Doctor Rat (Fiction)

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Winner of the World Fantasy Award

A 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."


"Doctor Rat is weird and wonderful... Kotzwinkle attempts a spectacular feat of sympathetic imagination: to get inside the skin of a rat. It is a fantastic and ferocious Animal Factory Farm, a splendidly nutty Magnificat with echoes of William Blake." - The London Times

"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 Times

"A clout from the pen of a modern Zen master of the literary world." - New Musical Express

"It's as good as Gulliver's Travels and Kotzwinkle is very close to Jonathan Swift... a masterwork by a WAY-out writer." - Readers Syndicate

"Mr. Kotzwinkle is a first-rate fabulist." - John Leonard, The New York Times

"Doctor Rat is a fascinating book, full of deeply felt emotion, important ideas, and heartbreaking insights." - Charleston Evening Post

"Kotzwinkle is a truly imaginative impresario of the might-almost-be-true and here he spins a new fable on the cyclometered wheels in the laboratory of Doctor Rat. How can you not enjoy Doctor Rat? It teases your conscience with educated wit and versatile improvisation, not to mention the casual flick of a tail about to be cut off." - Kirkus Reviews

"A comic triumph... Doctor Rat is thoroughly anthropomorphic, very funny, and not lacking in the bite of truth essential to good satire. " - The New Scientist

"Kotzwinkle is always in control. His writing has an eloquent sense of timing and brevity, and his quisling rodent proves to be an ingenious device, one that cleverly wisecracks us into a gut-churning realization of just how self-oriented and inhumane our species really is." - Book Letter

"A faint but authentic Blakeian echo in Mr. Kotzwinkle's rage gives the book the voltage necessary to bypass insulating ideas and strike right into the emotions." - The Listener


Chapter 1
* * * *

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

Eyeballs gone

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."

"Help, help!"

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.