Becoming Animals


Fiction - Science Fiction
438 Pages
Reviewed on 01/04/2018
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

Becoming Animals by Olga and Christopher Werby explores an idea that probably few of us have ever thought about. What would it be like to inhabit and share an animal's brain? Would the humanity overtake the animal, would the animal display dominance or would it be possible to co-exist and to share their experiences, understanding and view of the world? When eight-year-old Toby Crowe is left alone in her father Will's lab to play with the lab rat, it soon becomes obvious to all those involved in the BRATS project that Toby has an affinity with not only the animals, but the idea of joining minds and "riding" the animals. Dr Will Crowe heads up the BRATS programme, which is funded by the Army. The plan, initially, was to use rats or other animals to assist the Army in searching for survivors in the rubble of buildings as part of their disaster relief programmes. Other member of the Armed Forces, though, have ulterior motives for trying to meld human minds with animal minds. For Toby, who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis and whose mother is terminally ill with the illness, the idea of becoming part of another animal seems one way of leaving something of herself behind when her illness eventually claims her young life.

As a concept for a novel I found the idea of melding with an animal's mind, in Becoming Animals, to be utterly fascinating and was excited to see how this would develop for young Toby. I became very invested in the characters created by Olga and Christopher Werby and consequently enjoyed this children's/young adult book even more than I thought I would. The amount of honest research that had clearly gone on before penning this novel lent real authenticity to the tale. I had heard much of what was discussed in broad details in various places, but had perhaps not realised the possible implications - this was especially true of the idea of neuroplasticity and our brain's ability to reset and remake neural connections, at will or as required. The book was an incredibly easy read and although the science might be above the understanding of some of the authors' intended audience, it in no way detracted from the understanding of the story. This story is unique, in my opinion, a rare quality in today's book market. I commend the two authors for their ingenuity and creativity and can highly recommend this read. A great job!

K.J. Simmill

Rufus had been Toby's pet long before the doctor had said to remove any allergens from her mother's environment. Unable to do anything else, Professor William Crowe had brought it to the lab, where it became the cornerstone of the Brats Project, and yet at the same time Rufus represented so much more. When Toby exhibited a connection beyond that which their own subjects had displayed, it started a whole new stage of the program. Toby had shown a natural talent for brain-to-brain interfacing. Toby, however, had the same genetic problems as her mother and her longevity was questionable, but perhaps, if they were to advance their existing techniques beyond the current scope it could mean her survival. A survival that would mean a whole new existence, but can it be achieved, and if so can they face the complications of this new way of life?

Becoming Animals by Olga and Christopher Werby is a riveting and fascinating read that is imaginative science fiction. The addition of pictures gives readers brief snippets of events and people from the story, helping readers to conjure up a more vivid view. The story is written in a third person narrative with a distinctive voice that flows smoothly and creates clear imagery. You watch Toby's involvement with Rufus develop and enhance, and the subsequent reactions of those observing the results of the ground-breaking project. You get a strong feel for the characters, and even those in the smallest roles feel developed and, more importantly, real. Brilliant character and plot progression, touching on what could easily become fringe science with the correct applications. I found this a very interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read; a brilliant addition to the libraries of science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as anyone who simply enjoys a good story.

Liz Konkel

Becoming Animals by Olga and Christopher Werby explores the age-old question that humans have always wanted answered: What do animals think? Will Crowe is a scientist studying this very concept through an experiment that will potentially connect the minds of humans to animals. One day, while he has his young daughter, Toby, with him in the lab, she discovers a gift for throwing her mind into animals, starting with the lab rat, Rufus. Despite her new found talent, Toby's life is on a downward spiral from cystic fibrosis, the same disease her mother has. As she explores the minds of other test subjects, Toby finds a new found freedom through the animals she's able to bond with, which gives her the idea to put her consciousness into the mind of an animal, but can they succeed before it's too late?

Becoming Animals is an intelligent read rich in science that maintains a sense of wonder through Toby's childhood perspective. Toby suffers from cystic fibrosis, but she's not defined by her illness. She's intelligent and creative with a compassionate heart. She forms a bond with the animals that becomes a gateway for her to experience freedom unlike anything she's been able to experience. She gets to explore the outside world through rats, birds, and even whales, seeing more than her closed off life has previously allowed. The characters are all intelligent scientists, doctors, and military, but they're also grounded and, through the animals they're learning to channel into, they seem to be more human. The animals have a lot of personality and are characters in their own right.

Olga and Christopher Werby drive home that the bond between humans and animals is one that can give strength and freedom. Rufus is the first animal met and one that's wise in a lot of ways. He's the first to really connect with Toby, but several other animals like Bricks and Twiggy, the pigs, and Mele, the whale, will steal your heart. It's a lovely and smartly written story that not only explores animals and our connections to them, but also dives into the meaning of life and death. A must-read for every science fiction and animal lover.

