The Awareness (March 2014) is told in the shifting point of view of a wild bear, a circus elephant, a factory farmed pig and a rescued pet dog — all of whom have gained a human awareness of the world. It’s told in four parts. One chapter in each section contains the point of view of each of the four animals as the calamity unfolds.
As a consequence of their awakened awareness, the animals realize they are at war with the humans who hunt them, use them for entertainment, eat them and imprison them.
It allows for a striking perception shift. This book exemplifies the power of fiction to show us the world anew. Instead of shying from anthropomorphizing, the novel’s conceit aims to do exactly that. It allows the reader to perceive animals as equals and imagine what we would do under the same circumstances.
Pointedly, although the animals retain some of their instincts, their intelligence distinctly puts them on the same playing field as humans able to talk and reason and communicate with each other as a social group.
On gaining awareness, the animals see that they have been at the mercy of, and subservient to, human desires. It’s terrifying and tragic to realize that the awareness logically puts us at war.
In the book’s most powerful scenes, circus animals use their freedom to make humans do tricks, but wonder at the pointlessness, and an escaped factory farmed pig is forced to confront the horror of tortured sows in gestation crates. In true human fashion, the freed pig turns away from this greater misery. When another animal tries to show her so that she truly understands the depth of her kind’s suffering, she resists.
“We have to get inside,” the ferret said.
“Why would I want to get into another building? I don’t care, ferret. I keep trying to tell you. I don’t care.”
The ferret laughed. “Let’s just enter the building, then you can not care.”
Who would commit such atrocity? The pig, fed by machine, has never even met a human before.
Cooper, the dog, however, was rescued by a human and his point of view is particularly heartrending. He feels most conflicted by his Awareness because of his love for his human. But this is his war too. As an animal, he must choose sides. It’s painfully reminiscent of Richard Adams’ The Plague Dogs in which a companion dog becomes the subject of animal testing and remains steadfastly loyal to the idea that humans can be beloved masters even while confronted with extremes of human cruelty and betrayal.
The Awareness is a powerful book, well structured and a quick read. Stone said he self-published it because it was hard to find a publisher for a book with talking animals. It’s true, this book doesn’t strike one as the kind many people would pick up on a whim nor fit cleanly into a category. Although, it’s a welcome addition into the, perhaps growing, niche of ecolit and ecofabulism in which adult readers are willing to hear animal voices once again and empathize.
In The Awareness, the thoughtful animals, like their thoughtful human counterparts, struggle to escape the us versus them paradigm in favor of a peace of like-minded folk. The aware animals seek, as we aware humans should, another way. Animals should not have to have strictly human intelligence to have equal consideration and to be regarded as soulful individuals.
As Gene Stone told The Discerning Brute:
“It’s vital that we all apply the Golden Rule not just to other people but to animals as well. Do onto every creature you come in contact with as you would do onto yourself…Consideration to animals is, in my mind, the mark of a truly compassionate civilization. “
Try Exodus 2022 a supernatural imagining of what animals faced with ecological devastation might do. Gene Stone’s bibliography makes for a great nonfiction reading list — The Awareness adds a work of fiction to the mix.