Why did I write a science fiction book about talking rabbits?
a) Because absurdism lifts the blinkers of convention, allowing beams of consciousness to fall across a freshly opened mindscape and illuminate a new awareness.
b) I have house rabbits.
The correct answer is, b) I have house rabbits.
That sounds a little like, ‘I have termites’; and it is an infestation of sorts: of happy frolicking and soap-opera-level social complexity, copious fluff, and the odd stray poop and wisp of hay – all happening below knee-height throughout most of my living area. As in the dating world, a GSOH (Good Sense Of Humour) is a prerequisite for sharing your house with rabbits; you can’t afford to sweat the small stuff; no surprise, then, that the ‘talking rabbit book’ is a comedy.
You see, in my experience, rabbits do talk. They have a body language of their own, different to the cats and dogs with whom we usually share our homes, because they are prey animals. They are difficult to read if you don’t watch closely since they shut down when stressed or ill, they hide their pain, and make few noises. But, they are also hard-wired for communal living, which means that within a tiny brain preoccupied with surviving the unenviable reality that everything wants to eat them, they have a surprisingly large amount of personality.
Yes, rabbits have personality.
Before you start edging away or rolling your eyes, know that scientists are even studying the personalities of blue-tits, so this is not projection, or imagination. It is, however, endlessly fascinating. Especially when you’ve learned enough basic-level Rabbit to open channels of communication with the lagomorph in your life and discover that they have a sense of humour. It’s peculiarly rabbity, but recognisable by human terms, usually in the form of a ‘joke’ which involves cheeking or tricking you (and then running away fast).
open channels of communication with the lagomorph in your life and discover that they have a sense of humour
Rabbits are seriously misunderstood little creatures, but many people, including Big Names from Beatrix Potter to Clint Eastwood, fall for their charms when they share their lives with them on a friendship footing. Often, rabbits don’t get the opportunity to relax and be themselves, and the consequences of this range from sad to tragic. Mostly, they sit out back, forgotten, because the kids get bored of them. Who wouldn’t? It’s no fun to watch a moribund, clinically depressed animal in a cage.
The present rabbit couple I live with are adopted rehabilitation cases with unhappy origin stories. One was terrified of both humans and fellow rabbits, while the other was highly aggressive to humans and fellow rabbits (she also bit a chicken, which, given the circumstances and relative size of said chicken, was forgiveable and frankly impressive). They made glacial progress, even their fear of each other took six months to dissipate. I, however, and my significant other, continued to be, ‘those horrible humans – keep away from them.’
And here’s the interesting part. In order to enjoy hosting rabbits you have to give them their space and allow them to choose to like you. You can’t be needy, or pushy, or expect instant friendship as with dogs. It’s all about mutual respect with The Bunnies, which I love. They are small, not terribly brainy, but very honourable. They are enviably independent of spirit, and generally very forgiving of how rude humans unwittingly are. Having had excellent trust and communication with many other rabbit buddies, it was actually very difficult to live with two rabbits whose standoffishness and suspicion persisted.
In essence, they did not wish to speak to us.
So we started to put words into their mouths:
The scared male, Mr. Charles Barnaby Wigglesworth – don’t judge, he was hard to name – found everything human “weird”, he dubbed us, “Pooh-rustlers” and became the inspiration for the character of Pook in the book. Meanwhile, the fear-aggressive, feisty female, Molly, had a constant, hopeful tag-line of, “Did someone say, ‘carrot’?”. The story I wrote gave her a Sliding Doors moment, she got to nullify her early trauma, and become the highly confident yet still food-motivated character, Herman.
Mr. Charles Barnaby Wigglesworth…found everything human “weird”, he dubbed us, “Pooh-rustlers” and became the inspiration for the character of Pook in the book
Thus it was that Talking Rabbits entered the brainstorming session that I had with my best beloved, choosing an idea for my annual ‘improv’ writing project for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Much as comedians do improvisational theatre to keep their wits sharp and hone skillsets, I do 50,000 words in four weeks on the fly – no prep allowed. The trick is finding a story with legs; the talking rabbit idea had four, so I ran with it.
I asked the question, “How did the bunnies come to speak?”
“Aliens did it,” said my brain. Because that’s the kind of thing my brain says…
This then explains why the book is set in sci-fi land. Speaking as a British person exposed to Hollywood from birth, chips on shoulders develop over the subject of alien invasions. I mean, when are aliens ever seen descending onto British turf? Why are they always landing in America? Okay, the same applies to the European continent and the antipodes where they could easily set an English language blockbuster; but I’m British, and about all I remember seeing is Big Ben being blown up, very much as an afterthought. What can I say? I have issues.
