Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout children's science fiction book reviewsVoyage of the Dogs by Greg van EekhoutVoyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout

Voyage of the Dogs (2018) by Greg van Eekhout is a middle-grade science fiction book. Young readers will certainly enjoy this action-packed book with dog main characters. Adult dog lovers can enjoy it too.

Lopside is part of a team of “Barkonauts,” specially trained uplifted dogs who are part of the first interstellar space voyage. The Laika is aimed at a planet nicknamed Stepping Stone. Along with the human crew, embryos of cattle and sheep, and fertilized chicken eggs, four dogs comprise the manifest of the ship. As he fulfills his other duties, Lopside searches the starship every day for rats, because he is part terrier. He never finds any, but he is diligent. Lopside feels a little uncomfortable among the other three dogs, all of whom are purebreds. Bug is a corgi, who works in engineering; Champion is a golden retriever who stays close to the human command staff and is the pack leader; Daisy is a half-grown Great Dane.

With animal stories, some people want to know in advance if there are any sad outcomes for which they should prepare young readers, or themselves. If that’s a concern for you, highlight here to read: None of the four dogs dies in the book. Champion tells the Barkonauts a story about a dog who dies, but it doesn’t happen on the page.

While the dogs and human crew are in cryo-sleep, something goes wrong and the ship is damaged. The humans evacuate in the life-pod but they leave the dogs behind. When the dogs awaken on schedule, they are stranded on a ship with limited resources, and they soon discover there is no help coming from Earth.

The story nicely plants the information about how dogs have been “uplifted,” and how the humans use translators to decipher the combination of sounds and nonverbals dogs use to communicate (except butt-sniffing, which the dogs only do with each other). This becomes an important plot point toward the end of Voyage of the Dogs. Throughout the story, as the damaged ship deteriorates and the Barkonauts must face crisis after crisis, the dogs exhibit doglike behavior. It’s accurate, it’s tender and often it’s funny.

The plot is linear and straightforward, as it should be for the age group, but van Eekhout does not condescend to his readers. He doesn’t gloss over his made-up space travel engine but instead uses physics language to create an interest in that science, and he doesn’t veer away from the genuine emotional conflicts. Human and dogs, dogs and humans, they’ve always been together, the Barkonauts think, but the humans had no trouble abandoning them. Near the end of the book, when the dogs have to make a pivotal decision, Champion shares the story of Laika the Russian space-dog that the ship is named for. Even Roro, the human the pack was most attached to, seems to have left them behind without a thought. Lopside’s backstory is one of neglect and abandonment. Voyage of the Dogs is emotionally honest and packed with problem-solving, action, risk, humor and tenderness.

Morse code is virtually dead now, but van Eekhout revives it here. I’m hoping some of the young people who read this develop an interest in the code and its history. Within the story it is a clever plot device that is used twice, very well both times.

It’s a kids’ book; you do have to suspend disbelief. There’s no point in wondering, for instance, why the consoles are conveniently equipped with dog-paw-sized buttons, so that the dogs can manipulate them. I did wonder how the story explained Daisy’s presence among the team, because she is only half-grown. It’s not that the story doesn’t have a purpose for her, it’s that the project had its choice of dogs and seemingly would not have chosen a puppy when it had seasoned adult canines. But that’s being picky, and Daisy plays an important role in the story.

As a bonus, the hardcover version of Voyage of the Dogs features heartwarming cover art by Mark Frederickson. You should get this book for any animal-loving 8-13 year old readers in your family or social circle. Then you should read it yourself. If anyone asks, just say you’re “vetting” it. Except dog-lovers won’t ask, they’ll just see the title and the cover and nod knowingly.

Published September 4, 2018. This edge-of-your-seat action-packed story is Homeward Bound—set in space! SOS. Ship damaged. Human crew missing. We are the dogs. We are alone. Lopside is a Barkonaut—a specially trained dog who assists human astronauts on missions in space. He and the crew aboard the spaceship Laika are en route to set up an outpost on a distant planet. When the mission takes a disastrous turn, the Barkonauts on board suddenly find themselves completely alone on their severely damaged ship. Survival seems impossible. But these dogs are Barkonauts—and Barkonauts always complete their mission.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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