Furtual Horizons (Rainfurrest anthology) – book review by Fred Patten.
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Furtual Horizons; A Rainfurrest Anthology, edited by Ryan “Sterling” Hickey. Illustrated.
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, September 2014, trade paperback $10.00 (269 pages).
Furtual Horizons is the fourth annual RainFurrest charity fiction anthology, following 2011’s Stories of Camp Rainfurrest, 2012’s Tails of a Clockwork World, and 2013’s Dancing in the Moonlight. “The RainFurrest Annual Charity Anthology was created to celebrate and showcase the literary aspect of the anthropomorphics fandom as well as to raise funds for charity. The charity for RainFurrest 2014 is Cougar Mountain Zoo (http://www.cougarmountainzoo.org/).” All stories are donated to RainFurrest by mid-June, and the anthology is published by FurPlanet Productions in Dallas to be sold at the convention in September, and subsequently at future RainFurrests and through the FurPlanet catalogue. RainFurrest 2014 raised $6,500 for Cougar Mountain Zoological Park in Seattle’s suburb of Issaquah.
RainFurrest 2014’s and its anthology’s theme was “Cyberpunk”. Furtual Horizons contains eleven stories, six of which are illustrated with full-page frontispieces.
Frankly, this 2014 anthology is the first that has looked like a real book rather than a thin booklet of barely over 100 pages. At eleven stories and 269 pages, the reader gets his/her full money’s worth. Also, personally, I am getting increasingly annoyed by the convention’s inability to settle on its spelling of RainFurrest or Rainfurrest after eight years.
“Artificial Evolution” by Shelled Spirit Bear (illustrated by Slavestate Comic) is set in the year 2460. It features Rachel, a robot; Alan, an anthro red fox; Shun, a female large 7’ gray shark in a black bikini; and later a Red Mechanoid. On the first page Rachel, the narrator, is badly damaged in an accident. It turns out that “she” is in an old-fashioned mechanical body:
“But as Shun sets the bag down next to me, the fox starts in with the sales pitch. ‘Ya know; I could just download you into a whole new body.’
I’ve received offers of one kind or another along this vein for years now. ‘We could…’ I say, thinking for a moment on how to phrase my response, ‘But I like the way I look, and the way I function just fine. I even try to keep and repair as many of my original parts as I can, rather than junking them.’ …” (p. 7)
Why Rachel seems to prefer the old-fashioned body, what she really is up to, and what a clandestine faction of robots plan to do about it – against her will – make the story. “Artificial Evolution” is very clever, both intellectual and action-packed; although I am still boggled by the concept (excellently illustrated) of a sexy anthro shark on two legs who wags her tail like a dog, and pushes her “generous breasts” into people’s faces.
In “Speciation” by Fever Low (illustrated by Rhari), going Askew is what they call turning a human into an anthropomorphic animal:
“‘The actual process isn’t a big deal. Well,’ He [Felix, an anthro otter] smiled sheepishly, ‘I mean, it is, all sorts of complicated medical stuff they’ve gotta do to you. But from your perspective it’s pretty much like going to sleep one morning and waking up the next completely changed. Metamorphosed. O’course it really takes three weeks and when you wake up you itch all over and gotta pee something fierce. As to how they came up with it, did you know that pretty much all of the proteins and a number of the chemicals that give coffee its smell are lost by two minutes after brewing because of the heat?’” (pgs. 38-39)
Felix is explaining the process of going Askew to a human teenager. It involves lots of nanobots that have to be drunk in very hot liquid. Due to various reasons, hot coffee has become the liquid of preference, and Sirens in Seattle evolves from a coffee-specialty chain into the world’s premiere “going Askew” company.
“‘Downsides are also … numerous. You have to buy and drink Sirens coffee for the rest of your life, one cup a day if you’re a land dweller, two if you’re aquatic. Because of the undercoat.’” (p. 40)
There are lots of other details, but the one pertinent to this story is that the Skewed can’t become pregnant. They’re barren. Felix and his wife Linda, a Skewed housecat-woman, are easy being childless. It doesn’t seem important amidst the other events of the story, until the end which breaks off rather than concludes. “Speciation” features an intriguing premise and is well-written, leaving the reader definitely wanting more. It too has a minor character who is an anthro shark.
