The Book of Lapism, by Phil Geusz (2nd enlarged edition) – review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

The Book of Lapism, by Phil Geusz. [2nd enlarged edition.]
Birmingham, AL, Legion Printing & Publishing, January 2015, hardcover $24.99 (351 [+1] pages), Kindle $4.99.

lapism-coverThis book is a bibliographer’s nightmare. It’s referred to as the Deluxe edition, the 2nd printing (but presumably means the first printing of the second edition), and as The New Book of Lapism. Fortunately, it’s easily distinguishable from the first edition (Anthro Press, June 2009). That had a different cover (this one is by Micheal Day), was a trade paperback, and had two less stories.

This new hardcover is truly impressive, in thick, high-quality boards and a 8.5” X 11” giant size with large, easily read type. Still, almost all the sales are likely to be of the more affordable and easily held Kindle edition. It’s well worth getting in either case. The first edition is out of print, and lacks the two most recent stories. This new edition is complete.

Phil Geusz’s Lapist stories are set in the unspecified near future, maybe a hundred years from now, when materialism, greed, and a callous fuck-you-Jack;-I’ve-got-mine society are making more thoughtful people despondent about whether there is anything worth living for. The philosophy/religion of Lapism grows up; a true brotherhood whose adherents have themselves physically bioengineered into anthropomorphic rabbits to show their friendly, gentle, caring nature. The Lapists have a very rocky and insecure first few years, as covered in these six stories.

More rocky than they’d probably like to admit. There are serpents in Paradise.

Each of the six stories has a different narrator; four Lapists and two humans. “Drama Class”, the first story (Anthro #1, September-October 2005), features the dilemma of Blueberry Longleaper Rabbit, a Lapist highschooler. He doesn’t face prejudice (his classmates think that having a cute rabbit-boy amidst them is great!), but the others don’t really understand what Lapism is about. Should Blueberry accept the status quo (his drama class decides to put on “Alice in Wonderland” as their play just so he can be the White Rabbit), or should he proselytize and risk creating trouble? Worse, his parents had the whole family genengineered into humanoid rabbits when Blueberry and his younger brother Digger were little more than infants, and Digger has grown up hating being a bunny-boy. Is it youthful rebellion, or is Digger’s antipathy more basic? More urgently, can Blueberry keep Digger out of serious legal trouble?

“Schism” (TSAT #39, April- May 2005) is set earlier, when Lapism is just getting started. Sweetgrass, the founder of Lapism, has been assassinated, and his son-in-law Silkfur (father of Blueberry and Digger) reluctantly takes his place. Will the killer come after him next? A convert dies while being bioengineered into a rabbit, and her father sues the Lapists for $30 million; enough to bankrupt the Lapists. But the worst threat comes from within the Lapists themselves. Well-meaning Church Elder Oaktree wants to proselytize aggressively to enlarge the Church as quickly as possible, while Silkfur believes in growing very slowly and accepting only those who truly understand and embrace the philosophy of Lapism. The schism threatens to tear the tiny movement apart.

“Full Immersion” (Anthro #4, March-April 2006) features Jeremy, a human boy whose greedy foster parents have him genengineered into Bluegrass Spelunker Rabbit as a carny show attraction. Jeremy must decide whether it’s better to join in the hoax, to become human again as soon as possible — or to really study Lapism and enter its brotherhood. They offer a better “family” than anything that he’s known. (“Schism” and “Full Immersion” were reversed in the earlier edition.)

“In the Beginning” (Anthro #7, September-October 2006) is set the earliest of all, before Lapism exists. The previous stories tell that Lapism came about because of the moral bankruptcy of humanity. “In the Beginning” shows that spiritual deadness. Dr. Thomas Aaron is materially successful, as one of the developers of the costly gengineering process that can turn humans into part-animals. But he doesn’t care and is drinking himself to death. His wife has become a cultist who despises him and is divorcing him; his “friends” are all materialists who care only for making money; the public has become totally self-centered and is lawsuit-happy; all those who show any sign of spiritual concerns are emotionally weak; and he is depressed because the humans he transforms all choose cats, wolves, lions, and other popular aggressive predators. “In the Beginning” tells of Dr. Tom’s moral conversion that will lead to Lapism.

