Audiobook Review: Voyage of the Dogs by Greg Van Eekhout
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Middle Grade
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: HarperAudio (September 4, 2018)
Length: 4 hrs and 19 mins
Middle Grade fiction isn’t an age category I typically go for, but I’m a big fan of Greg Van Eekhout and when I saw the premise of Voyage of the Dogs I just couldn’t resist. This book was just too darn cute!
Billed as The Incredible Journey set in space, the story follows a team of four scrappy and adorable canine Barkonauts as they travel aboard the colonization ship Laika as companions and specially trained helpers to the human crew. Thanks to technological advancements, the vocalizations and behaviors of dogs can be translated into human language, allowing communication between the two species. As a result, dogs can also be taught to do so much more. Our protagonist is a terrier mix named Lopside, who fought hard against the odds to make it into the Barkonauts program despite his small size. His team also consists of Daisy, the Great Dane puppy who is already as strong as an ox; Bug, the Corgi genius who helps in Engineering; and Champion, the captain’s loyal Golden Retriever who also serves as leader of the Barkonauts. The four of them are especially close to Roro, their human handler who recruited and trained them for their mission in space. Their destination is Stepping Stone, a planet far outside of our solar system where the Laika hopes to establish a colony by first seeding it with agricultural crops and livestock.
The book begins with the crew preparing to go into hibernation for the long journey. Lopside is nervous about going into cryosleep, but is comforted by Roro who tells him all will be well. But when the dogs wake up, they find that everything has gone wrong. The Laika is severely damaged, the ship empty save for the four of them. Food, water, and supplies are also low, yet they are still a long way off from reaching Stepping Stone. Any way you look at it, the situation seems hopeless, and indeed, command back home has already given up on them, declaring the mission a total loss. Still, Lopside is unwilling to accept defeat. Alone with just their wits, he and his fellow Barkonauts must work together to survive and find out what happened to the human crew. That’s because they are good dogs, and good dogs always complete their mission.
I have to say, despite initial reservations that this book would be too childish, I actually ended up enjoying it a lot. Yes, it is cutesy and has talking dogs, but I was also impressed with the story and many of its deeper and more poignant themes. Obviously, at the heart of it is the idea of Man’s Best Friend and the enduring relationship between humans and dogs. It’s a bond that has been around since the beginning of time, making me wonder why it isn’t featured more prominently in space colonization sci-fi. Dogs are our comfort and joy, our helpers and our family—of course people would want their canine companions along with them for their journey to a new life on a new world.
The story also acknowledges how humans and dogs have evolved together, a process which has shaped society and culture, so it was interesting to see that idea expanded to technology as well. Still, while the dogs here may be ultra-intelligent and highly anthropomorphized, I was glad to see them retain many of their doggie traits. Lopside does rocket science, but still dreams of chasing rats. The Barkonauts communicate verbally with each other, but still nothing beats a good butt sniff. These and many more examples are what gives this book its charm and humor, which I’m sure any dog lover will be able to appreciate.
Voyage of the Dogs was overall a feel-good read, with appeal to wide audiences while staying age-appropriate in the 8-12 range. A couple topics with the potential to be mildly upsetting to sensitive readers include Lopside’s backstory, which heavily implies he was abandoned by his previous owners. Fortunately, he is eventually rescued by Roro, who nominates him for Barkonauts training after witnessing his unfailing optimism and perseverance. Then there is the true story of Laika, the dog who was launched by the Soviets on a one-way trip to space aboard Sputnik 2 in the late 50s. While the book avoids going into all the sad details, the story is referenced at a crucial turning point for our dog characters to gain a new perspective. When all is said and done though, we do get a happy ending, along with what I thought was a beautiful tribute to Laika.
All in all, Voyage of the Dogs was a tail-wagging good time, one that I would not hesitate to recommend to readers of all ages, especially those who love dogs. I don’t often find myself taken with a lot of children’s books, but this is definitely one to bark about.
Audiobook Comments: If you have children in the targeted age range, this audiobook would be a good one to listen with them. Patrick Lawlor provides a good voice for Lopside, and when the dogs started doing Morse code, I almost got a cramp from laughing so hard at the “bark-bark-woofs!” A very entertaining listen overall.