Theta, by Sasya Fox – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer, submits this review:
Theta, by Sasya Fox
Mountain View, CA, Snowfox Press, August 2013, trade paperback $14.50 (395 [+ 1] pages), Kindle 99¢.
Theta is a formulaic but rip-roaring space opera. The titular protagonist is Jale Bercammon, the 36-year-old chief steward(ess) of the OCS Freeta, a luxury space liner in an interstellar civilization. She has served aboard the Freeta for almost twenty years, rising to the chief steward position and coming to think of her staff and the crew of the Freeta as her family. The first sign of trouble on this trip is their landing on the planet Brynton, in the midst of a violent civil war. Practically all Brynti civilians are desperate to book passage off-planet, and the Freeta is rapidly over-packed with upper-class refugees. One of them is the mysterious Miss Theta, an apparent almost-comatose adolescent who is brought aboard as a medical patient and booked into the finest stateroom on the ship. Captain Erin is personally instructed in Theta’s care, which includes giving her a prepared injection every four hours and:
Do NOT attempt to engage Theta in conversation.
Fine, until Jale learns that Theta is an almost-castrated male, and he is being given not medicine but Banerethin, which ship’s Doctor Jrmnia freaks out over because it is a drug so illegal that he could be executed for allowing it to be brought on board. Strangely, as the days pass, Theta becomes more rather than less coherent and amnesiac. He makes it impossible for Jale and her crewmates to ignore the order not to talk to him, but refuses to discuss who he is or what is happening to him.
Then the Freeta is captured by pirates. Their actions make it clear that they have chosen the Freeta because they learned on Brynton that it is carrying an incredibly valuable treasure, which none of the Freeta’s crew knows anything about. When the frustrated pirates cannot find any treasure, they kill a few passengers and crew, impress a few more as slaves – including Theta — and leave. When the crippled Freeta finally reaches its destination, several days overdue, it is besieged by authorities who investigate what happened in detail. Jale is given the job of telling what happened to Theta to his assigned recipient. His reaction is not anything like she expects:
“‘Theta?’ The [red] fox frowned, reaching up to wipe the sleep from his eyes. ‘No, I don’t think so. I only lived on Brynton briefly,’ his voice dropped, hints of bitterness creeping in, ‘but it’s something I’d rather forget. I left nothing and nobody.’
Jale paused, momentarily unsure how to continue. She tried a different tack.
‘Sorry, let me start all over again. My name is Jale Bercammon, and I’m the chief steward of the OCS Freeta. On Brynton, we were given a passenger with instructions to deliver him to you; he’s a white fox, purple hair –‘
‘Myshel,’ Carson whispered. His eyes had widened, and his face had become very slack. All hints of politeness were abruptly gone from his manner.
‘So you do know this fox. Myshel?”
‘Yes! No,’ he muttered, then leaned forward. ‘I don’t want to have this conversation. Never, ever call me again,’ he hissed in an urgent undertone, ears flat in what appeared to her to be either rage or panic. He glanced back over his shoulder, bared his teeth, then cut the comm.
Jale sat back in surprise.
‘My goodness.’” (pages 54-55)
Who Theta/Myshel is; what Jale learns about him and the ultra-mysterious Lord Knoskali who “owned” him on Brynton; what Theta learns on the pirate ship; and what they do next, in parallel adventures, leads to the rest of the novel.
Oh, did I mention that Theta is a funny-animal novel? Jale is a ferret. Theta is an arctic fox. Doctor Jrmnia is a pangolin. The captain of the Freeta is a wolf. Other characters are a collie, a snow leopard, a coyote, a weasel, a deer, a skunk, a hyena, a raccoon, an ocelot, an opossum. All mammals. No reason is given (at first) for them to be anthropomorphic, clothes-wearing animals; they just are.
Here, Jale is depressed about being too ineffectual to fight the pirates:
“Not even to save her junior steward, or Theta, or the friendly young family of pronghorns in C-3, all of whom had been taken as slaves, nor the old jackal in D-12 who had been executed, nor any of the brave engineers who had lost their lives attempting to rig a system to jettison the pirate ship that had lamprey-docked to the ventral hull.” (p. 50)
Theta is a well-written, taut adventure full of surprises, leading to a conclusion that you won’t expect. It comes to a definite ending, though it is followed by a brief excerpt from a sequel-in-progress.
Theta is not illustrated (the cover by Adam Burn gives nothing away), but the omnipresent mammal nouns skillfully worked into the narrative never let you forget that you are reading a funny-animal novel. One that, despite its threatened and actual violence, is surprisingly sybaritic:
“‘Your room, ma’am.’
Jale froze, aghast.
‘This … this is where I’m staying?’
‘Yes, Miss Bercammon.’ The pink-nosed husky frowned, brow creasing in worry. ‘It is not to your liking?’
‘This is ridiculous,’ Jale muttered.
She stared across the open room. It was, by her account, one of the largest single rooms she’d ever seen. It was built into three levels, with a massive kitchen at the top, a den and eating area below, and an entertainment level that wrapped around. One side had a pool with water running into it from the wall; steam rose vigorously. There were five tiers, each a different color than the last, and each progressively cooler, judging by the rising steam. The bottom tier had ice floating in it. From that last pool, the water ran as a little creek encircling the room before vanishing out of sight around the corner, where the living space appeared to be.
The room itself was built on a mezzanine, a little corner tier on the side of a great fortress high above Fenna City. The persistent lower cloud layer […]” (p. 73)
Theta feels so comfortable that I am almost tempted to be captured by space pirates myself. Especially furry ones.
This is the first book of both its author and its publisher. It’s a high-class act for both of them. It’s primarily a space opera with furry costuming rather than a furry novel, so it is recommended more for space opera fans than for furry fans, despite its veneer.