Animals in Science Fiction: The Newest Nonhumans on the Block


My decision to write about shape shifters and animals—especially werewolves— was first met with shock…by me. When I was growing up, and until say the last ten or so years, the cast of animals in science fiction/fantasy was pretty limited. You had your choice of evil and doomed or tragic and doomed. Either way somebody, usually your animal, was doomed.

Remember the “salt monster” from the original Star Trek series? It was a beast with no other desire than to assume the shapes of the crew—like a deadly chameleon. All the better to suck the salt from your body until you’re dead. That was pretty much the fare of traditional SF films and books.

Whenever I sat down to watch a werewolf film, I already knew the beginning and the end. I already knew the skinny. It definitely wasn’t cheerful. Some poor man or woman got bitten or scratched and went through a period of: “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” Then eventually, like The American Werewolf In London, they all turned into hairy, psycho killers and proceeded to murder anyone unlucky enough to get in their way—including their own family members. That was the traditional SF nonhuman. That was his or her fate.

So why would I chose such a tragic protagonist? Now the plot, as they say, thickens. There is a nontraditional SF animal, oftentimes also a shape shifter, that has made his/her way into the SF/fantasy genre. These new animals or shape shifters can be loosely grouped into two categories: a thinking being that thwarts the heroine or hero, or one that helps them on their journey.

In The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, a science fiction/horror odyssey, there is a whole host of supernatural creatures: werewolves, were-goats, lizards… some good, some malevolent, but all with human intellect—a sharp break from the traditional werewolf formula. In fact, “Wolf,” a gentle, werewolf is pivotal to the hero’s success. When Wolf runs with the moon, he too becomes a killing machine, losing his human ability to think and reason. Yet Wolf’s humanity, unlike that of his literary forefathers, conquers this brutal calling.

But animals such as the talking familiars of A. Jarrell’s Detecting Magic With Dick Hunter,
and the magical crow of Balogun Ojetade’s Once Upon a Time in Afrika showcase animals that completely belong to a new breed of SF/Fantasy animals.

In Detecting Magic… the animals guide and assist the hero in his quest—they in fact are essential to his success.

In Once Upon a Time In Afrika a magical bird, or a creature that looks like a bird, the “Crow,” gives the hero and heroine direction. In both cases these are thinking creatures. Gone is the mindless beast controlled by his or her transition into an animal.

Which brings me back to my original question: why would I choose to write about werewolves? Frankly, as I discovered, they fascinate me—always have—along with other shape shifting folk, like vampires. And because historically, in films and books, they’ve always been the underdogs: the unfortunate man or woman who was infected, suffered, killed and came to a horrible end. The underdog, the oppressed, the abused, the victim, who by the power of their spirit rises to become a heroine, has always been near and dear to my heart.

Another one of my motivations, is that in animals we glimpse one of the most glorious aspects of life. They will fight to death to protect those they love. They never kill for pleasure or greed. And the wolf is among the most noble, and beautiful creatures to walk the earth. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from these “cousins?”

The shape shifters, Karla, Joseph and others, that I’ve brought to life in my Immortal series, in the alternate world of “Tundra,” are definitely nontraditional. They are humans, whose birthright forces them to become more. Not because they were bitten or scratched, but because they are Immortal Other, entrusted with the survival of their world.
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Immortal

They challenge the power structure of their planet imposed by a sorcerer, who also happens to be a megalomaniac. Not fearlessly (For who among us is fearless?) but with great courage, drawing upon their bestial natures to fight and protect their planet. There is eroticism. What is life without love? Violence, for the Others are nothing if not revolutionary. And growth. If you live you evolve. Or you stagnant and die. There is whole cast of preternatural humans and daemons in the Immortal series—some good, some evil—and all with their own agenda (whether working for themselves or some other entity) for who will rule Tundra.

Immortal II: The Time of Legend

Indeed, the world of science fiction animals is no longer a realm of star crossed creatures. No longer are werewolves and other meta-humans ruled by harsh literary plots, their bloody death predetermined by their nature. This new world is rich and multi-layered. Shape shifters are free to think, live and love—both as humans and animals—to chose their own path, whether benevolent or evil.

And this brave new world is where I’ve found my writing home.

Immortal III: Stealer of Souls <

Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds


The Switch II: Clockwork (includes The Switch 1 and II)

Cover art and design for Immortal III, Immortal IV and The Switch II: Clockwork by Quinton Veal.

Valjeanne Jeffers is an artist, poet and the author of The Immortal and The Switch series. She has been published in numerous anthologies including: The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, Genesis: Science Fiction Magazine, 31 Days of Steamy Mocha, Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, Griots II: Sisters of the Spear (in press), Possibilites (coming in September to Smashwords) Steamfunk!Anthology (in press). Valjeanne’s novels can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Nubian Bookstore, Morrow GA, and Eljay’s Used Books Bookstore, Pittsburgh PA.
You can also preview or purchase her novels at: http://www.vjeffersandqveal.com

5 thoughts on “Animals in Science Fiction: The Newest Nonhumans on the Block

  1. Great discussion. I’m trying to oncorporate lesser-known shapeshifters (such as were-hyenas) into my work, and one of the main supporting characters in The Nyama Eaters is a man that can turn into a leopard/human hybrid. It’s fun to explore a nontraditional take on things like this.

  2. Reblogged this on My Writing Life and commented:
    Author Valjeanne Jeffers blogs about animals in science fiction/fantasy, and discusses why she chose to write about them. I’m honored that she mentioned my book, Detecting Magic with Dick Hunter, in her blog.

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