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Literature / Wolfish Nature

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Wolfish Nature (Волчья натура, Volchya natura) is a science fiction duology (Divided for Publication) by the Russian science-fiction author Vladimir Vasilyev, consisting of novels Wolfish Nature and The Beast in Each of Us. The setting of the duology is a little unusual in that it postulates what would happen if humans had evolved from dogs instead of apes. One of the key things in this 'verse is that dog-humans would focus on bio-engineering instead of technology. In 18th-century, the dogs went through the Bio-Correction, eliminating the "wolf gene" from their gene pool. Now, humans aren't able to kill without extensive training and psychological damage. As such, there were no wars since the Correction with coups becoming increasingly rare to the point that the last one happened 200 years ago. Instead, the various countries have evolved the spy game to an art form. The author has chosen to keep the geographical and political names the same to avoid confusing the readers. The names of dog-humans are also pretty standard (for humans not dogs) and geographically consistent. The geo-political situation is slightly different from ours. For example, Siberia and Alaska are sovereign nations, although still friendly with their parent countries. The Baltic countries have merged into Baltica. United Europe is in full effect. US is not a superpower (there were no wars to make that happen), while Canada is split into two nations. The Middle-Eastern Confederacy is run by Turan (the joining of Turkey and Iran). Japan and China have also merged into one nation. Racism doesn't really exist as we understand it. However, the dog-humans readily identify each other based on their "morphemes" (i.e. breeds). There's a bit of Fridge Logic here, as many of these breeds are the result of human intervention in Real Life, although the novels imply that they are the result of genetic engineering during the feudal days. Technology is slowly starting to replace existing bio-tech "selectoids", although most are wary of "dead" things, even though "dead" computers are much more effective than their bio-engineered analogs.

The plot is kicked off when a European ecologist stumbles on an isolated enclave of wolves (humans whose ancestors have somehow escaped the Bio-Correction) near the Siberian town of Alzamay. The ecologist is quickly eliminated by the wolves, and they proceed to start a killing spree throughout Europe and Asia, eliminating anyone the ecologist might have contacted. Unfortunately for them, this results in the world quickly becoming aware of their existence, as murder is extremely rare in the world. Alzamay quickly becomes the most important town in the world, as agents from all over the world find themselves trying to outsmart their counterparts and contact the wolves first. After all, each country wishes to study the wolf gene and, possibly, start breeding warriors again. A non-government organization called Cheers whose goal appears to be the same for the purposes of world domination also sends their people to Alzamay. The wolves themselves appear to be Not of This Earth thanks to a large number of UFOs spotted in the area and the improbability of their remaining to isolated for centuries.

The duology contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Yadviga is just as capable as any male wolf and likes to prove it. The other wolves have learned not to mess with her. This is a surprise to Archie, who is not used to females being soldiers. When he asks her if she's a feminist, Yadviga replies that she isn't, but she's also not content with the cook-cleaner-bedmate role.
  • Alien Invasion: Averted. While Rasmus admits it's a possibility, he doesn't believe it likely that a galactic power would bother with a tiny backward planet like Earth. He is, however, worried that Bio-Corrected humans won't be able to put up much of a fight if it does happen.
  • Animal Assassin: An American agent casually slips a scorpion into a Baltic agent's collar at a cafe, expecting no one in Siberia to know what a scorpion is. However, the scorpion is quickly traced to Colorado, revealing the presence of an American operative in Alzamay.
  • Balkanize Me: Siberia has split off from Russia in order to combat corruption that results from being too far from the capital (Krasnoyarsk is made the capital of Siberia). The two nations still maintain cordial relations. Ditto for Canada (which has also split into two) and the US (Alaska has split off). Inverted with European nations, Japan and China, the Baltic nations, and Turan (the joining of Turkey and Iran).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Cheers is stopped, the secret to creating killers won't fall into enemy hands, and the wolves are given their own island to live on as they please. Archie joins the wolves (and Yadviga), but knowing the truth about the Bio-Correction also means he will be forced to constantly watch himself in order not to become a killer.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: There isn't and never was a "wolf gene". Bio-Correction was a great big lie meant to convince people that they were "cured" from murder. Psychological damage due to murder happens because people believe it does.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: This is how Bio-Correction works. There never was a "wolf gene".
  • Cool, Clear Water: The wolves are a little wary of drinking water from a river. When asked, Sulim smirks and explains that all fresh water on Earth is free from pollution and safe to drink. Given the high levels of genetic engineering in this world, this may be justified.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Simon Varga, whose ultimate goal is world domination.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Any fight where the wolves' cloaking devices are involved usually result in these. The Alliance forces manage to come up with a counter, though. The "sprayers" spray tiny colored particles everywhere that reveal cloaked figures.
