The Furry Future: Today’s Furry Fiction? – book review by Phil Geusz.
by Patch O'Furr
Esteemed Furry author Phil Geusz submits this guest review of…
The Furry Future; 19 Possible Prognostications, edited by Fred Patten
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, January 2015, trade paperback $19.95 (445 pages)
Furry book reviewers must always begin their task at a marked disadvantage to the critics of other genres, because in order to be comprehensible to non-fandom readers we must first define what a furry story actually is. No one seriously questions what does and does not constitute a mystery story, for example. Nor must romance critics explain or defend the basic elements of their particular flavor of literature. I’d assume that this sort of problem automatically goes along with being a new kid on the literary block except that most readers seem to have a fairly good grasp of steampunk, which is perhaps even more recent a phenomenon than furry.
So, what makes furry different?
We furry authors have been debating this among ourselves for as long as there’s been a fandom, and I have to say that my own feelings on the matter have evolved considerably. While at first I argued that furry was a distinct genre because of the way symbolism, characters and setting must all be so intimately linked to the presence of the definitive anthropomorphic animals, to the point that it created a distinct artform, well… Since then I’ve come to believe that’s far too subtle a distinction to hang a genre-label on. When asked the same question today, I tend to reply that “furry” is more a marketing label that defines an audience than a genre. In other words, “Furry” as a book-describer has more in common with “Young Adult” than with “Fantasy”. Thus— and finally to the point at hand— a furry science fiction (SF) story needs to be judged as an SF story first, and furry only a distant second.
Now, with that said and explained, let us begin in earnest.
The Furry Future, a collection of furry science fiction put together by Fred Patten (one of the most important literary figures in the fandom), contains an assortment of nineteen science fiction stories featuring anthropomorphic animals as major characters. Foxes, dogs, rats, tigers… There’s a veritable menagerie to be found between the covers. Many of the better known furry authors are included in this volume, which is to be expected as the furry author family is still a rather small one and therefore it takes the combined effort of most of us to fill a book of this size. (I’m a furry author too, though none of my works appear in Future.) This has both good effects on such a collection and bad. On the positive side, someday historians of furry fiction (if there should ever be such things) will be able to cite this single volume as a fairly accurate representation of the state of furry fiction in 2015. (In this sense, Future must almost certainly be seen as the most ‘important’ furry book of the year.) On the negative, however…
…Future is also proof that our quality is still pretty spotty and many of us still need to do some more work on basic literary craftsmanship issues.
Of all the stories collected, for me “The Darkness of Dead Stars” by Dwale was the runaway standout. An anthropomorphic look at the The End Of All Things, this piece was both competently executed and outstandingly powerful on every level. While the use of anthropomorphic animals is (with considerable justification in many cases) seen as limiting or artificial by some SF enthusiasts, well… Sometimes there are excellent reasons why humans or aliens might want to uplift certain creatures for specific jobs and Dwale has found a perfect marriage of species and circumstance here. Add in powerful use of characterization, symbolism, imagery and above all theme and, well…
I don’t say this lightly. But I’m fifty-five years old and have read literally thousands of works of science fiction. This tale ranks with the very best of the best; it’s pure Golden-Age style goodness of a sort I haven’t seen in far, far too long. I consider it one of the finest and most memorable works of fiction I’ve ever read, furry or no, and all by itself worth the price of the book. It’s just that damn good.
It’s almost unfair to some of the other authors that their work is included in the same volume with “Darkness”, because their contributions are standouts as well. Among these are “The Analog Cat” by Alice “Huskeyteer” Dryden, a remarkable character study in carefully-measured shades of love, growth and persistence, “Lunar Cavity” by Mary Lowd in which friendship— or perhaps something more?— and scientific ethics are explored at length, “Thebe and the Angry Red Eye” by David Hopkins, a powerful tale of shipwreck and discovery, “Vivian” by Bryan Feir about the problems inherent in raising a teenage AI vixen in an imperfect world, and “Hachimoto” in which Sam Conway explores connecting with the alien in terms of both culture and species. “Emergency Maintenance” by Michael H. Payne features a nicely characterized problem-solver who refuses to weasel her way out of difficult situations, “Tow” by Watts Martin rather reminded me of a more exciting version of the classic social commentary film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”, and “Trinka and the Robot” by Ocean Tigrox was a fun romp in a post-apocalyptic future. All in all, plenty of top-quality furry content for any anthro fan!
Fred Patten’s wonderful introductions, both of the work as a whole— especially good!— and the individual stories are also worthy of special notice. As fewer and fewer short story collections are published— and how terribly I miss them!— the art of writing story-introductions seems to be dying out as well. Few today can do it as well as Fred does.
Another point that demands mention is that an awful lot of the stories seemed to be about the same thing in one form or another— “Everyone hates (or once hated) furries, and see what a mess we’re in (or the entire universe is in) as a result.” While I can’t fault either the collector or the collection for this, as it accurately reflects the current reality of furry fiction, the formula does tend to get a bit old after consuming the seventh or eighth such story nearly in a row. It’s in my opinion no coincidence at all that most of the stories cited above as standouts are the ones where the “persecution” theme was not explored in any depth, if at all. While I myself have written a “furry persecution” tale or three, well… Our imaginations can be larger than that, and after experiencing such a concentrated dosage of so many of the things in such a short time I have to wonder about the message we’re sending to prospective furry fiction fans. In practice (if Future is any guide), the “furry” element in furry fiction currently isn’t all that much more of a defining characteristic than the “persecution” element.
Do we we really want to become known as the “persecution” genre?
All in all, however, in my opinion Fred has succeeded in creating a very worthwhile and highly memorable collection of furry science fiction from the fandom’s top authors. The Furry Future is absolutely a “buy” in my book— as I said above, “The Darkness of Dying Stars” all by itself is worth the asking price, and there’s plenty more Good Stuff besides.
Thanks, Fred, for once again performing this service to our artform.