EXCERPT: Mechanical Animals by Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander is a chaos-sowing trickster girl of indeterminate employment, half-tornado, half-writer. Originally from the deepest, darkest regions of the southern US, she attended the University of Leicester from 2004 to 2007 studying History and Archaeology and is a graduate of the 2011 Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UCSD. Her work has previously been featured in Lightspeed, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, Reflection’s Edge, and the Prime Books anthology Aliens: Recent Encounters.

The Synthetic Vertebrata Uplink Project

Funded! This project was successfully funded on Jun 29.


pledged of $5,000,000.00

seconds to go

Using state-of-the-art advances in neural uplink technology and biologically-based cybernetic vessel structure, this project will try to place a human consciousness where it has truly never gone before—into the body of an animal.

Project Goal

When I was six, my grandmother led me into the woods and showed me my future.

( . . . Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic. It always helps to have a killer opening hook though, right?)

She was an autodidact of the pine forests, my gran, and she knew more about the wild and wooly critters of our back forty than most wildlife biologists with prestigious four-year degrees. We packed sandwiches (sugar and butter on white bread), cheese (c/o the government), and a thermos of coffee almost as tall as I was (hers). The sun was still in bed with the quilts pulled over her head when we slipped out of the trailer, just like every other right-thinking soul on that foggy January morning. Nothing stirring but cats, and ghost children playing on the rusty swing-set out back.

I remember wondering why she didn’t bring a flashlight, when the woods were so black and foreboding. I also remember that my toes were cold, my nose runny, and my attitude absolute shit. 5 AM is the end of the known world for a six-year old.  Anything between midnight and 7 AM is silence and void; you might as well ask Schrodinger’s Cat how the inside of that box is decorated.

Maybe she navigated by echolocation, or maybe she just had excellent night vision. Whatever her trick was, we did not get lost, wander into a slough, or become people-chow for rabid skunks, although we did smell a couple. Gran knew exactly where she was headed, and she didn’t waver from her path until we got there, through briar and brush and what would become Grade-A Primo Tick-and-Snake Territory come April.

I have a pitch and a point and I am getting to them, I swear. Hang in there just a little further, guys.

For us, “there” turned out to be a post oak with an abandoned deer stand cobbled together in its branches. We scrabbled up, seated ourselves inside the blind, and waited, for what I didn’t know. My gran knew, but she wasn’t telling.

I fidgeted and hummed and shuffled so much it’s a wonder it showed up at all. But it did, eventually, slipping in with the gunmetal light and the twittering of groggy birds. She didn’t say a word, Gran. She just pointed, and I saw what there was to see.

According to most folks both professional and old-timer, panthers had vanished from our part of the world at least a hundred years earlier. Anyone who claimed otherwise was either touched-in-the-head-and-bless-their-hearts, or needed a new lens prescription, pronto. And yet there it was, moving through the mist like the memory of a thing, soundless and velvet-footed in the way that all cats are.

Watching that beautiful hunter pad by—a thing that, by all accounts, shouldn’t have been but was, regardless of what humans believed—I had an epiphany, or the closest thing to an epiphany a six-year old could experience. This silent observation was what I had been made for. To study the private lives of the beasts, interfering as little as possible, watching with my breath fishboned in my throat—it was the only thing worth doing in the whole wide world.

As I said at the start, my fate was decided.

Since that pre-dawn moment almost twenty-five years ago, I’ve come a long way. I worked hard in school, earned a scholarship, attended the University of Florida, and received a degree in Wildlife Biology with a focus on Wildlife Conservation and Management. I got my PhD (only losing 90% of my sanity in the process), wrote a book, traveled the world from pole to pole. It has been a wild and fascinating ride, and if I thanked everyone whose help has gotten me to this stage, you’d either die of old age or boredom. My field is packed with passionate, talented, wonderful individuals.

But I feel like we could be doing more—so much more—and that’s where my pitch comes in.

Recent advancements in both robotics and the field of uploading human consciousnesses into artificial bodies have made it possible to observe wildlife up close and completely undetected in ways unimaginable twenty or thirty years ago. One of the unfortunate truths of wildlife studies is that much of the time you are either watching all the action through a remote camera or interfering in their lives, however subtly. Your very humanness betrays you.

What if you could shed that imperfect human shell, as easily as slipping off a bulky winter coat? What if you could temporarily become an animal, walk among them, run with the legs of a stag or fly with the wings of a crane? How long have people dreamed of such things?

What if I told you it could happen tomorrow?

My knowledge of wildlife behavior and biology is unparalleled. Together with my partner in molecular robotics, Dr. Jay Butcher, we will build an artificial mammalian body, upload my consciousness into it, and study the lives of animals beneath their very snouts. All I am in need of is funding, time, and did I mention the funding? $5,000,000 may seem like a fabulous sum at first glance, but for what we’re attempting to do, it is (as my Gran would say) coffee can money buried under the bois d’arc.



Read the rest in HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! and Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects!