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Suggestions for stories featuring nonhuman main characters?
September 22, 2010 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Anyone know good examples of stories with nonhuman points of view? Bonus points for having no human characters at all.

I'm currently looking for strong examples of fiction told from the point of view of a nonhuman. Animal main characters, mythical beasts, aliens, etc. Anything nonhuman works, and I want to steer away from stories that are primarily about the creature's relationship with humans. I'm hungry for foreign perspectives without a lot of comparisons.

Examples I've enjoyed so far:
A Whisper of Wings by Paul Kidd
Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel
Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams
Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker

There's a lot to be found aimed at kids (that's how I found Silverwing), but I'd like to avoid children's stories. The reading understandably tends to be too light there. Still, if the point of view is well done, I'll give it a shot.

No need to keep it books. Short stories, poems, and any other written medium would be awesome. Thanks!
posted by vienaragis to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I went through a phase of reading lots of these. My favorite:

White Fang by Jack London. Lots and lots of wolf in the forest, with some human interaction mixed in.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:01 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


"After I Was Thrown In the River and Before I Drowned" - Dave Eggers.
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:02 AM on September 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Watership Down.
posted by ericb at 11:03 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Robert Sheckley's "Specialist" is a good one. Try to get a copy before reading the full wikipedia entry that I linked to, which contains spoilers.
posted by googly at 11:03 AM on September 22, 2010


Victor Pelevin has a short story (translated in The Yellow Arrow, I think) called "The Life and Adventures of Shed Number XII," which is a kind of Buddhist Bildungsroman about, well, a shed.
posted by nasreddin at 11:03 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bambi, A Life in the Woods.

Are anthropomorphic animals also out? If not, there's the whole Redwall series.

Watership Down and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH may be too close to the line. And, heh, Animal Farm, but that doesn't really adhere to the spirit of your question at all.
posted by jedicus at 11:03 AM on September 22, 2010


Johnathon Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach
posted by matty at 11:04 AM on September 22, 2010


Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
posted by ericb at 11:04 AM on September 22, 2010


Skepticism, Inc. is told from the point of view of an artificially intelligent shopping cart. And it's a great book in the humanist tradition.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:05 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Trailhead, E.O. Wilson
posted by availablelight at 11:05 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy is told from the point of view of African elephants.
posted by barney_sap at 11:11 AM on September 22, 2010


More seriously, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions.
posted by mazola at 11:13 AM on September 22, 2010


"Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death" by Alice Sheldon / James Tiptree Jr.

"Detritus Affected" by David Brin, maybe, albeit it in a way that's somewhat orthogonal to your apparent intent. (See my AskMetaFilter question about it from way back.) Also one of my favorite SF novels, Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker, also orthogonal to your possible intent.

Neal Stephenson's Anathem.

The second third of Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves.

Larry Niven's Mote series.

Edwin Abbott's Flatland.

Lots of SF and fantasy stuff to choose from, really, if those genres appeal to you, especially if "humanoid alien" isn't too close to "human" for your tastes.
posted by gerryblog at 11:16 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Cat Who Walked A Thousand Miles by Kij Johnson
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:21 AM on September 22, 2010


I was coming in to suggest Watership Down and the James Tiptree, Jr. story, but ericb and gerryblog respectively beat me to it, respectively, so I'll add Ursula K. Le Guin's Catwings series (sweet juvenile – but not children's – science fiction/fantasy about winged cats) and The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams (a not at all sweet novel told from the perspective of two dogs that have escaped from an animal research laboratory in rural England).
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:21 AM on September 22, 2010


Wow, you guys are fast.

@mazola: Haha, I guess I did ask for foreign perspectives.