    • The coup in Turkmenistan with the help of the wolves (without the use of cloaking devices) is also this.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Several are mentioned through the duology, most notably Archibald "Archie" René de Shertarini (codename: Sheriff), a top Russian Military Intelligence agent, who is "retired" after a number of missions involving "fuses" and sent to Crimea as a lifeguard. Naturally, the goal is to have him stay in this role for at least a decade, when rival agencies write him off, and bring him back for a key mission. The events of the book force the Russian MI to break Archie's cover and return to active duty after only a few years of "retirement".
    • Another deep cover agent is a Baltic Scientific Intelligence operative in Alzamay, Siberia. His task is to quietly investigate a strange beacon nearby. When he is discovered, he is killed by an American agent with a scorpion (however, he ends up using an ''American'' scorpion).
  • Dog Shall Never Kill Dog: This is enforced by the Bio-Correction.
  • The Dragon: Sulim Hanmuratov is Simon Varga's most trusted assistant, handling most of his boss's security and intelligence-related affairs. He's a professional through and through.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: the wolves earn their right to live their own lives and are given an unpopulated island, where they form their own tiny (but the most powerful in the world) nation. Archie leaves the service and joins Yadviga on the island.
  • Fantastic Racism: The concept of "race" doesn't really exist in this world. However, there are different "morphemes", which match Real Life dog breeds (e.g. Lab, Newfoundland, Shar-Pei). Whenever a description of a person is seen, the morpheme is inevitably a part of it. It's never, however, used in a derogatory manner. Broader morpheme types are mentioned as well (e.g. herders, retrievers). It's implied that morphemes were specifically bred by various bio-engineers centuries ago. Dog-humans of mixed breeds are called "amorphs" but only in order to identify them, never to imply they are somehow less than purebred dogs.
    • Most purebred dogs do keep track of their lineage as a matter of pride.
  • A Father to His Men: Rasmus is definitely one. Over many years of fighting among the stars have forced the wolves to band together more than an army unit. He often calls Yadviga "my girl", as one would a daughter or a granddaughter (Rasmus is 74). Also, to an extent, Colonel/General Konstantin Zolotykh (he privately laments how becoming a general has changed him).
  • Flying Saucer: The wolves have several of these, which are actually alien assault craft. According to Rasmus, they weren't allowed to keep these after leaving The Empire's service, but some of the other wolves decided to keep a few. Rasmus wasn't told for Plausible Deniability reasons.
  • Furry Reminder: Surprisingly, very little, considering the author does his best to point out that they're still human. They just happened to have descended from a different animal. A few times, this does pop up, such as when Archie comes out of water and starts shaking to dry, with water spraying everywhere. They still have towels, though. Some people also have a dog-like sense of smell, although that is claimed to be deliberate for certain jobs. Most of the people opt to have this "option" removed.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: The dog-humans are masters at it. See Organic Technology. The reason the wolves are so dangerous is that their "wolf gene" can be extracted and used to breed a whole army of merciless killers.
  • Humans Are Warriors: The reason the aliens have recruited several hundred humans as mercenaries 400 years ago. Completely subverted after the Bio-Correction. Also, these humans are not us (i.e. homo sapiens sapiens) but dog-humans (i.e. canus sapiens sapiens).
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: Partly true as all spying devices are actual bugs, although genetically-engineered for specific purposes. So if you're a spy and you find an insect, chances are it's a recording device.
    • Bio-engineered insects are also used to eliminate spying insects. A good indicator that your super-secret base may be compromised is if the birth-rate for your spy-hunting wasps and bumblebees has increased without an environmental explanation (meaning they're actively hunting enemy "mosquitoes").
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: According to Rasmus, neither The Empire nor any of its rivals would bother with a backwater planet like Earth. There is absolutely nothing on Earth that the aliens would want (e.g. technology, strategic position, resources). The only time they did bother was 400 years ago in order to recruit a few hundred as mercenaries for a war.
  • Invisibility Cloak: The wolves have some sort of active camouflage that renders them invisible, with barely an air shimmer. This is stated to be Imported Alien Phlebotinum. Their ships also have this.
  • LEGO Genetics: The idea of a "wolf gene" that is entirely responsible for dog-humans being able to kill without remorse and can be excised without harming the subject. Subverted at the end, where a geneticist reveals that it was all a big lie meant to fool people into not killing anymore.
  • Mad Scientist: Itzhak Shaduli is an Israeli-born nano-geneticist (his full speciality takes up a line-and-a-half of printed text). He works for Cheers in trying to recreate the wolf gene. Naturally, he's only doing it out of scientific curiosity. His 6 students, all of whom are also world-class specialists in the field, can also fit this trope.
    • Subverted in the end, when Shaduli reveals that he is trying to save humanity from itself.
  • Message in a Bottle: Archie uses this method to contact his superiors and notify them of his location in the second novel. Essentially, the message tells the person who finds this to call a certain number and say a single word: "Sheriff" (his code-name). The note mentions a substantial reward.