“Tech Flesh” by Laura “Munchkin” Lewis is set in a furry world. Nathan Stanton (wolf), an employee of Green Mesa, is so horribly injured in an accident that all of his skin is replaced by the company’s experimental biomechanical synthetic skin. He is lucky that he just happened to work for the one company whose experimental research project could keep him alive. But as more and more questions arise, the reader wonders how much of what happened was just luck? “Tech Flesh” seems overemotional at points, too highly leading at others, and there is no real need for the characters to be an anthro wolf, a lioness, a ewe, a bear, etc., rather than human.
“Neural Enrichment” by Direlda is set in a futuristic Seoul, newly-unified Korea, where unexpected side effects of a low-cost cybernetic neural implant – to enhance the mind and, in this case, to enable visiting Americans to understand and speak Korean instantly – include having incessant advertisements beamed directly into your head, and, since the implant includes organic components derived from animals, turning into an anthro form of that animal. John, an American in Korea as a low-paid English teacher, becomes an anthro fox. The “animals” like him are heavily prejudiced against by the Koreans; and, as John sadly discovers, by the Americans visiting Korea, too. Then John makes an astounding discovery – but telling what it is would be a real spoiler that would ruin this clever story.
“Skin Deep” by Garret “Hunter” Biggerstaff (illustrated by Ulos12) is narrated by Jaeger, a wheelchair-bound furry in a poor neighborhood who won’t say what his species is. He does note that,
“One thing I will say for the people who go furry … they like to pick the pretty animals. Most are predators … graceful and strong. […] I can sort of see myself in the silver-chrome of his eyes, and the reflection of reflexive pity in the doe’s. I can guess what they think of me, some kind of retro savage. Too poor or stupid to get off my paralyzed butt and get the leg augs, or the spinal graft I’d need to be like the rest of them. Eternally young and pretty, and lying to themselves.” (p. 116)
So he must not be a “pretty” animal. But when he gets into the privacy of his apartment:
“Opening up the walk-in closet, I look up at the suit.
Before Augmentation became affordable for the masses, militaries and corporations experimented with substitutes for turning their people into two-legged tanks, trying to get all the power with the least cost possible. […] Acquiring this bad boy wasn’t easy, but worth every bit of blood I paid for it… and the after-market mods just added to the fun in my opinion. Seven feet tall from ears to tail, the suit looks like a smoke-grey anthropomorph cougar with a pair of green-flecked gold eyes.” (p. 118)
What Jaeger wants the suit for ain’t pretty, either.
“Rich Kid” by Tarl “Voice” Hoch is chromatic in its violence:
“‘Come on, go faster!’
Sheen’s laughter was as rapid fire as the twin assault rifles that were bucking in her paws. Lances of fire spat lead from their barrels at the Corporate Security hover cars that pursued the trio’s convertible through the tall smog shrouded buildings of downtown. Spent shell casings spilled from the guns in a brass waterfall to the streets fatally far below. The discordant cuteness of kawaii metal blared from the car’s speakers.” (p. 133)
Rich Kid, Sheen, and Blacki are three techno-anarchists in a world where any cyborg can look like anything. Rich Kid is sometimes a raccoon; sometimes a lynx-elf. Sheen has chosen to be a wolf. Blacki is one of several extinct giant apes that he switches between. They are fighting the Corporation, but as the story explodes destructively forward, their anarchy seems like an ever-thinner justification for a no-holds-barred murder spree. “‘Let’s blow something up already,’ the wolf’s panting voice came over the link. […] ‘I’m starting to get really bored here.’” (p. 141) The story ends violently – of course!
“Cat’s Cradle” by Ocean Tigrox (illustrated by Danika Jane) is an increasingly deadly cat-and mouse game between a tiger cyber-ninja and the master of the electronic maze/fortress that he is infiltrating. More cannot be said without revealing major spoilers. I don’t think that real adversaries in such a tense situation would spar verbally so much with each other, but the story would not flow so smoothly without the dialogue to reveal the background without a clunky expository lump.
In “Fast Food Fight” by Ryan Hickey (illustrated by Jayelle Anderson), Merik (suave black stallion) is the leader of a group of cyber-enhanced mercenary plainclothes agents at a furry night club. The others are Dominique, a “slim, voluptuous white vixen”, An Shih, an older gray fox, and Chimera, a currently-female “curvy teenage ferret”. Their assignment is to find who has kidnapped an R&D team of Onyx Corporation’s subsidiary, Flash Foods, Inc., manufacturer of the most widely-eaten artificial food in civilization. Presumably one of Onyx’s rivals, but which? The story is full of dialogue like:
“‘Sorry to interrupt your conversation my friends… but I do believe what we have been waiting for has arrived.’ An Shih cut in with an even tone. ‘Three Rottweilers with spiked collars, piercings, and jackets with the Hell Hounds logo emblazoned on their backs just pushed past the bouncer, and have entered the club. There are a fourth and fifth out here on the street, and they seem to be looking at the parked cars in the valet area. Also, my friends, by the way they are moving they are clearly enhanced, these two ruffians cannot stand still for more than a second, and the lights from the club are reflecting off of same [sic.] rather obvious cyber ware… and at least one of them has looks to have [sic.] a full conversion left arm complete with hydraulics.’” (p. 174)
It’s competent but not sparkling secret agentry, again with no real reason for anyone to be anthro animals instead of cyber-humans.
“Top Priority” by Kyell Gold is set in an artificially furry world in which most humans who can afford it wear virtual Pelts (fursuits).
“In his virtual office, Bold stretched out an arm to bring up a different display. He spent so much time here that when he stepped back into the real world and saw human skin rather than white wolf fur, it came as a shock, as though he was dreaming the unpleasantness of life whenever he took off his v-gogs. He slept with the pod strapped to the base of his spine that simulated the pressure of a tail and could make it wag with just a little motion.” (p. 196)
Bold is one of the two leading manufacturers of Pelts. He specializes in custom Pelts, while his friendly rival Tiggus mass-produces them. “If furries wanted fur like a wire brush, or flat plastic textures, those were easily available. TV and movie companies came exclusively to Bold (exclusively for animation, until this Viacom thing) because Tiggus liked to make his Pelts very anatomically correct. Tiggus got more business from individuals for the same reason.” (p. 197) But both get as much business as they want. In fact, Bold gets so much that he can be ruthless in enforcing his prime restriction: his Pelts cannot be used in any way for personal remuneration. “Top Priority” is so brief and with so many loose ends that it screams of being a chapter pulled from a longer work in progress.
In “The Shield” by Shelly Alan & David Alan (illustrated by the latter), Gage is an anthro fox cyber-mercenary hired to get the aforementioned ancient shield from an old museum. But he finds out the hard way that the museum is protected by the latest, most deadly, anti-intruder military cyber-tech. Gage also discovers that another cyber-thief is after the shield, and it’s a wolf with better tech than he has. Are they rivals or should they team up; and what is the shield, really?
The protagonist of “Pluto’s Prison” by Friday is a cat-man who awakens in a morgue without memories. For convenience’s sake he uses the name Pluto. This is his story of escaping from the morgue and discovering what to do next. It’s clever, but a bit too intellectual.
Some of the eleven stories are set in Seattle. It’s a nice nod to the location of the convention publishing Furtual Horizons, but it ultimately detracts from the book, calling attention to how artificial most of them are. (Not “Speciation”; the locale is nicely worked into the story there.)
My favorites are “Artificial Evolution” by Shelled Spirit Bear, “Speciation” by Fever Low, “Neural Enrichment” by Direlda, and “The Shield” by Shelley & David Alan. “Top Priority” by Kyell Gold would rate higher if it weren’t so short and with so much left open. I am definitely looking forward to the longer work it’s from when that is published, though.
Furtual Horizons’ cover is made from two cyberpunk futuristic paintings by Egypt Urnash, RainFurrest 2014’s Artist Guest of Honor. She says that the front cover is a fashion consultant, and of the back cover, “Cybelle is half gazelle, half rabbit, and all predatorial otherdimensional entity pretending to be a furry.” Furtual Horizons is the best of the RainFurrest charity anthologies so far. Congratulations!