Anthropomorphics definitely work for me. So would inanimate objects (and thus possibly robots) which I didn't even originally think of. Humanoid aliens also fit the bill, though I do warn I'm biased against most variations of elves. Awesome suggestions so far! Lots of good stuff to look into.
posted by vienaragis at 11:23 AM on September 22, 2010


George Orwell's Animal Farm comes to mind.
posted by Sculthorpe at 11:24 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Vampires? The Anne Rice books--Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned..there's a ton of them.
posted by AuntieRuth at 11:25 AM on September 22, 2010


Oh, Kafka's Metamorphosis might fit the bill.
posted by jedicus at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2010


The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E.T.A. Hoffmann
posted by moxiequz at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2010


Thang
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:34 AM on September 22, 2010


Code of the Lifemaker by James P. Hogan.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:35 AM on September 22, 2010


The Fox and the Hound was originally a novel, though it has more human involvement than the animated version. Unlike the animated movie, it is intensely depressing.
posted by jedicus at 11:40 AM on September 22, 2010


I would also have recommended Jonathan Livingston Seagull
posted by Biru at 11:40 AM on September 22, 2010


A comic book: We3
Seriously a masterpiece of taking on a totally alien perspective.
posted by cmoj at 11:42 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


The Jungle Book stories.
posted by jedicus at 11:43 AM on September 22, 2010


Fantastic Mr. Fox? It has human characters, but the POV is the foxes'.
posted by misterbrandt at 11:46 AM on September 22, 2010


A Canadian woman wrote the first best seller of this genre in 1873; it's interesting although much about the dog's view of life with humans, Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders.
posted by Anitanola at 11:51 AM on September 22, 2010


Seconding Redwall.
posted by andoatnp at 11:52 AM on September 22, 2010


Gaspode, a dog, is one of the main characters in some of the Discworld books.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:52 AM on September 22, 2010


I recommend Martin Hocke's The Ancient Solitary Reign and The Lost Domain. They're not written for kids, they're written from the perspective of owls, and there's not much mention of humans if I recall correctly.

I can't help but recommend the following book too, although it IS a children's book - The Wainscott Weasel by Tor Seidler. Very charming, and while the story's setup will feel like a familiar trope, it took a completely different turn than what I was expecting/what I'm used to reading in books for children of that age. I'm also a fan of Tor Seidler's first book, A Rat's Tale. Another charming children's book that I'd still recommend, although it does deal with animal-human interaction for a big part of the plot.
posted by Squee at 11:54 AM on September 22, 2010


E. E. Knight's Age of Fire series is all written from the POV of dragons. The first three follow three hatchlings as their courses diverge in life. I really enjoyed how he captured the alienness of their consciousness.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:57 AM on September 22, 2010


Oh yeah, the graphic novel The Pride of Baghdad also fits the bill!
posted by Squee at 12:03 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Since you opened the door to robots, I have to recommend John Sladek's Roderick books, about a robot who desperately wants to be human even if that turns out not to be all it's cracked up to be.
posted by JaredSeth at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2010


This is a section in the rec.arts.sf.written FAQ (remember Usenet?):
Suggestions so far include:
Robert Asprin's BUG WARS
John Brunner's CRUCIBLE OF TIME
Mary Caraker's WATERSONG
Arthur C. Clarke's "Second Dawn"
Samuel R. Delany's EINSTEIN INTERSECTION
Diane E. Gallagher's ALIEN DARK (mostly)
Raymond F. Jones & Lester del Rey's WEEPING MAY TARRY
Ross Rocklynne's SUN DESTROYERS
H. Beam Piper's FIRST CYCLE
Robert J. Sawyer's "Quintaglio" Trilogy: FAR-SEER, FOSSIL HUNTER,
and FOREIGNER
Robert Silverberg's AT WINTER'S END and THE NEW SPRINGTIME
Olaf Stapledon's STAR MAKER and NEBULA MAKER
James Tiptree's "Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death
Sorry, some repeats there. I loved "The Crucible of Time" as a kid.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I hesitate to suggest these since they are probably crap no matter how much I enjoyed them as a teen, but Jack L. Chalker's Well World series (that's the first book in the link) concerns itself with humans who are transformed into other kinds of creatures (which seems to be a bit of a fixation with Mr. Chalker).
posted by JaredSeth at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2010


Well, would you consider William Golding's The Inheritors? The main characters are Neanderthals.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:45 PM on September 22, 2010


I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki. Early 20th C Japanese comedy of manners narrated by the house cat.
posted by clerestory at 12:56 PM on September 22, 2010


The grandfather of all stories with non-human characters is Needle by Hal Clement. I read it years ago and it's stuck in my mind ever since. The non-human characters are totally non-human, but they think and talk with modern human minds and vocabularies. Still, it's something you should start with.