The stage was set: talking bunnies, aliens landing in the UK, and lampooning Hollywood clichés… Who wouldn’t want to write that? Plus, the story was following an honourable British tradition of science fiction that doesn’t take itself too seriously. A few of my favourites are: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, the Red Dwarf television series, and even the glinty-eyed eccentricity and self-deprecating humour of the foundational Dr Who series (TV which more than slightly compensates for the lack of Brit-landings by aliens in the movies).
Thus, Invasion of the Vox Lagomorpha was conceived. Actually, while in the creative womb it was called, ‘Invasion of the Killer Bunnies’, and a few other not-quite-hitting-the-nail-on-the-head working titles. Although I had entertained myself imagining spoofing those early black and white sci-fi movies (where women with impossibly small waists pointed and screamed rather then getting the hell out of the way), there was one problem with the killer rabbits concept.
The thing is…rabbits are are natural prey animals and rarely vindictive, so becoming rampant killers without massive morphological and behavioural changes just wouldn’t work. Now, bunny on bunny violence, in competition for sexual or spatial conquest, is natural in unspayed and unneutered rabbits. And slightly psychotic behaviour from highly distressed, frustrated, or ill-treated individuals is not uncommon. But, generally, well-balanced bunnies just get on with life and treat everything that doesn’t eat them, or need eating by them, an irrelevance once sniffed at, and they have a tendency to mind their own business in a happy-go-lucky rabbit way. So, I had to be true to native bunniosity while still shaking-up the human world… Thus, ‘Invasion of the killer bunnies’ became ‘Invasion of the Vox Lagomorpha’ instead. Giving me aliens who would scare the bejeezus out of humans, and require rabbits to bear witness in a trial of humanity.
The fantastic juxtaposition of powerful aliens and predator-wary rabbits made for an alluring alliance. And, what would be the likely result of mass rabbit locution if human lives depended on their opinions? Especially since the plight of most pet rabbits is dire – the most abused and neglected pet, according to the UK animal charity, the RSPCA.
What would they say? What would we do? My prediction was human panic. Oh, how could I not include politicians then?
And, as the story was underway, imagine my delight when I discovered that the the U.S. of A.’s Vice President of the time had a poster-bunny at home, with it’s own social media accounts:
Marlon Bundo, AKA #BOTUS (Bunny of the United States).
Whitehouse involved = stage not just set, but irresistibly lit.
imagine my delight when I discovered that the the U.S. of A.’s Vice President of the time had a poster-bunny at home, with it’s own social media accounts
Although an Earthbound satirical comedy, Invasion of the Vox Lagomorpha has legitimate science fiction cred due to the aforementioned extraterrestrials and the speculative narrative. It deals with the one scenario of First Contact with off-world intelligence that hasn’t, to my knowledge, yet made it to the big screen. But…no spoilers. In a nod to the spring setting of the novel I had fun packing it with Easter eggs in the form of hidden and not so hidden sci-fi references – even if you only qualify for semi-nerdom, like me, you will find reverential nods to classic pop-culture science fiction.
Count them if you can…
If you are nowhere near able to pass as a nerd or a geek, then you will simply read a light-hearted story of Earthlings doing their best under duress, and witness rabbits who can talk. Hopefully it will raise awareness that rabbits are people too (well, you know what I mean). This is something that Rabbit People spend a lot of their lives doing, with a special focus on International Rabbit Day, every year in September.
…rabbits are people too
The forgotten back garden bunnies – and there will be one near you – who are very probably seriously depressed, ill, frustrated, or psychologically affected by their ridiculously tiny prison cell, solitary confinement, sensory deprivation and constant human misunderstandings, need your help. If you are a designated Rabbit Protector, for your own sake and theirs, enrich your rabbit’s life: attempt the language of lagomorphs, give them safe, predator-and-electric-cable-free space with cardboard boxes to remodel and hayboxes to chill in; then take them to rabbit shelters who offer bunny-dating to find a neutered companion, and reap the uplifting reward of watching them celebrate.
There are few purer experiences on this earth than witnessing a rabbit dancing for joy.
I hope Invasion of the Vox Lagomorpha will raise a smile in the down-of-heart, make star-gazers ponder, and help us all improve the lot of the rabbits sharing our lives.
Live long and prosper.
Links to more info….
House Rabbit Society: rabbit.org
Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund: rabbitwelfare.co.uk
The Language of Lagamorphs: language.rabbitspeak.com
International List of Rabbit Organisations: rabbit.org/international-resources