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Interview: Bruce McAllister on “Dreampet”

– What was the inspiration for “Dreampet,” or what prompted you to write it?

Back in the Eighties, circling over John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California—the landing delayed for some reason—looking down at the miles of light industrial development and those monolithic warehouses whose contents always feel guarded, even clandestine, and thinking:  “What if under one of those warehouses hid three hundred feet of triple-canopy jungle, and you could hunt there if you had a pass, and what you hunted were genetically designed.”  The company’s campaign slogan came later:  “Dream It and We Will Make it.”

The company was called DreamKill and what the company also designed—perfect, tailored pets for happy families, the world of “light,” not darkness—came later.   As did the cheerleading Tom Hanks-like protagonist of “DreamPet.”


– Was this story personal in any way?  If so, how?

In the sense that many of my science fiction and fantasy short stories in the new Millennium have been “personal”—more autobiographical than anyone except close family could possibly know—not really…except that I’ve always been an animal lover and at the same time a conflicted one–one who knows that you can love grizzly bears, but that doesn’t mean they won’t eat you if you trigger the wrong thing, or if they’re simply hungry.  That merely sentimentalizing animals is just as dangerous as sentimentalizing anything, and that what we do for a living often has two sides: both light and shadow.


– What would you want a reader to take away from this story?

As any writer will tell you, you write about characters; you write about their story in whatever world they inhabit.  And didactic/preachy fiction tends to be terrible because it violates the rules of good storytelling.  But I suppose, if the story has a moral, it’s that human beings will put to use in whatever ways they deem fit anything…including the most innocent of animals…including human tissue…including their own souls if they feel enough despair.

– In the header notes to “Dreampet” in the Nov./Dec. issue, it’s mentioned that this story started as an idea for a film treatment.  How do you see “Dreampet” changing as a story if it were written for the big screen?

In 1991 I landed a pitch session with producer Gale Ann Hurd—who, with her then-husband, James Cameron, had made THE TERMINATOR.  She’d liked my novel DREAM BABY and its female lead, but because she had an esp-warrior project (the late Lucius Shepard’s LIFE DURING WARTIME) in development, she couldn’t take DREAM BABY on.  As consolation prize, she offered a pitch session.  I spent two months putting together art boards for six ideas—even brought a live black snake with me to the meeting—and there were two ideas she liked and wanted to see treatments for so that she could try to set them up with an even bigger producer she knew, with two A-list writers attached to do the actual writing.  One of the two was “DreamPet,” then called WAREHOUSE.  Life was a little too interesting–in the proverbial “Chinese curse” sense—and I never got to a treatment for WAREHOUSE.  But the idea for “DreamPet” stuck with me (“haunted,” yes)—everyone seemed to like it—and had a number of incarnations:  screenplay, novel, longer story.  In the end, it became the mercifully if not mercilessly brief short story that appears in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of F&SF.  In this writer’s eyes the journey was, yes, worth it.

“Dreampet” appears in the Novemer/December 2015 issue of F&SF.  You can buy that issue here:

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