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  • Yehoshua Paul

1944 - Sirius

1944. The war is almost over. After two years, the Siege of Leningrad is lifted. On June 4, Rome falls to the allies, and two days later, June 6, it’s D-Day: 155,000 Allied troops, shipped from Britain, land on the beaches of Normandy, beginning Operation Overlord. The Allied Soldiers quickly break through the Atlantic Wall, and help liberate France from Germany.

In Japan, Prime Minister Hideki Tojo resigns because of war setbacks. In Poland, the Warsaw Uprising results in the short-term liberation of the city before the Nazis destroy it. And, in France, the Paris insurrection is successful, and the Resistance manages to retake the city with allied help. The British Home Guard stands down.

Everyone is doing their part to end the war quickly, human and canine. Seven Quartermaster War Dog Platoons from the K-9 corps are deployed in Europe, and eight in the Pacific. Each platoon consists of twenty enlisted men, 18 scout dogs used for detecting snipers, ambushes and other enemy activity, and six messenger dogs, capable of detecting the body scent of their handlers and carrying them messages in a leather pouch around their collar. In addition, the US army uses war dogs for sentry duty, detecting mines, attacking enemy soldiers and searching for wounded. By the end of the war over 10,000 dogs will be trained for service, but only 436 will actually get a chance to serve overseas, and none will be honored for their contribution, something the canine protagonist of Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius knows all too well.

William Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950) – known as Olaf Stapledon – was a British Philosopher and Science fiction author. He is best known for his “histories of the future”, which he explores in his books Last and First Men, a future history of eighteen successive species of humanity, and Star Maker, a history of the life of the universe. His writing directly influenced a wide range of other writers who were either inspired by his ideas (Arthur C. Clark, Brian Aldiss, John Maynard Smith) or repelled by them and felt the need to respond (C. S. Lewis). In 2014, he was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

During the first World War, Stapledon was a conscientious objector, and became a volunteer ambulance driver with a volunteer ambulance unit in France and Belgium. He was awarded, the Croix de Guerre for bravery by the French government. However, when it came to World War II, Stapledon abandoned his pacifist leanings and actively supported the war effort.

Stapledon’s writing often depicts the struggles of intelligent beings seeking some form of purpose, only to be discouraged by an indifferent world or universe, whose inhabitants fail to understand this need. The protagonists are frequently tormented by a struggle between higher and lower impulses. In Sirius, we see such a struggle in the title character, a dog named Sirius with human level intelligence.

The book is a first person narrative told from the perspective of Robert, who in the first chapter is seeking Plaxy, a woman he had fallen in love with. He was very concerned about her following cryptic hints in the letters she was sending. Robert manages to uncover Plaxy in a remote village in Northern Wales, and there he is introduced to Sirius, a large dog with human-level intelligence, who is also Plaxy’s foster sibling. Sirius can talk, but he has a dog like accent which is very difficult to follow. He can also read, and with difficulty write. Robert then proceeds to learn from documents, he receives from Plaxy, as well as follow-up conversations, the fascinating history of Sirius’ life.

Plaxy’s father was a scientist, Thomas Trelone, who had discovered a means of enhancing the intelligence of sheep dogs by injecting hormones into the bloodstream of pregnant mothers. These Super-sheep-dogs turned out to be very adept at managing sheep herds. Commands never had to be repeated, they were capable of attaching the correct meanings to names of locations, and were also capable of running errands in neighboring farms and villages. This success was used to camouflage Trelone’s true purpose: to create a sheep-dog with human level intelligence, which he eventually succeeded at by combining a collie with an Alsatian, injecting the pregnant mother with the hormone and creating Sirius.

Plaxy and Sirius were raised together by Plaxy’s mother who treated Sirius the same as any of her other children. They were born around the same time, and Sirius’ maturation process was slow allowing him and Plaxy to more or less advance at the same pace. As they grew older, the differences between the two became more apparent. Plaxy has hands and can see colors, while Sirius is color-blind and struggles with his paws, but he has more advanced senses of hearing and smell. The advanced hearing caused him to struggle with human music which he forced himself to learn to like.

As they grew older, Plaxy and Sirius drifted farther and farther apart. Sirius discovered what dogs do to females in heat, while Plaxy was sent off to school and learned to experience love. Later she went to college and found work. Sirius in her absence struggled for companionship, as he knew he was the only one of his kind (Trelone failed to replicate the experiment), and he also struggled to find some sort of meaning in his life. He experimented with working as a sheepdog, became a lab assistant, learned about religion, and even ran a farm, but it was difficult, especially because most of the world viewed him as a regular dog. These difficulties often resulted in black states, wolf-moods, which would take over Sirius for a period of time, in which he would go feral. These moods would drive Sirius into an even deeper depression as he felt that his actions betrayed the purpose for which he was created, and that he was trying to discover.

This book strongly reminded me of Gladiator by Philip Wylie as the struggles of Hugo Danner and Sirius are very similar. However, this book was much more moving on an emotional level. Sirius has a soul and spirit that are yearning for purpose in an alien world dominated by humans who genuinely care about him and love him even as they feel helpless to give him what he wants. Danner, on the other hand doesn’t really connect with anyone, and the world for the most part doesn’t care, making it difficult to empathize. Unlike Danner, I genuinely connected with Sirius and my heart went out to him, and to how alone he felt. He was the product of a well-intentioned cruel experiment, and his struggles moved me. This is another book, I strongly recommend, and I plan on buying a physical copy for my library.

The most decorated dog to serve in WW2 was Chips, a trained sentry dog who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, The Silver Star and Purple Heart (later revoked because of army policy)

The Omer today is courage in kingship. These attributes are expressed in the brave Allied soldiers who fought in World War II to topple the Nazis from power and reclaim Europe. Their efforts and sacrifices helped topple an evil rule from power, end the extermination of the Jewish people, and restore the many exiled governments to power. We also see these attributes in Sirius’ quest to find a place for himself in a world ruled by humans in which he is the only one of his kind, and therefore has to constantly demonstrate his value to the mostly ignorant world. The courage is seen in his efforts, and the kingship in his success in carving out a domain for himself in the human kingdom. My takeaway from the events of this year is that sometimes there are very clear and obvious reasons when you need to fight, and hesitation and delays will end up costing the lives of many. It is important to recognize these types of instances, overcome your fear, and fight. Fear of what may happen will only end up costing more.

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