Doctor Ratby William Kotzwinkle
Winner of the World Fantasy Award"DOCTOR RAT is dazzlingly original, witty and insanely satiric. It is also occasionally quite beautiful. Kotzwinkle's tale is a dizzying montage...from scenes of gross black humor in the experimental lab to idyllic glimpses of the animal kingdom. Designed to shock us into ecological awareness, Kotzwinkle's
Winner of the World Fantasy Award"DOCTOR RAT is dazzlingly original, witty and insanely satiric. It is also occasionally quite beautiful. Kotzwinkle's tale is a dizzying montage...from scenes of gross black humor in the experimental lab to idyllic glimpses of the animal kingdom. Designed to shock us into ecological awareness, Kotzwinkle's lab experiments are hair-raising."--Los Angeles TimesA bloodcurdling novel in the spirit of ANIMAL FARM and 1984, DOCTOR RAT is a trip through a laboratory worthy of a Nazi mad doctor, except this doctor is a wisecracking rodent who could have been played by Groucho Marx. The London Times called DOCTOR RAT, "a splendidly nutty animal Magnificat with echoes of William Blake.""Mr. Kotzwinkle is a first-rate fabulist."--The New York Times
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Read an Excerpt
By William Kotzwinkle
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 William Kotzwinkle
All rights reserved.
In the colony I'm known as Doctor Rat. Having been part of this laboratory so long and having studied so carefully, it's only right I be given some mark of distinction other than the tattoo on the inside of my ear, a mark that all the other rats have too. Some of them have tattoos and V-shaped wedges cut out of their ears. Some even have three or four wedges cut out of their ears, but that doesn't mean they are as learned as I. It simply means they have had the liver removed (one wedge), the liver and pituitary gland removed (two wedges), liver, pituitary and pineal glands removed (three wedges), and so forth. After they remove your heart, no more wedges are needed, ha ha!
Then they just bottle your bones, bottle your bones.
But I've come to enjoy the smell of formaline—a 5% solution is satisfactory for removing all the soft parts of a rat's body. Yes, the smell is pleasing to my nose because I know the bones aren't mine.
From my platform here in the maze, I can watch the whole procedure—a dead rat is now being dunked in the formaline. Soon all the soft parts of his body will fall away. Then a simple solution of sodium carbonate, bleaching powder, and water is sufficient to take off the rest of any muscles or fat left hanging. The expense is not great. To the rat involved, of course, the expense is complete, but what does he care, he's free!
Death is freedom, that's my slogan. I do what I can for my fellow rats, giving them the best advice. For after all is said and done, the Final Solution (5% formaline) is death, and death is freedom.
My own case is not unusual. I was driven mad in the mazes. The primary symptoms of shivering, whirling, and biting have all passed now, but I've been left with the curiously mad practice of writing songs and poetry. Obviously this is somewhat out of place in a scientific atmosphere and I do my best to suppress the tendency, giving all my attention to writing learned, factual papers. I like to think they're the very latest word in animal behavior.
Well, why shouldn't they be? I'm intimate with all the animal behavior programs. There's an interesting demonstration going on in the lab at the moment: A young rat has just been placed on a small metal stand. His back paws have been pierced by thumb tacks which hold them in place nicely; his front paws are raised onto the metal stand and tied there, so he'll remain in an upright position. His eyes dart about. I can feel the racing of his heart, and I call to him, giving him moral support.
"Don't worry, fellow rat, it won't take long."
"What are they doing to me!"
"Nothing that won't be done to all of us, sooner or later, dear brother. Remember the slogan, death is freedom."
"I don't want to die!"
The Learned Professor who directs the many and varied experiments in our lab has now stepped up to the stand. Carefully, coolly, he makes the cisternal puncture, draining out the rat's spinal fluid. The rat wants to die now, I assure you.
Death is freedom, brother!
Now bottle his bones, bottle his bones.
