Blue Horizon: The Captain’s Journal, Book 1, by Ted R. Blasingame – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Blue Horizon: The Captain’s Journal, Book 1, by Ted R. Blasingame. Revised edition.
Raleigh, NC, Lulu.com, April 2014 trade paperback $18.99 (391 pages).
My clearest memory of mail-ordering the one-volume compendium of all Blue Horizon stories back in 2003 is receiving a massive “telephone book” tome that was almost too large and heavy to lift. And it was in small type, too! Now Ted Blasingame is revising and expanding the stories, and is wisely dividing them into four more-easily held volumes. He is also omitting the illustrations by Eileen Blasingame & Steve Carter that, while pretty, were amateurish and added unnecessarily to the older version.
The earlier edition, first written between 1996 and 2003 and published together in December 2003, included only 31 stories. It listed Ted Blasingame, Eileen Blasingame, and Steve Carter as co-authors. Now Ted Blasingame is the main author, with assistance by the other two. He gives a more complete history in his Introduction. Blue Horizon was an exciting fannish project of the three and their readers, starting online in 1996 and printed in 2003. It went on until 2009, but the newer stories were not printed, and everyone gradually moved on to other interests. Now, Blasingame has gone back to revise the entire series, rewriting the earlier stories and adding those from 2004 to 2009, for a new total of 45 stories.
These are the voyages of the interstellar freighter SS Blue Horizon PA1261. Book 1 contains the first 11 stories: “Drug Running”, “Unexpected Partners”, “Out of the Frying Pan” (by Steve Carter), “Vexed of Kin” (by Steve Carter), “A Little Liberation”, “Recruitment” (by Steve Carter), “Lost, Distant World”, “Dragon, Wolf & Tiger”, “Vixen’s Nightmare”, “The Blood of Aris”, and “Blue Horizon Down” (by Steve Carter). Although each story is distinct, they flow from one to the next, so the book is more like a novel than a collection of short stories.
There is no origin story as such. The first ‘Captain’s Journal’ entry, “Drug Running”, begins: “Happy anniversary. According to my calendar, it has been six years to the day since my business partner and I began this endeavor.” (p. 8) It starts ‘in media res’ (as Quintus Horatius Flaccus said 2,200 years ago):
“I took on a new crewmember today during a supply delivery to New Gate on Kantus. […] Since the death of my navigator copilot during a pirate raid on my vessel two weeks ago, I have been shorthanded. […]” (ibid.)
The reader picks up on who the Captain and crew are, and the backstory of the Blue Horizon, as the ‘Journal entries’ go along. Blue Horizon, the book, is necessarily episodic, jumping from incident to incident as the interstellar freighter flies from planet to planet. The standard format is to begin each story with an after-the-fact summary from the Captain’s Journal, then to drop back and tell the adventure in real-time.
“Although he might bear a name derived from human kind, Merlin bore only a scant resemblance to that race. When he stood upright, it was on bipedal legs with plantigrade feet. […]” (p. 10)
“He was three hundred years removed from genetic manipulations by Terran scientists, when humankind from Earth first spread out among the stars and needed hardy settlers to tame the habitable planets they discovered. Some of the distant colonies failed and others were forgotten until later generations rediscovered their altered brothers and sisters. […]” (p. 11)
What Blasingame is saying at great length is that Blue Horizon is a funny-animal novel. It’s well justified in a space-opera background, but Captain Merlin Sinclair is an anthropomorphic wolf. Supply officer Samantha Holden is an anthro Border collie. Navigator Renny Thornton is an anthro cheetah. Engineers Jasper and Jerad (Patch and Pockets) Porter are anthro raccoon brothers. And so on. The Blue Horizon doesn’t have any humans among its crew, although some appear on the various planets they stop at, including Earth itself. The freighter flies among the human and Furred worlds of the Planetary Alignment, having adventures as it transports cargo from one world to another. Blasingame uses species pronouns regularly like “the vixen” and “the grizzly bear”. “The wolf stood up and replied […]” “The canine gave him a smile.” So the reader never forgets that they’re anthro animals and what each’s species is. Still, the text refers to their hands and feet, not their paws. There are occasional mentions of tails, but never about them having any non-human effect on anything. “Patch removed the cigar from his teeth and said in the same country accent of his brother […]” There is a romantic relationship between the female red fox first officer and the male cheetah navigator. All the characters might as well be humans, so this is basically a funny-animal interstellar space opera.
The narrative goes on at excessive length. I am tempted to quote a couple of entire pages so you can see how easy it would be to condense the verbiage. But it’s all good writing. The extra wordage gives fuller descriptions of the cast, their personal quirks, motivations for the action, pictures of the worlds they visit, and so on. It’s unnecessary, but it’s all smooth reading that adds considerably to the overall color.
The first half of “Drug Running”, despite the dramatic title, essentially just introduces all the crew of the Blue Horizon and establishes their individual personalities. The last half brings onstage their running antagonist, Sagan, a murderously psychotic black jaguar, captain of the space pirate ship Basilisk. That’s Captain Merlin Sinclair and Sagan, and Taro Nichols, the Blue Horizon’s first officer, on Elizabeth Jackson’s cover painting. Sagan and the Basilisk aren’t in every story, but the reader never knows when they will reappear.
“Drug Running” is misleadingly titled, since the drugs are all legal. The Blue Horizon is carrying a cargo of valuable pharmaceuticals that Sagan and his space pirates try to hijack. In “Unexpected Partners”, Sinclair is hired to transport two-thirds of a cargo too large for the Blue Horizon. The other third is hired out to one of Sinclair’s old rivals, and he finds himself forced to work with a lion he considers completely untrustworthy. In “Out of the Frying Pan”, the Blue Horizon has to make a delivery to a world that has the reputation of being, to steal a line from Star Wars, the most “wretched hive of scum and villainy” in the PA. What Merlin and the others find there is not what anyone expects.
There are eight more Journal entries, but you get the idea. Blue Horizon: Book 1 is recommended to all furry fans who enjoy well-written space opera adventure. And there are three more volumes to come.