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The Last of the Winnebagos [short fiction] (1988)

af Connie Willis

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575458,277 (3.92)1
In this Hugo Award-winning novella, dogs have become extinct after an epidemic, and the Humane Society has been granted extraordinary police powers to protect the remaining animals. As the Society investigates the death of a jackal on a highway, its attention turns to a photojournalist whose own dog was one of the last to survive.… (mere)
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Viser 5 af 5
https://fromtheheartofeurope.eu/schrodingers-kitten-by-george-alec-effinger-the-...

“The Last of the Winnebagos” sucks. The single biggest negative is that the protagonist is still mourning the death, years ago, of his dog, whose name was Aberfan.

Aberfan.

What possessed Connie Willis to use this name? And what possessed Gardner Dozois to let her? Would anyone find it acceptable to call a pet, even a fictional one, “Sandy Hook“? Or “Chernobyl“? Or do dead Welsh children just not count? Actually, maybe don’t answer that last question.

This is a consistent problem with Willis’ writing (see also: “Fire Watch“, Blackout here and here, All Clear). She is so relentless about maintaining a single emotional tone of loss and mourning that she does not care enough about the significance or accuracy of the details. Seemingly, neither did Hugo or Nebula voters in those years.

Having been thrown out of the narrative, I began to question other parts of it. The unseen villain of the story is a sinister quasi-government force called the Humane Society, which has massive powers of intervention to protect animals, in the aftermath of a plague that killed all dogs. There are very valid questions to be asked about the use of coercive force by the American state, but this premise a) trivialises that issue and b) panders to lazy libertarianism. If only the problem were simply that the state was protecting animals, rather than the entrenched power structures of capitalism and patriarchy.

The core emotional dynamic of the story is that the elderly couple who are driving the eponymous vehicle, the last of the Winnebagos, are concerned that they may lose the right to drive it because they have accidentally killed a wild animal. We are also told that they are in their late eighties. Sorry, people in their late eighties should not be driving, full stop.

The protagonist’s own deep regret is that he has no photographs of his dog, Aberfan. A professional photographer, who never took a single photograph of his best friend? I mean, I remember that in the Before Times, when we did not have cameras on our cellphones (indeed, we did not have cellphones), we didn’t habitually take quite as many photos of friends and family and household as we do now. But none at all?

I was uneasy about a couple of other aspects as well – the protagonist’s unrealistic relationship with his (woman) boss, his nonchalant ease of access to other people’s private data – but never mind. The characterisation and descriptions are fine, but once you have been thrown out of the narrative by the above rather major reservations, the tragic tone of the story starts to seem manipulative rather than convincing. ( )
  nwhyte | Jan 13, 2023 |
This is a classic Science Fiction story, designed by a master, to bring you face to face with your own insignificance in the Universe.

I remember how young I was when I first read this and not really understanding the impact of the context. As I look back now, it is with fondness and quite a bit of sentimentality for days gone by. ( )
  Windyone1 | May 10, 2022 |
Only Connie Willis could provide such a depth of detail to what should have been the death of dogs and not only made it work but make it work wonderfully.

She started with the weird concept of the Animal Humane Society becoming a black bag operation after all dogs have been wiped out, turning the novella into one of espionage and a murder mystery and an ethical showpiece of who one ought to turn in to save one's own skin.

Deceptively simple, but fantastically complex in execution, Ms. Willis has always amazed me. The writing is fantastic, turning what ought to have been a slightly humdrum if pathos-inducing event into something both exciting and horrible. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
After a virus has killed all of the dogs on Earth, the Humane Society (“The Society”) has been given the power to prosecute and punish anyone who, even accidentally, harms an animal. The government has started putting walls around highways, tracking vehicles with videocameras, and banning recreational vehicles from the roads.

After a photojournalist stops to report a dead jackal on the highway, he becomes involved in The Society’s investigation. During the process he meets an elderly couple who claim to own the last Winnebago, and he visits the woman who accidentally killed his own dog, one of the last to survive, 15 years earlier. Along the way, he keeps hoping to get a candid photo that will show, through its owner’s face, one of these beloved dogs who’ve been lost.

The Last of the Winnebagos, which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards ... Read More:
http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/the-last-of-the-winnebagos/ ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
A long, sad meditation on extinction. I think this might have been the first Connie Willis I read. It continues to impress me decades later ( )
  aulsmith | Jan 24, 2011 |
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In this Hugo Award-winning novella, dogs have become extinct after an epidemic, and the Humane Society has been granted extraordinary police powers to protect the remaining animals. As the Society investigates the death of a jackal on a highway, its attention turns to a photojournalist whose own dog was one of the last to survive.

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