Ray Simmons

Any time you can find a way to include animals in a story, and you are able to portray them in a sympathetic manner, a manner that makes them appear to be more noble, more honest, more good than the humans around them, chances are you have a bestseller on your hands. I saw Stephen King do this with a young werewolf pup once and I think Olga and Christopher Werby may pull it off successfully with their new book Becoming Animals. I liked it. I liked the comparison of animal behavior to human behavior. This book is rich in warmth and emotion. The Christian religion says God gave man dominion over the animals. We need to become better stewards.

The strongest feature in Becoming Animals is the characters. Don’t get me wrong, the plot is mind blowing and filled with tension and excitement, but it is the characters that make it all come together in a tale that is human on every level. Olga and Christopher Werby know how to tug at the reader's heartstrings, as well as create the constant sense of tension that every story needs. I liked Becoming Animals; it is a much more reader friendly version of H.G. Wells' The Island Of Doctor Moreau. And these animals and humans are also much more sympathetic, in my opinion. The situation is more realistic as well. Islands make ideal settings in fiction, but are hard to relate to in the real world. This is a great novel for young and older sci-fi fans.

Jack Magnus

Becoming Animals is a science fiction novel written by Olga Werby and Christopher Werby. Something special and exciting happened to Rufus as he navigated the paths that led to his food treats. Appetite and the promise of tasty treats continually warred with the rat’s instinctive need to be cautious, to survive, but then he heard her footsteps and her voice. Her high-pitched greeting, “Hi Ruffy,” made everything right, safe, certain. He relaxed his muscles and lay there waiting for her to pick him up, relishing her warmth and familiar smell. She gently scratched around the annoying blue thing they had implanted on his head. Even more, her presence seemed to clarify so much about his surroundings, the formerly blurred and dim images now crystal clear. Major George Watson was stunned to see the little girl wearing the brain-to-brain interface and cooing softly to the lab rat that was the focus of the top-secret Brats project. How Toby came to be there was actually as prosaic an event as “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day.” She and Rufus were old friends. The rat had been the eight-year-old’s pet until her mother’s doctors had warned against having any animals in their house. Toby’s mom was dying of cystic fibrosis, and Toby herself had inherited the condition. Will, her father and the scientist behind the Brats project, had qualms about letting his daughter participate in the project, but the delight that shone in her eyes as she shared her mind’s eye with Rufus made Will realize that she belonged there.

Olga and Christopher Werby’s science fiction novel, Becoming Animals, is probably the most unusual coming of age tale I’ve ever read. We follow Toby and the animals she rides (or shares minds with) as she goes from being a child into her later teens. It’s especially poignant knowing that Toby’s lifespan is increasingly limited, and that the span of her ability to function, which was always limited, gets narrower with each passing day. Readers of T.H. White’s marvelous historical fantasy, The Once and Future King, will no doubt be reminded of the young King Arthur’s experiences as Merlin transforms him into beasts of the field, the sea and the air so he understands all there is to life on this planet. The Werbys present a modern tech version whereby a child and a hardened veteran both experience life as other creatures, and seeing the changes evoked in them is wondrous indeed. The authors build tension as Toby’s dream scenario hovers frustratingly close yet tantalizingly out of reach, and the government does all it can to hinder its fulfillment, which leaves the reader on edge and wanting to read more. The characters, both human and animal, are unforgettable, and the plot is high-tech fantasy at its finest. Becoming Animals is most highly recommended.

Dora Varvarigou

Have you ever wanted to feel the world through the senses of a rat, where colors, sounds, smells, even touch become “ratty”? Would you like to experience the fragile emotional world of a mini piglet, obsessed with acquiring and eating food? Have you ever wanted to merge with a raven soaring high in the sky, to feel absorbed in the bird’s perception? How about becoming a bird-human super being, switching between your two selves, combining capabilities of both human and bird species to accomplish hard military tasks? Would you want to take up complete control of a whale’s consciousness and live in her body when your human one betrays you? Would you like to be able to “ride” an animal through computer-mediated control that provides complete sensory immersion?
Toby -- at twelve years old an intelligent and emotional girl -- can do all that. She is the most talented “animal ridder” in the BRATS research military project. She suffers from cystic fibrosis, a deteriorating disease. “Becoming an animal” liberates Toby from the physical limitations that the disease imposes on her, but also frees her mind and emotions that become more wondering, exploring, sensitive, ethical, and mature.
Through the immersive plot and powerful language, Olga and Christopher Werby’s readers are able to ride the animals themselves. I felt mentally absorbed in the animal’s perception within a world constructed by the authors. Their imaginative and sometimes surreal narration carries considerable chunks of scientific accuracy made possible by an obviously considerable amount of research on human and animal biology and behavior. The authors keep a balance between a fascinating scientific fiction plot that keeps readers on the tips of their toes and an exciting exploration of the real world of animal and human perception, behavior, and emotional development. Reality is the most truly exciting after all.
Above all, I enjoyed “riding” the rich human characters that Olga and Christopher have created and following their development through a story that exhibits the archetypes of human behavior: the affinity towards the exploration of the world, the love and affection between children and parents, the value and comfort of true friendship, the relationship and responsibility of the humans to other animals, and the fear of death and separation.