Asimov's Let There Be Light is another great one, this time with a conscious computer.
posted by KRS at 1:04 PM on September 22, 2010


Oops. The Asimov story title is The Last Question. The link is good.
posted by KRS at 1:05 PM on September 22, 2010


There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury
posted by samsara at 1:33 PM on September 22, 2010


Beem, by Gavriil Troyepolsky (dog narrator)
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, by Steven Sherrill
posted by booth at 1:35 PM on September 22, 2010


Amberville - a detective story where all the characters are stuffed animals

The following all have human characters, but an animal as the main character:

A Dog About Town is a detective story told by a dog's point of view.

Traveller, A story told from the perspective of Robert E. Lee's horse.

The Art of Racing in the Rain, a story of a family told by a dog
posted by parakeetdog at 1:55 PM on September 22, 2010


The Uplift series by David Brin.
You can jump in at either 'Startide Rising' (includes intelligent Dolphins as main point-of-view characters), or my recomendation, 'The Uplift War' (rotates between intelligent Chimpanzee, several alien species & human points of view). It's neat how the 'cultural' differences between each species are used to such good effect - family structures, arts, philosophy, etc.

For an odd little short story from Ursula Le Guin, see The Author of the Acacia Seeds.

Going a bit further than your original mandate, for an alien perspective, Octavia Butlers Xenogenesis series is great. Mostly from a human point of view, but the struggle of the humans to understand a genuinely alien point of view makes it interesting.
posted by Elysum at 3:50 PM on September 22, 2010


Nthing "Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death" - there's actually a Tiptree thread open here if you're interested.
posted by Artw at 4:05 PM on September 22, 2010


Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky.
posted by anansi at 4:08 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was absolutely enthralled by the Redwall books as a kid. I also loved the Whalesong trilogy.
posted by hegemone at 4:45 PM on September 22, 2010


Jennie, by Paul Gallico. I read it as a child, so don't remember the details very clearly. It's possible it's too much about cats' relationships with humans for your liking.
posted by lollusc at 5:45 PM on September 22, 2010


The cat from outer space
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:17 PM on September 22, 2010


Does 'stories' mean only books, I would argue that it doesn't?

Alf
Mork and Mindy
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:19 PM on September 22, 2010


I can't believe no one's mentioned Kafka's "A Report to an Academy" yet. It's the first thing I thought of, and it is fricking amazing. As adult as a story told by an ape could possibly be, I think.
posted by felix grundy at 8:02 PM on September 22, 2010


How about 'Abel's Island' by Wm Steig, the 'Catwings' series by Ursula K Le Guin, and 'The Cricket in Times Square' series by George Sheldon. All great read-out-loud to your kids books. And I second (third? forth?) Watership Down - excellent book.
posted by jsslz at 12:21 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Akif Pirinçci's Felidae (English subtitle: a novel of cats and murder) is a detective story where the main characters are cats. Humans are involved, but are not central characters - the cats refer to them as 'tin openers.'

Slightly more tenuously, My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk has a chapter written from the perspective of a coin. However, the book is entirely about humans.
posted by smcg at 5:24 AM on September 23, 2010


Alan Dean Foster's "Nor Crystal Tears" is told from the viewpoint of an insectoid race of aliens. Opening sentence: "It's hard to be a larva."
posted by Chrysostom at 6:32 AM on September 23, 2010


I came in to recommend The Author of the Acacia Seeds, so, seconding Elysum.
posted by kristi at 10:11 PM on September 23, 2010


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