Down with talking dolphin science fiction!

I love science fiction. I love the ocean. Seems like science fiction & the oceans go together like Old Bay on an oyster. Except that almost all the ocean-themed scifi that I’ve encountered has these bloody annoying frickin’ dolphins. My disgust with dolphins and their nasty habits is nothing new, but I’m afraid that the otherwise cool new blog Science In My Fiction rekindled my dolphin-rage with their debut post. They propose:

Researchers’ recent suggestion that dolphins be recognized as non-human persons is a prime example of a scientific idea ripe for storytellers’ extrapolation.

No no no no no! NO MORE TALKING SCI-FI DOLPHINS! And to once and for all refute the idea that this is a novel plot device, here is my quasi-comprehensive list of dolphins in science fiction and fantasy. (JEByrnes shares my sick fascination with dolphin sci-fi & has contributed to the list over the years.) The list is rough order of good to unspeakably terrible.

  • So Long and Thanks For All The Fish, Douglas Adams. This is by far the best of the lot. At least the dolphins are saucy and non-psychic.
  • Hyperion, Dan Simmons. An otherwise excellent book, but innocent talking dolphins stand in for Bad Humans & Ecological Destruction.
  • Deep Wizardry, Diane Duane. In which human and cetacean wizards team up to fight the forces of entropy – at a hydrothermal vent! I loved this book as a kid.
  • A Ring of Endless Light, Madeline L’Engle. Psychic dolphins impart spiritual healing.
  • The Dolphins of Pern, Anne McCaffrey. Nothing says “let’s jump the shark!” like a friendly talking dolphin. Even if Pern doesn’t have sharks. It’s not like psychic dragons aren’t cool enough – you had to add talking friendly happy dolphins?
  • Cachalot, Alan Dean Foster. A murder mystery on a water planet. OMG, did the talking dolphins do it???  At least they’re not happy friendly dolphins.
  • A Deeper Sea, Alexander Jablokov. The killer whales speak in weird Elizabethan English. In space.
  • Ishmael in Love, Robert Silverberg. A talking dolphin inexplicably falls in love with a human woman. Extreme ickiness ensues, in the way that only obnoxiously sexist 70s sci-fi can be icky.
  • I have not read: Dolphin Island, by Arthur C. Clarke. But there are definitely superintellignent dolphins in it.

This is just books and stories. I’m not even getting into talking-cetacean TV/movies like SeaQuest DSV or Star Trek IV.  So, please, sci-fi writers, I beg you, no more talking dolphins! Can we at least have some talking squids in outer space?

17 Replies to “Down with talking dolphin science fiction!”

  1. My talking dolphin novel is unhappy, disquieting and suffers from being a poorly-disguised memoir. Sorry if that boils your noodle, reality has an unfortunate way of doing that. If it’s any consolation, David Hartwell once told me that it wasn’t science fiction. “Put a monorail or something in it,” he said. I’m not kidding.

    Press Release – Eyes Open Media
    For immediate release
    March 1, 2010
    Novel recounts author’s “interspecies romance” in the 1970’s

    PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – In his first novel, WET GODDESS: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover, award-winning journalist and photographer Malcolm J. Brenner depicts an obsessive 1970’s romantic relationship with an unusual twist.
    “WET GODDESS is your typical Romeo-Juliet story, except that Juliet is a 400-lb. (180 kg) marine mammal with a larger brain than Zack, the story’s human narrator,” Brenner explained.
    Also, most novels don’t contain photos. Brenner’s does, although some have been retouched to disguise the human subjects and the location, a Sarasota-area amusement park called “Florida Funland.” The rationale for the photos is answered in the story, an autobiographical, satirical and metaphysical account of protagonist Zachary Zimmerman’s slow slide toward an act of love that will distinguish him from most of the human race.
    “While attending New College of Florida, I was asked by an aspiring author, a wealthy woman of great personal magnetism, to shoot some photos of the dolphins at this amusement park with the idea they would get published in her book,” Brenner said. “Well, she never finished the book, and after several years I decided to do something with the photos. So I wrote WET GODDESS.”
    It is, Brenner freely admits, the proverbial autobiographical first novel.
    “You know the cliché in writing workshops, ‘Write about what you know,’” Brenner quipped. “This is what I know about dolphins, and most of it is information you won’t find in any scientific treatise. It can’t be quantified or readily explained, just described.”
    Ruby, Zack’s cetacean paramour, doesn’t share his human sexual inhibitions. As the real dolphin in the pool behaves more and more seductively, Zack comes to believe she’s also communicating with him telepathically. The experience pushes him outside the box of human experience, with unexpected results for both parties.
    The book’s release coincides with some marine biologists’ calls for dolphins to be granted “non-human person” status, an idea first proposed by Dr. John C. Lilly in the 1960’s. Lilly appears as a character in Brenner’s novel, as do some other real-life dolphin researchers.
    “My idea was to see how close I could get in fiction to the reality of my experience, which was fundamentally unbelievable,” Brenner said. “I think I succeeded rather well, given the difficulty of explaining what it feels like to encounter an archetypal creature like a dolphin in her own environment, on her own terms.”
    Excerpts from WET GODDESS have been published in PENTHOUSE and the historic, 1974 Project Jonah anthology Mind In The Waters.

