When I ask friends and acquaintances about their specialties so I can get the details in books right, usually it’s simple stuff. Ask the naval historian who commanded the Adriatic Squadron in the early days of WWI, and out pops “Ernest Troubridge.” Ask the martial arts enthusiast to show me how to disarm the fellow with the blaster, and I’m soon flat on the ground.
But sometimes what I need to know is a little…unusual. Hence, our veterinarian’s response when I call with another one of those questions. I’ve asked him about embryo transplant in large and small animals, for instance, and the kinds of conditions that might show up in inbred stock of a certain lineage, about cloning and chimaeras.
Then came the pup Rascal in the Vatta’s War series. As the story progressed through several volumes, Rascal’s role needed to grow…but what use is a terrier on a space ship with no rats? He couldn’t bite the bad guy until he and the bad guy weren’t separated by a million miles of vacuum. Then I saw a news spot about the stud fees for some show dogs. And the characters had a cash-flow problem. Aha! Where would an unpedigreed dog command a stud fee? In a culture where dogs had nearly disappeared but were highly valued.
Now I needed to know a few vet-type things. Was this pup old enough? (I couldn’t change his age; the book in which he first appeared was already out there in print.) And though I knew frozen semen was used for artificial insemination in horses and cattle, was it in dogs? And…um…how often? And…um…how much? And how did vet clinics handle that sort of thing?
So I called our vet. The receptionist responded to my usual, “It’s not an emergency or anything; I’d just like to ask a question for a book,” with “Another book? Science fiction or something else?”
In a few minutes I had our vet on the line. “What is it this time?” he asked. I explained about Rascal and the storyline I had in mind. Was it plausible? He started laughing. In the background, I could hear muffled chuckles–someone else must’ve been listening in.
Let me put it this way–vets are not prissy about the details of anything animal. In ten minutes I knew more intimate details about dog breeding than I’d ever imagined or really needed to know, and far more than I could put in the book. Age of fertility by breed, contracts between breeders and clinics, the growth of canine artificial insemination, skill level of the people involved, how vets examine the prospective breeding stock, what lab tests would be used, shipping containers and problems that occur with shipping canine semen (as opposed to bovine and equine), equipment for “collection,” and on and on.
“Call us any time,” he said, after I thanked him. “You’re always good for a laugh.”
I’m now writing fantasy again, and that means creatures that don’t exist here. Though our vet clinic handles exotic (this-world) animals, they really don’t know anything about levets or pinpigs…or dragons. I’m on my own with issues of draconic reproduction. But I’m tempted to call and ask, just to see what reaction I’d get.
“You want to know WHAT?”