This is another winner by the engrossing Sheri Tepper. As with her other books it is very different from each other she has written, and different from mainstream SF. In this one, about 700 years from now, the Earth has been stripped of most vegetation and animals, and people live in 100 sq mile “urbs”, consisted of ten tower blocks each way. There are people who live down near the bottom of these 200 story towers, and those who live at the top, in penthouses that were in trust for their families use. The rest are occupied by the number of people who need the space and no more. They are connected by a series of tubes that go up the buildings and down and sideways, and over to the next. Pets are not allowed, and are kept either in the penthouses, or on exempt 40 acre estates that have been turned into preservationist lands. There is a movement to ban all animal life on earth as it is taking up too much air, water and food, and so a band of humans, who appreciate the love of companion animals, have gotten together, loosely spread apart, and in secrecy, established breeding programs, buying up small, unwanted planets, seeding them with vegetation if needed, terraforming, or for animals like dogs, small prey, so that eventually all the animals can be released onto these planets. But the announcement of imminent extermination sends the arkists into a flurry and they take off for the planets, ready to begin new lives with their animals.
Jewel Delis works with dogs, having discovered a group that has been breeding a group of dogs to be bigger, faster, and stronger and healthier than their forebears, more like the dogs of old. Her brother Paul, a self-absorbed, childish but brilliant linguist, takes her on his trips to other worlds to study language and she uses her time to look at alien cultures, and try to learn. Eventually she chooses to accompany him on a voyage to Moss, one of three allied planets. She brings the dogs with her, as well as their trainers, since the edict has gone out and they must be moved. When they arrive at the planet, it seems as if there are no animals, birds, and no “intelligent: life, although that is still being disputed by scientists sent there to discover if there was, since different rules would govern the outcome.
What follows is a marvelous, heart-tugging look at what animals mean to humans, the bonds they face; what constitutes intelligent life; and what it means to understand the world you live in. Filled with aliens both good and bad, wars, and some marvelous new life forms, it is a joy to read. Read once before in 2007.