Sunset of Furmankind, by Ted R. Blasingame – Book Review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Sunset of Furmankind, by Ted R. Blasingame. (Revised & Expanded Edition.)
Raleigh, NC, Lulu.com, February 2015, trade paperback $32.99 (727 pages), Kindle $2.99.
When I reviewed the first edition (Lulu Press, September 2011) on Flayrah, it was “only” 510 pages. I said, “Ted Blasingame writes long Furry novels.” Little did I know …
Since I can’t tell just where Blasingame has expanded this novel, I have to read it all over again. That’s no chore. After over three years, I don’t remember it in detail, and Blasingame is a fine furry author. Sunset of Furmankind is worth a reread.
The setting is sometime in the 22nd century. Humanity has almost simultaneously discovered faster-than-light travel and extrasolar planets that are barely fit for human colonization, and the means of genetically mutating humans into semi-animal forms. Due to the high mortality of humans on these harsh extrasolar planets, the Terran Colonization Coalition takes over the genetic mutation process to create four tougher new “races” of humans: the Canis (wolf- and dog-men), the Felis (big cats like lions and tigers), the Ursis (bears), and the Vulps (foxes). Predators and omnivores are deliberately chosen since it is felt that they are hardier than the herbivores. They are made the primary explorers who prepare the planets for human settlers. The Fur-men and –women who are converted by the Anthro Human Colonization Program are mostly volunteers to be sent out to the hostile new worlds to create starter colonies. However, criminals who face life imprisonment or the death penalty are given the chance to start a new life as a non-human in permanent exile on a new world if they will help to tame it for regular humans.
Back on overcrowded Earth, there is the inevitable minority of Pure Humans extremists. One of them, Brian Barrett, shoots a Felis mountain lion-man just about to leave Earth. Barrett is sentenced to either be executed for first-degree murder, or to be converted into a similar cougar-man to replace his victim.
Sunset of Furmankind exhaustively follows Barrett and his new teammates — Kristen Eisenberg, Dante Capanari, and Jenni Watson; all volunteers — as they meet at the Furmankind Institute’s Adirondacks training camp, undergo their lengthy training and conversion into four Felis, join the new Canis, Ursis, and Vulps (four of each), and are shipped out as a mixed Furman team to a newly-discovered world to begin preparing a base for the human settlers to come. Since Barrett is legally dead, he takes the new name of Jonathan Sunset; hence the book’s title. The excellent cover by Elizabeth Jackson does not illustrate a scene; it is an allegory showing the conflict between Brian’s/Jon’s two personalities. (The cover by Ashley Leuthardt of the first edition is reused as the back cover here.)
Sunset of Furmankind has three major problems. Firstly, Barrett’s initial extremist prejudice as a human against the Furs is not really convincing. It’s realistic enough; nobody can deny the Nazis’ well-known prejudice against the Jews and their insistence that all Jews were subhumans. But Barrett is portrayed as too independently intelligent to believe that the clothes-wearing, talking Furs are really mindless, ferocious wild animals. Fortunately, this is brief; and the reader will be curious as to how a protagonist sentenced to death on almost the first page will carry such a long novel. (And, to reveal a minor spoiler, that turns out to not be Barrett’s real motive for the killing, but the reader is led to believe so at first.)
Secondly, Blasingame has to make his protagonist disagreeable at first, yet still sympathetic enough to hold the reader’s interest long enough to evolve him into a likeable character. The vivid 22nd-century setting and the colorful other characters, each portrayed at length, help here until the emotional bond with the reader is established.
Thirdly is the 727-page length. I said of the first edition, which was only 510 pages, “Sunset of Furmankind could use tighter editing — it is about 100 pages longer than it needs to be — but the padding is very readable, and the extra dialogue/background/locale adds to the overall verisimilitude.” That’s more true than ever. The novel could be condensed drastically, and none of the expansion seems necessary. But like a really fascinating conversation at a party, you enjoy it and want to know what comes next. You don’t want it cut short. Here, Sunset of Furmankind is helped by being divided into 67 short chapters of usually ten pages or less. It all reads smoothly, yet it’s easy to find a temporary stopping place.
First, Brian Barrett is described in detail, then the Furman Institute and each of Brian’s/Jon’s close teammates are described in detail, then their transformation into Felis is described in detail, then the other members of their exploration team – three each of Canis, Ursis, and Vulps – are introduced … For an example, here is the first appearance of Jenni Watson:
“‘Hello,’ Jenni said courteously, stepping out of the vehicle onto the grass. The newcomer was slender and shapely, in her late twenties, and as far as the men were concerned, she was striking in appearance. She had shoulder-length blonde hair and a set of powder blue eyes that were mesmerizing even in the waning light. Her makeup was subtle as was her outfit. She wore a long-sleeved white blouse with only the top button undone over a moderate sized chest, a tan skirt that fell below her knees, and a pair of matching flats. There was a delicate silver chain around her left ankle matching a pair of small silver earrings and they glittered when park lights over the sidewalk suddenly came on with the darkness. Dante’s eyes seemed to be glued to the curve of her calf and a lopsided smirk appeared across his lips.” (p. 56)
That could easily be cut down, but it certainly gives you a good picture of Jenni. Would you want it condensed? Sunset of Furmankind is good science-fiction, and furry fans should revel in the detailed clinical descriptions of humans slowly turning over months into Furs, and what they do after that. The narrative doesn’t drag, despite its length. A lot happens, including the death of one of the four teammates, and a brief murder mystery among all the Furs.
(To be honest, some of the detail does seem excessive. Most of page 302 is filled by a character making a joking reference to the old Hitchcock thriller Psycho, then having to explain the movie to the others who are unfamiliar with it, then having to explain what a 20th-century “motel” was. Blasingame makes it all smooth, realistic dialogue, and it’s reasonable after 200 years, but still …)
The bottom line: I enjoyed Sunset of Furmankind, even at 727 pages and a rereading after three-plus years. You should, too. Brian/Jon is the main protagonist, but there is a large cast of intelligent, believable, and generally likeable men and women having the adventure of their lives.
Excuse me; preparing for the adventure of their lives. When it was first published in 2011, it didn’t have a sequel. Now it does. If you enjoy Sunset of Furmankind and you want to know what the Furs find on that extrasolar planet, you have Second Chance to look forward to.