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Local author Wendy N. Wagner to read from new novel, 'An Oath of Dogs' in Milwaukie

Author Wendy N. Wagner grew up in a Southern Oregon home 30 miles from the nearest town; a place where getting a reliable television signal was never a sure thing. And so she read and found a connection to the outer world through the Douglas County Library's bookmobile, which passed through every two weeks.

Wendy N. Wagner Because of that connection, she said yes when asked to speak at the upcoming Ledding Library Cultural Forum on Nov. 2.

Wagner will read from her latest science fiction novel "An Oath of Dogs" and will discuss how the book connects to life here in Oregon, she said.

"For decades, the timber industry dominated Oregon's economy, and with it, our state's cultural and social identity," Wagner said.

"I know it's hard to believe that I wrote a novel about a logging town on another planet, but one of the best things about science fiction is the way it allows us to explore facets of our own society and our Earthly experience in new ways."

'Oath of Dogs'

Her new novel is the story "of Kate Standish and her trusty service dog, who arrive on the beautiful planet of Huginn only to discover that her boss has vanished," Wagner said. "Clues suggest his death was no accident, but the rest of the small lumber town is too caught up in fears about wild dog attacks and recent ecoterrorist activity to dig into the case.

"As Standish pieces together the story of the murder, she realizes it's part of a massive corporate cover-up that goes back to the tragic demise of the planet's original colonists," which in turn threatens Standish's life and the lives of everyone she cares for, Wagner said.

Science fiction

Wagner said she likes to think of science fiction as "applied philosophy," which to her means asking important questions such as: How does language work? How do our minds make sense of the world? How do we create a comprehensive ethical framework?

"These can be really hard to answer using the scientific method," she said.

But the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres let authors "create really elaborate mental experiments to test our hypotheses about these big questions," Wagner said.

"If you look at the really great science fiction writers like Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin [and] Samuel R. Delany, they're digging into these deeper questions about language, minds, ethics.

"Sure, it's fun to invent new worlds and cool technology, but good science fiction is really about people. Science fiction lets you play around with reality so you can shine a light on the stuff inside us that really makes us human."

Libraries

Recently, Wagner said she read that a columnist from the New York Observer had said he thought libraries were outdated and no one used them.

"He had 110,000 people tweet back to him about how much they loved their library. Libraries do an amazing job opening doors for people," she said.

Libraries "give people knowledge and fun and a place to be a real part of their community. It's absolutely critical to support such an important community service, because without them, a town is just hollowed out."

Wagner noted that "far too many communities in Oregon, including all of Douglas County, have lost their libraries."

Where will people go, she wondered, to learn about their world, to find help looking for jobs? "Where will kids discover their imaginations? We all deserve a good library," she said.

When she was growing up, Wagner would go to the bookmobile and check out stacks of children's books, mysteries and nonfiction and read them all.

"One summer while binging on Nancy Drew, I checked out 125 books and read all of them before they were due. Everything I am today, I owe to those librarians," she said.

These days, Wagner said she goes to the Ledding Library at least once a week, and her teenage daughter volunteers there.

She added, "The librarians there have been incredibly supportive and helpful over the years. I don't know what I'd do without them."

Listen and learn

What: The Ledding Cultural Forum presents author Wendy N. Wagner

When: 7-8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 2

Where: Ledding Library Pond House, 2215 S.E. Harrison St., Milwaukie

More: Wendy N. Wagner is a writer and Hugo award-winning editor. She is the author of more than 40 short stories and two novels for the Pathfinder role-playing game. Her third novel, "An Oath of Dogs," came out in July from Angry Robot Books. An avid gamer and gardener, she lives in Portland with her family. Follow her on Twitter @wnwagner or visit

winniewoohoo.com for more information.

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