“Prodigal Son” (Anthro #18, July-August 2008) is told by Gary Johnson, the workaholic leader of a national TV network’s news crew who usually covers disasters, riots, and is just back from a story about a teenage school shooter who left fifteen dead. Gary is assigned against his will to do a feel-good story about people who don’t go bad: the Lapists at their first father-son summer camp, Camp Oaktree. The Lapists will only let Gary come if he brings his teenage son, so he pressures his ex-wife to loan him his kid for a weekend. To his surprise, the ex agrees. Gary Junior is turning into a juvenile delinquent, and maybe the camp will help him. Gary assumes that his biggest problem will be to keep his son from calling the Lapists “bunny-fags” to their faces, but the situation is worse than he expects. The Lapists are hostile to being used to get TV ratings, and Gary Junior is deeper into trouble than he realizes. Gary’s efforts to turn the situation around lead to more than he plans on.

The narrator of Chosen People (Five Fortunes, January 2014) is Juniper Lawkeeper Rabbit, a former human marksman who has accepted Lapism, become a rabbit, and been hired as sheriff of Oaktree Village, the first planned Lapist city. Juniper expects most of his duties to involve protecting the humanoid rabbits from troublemakers or criminals among the humans of the nearby towns. Instead, he becomes uneasily aware that many of the Lapists, with their smug we’re so much better than the humans attitude, may be encouraging the growing bad feelings against Oaktree Village. As Silkfur points out in “Prodigal Son”, the morphed Lapists are still 95% human, with most human failings still intact. When crime does finally occur, and Juniper is ordered by the mayor to ignore clues and investigate only the humans because no Lapists could possibly be guilty, what is he to do?

Geusz’s writing is smooth and sharp at the same time. In “Prodigal Son” he has to show that the unpleasantly cynical, work-obsessed narrator is blind to his own faults, at the same time making him seem appealing enough to capture the reader’s sympathy. Geusz makes it look easy:

“Marge closed her eyes and sighed. ‘I meant Gary Junior. Your boy.’ She shook her head. ‘I mean… Didn’t you even think about him while you were covering this… monstrosity?’

I looked away. ‘He’s a little young for high school.’

My supervisor frowned. ‘He starts his freshman year this fall. I just saw Stephanie, and she was telling me all about it.’ Her head titled inquiringly to one side. ‘You really didn’t know?’

‘Well…’ I answered. My ex and I weren’t on exactly the best of terms. About the only nice thing she ever had to say about me was that the checks arrived on time. And as for little Gary, well, he and I had gone to the zoo the last time I’d seen him. Or… no, it wasn’t the zoo. It’d been the circus, but we had to leave early so I could chase down an urgent interview. He’d cried and cried…

High school?

‘Anyway,’ Marge continued, clearly disappointed that I’d not tapped the source of inspiration she’d been counting on, ‘it’s damn good footage regardless. Kent works well with you, unlike anyone else I’ve teamed him with. He has a lot of potential, if handled properly.’

‘Maybe,’ I agreed. I’d made that mistake before, committing my career to a single Talent. Then he’d gone and changed networks, conspicuously failing to bring me with him. It’d taken me five years to work my way back up to running to my own team. Like it was my fault that he’d gotten a better offer elsewhere?” (p. 232)

The name “Oaktree” superficially seems to be used too much, but the story “Schism” justifies it. It all hangs together.

It’s impossible not to wonder what might happen in the Lapists’ future, in another hundred or two hundred years; but Geusz has no current plans to continue the series. Republishing The Book of Lapism with these two newer stories implies that there are no plans for “The Second Book of Lapism”. So if you missed The Book of Lapism before, don’t miss it now.

– Fred Patten