Children of Steel and Interregnum, by John Van Stry – Book Reviews by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Children of Steel, by John Van Stry.
North Charleston, SC, CreateSpace, February 2012, trade paperback $12.99 (350 pages), Kindle $3.99.
Interregnum, by John Van Stry.
North Charleston, SC, CreateSpace, May 2015, trade paperback $9.99 (198 pages), Kindle $2.99.
John Van Stry first came to the notice of furry fandom with the story “Changes” in Yarf! #51, December 1997. But he began writing before that under the pen name of Banner Von Trippen, with “Waiting for Shadamehr (or Someone Like Him)” in Yarf! #49, July 1997. His serialized Dialene, beginning in Yarf! #64, April 2002, under the Von Trippen name, featured a foxmorph living in his Children of Steel universe. Since then he has been publishing through CreateSpace under his real name. Most of his stories have been published as science fiction, not furry fiction, even when they feature anthropomorphic animals.
Children of Steel is set in a familiar-to-furries future. To quote its rear cover, “Raj is just your average everyday genetically modeled and artificially created anthropomorphic worker for one of the many corporations of the future. Extensively trained and conditioned from birth he’s now indentured for the next fifty years of his life; assuming he doesn’t die first, or somehow manage to pay off his creation and training debts. Created by the corporations to deal with the harsh labor shortages of the twenty second century when humans will no longer take on the dangerous jobs Raj finds himself now in the harsh world of space exploration, trading, corporate maneuverings, and sometimes the even more dangerous fanatics that hate Raj and his fellows.”
Raj Rakir is “‘a sentient leopard-man of .7 human norm on the Rourstat scale,’” created by the Tri-Star Mining and Manufacturing corporation. He is presented “‘with your bill for creation and training by the corporation. As covered in the created species act of 2069 you must now work for above said corporation until you have either paid this bill, or completed a term of 50 years indentured servitude.’” (p. 4) The bill comes to three-plus million new dollars. Even with an expected lifespan of a hundred years – assuming he isn’t killed in one of those dangerous space jobs first – Raj can expect to spend most of his life working for Tri-Star. But he’s not worried about it.
“Simply put, the bottom line was that if it wasn’t for Tri-Star I wouldn’t exist. I did owe them that much.
I flexed a bicep and grinned toothily at my reflection in the mirror, and they did design well. I was the biggest leopard in my class, and the strongest. I’d graduated at the head of my advanced combat classes for a reason: I enjoyed kicking ass. Whatever was coming, I’d find my way through it one way or the other.” (p. 5)
Raj’s first assignment is as the junior shuttle pilot on the Tri-Star space freighter Astra, a transport and cargo ship. Even though the Astra is a commercial ship in peacetime, Raj can see how it can be quickly converted into a troop transport if necessary. He meets other “animen” such as a tiger, a fox, an opossum, and a raccoon. There are frequent mentions of twitching tails. The difference between free born animen versus the crèche-born, raised, and trained animen who are indentured servants to their companies, is shown. Raj is talking with Gabriel, the other junior pilot and a more experienced foxmorph.
“‘How’s it going, Raj?’ He asked setting down some paperwork and pulling up a chair.
‘Not too bad, Gabe, just looking over the new changes. What’s with you?’
‘Same shit, different day. I hear we’re supposed to make Hobson’s Choice in twelve weeks. Any info on that?’
‘About what I’ve heard.’
‘Great, I’ve been there before; you’ve got to check it out. It’s really something.’
‘Well, I’ve never been on another planet, so that in itself sounds pretty thrilling to me.’
‘It’s not just that, Hobson’s is thirty percent animan.’
‘Man you really are fresh from the crèche, aren’t you?’
I glared at him a little, my ears going back a bit. ‘I never claimed otherwise.’
‘Hey, don’t get your fur in a ruff! If you had got out more you would have noticed that on Earth, we’re not well liked. Heck in a lot of places we’re not even allowed.’
‘Well, I will admit that I did lead a pretty sheltered life in that aspect. Maybe the company does look out for us?’
‘Oh, there’s no doubt about that. Tri-Star actually treats us like we rate. But on Hobson’s the vast majority feel that way. They still got some Auntie-anns, but you won’t dance with the hangman for defending yourself in a fair fight.’
Auntie-ann was slang for the anti-animen people. On Earth they made up a pretty sizeable chunk of the population and we’d been warned continually to avoid them. It was nice to know that my instructors had been honest about their being less of them on the other planets.
‘And you think you would on Earth?’
‘Damn right, Judge Lynch is out there and waiting!’” (p. 15)
There have been brief mentions throughout this that Raj had a sister and best friend among his siblings from the crèche, Cassandra, another leopardmorph or Lepman; but she has already graduated and gone out into space. Raj hopes that he’ll run into her. In addition to getting to know the rest of the crew, Raj is expected to join “his clan” – the other leopards in the Astra’s crew. There are ten of them – Balizar, Herza, Mist, Katrina, and others — and they become Raj’s new close-knit family and important secondary characters in Children of Steel. He misses Cassandra, though.
That’s the setup. Children of Steel is good interstellar military space opera with a furry cast, mostly anthro leopards, told in a pleasantly chatty style. Raj’s experiences begin mildly – a couple of interesting but non-exciting shipboard incidents – and work up over 200+ pages. After carrying cargo, the Astra switches to carrying troops.
“After telling him [a tiger commando] about the makeup of the hundred or so troops we had on board, he told me about his group. They turned out to be tough sounding group all right. About two hundred big cats, almost a hundred Rhino’s, about another hundred wolves, and the remaining hundred made up of specialists; Eagles, Weasels, Badgers, and Beavers mostly. The last two groups being sappers.” (p. 93)
(The above paragraph is a good example of the poor proofreading in Children of Steel. Other examples are “What not in two months?”, “So tell us about yourself Raj”, and “I found my quarter’s pretty quickly, I was sharing a room with three other’s.”; but it’s not too bad.)
From being a pilot on a ship carrying troops, Raj becomes a soldier himself; then the Astra goes to one of the human-supremacy planets. Much more happens, including exploring new planets and a lot of bloody military action. Tri-Star gets involved in a full-scale war. There are surprises for the reader.
Raj is constantly getting into trouble because of his leopard’s nature. Children of Steel is more than a funny-animal novel, and leopards like Raj have a reputation as hot-headed and troublemakers.
“‘I’ve seen your records, Raj, you’ve got a real classic leopard’s temper. If you don’t control it, you’re going to end up in real bad trouble and I’d hate to see that happen to someone as talented as you.’” (p. 157)
Leopards also have less inhibitions about incest, and it soon becomes clear that Cassandra and Raj are more than brother-and-sister crèche-mates.
That’s Children of Steel (cover uncredited). Interregnum (cover by Amanda Rozga) is more of the same. The war is over, but as the winners, losers, and survivors of World War II could have told you, the transition to peacetime isn’t immediate and isn’t all smooth. Tri-Star is a winner and has inherited several new worlds from the losers and defunct neutrals. The Astra is assigned to investigate them. There are enemy holdouts. There are survivors to be rescued. Raj is kept busy. Readers who enjoy Children of Steel (which will include most fans of military s-f, and s-f about uplifted animals) will enjoy the sequel.