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So.... Nicky?

Pretty much all books, history, science, civil rights, anime, travel, or, you know, baby animals.

The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells Creepy and wondrous strange, HG Wells gives us another unreliable narrator telling a tale of the fantastic and another story that leads us to question our own decisions and mores even as we enjoy the tale.

More than a century old, this story explores the ethics of "medical enhancement" via a tale of a doctor making animals into humans. In our time, we've moved up to enhancing humans (cochlear implants, replacement limbs and organs), and we still struggle with questions of why and when and what if the person doesn't want it? Or do we, like Dr. Moreau, avoid it:

"To this day I have never troubled about the ethics of the matter," he continued. "The study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature."

Clear narrative structure leads us along an increasingly grisly path. After establishing that the island's visitor, Prendick, is not reliable (what really happened on that lifeboat?), we travel with him as he gets more and more involved in the lives of the men and "beast-men" of the island. Wells's study of biology shows, with details that feel right even now to this science writer. As well as his study of sociology:

A strange persuasion came upon me, that, save for the grossness of the line, the grotesqueness of the forms, I had here before me the whole balance of human life in miniature, the whole interplay of instinct, reason, and fate in its simplest form.

Quite a few characters--Prendick, Moreau, M'ling, the Sayer of the Law, the Dog-Man--will stay in my memory, as will the ways Moreau keeps his troupe in line: fear and The Law (or is it religion?):

The voice in the dark began intoning a mad litany, line by line, and I and the rest to repeat it. As they did so, they swayed from side to side in the oddest way, and beat their hands upon their knees; and I followed their example. I could have imagined I was already dead and in another world. That dark hut, these grotesque dim figures, just flecked here and there by a glimmer of light, and all of them swaying in unison and chanting,

"Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

"Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

"Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

"Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

"Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?"

And so from the prohibition of these acts of folly, on to the prohibition of what I thought then were the maddest, most impossible, and most indecent things one could well imagine. A kind of rhythmic fervour fell on all of us; we gabbled and swayed faster and faster, repeating this amazing Law. Superficially the contagion of these brutes was upon me, but deep down within me the laughter and disgust struggled together. We ran through a long list of prohibitions, and then the chant swung round to a new formula.

"His is the House of Pain.

"His is the Hand that makes.

"His is the Hand that wounds.

"His is the Hand that heals."

And so on for another long series, mostly quite incomprehensible gibberish to me about Him, whoever he might be. I could have fancied it was a dream, but never before have I heard chanting in a dream.

"His is the lightning flash," we sang. "His is the deep, salt sea."

A horrible fancy came into my head that Moreau, after animalising these men, had infected their dwarfed brains with a kind of deification of himself. However, I was too keenly aware of white teeth and strong claws about me to stop my chanting on that account.

"His are the stars in the sky."

I will read this one again, in the sunlight.