His spinal fluid is being examined by one of our graduate assistants and now the assistant is pouring it down the sink. He's getting better at this experiment. It's part of my work to spot the promising young scientists and feature them in my Newsletter. At first, this lad's hands were nervous and trembling. He looked a little like a young rat about to be castrated—those weighing more than 30 grams are discarded at birth. But after practicing on fifty-two rats, the boy is really solid. With a smile of accomplishment he washes out his test tube.
Now over here, in a thermos bottle of ice, you'll see several young rats being cooled to two degrees below zero centigrade.
"Doctor Rat, we're f-f-f-freezing!"
"That is correct, my friends, and soon you'll be c-c-c-castrated, as I am. But you won't feel a thing. Your nuts will be numb and they'll come off without a hitch."
"Please, Doctor Rat, h-h-h-help us!"
"My dear friends, don't worry. After your b-b-b-balls are removed, you'll get your p-p-p-picture in the Newsletter, and it goes all over the world."
In this way, I spread good cheer throughout the lab, helping my fellow rats to understand the important role they play in global affairs.
I should now like to sing "Three Blind Rats." It's part of the experimental program of music that's being channeled toward certain rats, to make them more docile and sweet. Several of them are indeed beginning to nuzzle up to each other, one of them even executing a light-fantastic tripping of his tail, in time to the beat.
In the cage beside them, we actually have three blind rats. In fact, we have twenty-three blind rats, part of a magnificent new experiment initiated by a very ambitious student, whom I'm featuring in this month's Newsletter. He's a sensitive chap and it was his exquisite sensitivity that caused him to dream up the item that's become the latest rage here at the lab: the fabulous removal of the eggs from a female rat's body and the grafting of them to different parts of a male rat's body—to the tail, to the ear, to the stomach. And for the past twenty-three days, he's been grafting them to their eyeballs! So now it's time we sang that promising young scientist a song. I'm stepping to the center of the maze and climbing the Reward Ladder from which I can be clearly seen by all.
"Brother and Sister Rats, members of the choir, I should like us all to sing 'Three Blind Rats,' as part of our research program. Sing:
Three Blind Rats
See how they run
See how they run
We all run after the graduate life
And cut off your balls with a carving knife
Did you ever see such a grant in your life
For Three Blind Rats!"
The voices of the rats in the Hemorrhagic Sore Cage are truly well trained. You will observe one of them being pickled in a few moments. If left too long in the Final Solution the smaller bones will disintegrate. But if taken out in time, they can be scraped and brushed until they're shining clean, and the Learned Professor likes to see that. Good clean bones every time. It gives him the feeling of a job completely and thoroughly done.
Where was I? Oh yes, that young man with the rat's eyeball. He's undoubtedly going to have one of the most unusual papers of the year. It ranks with removing the stomach and connecting the esophagus with the duodenum.
Is that a scream I hear? Oh do, oh do, oh do, oh duodenum, with decapitation as the terminal procedure. I want every one of you to make sure that you die calmly, without any show of fear or twitching, in order that the young scientists will be able to dispense with you neatly and quickly. Remember X-rays can be taken of the rat after its sacrifice by slicing the head with a sharp saw or razor, after which we'll be cutting up your carcass into four parts with a cleaver.
Isn't that a scream?
Is that a scream I hear?
Yes, it is, just down the row of cages. Shall we move along and take a few notes? "Help, help!"
"Please, young fellow, there's no need to get so worked up about your little contribution to science. Have a bit of pressed biscuit before you die. Eat hearty and remember—death is freedom!"
"What are they doing to me, Doctor Rat?"
"Let me just check my notes ... yes, here we are. You'll be the tenth rat this week to have his brains sucked out by a pneumatic tube."
I comfort my fellow rats where I can. It requires psychological understanding, of course. And having been driven insane, I hold the necessary degree in psychology.CHAPTER 2
We all smelled it. Every dog in the area suddenly had it in his nose. I was outside, just taking my morning run. My master had always let me have this, an hour or so when I might roam around the neighborhood, but always within whistling distance. Whenever I heard that whistle I went running back, for a delicious bone. But this morning it was different.
There are many smells in the world, some good, some bad, but there is only one smell like this, only one smell that absolutely cannot be denied, so sweetly satisfying is it.
