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Talking Animals in Science-Fiction

Hello fellow writers and readers,
I'm currently writing a new science-fiction novel. It is largely dystopian, set in the 27th century, and involves genetically-engineered humans. The main character has a ocelot/housecat mix that has also been genetically-enhanced to be capable of speech, albeit his own cat-like speech that the main character can understand. I created the animal character to soften up the main character a bit, since he is a very masculine soldier type. And the whole tone of the story is actually rather serious, not jokey in any way, though the cat does provide some potential humor value. The book is largely intended to fit into a hard sci-fi paradigm.

There have been other science-fiction novels with talking animals--David Brin's Hugo/Nebula award-winning Uplift novels come to mind--but I'm still slightly worried about this issue making my book seem silly to some people. I find myself second-guessing my decision.

My instinct is that anything can be sold to the reader if written well enough, and that I should either go all-out and make the cat a fully-fledged character that you'll forget is a cat, or delete him all together. The cat as an 'accessory,' I think, would doom it. Nevertheless, I'm still struggling to weave him into the narrative as it has too many scenes that make a cat's involvement difficult. (That last remark is hard to explain without summarizing in depth, but imagine hostile environments, battles, etc.)

What do you folks think? Do you think a talking animal is still cheesy no matter how legitimately created and plausible within the story? Or is it okay?

Michael
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