Sunday, April 20

Play Little Victims - Kenneth Cook

In 2000 God realises He meant to end the world at the first millennium but forgot. In a bit of a rush He freezes the planet, covering it first in a thick layer of ice and then in a blanket of fog because "He was a little worried about the theological implication of His actions and didn't want to get involved in interminable arguments with His company of saints." However, in His haste, He overlooked a 2-mile square patch in the middle of the United States where, as a consequence of the laws of evolution being lifted along with everything else, a pair of field mice developed sentience.
Published in 1978, Play Little Victims (the title comes from a Thomas Gray poem: "Alas, regardless of their doom/The little victims play!/No sense have they of ills to come/Nor care beyond today") is a reflection of the time it was written. The novel explores themes of overpopulation, the limits religion overlays on expediency and common sense, and the logical conclusions of some theories. The emphasis is particularly heavy on sanctity of life issues, and in Cook's exploration this includes the results of a culture that forbids interference with conception, is less concerned for life once it's created, and that struggles with a growing population and dwindling resources.
If written today these issues would undoubtedly be coloured by environmental concerns, terrorism, animal welfare, medical costs and/or genetic engineering. I'd also hope that, unlike the original, a re-write would include female participation in the society in a role other than help-meet, cook, cleaner and incubator - only one of the female mice even has a name, and Evemus is shown solely in a secondary and subservient role to the patriarch, Adamus.
Well crafted, this is much more a novel of ideas and ideology that character development and plot. The lone voice of sanity is ignored by the majority of leaders, the reader comes away with food for thought, and the final line resonates. In my case, for over twenty years - a friend loaned me the book in high school and I tracked it down again (through the brilliant Antiquarian Book Exchange Book Sleuth community) after being revisited by the plot. In my memory the ending was less subtle, but I remembered the concluding page: "Logimus screamed. And screamed." - Alex

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