It isn't a smell from the gutter or from food or from the heat of a female; it isn't from plants or water or rich black soil. I was padding along down the alleyway when I realized it was in the air. Where was it coming from ? I lifted my nose, turned slowly around, finding its direction.
I followed it. Not to follow would have been impossible. I dropped everything and ran. Marvelous bones, hearty breakfasts, loving caresses—none of them could compare to this scent, so familiar and yet so fleeting. Don't lose it, don't lose it, any of you. Smell it now—there, around the corner, there, down the street, keep after it, keep chasing, keep picking it out from all the other smells. You must go through fire and water to stay with this scent.
Through the town—out of alleyways and along the streets, back into the alleyways, twisting, turning. There are certain smells that resemble this, but only vaguely, and lacking the overwhelming authority that speaks to us now. The smell of burning candles, the smell of a river at dawn—these are weak approximations, but they do suggest a smell whose nature is made up of the most tantalizing promises which are only hinted at in the candle's delicate burning and the river's vagrant mists. It seems to me now that I have, from puppy-hood on, caught a touch of this smell, whose touch opened secret chambers in my heart. But before I could dash into those chambers the smell was gone and I was left standing by a can of garbage, or in a pile of wet leaves, calling myself a dreamer. Am I dreaming now?
On every side of me, in gathering numbers—dogs, dogs, dogs! We're at the edge of the city, racing along through the last broken streets where poor and hungry dogs join us from small tarpaper shacks. They're skinny, snappy creatures, but their spirit is as high as that of the finest pedigree among us, of which there is also a great number.
Yes, there are sparkling collars and jingling tags of every sort. The society dogs as well as the mongrels are drawn by this powerful lure. Together, all of us together—oh, it's wonderful as we pad along, tails wagging, noses lifted, and the smell all around us.
There are the hounds up ahead. They've reached the meeting place first, hounds of every kind, running back and forth in the vacant lot at the end of town. Their noses are to the ground, and they're barking at a creature who is swifter than any fox or rabbit, a creature who can't be seen, whose scent alone decrees that he is here. The beagles howl and chase in circles, the bird dogs point in every direction, for the scent is all-pervasive. Into the empty lot, then, come the rest of the dogs—collies and bulls, terriers and greyhounds, little Pekingese on tiny pads, St. Bernards with tremendous paws, and mongrels of every size and shape.
On the hillside above the field, I see alley cats prowling nervously back and forth, watching me. And from the edges of the field, peeking through the grass, come numerous rats, mice, and moles. They've all caught the scent. Humans can't perceive it, for their noses have fallen into disuse. But we animals are intimate with it, upon the vacant lot, as we gather in a sea of fangs and fur.
Naturally we look among us for leaders, for those dogs who might be able to interpret the subtleties of the scent and communicate more of it to us. And from the forest above the city, the wild dogs appear.CHAPTER 3
We have several such dogs in the laboratory, stray mutts who are attempting to inflame our youth with revolutionary material. Naturally, we cut the dogs' vocal cords as soon as they enter the lab, but it's not enough, for as I'm sure you are aware, we animals have wordless communication, based on sensory impulses more subtle than language.
I've suggested to the Learned Professor time and again that we rats be given our own separate wing, but no. All the animals are here in one enormous room and we may have to pay dearly for it. Our current heatstroke study is utilizing a particularly rebellious mongrel dog, brought in from some alleyway, and he's filled with vicious propaganda. They have him chained to a treadmill inside a heated glass cage. He runs here, day in and day out, toward his death, which can come none too soon for me. I wish he'd drop dead from heat prostration this very moment, so I wouldn't have to listen to his twaddle.
He goes on night and day, sending us his inflammatory images. He's mute, but he's skillfully using the intuitive wavelength for his dastardly messages. I'm sure you can feel them in the air. His imagery is extremely fine and suggestive. A rat will be lying here, making a real contribution to science by having his trachea severed, and suddenly he'll be completely plugged into a revolutionary image. His whole body will be suffused with the feeling of freedom. Such feelings cannot be permitted, as you know.