    [Section removed because we are not a free advertising space, details an be found at his website – KAZ]

  2. If you’re looking for intelligent squid, there’s Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter. Turns out squid are the perfect species to colonize other planets because of their intelligence and ability to tolerate various pressures. I read it a while ago, but I do remember that the squid go on to populate the universe. (and not a dolphin in sight)

  3. You forgot Vonda McIntyre’s Superluminal and David Brin’s Uplift series.

    On the science side, I don’t think anyone seriously thinks that dolphins are gentle psychic sages. But I don’t think that the vague proposals to award them “personhood” (whatever that means) is based on their niceness. If it did, many humans would fail the test. In fact, if dolphins know that what they do is evil (as you suggest in your Slate article), this gives them agency.

    Science fiction mangles many scientific concepts for the sake of narrative or just from plain ignorance. Most contemporary SF authors are not familiar with any branch of science nor have the scientific mindset. More on this:

    SF Goes MacDonald’s: Less Taste, More Gristle

  4. Check out Tuf Voyaging by George R. R. Martin, there is no dolphins, but there is one story that has some super alien squid battles. It was pretty sweet.

  5. No, I’m not kidding. And I’m sorry about the press release, I thought I was e-mailing it to the author, not posting the whole damn thing. Dolphins, like humans, become what you allow them to be. That was demonstrated by sociologist Philip C. Zimbardo almost 40 years ago in the controversial “Stanford mock jail experiment.”

    Aside from that I have nothing to say, I got into too much trouble with the authors of “Southern Fried Science,” who bludgeoned me with their “authority.” You can take my novel or leave it, but it’s a true story.

  6. I think I’ll leave it. Dolphin rape doesn’t appeal to me. Even if we assume that this was a mutual expression of devoted love, it seems to me that sometimes, ahem, size does matter and it was probably about as interesting for the dolphin as it is for me when my Chihuahua humps my leg. (Something tells me it’s more likely that you will describe the dolphin collapsing with multiple orgasms.) In any case, many literate child molesters claim to “love” their victims, that children are naturally seductive, and having sex with children is an experience that is altogether on a different plane that ordinary people, burdened and oppressed by society’s dogma, just cannot comprehend. Your brand of ‘open-mindedness’ reeks of such vulgarity. You are either a criminal, one sick mother-fucking d00d, or both. Get help.

  7. Catharine, some facts:
    1) the dolphin weighed 400 lbs, I weighed 150.
    2) the dolphin could swim at 25 mph, I swim maybe 3 mph.
    3) the dolphin could hold its breath for 10 minutes, me maybe 1 tops.
    4) the dolphin initiated sexual contact and maintained it for six months while I tried to discourage it.
    5) Newton’s 3rd Law.
    6) A male dolphin’s penis is about the same size as a male human’s penis, 6″.
    7) I am not a criminal; you are ignorant of Florida law.
    8) I am a victim of child sexual molestation myself. I would not inflict that on anyone.
    Obviously, if the dolphin didn’t want to have sex with me she didn’t have to. She could have seriously injured me or even killed me, had she chosen to. You have reached a conclusion NOT based on science, NOT based on experience, NOT based on evidence, but on your own prejudices and preconceptions, which have been influenced by Biblical teaching and the societal norm.
    That’s fine, just don’t label it SCIENCE, OK?

  8. I really applaud you Malcolm.

    I’ve seen some references to you and your experience in the past, but I never knew about the book.

    I guess I have to read it now!

  9. It’s quite transparently obvious that a human cannot rape a half ton carnivore. And a sapient one at that, with all the higher understanding included…

  10. Sorry for you Malcolm,but the web is full of stupid people,they won’t understand you. Anyway your relationship is quiet unusual… I have heard about your book and I talked about it to some of my friends,they laughed at me.
    Well the society today is not ready, maybe in 100 years when dolphins will become non-human persons by law.

    Gl m8!

  11. I’m looking for a story that was written a long time ago involving a scientist who was raising a 30 day old clone who could talk to dolphins and talked about how they delved deeper into themselves instead of exploring their outer world. But I can’t find the title of it anywhere. Does anyone know?

  12. I wrote a novel about dolphins titled Swimming Nihplods a few years ago. You can read it on amazon. It is about the dolphin’s great swimabout. Check it out if you want a good understanding of their world

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