generations passed, we gradually got dogs.

All of this is based on the premise that those canines who associated with humans were better able to survive than those canines who did not.  To my knowledge, no one has ever considered whether the reverse might also be true.

Did humans who associated with dogs have a better survival rate than those who did not?  Did the dogs’ keen senses of hearing and smell, their protective fangs and nails, tip the balance so that the humans who loved them came to outnumber the humans who did not?  In other words, did canines have an effect on human evolution just as humans did on theirs?

It’s obvious that any effects of canines on human evolution are nowhere near as dramatic as the effects of humans on canine evolution.  But I think it’s unlikely that there were no effects at all.  What exactly those effects might be and how they might manifest themselves in our appearance, senses, and behavior, I will leave you to wonder about, just as I often do.

A Note from the Book Boost:  Cliff, thanks for joining us today and helping us to understand the research behind your book.  This is quite interesting and it sounds like you've given this a lot of thought.  Hope you'll visit us again in the future!


Caught in the crossfire between paramilitaries, drug dealers, rebel guerrillas, and the Colombian Army, US Army Private Jeff Thompson and Silver, his K9 companion, are forced to make their way through the jungles of southwestern Colombia to rescue a drug lord's daughter held captive by rebel guerrillas.

Silver, the product of a decades-old breeding project overseen by the American military, possesses supernatural abilities that are barely under her control. When Jeff is surprised by a payoff from the drug lord and seduced by his beautiful daughter, the US Army believes he has gone over to the other side and sends a Retrieval Team after him, with a powerful dog of its own.


“I just want to see Silver again,” the American said. “I want to see her fed and watered.”

“First you must tell me if the DEA will attack again,” Ariana said.

Thompson closed his eyes, as if he might fall asleep. He spoke so softly Ariana had to lean close to him to make out the words. “I don’t know. I’m not DEA. Jeffrey Thompson, US Army, Private First Class, 965-26-4381. Name, rank, and serial number. Now will you bring Silver?”

US Army? For a moment Ariana took pity on the American soldier. To die so young, so far away from home, and for what cause? There was nothing noble about making war on international market forces with a gun and a dog. That was just stupid.

“No,” Ariana said. “The men tell me that the dog’s eyes change color, and that she stirs up the wind and that bullets cannot harm her. Why would they say that?”

"How could you believe such nonsense?” Thompson whispered. “She’s just a dog.”

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Anonymous said...

The title is misleading. The dogs in this novel are psionic, not magical. They don't cast spells and their power cost them energy. Magic is more metaphysical thing.

Clifford W. Dunbar said...

True enough, Anonymous, though in the novel I refer to them as "H-capable" rather than psionic. And yes, just like Superman with his kryptonite, these dogs have their weaknesses too. They need more sleep and food than most dogs and they burn out quickly when they use their special abilities. The underlying, unstated rationale for this is that if H-abilities were a survival trait, they would have evolved independently in nature, without human intervention. But they didn't, so there must be a cost to using them. In nature, that cost outweighed the usefulness of the abilities, so those with the abilties did not survive to pass their genes along.

The Book Boost said...

Anonymous~If you're referring to the title of the blog post--it was the creation of The Book Boost and not the author. We title all our blog posts in an interesting or funny way to attract readers. Lighten up!

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