a good dog

This is Laika. I’m deep in the middle of a novel about Laika, and this week is the 57th anniversary of her journey into space. So it seems wrong to let this pass without some kind of commemoration.

Laika was chosen for the Sputnik mission because she was a good dog. Of all the stray dogs that were brought in off the streets of Moscow, it was Laika who was the most biddable. She was “sweet and charming,” they said. Trusting. She did what she was told without complaint.

Shortly before the November 3rd rocket launch, one of the scientists took Laika home for a night. She played with his children, slept in their bed. She must have thought she had found a home, that she had been taken into a family. Then they took her away. They put her, terrified, inside a tiny metal box, and launched her into space, where she died from overheating hours into the flight. A more cruel and pointless death is hard to imagine.

Sending a dog into space was Kruschev’s whim. It was a gimmick, not useful science.

The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We didn’t learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog (Oleg Gazenko, 1998).

And all Laika wanted was to be good.

If you really want to have your heart broken by Laika, I can thoroughly recommend Laika, by Nick Abadzis. My novel-in-progress takes a more tangential (not to say abstract) look at Laika’s life and death.



rummaging around

The trouble with research is that EVERYTHING IS INTERESTING. I mean, everything is really interesting. I start off looking for stuff about sisters, and end up reading a mother’s account of how her son went crazy smoking too much weed. Or I try to find out about religious music, and end up reading about anchorites and tithes. (Actually, this latter is an abiding interest of mine, and there’s always a temptation to delve deeper.) I research strokes, and find out about painting. It’s a demonstration of how all knowledge is dependent upon all other knowledge. It’s fractal-shaped: you can start anywhere and travel a million miles along fronds and petals that replicate and spawn their own fronds and petals to investigate. (Fractals: I am also obsessed with fractals.)

I would like some kind of brain implant that allows me to upload the contents of books directly into my knowledge centres. Maybe this will be the next Kindle upgrade. It would certainly make everything quicker. Time is of the essence, because my schedule demands that I finish the first draft of this novel within the next few months. I can understand, though, why so many writers get stuck at this stage. There is no natural end point to researching a novel. You can just keep going. All you need is a library card and an open mind.

In the meantime, let me share a little gem from my current researches. This is from a book called ‘Shadows as Bright as Glass’ by Amy Ellis Nutt, which tells the story of Jon Sarkin’s massive, life-transforming stroke. She describes how in the 1930s a surgeon called Abse was rummaging around in someone’s brain, looking for a tumour, squeezing bits of brain tissue and prodding stuff (this is how those old-time surgeons rolled) when the patient, who was nearing death, suddenly became alert and called out: “You sod, leave my soul alone. Leave… my… soul… alone.”

Pretty freaky stuff.