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The Bears of Bear Country

Note: This is a 'character blog' for Doctor Dave Hennings, one of the minor characters in Bear CountryBear Country is a science fiction novel currently posted in Authonomy.  Bear Country is also the name of the alternate dimension the town of Rockport is transported into at the beginning of the novel.   These blogs are designed to tell fans of the novel a little more about Bear Country, the alternate dimension without creating spoilers for Bear Country, the novel. 

Fair warning: Doctor Dave is a primatologist (studies monkeys and apes) and he'll tell you far more than most of you want to know about the animals of Bear Country, among other things.

If you want to read the actual story you can read  the first four chapters of Bear Country here. 

Bill Symkin (referred to as Bill for the rest of the transcript): Hi.  This is Bill 'Face Made For Radio' Symkin, on radio station WGNB of Rockport Illinois.  As all of you hopefully know by now, Rockport has been temporarily reassigned to Bear Country.  Yep.  That's what all of the fuss was about yesterday.  Remember?  The police cars going down the streets telling you to get out of town because Rockport was going into another dimension?  Well, now it has.  Too late to get out.  You won't be watching the Simpson's this week unless you've got it on DVD and have an emergency generator.  Then again, you may get to play tag with a Sabertooth Tiger in downtown Rockport.  The marines tell me that's unlikely, and I believe them.  But unlikely isn't quite impossible, now is it?

Well anyhow, we're into Day 2 of the Exchange, and Doctor Dave Hennings from Northwestern University is back with us to give you some Bear Country background.  Thanks for stopping by again Doctor Dave.

 Dr. Hennings (referred to as Dr. Dave for the rest of the transcript): Thanks Bill.

Bill: Before I get into the questions, do you have any idea how much people in our audience know about Exchanges, or about Bear Country?

Dr. Dave: It always surprises me how little people know about these things.  There was a lot of excitement when the first Exchange happened in New Zealand five years ago, but that's faded as more and more of them have happened.  I think that after over two hundred of them, people classify them as kind of a 'routine catastrophe'.

Bill: A routine catastrophe.  That's an interesting concept.  How does that work?

Dr Dave: In any given month there's almost certain to be some kind of catastrophe somewhere on the planet--devastating earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, devastating blizzard, an ice storm that knocks out power to millions, floods, droughts, chemical spills, and now Exchanges.  If any of those things happen where you live, they can leave you homeless, or they can kill you.  If any of those things happen anywhere else, then 'oh well'.  Life goes on.  Exchanges are routine catastrophes now--unless, of course, they happen to you.

Bill: A lot of people could have left and didn't.  Any idea why?

Dr. Dave: Sure.  Same reason people don't get out of the path of a hurricane.  People stay to protect their homes.  Some stay because they don't want to spend the next two weeks in a hotel room or on a cot in gym.  Some stay because they figure there are enough marines here to protect them, or they assume whatever dangers there are don't apply to them.  Some stay because they don't know how dangerous an Exchange can be.

Bill: So don't assume people know a lot about Exchanges?  Okay.  Tell our audience what an Exchange is.

Dr. Dave: A sphere of our planet temporarily goes into an alternate reality, one where there are no people and the big ice age animals didn't die out.  A piece of that alternate reality replaces the missing area in our world.  The two pieces remain in the wrong reality for a period of a week or two.  Then they go back to their proper realities.

Bill: How big can an Exchange be?

Dr Dave: This is one of the biggest.  Roughly a hundred square miles came over.  Some have been as small as two or three square miles.

Bill: What causes Exchanges?

Dr Dave: That's out of my field, but they do appear to be natural events.  I'm told that the number of them will hit a peak in a year or two, then taper off eventually to nothing. 

Bill: Well, I told my audience we would be talking about the Bears of Bear Country, so let's talk about that.  First, how did Bear Country get the name?

Dr. Dave: I've heard two stories about where the name came from.  First, military types call hostile areas 'Bear Country'.  Second, a couple of giant short-faced bears got out into The World in one of the early Exchanges and made quite an impression.

Bill: I remember that.  They were on the loose out west for a couple of weeks.  Tell us more about these bears.

Dr. Dave: Well, they're very close to the species that went extinct back in The World ten thousand years ago.  They weigh as much as a Kodiak Bear--roughly two thousand pounds.  They're a little taller and leaner than a Kodiak.  They're built to move fast and kill things--much more predatory than our bears.  They'll kill people if they're hungry or in a bad mood, but they're cautious.  People are something strange to them, so they usually don't just go after you.  They'll stalk you.  They'll try to figure out if you're dangerous.  Sometimes they'll decide you're their next meal.  In that case, you'll need an elephant gun or good life insurance.

Bill: One of many reasons to stay in Rockport.  Any other bears out there?  Grizzlies?  Kodiak Bears?

Dr Dave: Black bears are around.  Kodiaks and grizzlies aren't.  Short-face bears would tear them apart.

Bill: Wow.  That's one formidable animal.  Not as dangerous as the monkeys though?

Dr. Dave: Not even close.

Bill: Now you've been at other Exchanges.  Has there been a problem keeping people from going out into Bear Country?

Dr. Dave: Almost every Exchange some idiot tries to take his or her family out there to see the animals, like they're going to a zoo.  'Let's get a video of Johnny feeding a saber tooth  tiger for his website.'  Marines stop most of them, but some get out there.  Of those, some come back.  Most don't. 

Bill:  Sad. So has anything good come out of this Exchange business?

Dr. Dave: For me, yes.  I study monkeys and apes.  We have a whole new planet full of them to study. That's been just amazing for our field.  In terms of practical implications, there will be a lot.  We've got a whole new world of plants and animals to study for new food plants, new drugs, etc.

Bill: Will there ever be humans in Bear Country on a permanent basis?  It's an empty world.  Why not settle it?

Dr. Dave: Just not practical.  We have three hours warning before an Exchange happens at a random point on the planet.  You can't get enough supplies into an Exchange area to keep a settlement going once the Exchange reverses.  Remember, there will probably never be another Exchange within several hundred miles of the current Exchange.  And in a world with no roads and no bridges an Exchange 200 miles away might as well be on another continent.  If you get left over there you're on your own.

Bill: Wasn't the prison where the convicts murdered their guards during an Exchange less than fifty miles from Rockport?

Dr. Dave: Yes, and that's unusually close.  It may not be a record as far as how close together two Exchanges have been, but if not it comes close.  If you get stranded in Bear Country you're probably on your own for good, and you can't put together supplies to make a viable settlement  and get them to an Exchange area in three hours.  To be cynical, that's the real reason we have treaties against settling.  If settlement was feasible we would have had a huge scramble and a real mess.

Bill: Well, it looks like our time is up for this session.  Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you find time to do it again.

Dr Dave:  I will.  Thanks.

In case you missed it at the top, four chapters of Bear Country are now online at Authonomy: