In Poor Richard’s Almanack, Benjamin Franklin includes dogs in his list of essentials for a good life. “There are,” he writes, “three faithful friends: an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.” In many science fiction scenarios, spouses and money are in short supply, but pets — either of a traditional earthling or exotic alien nature — are more common. An animal companion might save the main characters’ lives, provide comic relief, or stumble upon a clue or revelation that changes the course of the plot.
Below, you’ll find a small list of memorable science fiction and fantasy pets. I’ve tried to keep it to creatures that are not intellectual peers to the protagonists (so no Blood from “A Boy and His Dog” even though that canine is intriguing), because I want to preserve something of the pet relationship. Some of these pets are earthlings, some are not, and some are in a class of their own.
First we have Willis the Bouncer from Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet. If you’re unfamiliar, you can read a little about Willis, and watch a clip from the Fox animated miniseries of Heinlein’s book, here. Bouncers are furry ball-like creatures that are alternatively adorable and weird (they can also extend out certain appendages so they aren’t just fur-balls like tribbles). Their most endearing (and plot-developing) trait in the book is their mimicry. They can memorize and recite entire conversations, which is instrumental to the book’s protagonists stumbling upon other characters’ conspiratorial machinations.
Our second example is more fantasy than science fiction and, perhaps, more horror-comedy than anything else. Zero, the ghost dog from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is quite adorable, very faithful and, above all, cheerful. His cheer is much needed by Jack the Pumpkin King, who faces an existential crisis that constitutes the primary storyline. Zero is noteworthy, I think, because he is undead, but still endearing — an important character in a film whose uniqueness stems from establishing the sheer everyday normality of an entire community of the undead.
Next, we have the roach — yes, cockroach — from Disney’s animated sci-fi feature-length film Wall-E. The roach is mildly adorable — which is translated to the audience through its actions and connections to the robot Wall-E. This persona also relies on the cliche that if civilization ever collapses, cockroaches will play a prominent role in post-civ management. They do, after all, survive everything. This particular pet gets shot and smashed up, and still manages to survive. The roach also facilitates the relationship between Wall-E and Eve, in this way providing a degree of practicality and necessity to their existence as far as the plot is concerned.
Finally, we have Samantha, the beloved German Shepherd from I Am Legend, a post-apocalyptic film based on the novel of the same name. Neville, the main character, is a mostly-lone survivor of a global virus, working to develop a cure for the disease. Samantha helps Neville with hunting for food and staving off hives of mutants. She dies a tragic, heroic death in the story, which brings emotion and humanity — as is the case with most pets in storylines — to the story
Although some of these pets challenge French author Colette’s famous quote that “our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet,” they each still prove to be the perfect companions to often reluctant heroes. So let’s raise a glass to the pets of science fiction