Review: 'Lab Rat', by B. A. Maddux
To jump ahead to the bottom line; Lab Rat is mysterious and full of action, and you will like it if you turn off your brain.
The narrator, Zack, is a lab rat, grown artificially in a vat. The first few pages of this novel are stream-of-consciousness; his first disjointed thoughts. Two beings look into his tank; Father and Golem.
Father was complaining recently about the limitations of Golem’s tactile sensors, which makes no sense at all to me. But I could tell that he was talking about the flat-voiced speaker.
Golem is mostly black and silver in color.
He checks on me regularly for Father, but doesn’t talk to me like Father does. (page 14)
Zack knows that he is a rat:
My fur is white and does not have any glowing symbols, just a pattern of jagged stripes of a very dark blue. [See E. T. Willoughby's cover.]
I’m not sure, but I do not think Golem has a hairless tail like I do either. Golem is definitely not a rat like me. (page 15)
When Zack is decanted, he is told that he has a purpose involving a “hunt” of a dragon. The information programmed into him is more than Father has:
‘Dragons respect a fur more when they are in a suit and tie,’ Father’s cold response came. ‘You look like an unemployed dock worker.’
Golem’s crystalline eyes glowed a soft green just before a life sized hologram of myself appeared before the stone and metal servant. I hid my surprise that the construct had that ability. If I had known, I would have asked it’s [sic.] assistance when getting dressed. The cracked mirror in the bathroom had been a poor means to double check that my attire gave the intended image.
My pink hairless tail swayed behind me as I spread my arms wide to show the full effect of my more casual attire. ‘The intent is to get close enough to a dragon who is out to have a good time, not a business dinner with an employee. So casual is good. The whole business suit to go out for drinks at the bar is not how folks do things these days.’ (pages 21-23)
Zack is sent on his first mission when he is only three days old. He is almost overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells of the world outside his sterile laboratory. This world has other anthropomorphic animals:
Then I heard a strange voice, from off to my right, ‘Good day, sir. Looks like the storms will stay south of us again today.’
I jumped mildly in surprise. I had been staring up and out at the clouds and distant skyscrapers so had completely missed that there was a lynx walking down the sidewalk to where I stood. His voice was deeper than Father while being much smoother than Golem. The feline’s tone seemed almost melodic with a slight roll to his rs, making his accent very distinct from the Eastern Kingdom one I was used to from the lab. (page 31)
Zack’s monologing provides necessary information about his world and society; just ignore that he seems to be conscious that he is talking to 21st-century American readers. Do you go around telling people, “I’m going to drive to work in my car. That’s an internal combustion vehicle powered by gasoline, that travels on streets controlled by traffic lights …”?
He has been out of his tank for only three days, and while his programmed knowledge is more than Father (Dr. Newdent) has in some areas, he also reveals himself to be incredibly naïve to be sent out on an important secret-agent mission. He has been made into a 9-foot tall, muscular rat with white fur with jagged blue stripes, so that his appearance will intrigue the dragons and let him get close to them. Yes, but he will also attract the attention of every casual bystander and police officer who sees him; not a good trait for a secret agent.
He is driven from the secret lab where he is “born” – his first time out of the building into the outside world – to the dragons’ exclusive night club, the Pink Unicorn, by an incredibly talkative minotaur cabby who just happens to give him a lot more information that he needs. Zack’s mission is to drink quietly at the bar and to wander casually to get close to the dragons there to surreptitiously find his target; but when a drunken dragon starts annoying two classy dragon ladies, Zack plays Sir Galahad to rescue them, and gets into a fight that attracts the attention of everyone in the nightclub, including the manager and the owner. Zack is too naïve to realize when a male is hitting on him. And so on.
There are several mentions of Zack’s long, hairless rat’s tail. As those who have any experience with rats know, their tails are not really any more naked than humans are. Humans do not have fur, but the average human male has considerable body hair, and so do rats’ tails.
Lab Rat is an enjoyable funny-animal novel set in the city of Aeonston, with fire-breathing dragons in business suits, a gryphon bartender, a wolf waitress, foxes, kangaroos, rabbits, and others. Zack must figure out what is really going on in the officially-over Dragon-Dire Wolf War, break his conditioning, decide who he truly supports, and convince that side that he is coming to them as a free agent, not a controlled saboteur-killer.
Considering the level of writing, this reads best as an unillustrated funny-animal comic book. Take it as that, and you will have fun.