  • Never Say "Die": Since killing another human being is so repugnant to the dog-humans, agents who are specifically trained (physically and psychologically) to be able to do so without having a mental breakdown, they prefer using the word "fuse" for any kills they have to do in the line of duty.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: Cheers is relatively small but well-funded. The goal of the organization is nothing less than world domination. To this end, the geneticists working for Cheers have been trying (without success) to re-create the wolf gene in order to clone an unstoppable army of merciless killers. Simon Varga is the current head of Cheers, although it's stated that his father founded the organization. It is based in Turkmenistan, whose government is in Varga's pocket. However, when the true superpowers come knocking, the President of Turkmenistan leaves Varga on his own.
  • Noodle Incident: Plenty of these with characters off-handedly mentioning past events without explanation. Most of these are either spy missions or space battles (for the wolves).
  • Organic Technology: Much of the technology used by dog-humans is bio-engineered. This also includes mundane things like buildings (even skyscrapers), cars, cell phones, and paper. While they don't require electricity to function, they do need to be regularly fed. This also means that they have no satellites (how do you feed a satellite?) or space rockets. On the other hand, technology is slowly replacing bio-technology in certain fields.
  • Planet of Hats: Averted in case of aliens. When Simon Varga asks Rasmus what aliens are like, Rasmus simply replies "different", unwilling to invoke this trope, especially on multiple alien races. Partly played straight in how Rasmus views humans. To him, all those who weren't abducted have become pussies and are completely unprepared for the hostile, unforgiving universe. He's proven wrong.
  • Plausible Deniability: When the wolves were being released from their service to The Empire, they were permitted to keep some of their trophies. However, Flying Saucer-type assault craft were out of the question. Rasmus swore to his former commander that he took none of those. It turns out some of his people did stash a couple of them away, just in case, and didn't tell Rasmus so that he didn't have to lie.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: After a European ecologist stumbles on the wolves near Alzamay, the wolves go into full damage control mode, murder the ecologist, and then send assassins to take care of everybody in his address book, finishing with a guy he called by dialing a wrong number. Not realizing that normal dog-humans can't kill, the string of murders raises red flags for all world governments. Only a few weeks later, the town of Alzamay is full of operatives from the major powers, and the Siberian military is preparing to lock down the whole area.
  • Scary Scorpions: A Baltic agent in Alzamay is assassinated by an American agent who slips a scorpion in his collar at a cafe without anyone noticing until the poor guy suddenly convulses and drops dead. Unfortunately for the killer, the scorpion is quickly identified as originating in an American desert, revealing the presence of an American operative.
  • Spy Fiction: Despite the unusual setting, the author styles the duology in this fashion, since intelligence-gathering and sabotage have replaced outright warfare. It's common for spies to be "retired" from service and given a low-level job for many years in order to convince the other nations' intelligence branches that the agent is really retired, when they are, in fact, sleeper agents. When Archie, one of the protagonists, is re-activated after only a few years of working as a lifeguard at a seaside resort (apparently, not all dogs can swim), he realizes that something extremely serious must have happened for his cover to be blown so early in the game. He is fairly quickly discovered by the opposition in Alzamay, as there aren't that many "Newfs" (i.e. Newfoundlands) in Siberia.
    • Also notable that none of the nations has a standing army. The closest thing they have is the border guard, whose main job is to watch for contraband. They are typically armed with needle stun guns. However, there are firearms available, just in case.
  • Take a Third Option: When Archie and Heinrich are sent to intercept a yacht with Professor Itzhak Shaduli and his students, they are ordered by their respective presidents to eliminate the scientists, lest they fall into the hands of an "unfriendly" nation, such as Turan. With Varga's people about to catch the yacht and Turan's fleet ready to intercept them, Archie and Heinrich are fully prepared to perform 9 murders and likely doom themselves to a lifetime in a nuthouse... until Professor Shaduli reveals the truth about the Bio-Correction. Archie lets the scientists live and decides to take on Varga's people.
  • Teleportation with Drawbacks: The wolves are planning on building a "portal" that, essentially, functions as a teleporter in order to retrieve their cache of trophies (in the form of alien technology) from a faraway planet. It cannot, however, transport living things.
  • Tranquilizer Dart: While firearms do exist here, all police and border forces are armed with needle-guns meant to knock out targets with tranquilizers rather than kill them. Some agents, who are sent to kill someone, load their needle-guns with poison-coated needles. Special forces, though, usually do have firearms, although they prefer to use them to wound an enemy rather than kill. The needle-guns are organic and must be periodically fed, while firearms are purely mechanical.
  • United Europe: The European Union in the duology is more like a country than a loose trade union with its own president. There is also a language called European. It's heavily implied to be English. This begs the question of which language(s) do the Americans and the Canadians speak. It's also possible that the unified country has simply chosen a single language and called it European. German is mentioned to still be in use.