"Good afternoon, Learned Professor!" Here comes the Learned Pro again, but of course he doesn't acknowledge my greeting, for his intuitive wavelength is encrusted. It's a great pity because somehow I've got to get across to him the fact that he's got dangerous revolutionaries in his lab.
Oh my, here comes his lovely graduate assistant, her long blond hair curling softly around her shoulders. I'd certainly consider a copulation plug with her. Her ears would quiver as I stroked her on the neck, and after applying digital stimulation to her pelvis, you'd see a sudden curvature in her back, as she surrendered to my learned copulation-response test. Her superficial genitalia would appear in their characteristically blue color, matching her eyes, and she'd run around the wheel several times excitedly, then look at me apprehensively knowing that I, a vigorous white male, would attempt copulation seventy times in twenty minutes, with one or two ejaculations, ha ha!
I do hope I've got that right. Having been castrated at birth, I have no real firsthand knowledge of the matter. Naturally I keep my eyes and ears open here in the lab and I make careful field observations whenever a female begins stretching and bracing nervously. This blonde alongside the learned Professor is exhibiting every sign of entering her cycle of maximum sexual receptivity. She makes me feel dizzy, makes me start running around my turntable, round and round. It's a 12-inch metal disc (for more, see my learned paper, "Rats on the Wheel," Psy. fourn., 1963). I've really got it clicking now. The cyclometer says I've already done fifteen revolutions!
That's enough to keep me in shape for a while. Now I must continue my rounds. Being a Learned Mad Professor, I've been given complete run of the maze table, which affords me points of contact with nearly every other section of the lab.
"Doctor Rat, I feel very strange."
"Certainly you do. Aren't you the rat who's being constantly crammed with wholly unsuitable food?"
"Yes, Doctor Rat, but this has nothing to do with that."
"What week of the diet are you in?"
He has two weeks to go and then death will ensue, according to schedule. "I wouldn't worry about the way you feel, son. It's probably just the onset of keratinization of the corneal epithelium. You can't see straight is all."
"Doctor Rat, it's not a physical problem."
"They've had you in the maze, have they? Driven you slightly whacky, I imagine. Don't let it bother you. Once you go completely mad, you'll qualify for a degree in psychology."
"Doctor, it's not a mental problem either."
"Not physical and not mental? My boy, what else is there?"
"Calcified kidneys and brittle bones, that's all that's troubling you, with maybe a little hyperirritability."
"No, Doctor, it's the very deepest part of me that I'm talking about."
"You mean deeper than a number eight French rubber catheter tube with a depressed eye can go?"
"Deeper, much deeper."
"Are you trying to tell me, a Learned Mad Doctor, that there is some part of the rat as yet unknown to man?"
"My light, Doctor, the light inside me ..."
"... introduced through the rectum ..."
"I saw a fountain of light inside me. Doctor, we come from that fountain."
"We come from the copulation plug, my lad. How old are you?" It's unfortunate that we don't have better sex education here in the laboratory. This is what comes of inserting glass rods into the vaginas of virgins.
Excerpted from Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle. Copyright © 1976 William Kotzwinkle. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Meet the Author
William Kotzwinkle is a novelist, children's writer, and screenwriter. He was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Kotzwinkle won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel for DOCTOR RAT in 1977, and he has also won the National Magazine Award for fiction.Kotzwinkle wrote the novelization of the screenplay for E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982) and also wrote an original follow-up novel E. T. THE BOOK OF THE GREEN PLANET )1985). Among his most popular titles are a series of children's books featuring the title character of the first book in the series, WALTER THE FARTING DOG (2001). To date, there are six titles in the series. Starting with the third book in the series, Kotzwinkle's wife, Elizabeth Gundy is listed a co-author on the titles.
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Loved the sample! Very vivid
Without a doubt this is my favorite novel by William Kotzwinkle. I love how the story is told through the eyes of Dr. Rat who is a rat and say he is a Doctor because he was driven insane by behaviorist psychology experiments. Anyone who is for animal rights and against animal cruelty of any form should read this book.