My reviews of Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology continue with “The Dog Said Bow-Wow,” a story by Nebula Award-winning author Michael Swanwick that was originally published in the The Dog Said Bow-Wow short story collection in 2001.
In a future point in time, following a war between humanity and artificial intelligence, a pair of con men attempt to pull off a major swindle in Neo-Victorian England. One thief is an uplifted dog named Surplus and the other is his human companion, Darger. Together through a blend of wit and whimsy, they trigger a major coup in Buckingham Labyrinth through the use of an antiquated modem and the seduction of a royal lady.
The human character in this story is a fellow named Darger and all you need to know is he’s a con man. His partner is an enhanced, bipedal dog named Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux, or “Surplus” for short. He walks, dresses, and speaks English like a perfect gentleman, though in more emotionally heated moments, his canine nature sometimes gets the better of him. If not for the fact that he’s a dog, Surplus’s interactions with Darger make it seem like they’re just another pair of human rogues.
This story is an oddity genre-wise. It’s an authentic example of cyberpunk being played for comedy rather than for action or drama. It has all the elements of cyberpunk that made Neuromancer great–a criminal group breaks into a wealthy family’s sanctuary and gets involved with an evil AI–but in this case, there’s more wacky mishaps and poking fun at Victorian social etiquette. The characters go through as much chaos and setbacks as Gibson’s antiheroes, but Swanwick’s duo gets through it all with a shrug and an eye on the next job.
As a cyberpunk story, this tale isn’t obvious about it. It’s more like cyberpunk in an Oscar Wilde suit, though there’s an argument to be made that Wilde did as much in poking fun at the social and literary conventions of his time as Gibson and Co. have done with their modern genre.
Bibliography: Swanwick, Michael. “The Dog Said Bow-Wow.” Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. Ed. James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2007.