Feed Them Silence by Lee Mandelo

What does it mean to "be-in-kind" with a nonhuman animal? Or in Dr. Sean Kell-Luddon’s case, to be in-kind with one of the last remaining wild wolves? Using a neurological interface to translate her animal subject’s perception through her own mind, Sean intends to chase both her scientific curiosity and her secret, lifelong desire to experience the intimacy and freedom of wolfishness. To see the world through animal eyes; smell the forest, thick with olfactory messages; even taste the blood and viscera of a fresh kill. And, above all, to feel the belonging of the pack.

Sean’s tireless research gives her a chance to fulfill that dream, but pursuing it has a terrible cost. Her obsession with work endangers her fraying relationship with her wife. Her research methods threaten her mind and body. And the attention of her VC funders could destroy her subject, the beautiful wild wolf whose mental world she’s invading.

TITLE: Feed Them Silence
AUTHOR: Lee Mandelo
PUBLISHER: Dreamscape Media
YEAR: 2023
LENGTH: 112 pages (4 hours 18 minutes)
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Science Fiction

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s).

FEED THEM SILENCE is the story of Sean, an academic researcher trying to gain a sense of intimacy in her own life through a technologically assisted neurological interface connecting her to a wolf, rather than nurturing intimacy and connection with the humans in her life (such as her wife). She feels deeply connected to the wolf she’s studying. Part of this is through anthropomorphizing the wolf with the assistance of the technology that maps the words, thoughts, emotions, and perceptions onto her own, human brain. She specifically thinks of this as not anthropomorphizing, and I’m not quite sure how literally to believe that in the story, especially when it’s about how her obsession with treating this as the most important relationship in her life leads her down a path where the being she feels most connected to is one that is likely unaware of her presence. To whatever extent the wolf ("Kate") knows of her, it is as a blurry memory of kidnapping and pain when the other terminal of the neural interface was implanted. 

At home, Sean's wife is feeling disregarded and unloved, like Sean just wants her there to cook and clean. They’re both academics with their own careers, but one of Riya's complaints is the way that Sean is behaving like a white man who just wants a housewife. Riya has put her own desires aside for a long time because of the demands of Sean's research and academic schedule, but as their relationship deteriorates, Riya tries to get Sean to initiate connection, or at least reciprocate it. But she feels like an ancillary note to Sean's research, research that she feels has massive ethical concerns. Sean’s thoughts are consumed by her work, it seems as though she’s been obsessed with this idea for a very long time. Then the reality of it, and whatever is going on with the neural link, has turned it from a dream into an obsession that is distorting her ability to put care into other parts of her life for any significant stretch of time. 

There’s an ongoing question about whether what is happening is cruel, as there is no way for the wolf to meaningfully consent to the experiment. Having tied her own brain to Kate, Sean ends up more and more torn in her thoughts, because the only way that she’s obtaining this intimacy is through what began as and continues to be a massive violation of the wolf's autonomy. Her fellow researchers see Kate and her pack as part of an experiment, having accepted that the process of observing them during a harsh winter is likely to mean watching them die. But, as she feels more connected, Sean is unable to accept this. Because her change in her stance is driven by an increasing (and one-sided) emotional bond with Kate, Sean is also unable to meaningfully articulate her changing feelings without letting on to her colleagues how much this process is affecting her.

Set in the 2030's, climate change and the associated ongoing loss of many animal species forms a backdrop to this drama, as part of the reason for this particular research is that this is the last wild wolf pack. I’m not sure if it’s the last one in the region or the last one on Earth, but the main point is that the trajectory for the species is one of decline and impending extinction. This makes the various questions around how to study the wolf pack even more important, but whatever precise way they matter to the characters, these considerations don’t overly end up affecting the story. There wouldn’t be a book if they weren’t going to go ahead and do the research. That choice at the beginning sets many things in motion so that the environmental and ethical concerns become matters of conscience after the fact, more issues of how to gain some sense of stability, and potentially assuage any moral compunctions or lingering guilt over what happened. 

I specifically enjoy this audiobook narrator’s performances, I’ve been reading a lot of them recently. I like the ending because it feels realistic for the characters without feeling inevitable. It doesn’t feel like this was the only way that things could’ve gone on every front, but there is a kind of slowly unfolding horror; realizing the way things are likely to go and seeing the characters seemingly unable to avoid it. In terms of character development, I like how the various members of Sean‘s team have different reactions to what’s going on. They’ve accepted animal death as part of their research, but seem to not be taking seriously the level of cruelty that’s involved in this particular experiment until it's already in motion and they figure out how to make some kind of peace with it. 

Graphic/Explicit CW for sexual content, toxic relationship, blood, gore, violence, animal cruelty, animal death, death.

Moderate CW for grief, cursing, infidelity, medical content, medical trauma.

Minor CW for vomit, alcohol, racism.

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