Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novella


Neuroscientist Dr. Sean Kell-Luddon has finally reached the pinnacle of her career—spearheading groundbreaking research that will open up the minds of nonhuman animals to humans. By surgically implanting one of her study wolves with a sensory transmitter and herself with its receiver, Sean can experience what the wolf, assigned the moniker Kate, is experiencing. Between lack of food, tainted water, and increasingly brutal winters, the last wild wolf pack is expected to die out within two winters and conservation seems like a pipe dream. Sean’s study will not only make her a scientific rockstar, but will also satiate her long-held hunger for the easy intimacy and closeness of a wolf pack.

While the fruits of Sean’s labor in neuroscience are being harvested, the fields of her marriage are becoming painfully, obviously fallow. Her ambition and self-centeredness have taken a toll on her partner, Riya, with this project becoming an exemple of everything Riya feels is wrong with their marriage and a battleground in their household. Despite the widening fractures, Sean pushes forward, confident it will all be worth it in the end. She’s also confident that her connection to Kate and being a subject-observer in her own study will not affect her ability to maintain scientific distance.

Yet, with Sean’s brain continually flooded with data and sensations from Kate, Sean cannot fully disconnect from being a silent observer and receptacle for Kate’s interiority. As her need to be one with Kate grows, boundaries become blurred. As the cold winter chill sets in, Sean’s future may be as bleak as that of the wolves.

Feed Them Silence is a compelling and engaging character study that explores our relationship to other animals, connection, partnership, and the often conflicting nature of emotional needs, desires, and personality. As the novella uses the science as a gateway into the exploration of Sean’s character and motivations, the sci-fi aspect of the story is very accessible and handled well. Set in the not too distant future, the technology used is comparable to current and developing technologies, and Mandelo does an excellent job making the tech feel believable and not distracting. Although the brain’s plasticity is what makes beings capable of learning, changing, and adapting, Sean entangling her brain with another creature’s and receiving sensory data the human mind is not formatted to properly receive and interpret is a dicey proposition, and as a neuroscientist, the fact that Sean is so confident that there will be no egregious consequences speaks volumes of her ego, hubris, and desperate longing.

Though Sean’s study is touted as a conservation effort, in reality it is driven by her extremely personal need. Nothing touches Sean’s core self, not even her partner of ten years, and all her life Sean has been drawn to (and envious of) the unreserved and easy closeness of wolves; even her burgeoning sexuality was tied to wolves, as stories about wolves and girls/woman are what attracted her attention. Now, as an adult whose life has been full of striving—striving to be a revered neuroscientist, striving to be the power couple other’s envy, striving for some kind of fulfilling connection but still feeling utterly empty and alone—she has the technology and resources to satisfy herself, while cementing her legacy as “the every(wo)man scientist hero.”

Sean is desperately hollow, consuming others for her needs and her purposes as temporarily fillers for that emptiness, and with her project she finally has access to the feelings and belonging she’s craved, that unguarded and easy companionship she had previously only been able to study from afar. While Sean craves connection, she abhors intimacy forged through emotional labor, and all her studies have been a pathway to access some form of effortless, primal care and bonding; she looks for something that she can have and take and gorge her senses in without work, complexity, or accountability. The only “unfettered intimacy” Sean has ever felt is for Kate, her unknowing avatar whose connection is only one way by design, while any crumbs of honesty and intimacy she gives Riya are with grudging reluctance and as fixes as thin and flimsy as paper mâché.

Feed Them Silence has lovely and well-crafted prose; it was easy for me to fall into Sean’s experiences and her mental link to Kate, and to understand her longing to be known, though only on her terms. The story touches on some gender, racial, and social issues, given Sean and Riya’s positions as academics and being in an interracial marriage, which could have been more fleshed out, but they are mostly passing notations since Sean, like with many things that require emotional engagement, shies away from them if they don’t affect her. While Sean is pretty self-involved and borders on unlikable (and I thought that Riya should just cut her loses), I enjoyed her journey and appreciated the realistic tone of the story Mandelo tells.

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