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Interview: R.S. Benedict on “Water God’s Dog”

Tell us a bit about “Water God’s Dog.”

Many readers have probably figured out that the story is about life in our current economic situation, where the rich hoard more wealth than they could possibly need while the rest of us have to survive on less and less. And yet somehow many of us still worship these people as benevolent rulers, captains of industry, “job creators,” and so on.

Ur-Ena is the sort of person who finds financial success in our strange late capitalist hellscape. He’s empty inside of everything except the desire to serve his lord, driven by forces he does not understand, ever consumed by a hunger that is not his own—he’s the ultimate company man. He’s not particularly bright or interesting, but he’s pretty well-off financially, so people respect him.

The boy, Dumu-Inana, is a stand-in for the Millennial generation. He’s a whiny little jerk sometimes, sure, but he knows something’s wrong and he refuses to pretend that everything is okay.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I thought up the story while suffering through a long, painful job hunt and reading lots of career self-help articles.

“Water God’s Dog” is heavily influenced by the language and culture of Ancient Sumer. The specialized vocabulary and the names are all drawn from Sumerian. The protagonist’s name/title, Ur-Ena, means “dog/faithful servant of the Water Lord.” (“Ur” was a common component of personal names, and people were often named after some patron deity.) The boy, Dumu-Inana (“child of Inanna”) is named after a goddess who tried to conquer the Underworld. The name of the water god, Ganba, is the Sumerian word for marketplace. I also modeled the prose after Sumerian, which did not have a definite article and didn’t use many conjunctions. And the narrative draws heavily from the myth of Inanna’s Descent.

Unlike Judeo-Christians, who believe in a just universe governed by a benevolent god, or even the Egyptians, who at least saw the universe as an orderly place, the Sumerians seemed to view the world as a realm of chaos and decay. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers they depended on were constantly shifting, drying up canals and leaving farmland desolate. Their city walls constantly crumbled and always needed repair. In light of recent events, I find their mindset very relatable.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

I’ve spent a long time studying Sumerian—not just the history, but the language, too. A major component of my senior project for my undergraduate degree was to translate Inanna’s Descent from Sumerian into English. (I relied on transliterations, though—not the original cuneiform.) In addition, I’ve written a few short articles about the role of queer sexuality in Sumerian religion.


Was “Water God’s Dog” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

“Water God’s Dog” captured a lot of my frustrations trying to find a decent job and make a living in the Great Recession. In the story, I’m the empty waterskin woman wailing at the altar, wondering why Ganba has so little interest in her offering. I think a lot of writers and artists are in this position, holding out their incredible talents to the free market and getting very little in return.


What would you want a reader to take away from “Water God’s Dog?”

Despite the overall somber tone of the story, I’d like for readers to come away with a sense of cautious hope. Things can change, if we keep struggling, though the journey will be painful.


What are you working on now?

I’m still working on the first draft of a gothic novel. I’m also writing an online serial sci-fi adventure novel about virtual reality and the military industrial complex. It’s called Hive, and it’s available on my website. In addition, I have a short story in Upper Rubber Boot’s upcoming anthology Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good.


“Water God’s Dog” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

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