Foxhunt!, by Rich Hanes – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

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

Foxhunt!, by Rich Hanes. [2nd edition]
Everett, WA, Arkham Bridge Publishing, January 2014, trade paperback $19.95 (337 pages), Kindle $6.99.

This is the 2nd edition. The first edition was published by Arkham Bridge Publishing in June 2009 with the same cover illustration by Minna Sundberg. I don’t know how the two editions may differ.

This is furry space opera, the first novel in the Wildstar Universe of genetically-engineered human-like animals. (According to Amazon, Hanes only has one other Wildstar Universe work so far, and it’s just a 15-page short story, “Duel of Honor: The Way of the Wolf Warrior”, published in April 2015. Hanes has asked for comments on his works-in-progress on the Furry Writers’ Group forum, although he is not a member.)

The interstellar peoples of the galaxy are all modified Earth mammals based upon dogs, foxes, raccoons, wolves, and more, although humans do exist. And the animals don’t like each other. Interstellar warfare is strictly regulated through a Mercenary Command, and restricted to small mercenary companies rather than large national armies. Captain Sebastian Valentino, a humanoid fox, is the leader of the Star Rangers, the most successful mercenary company in the galaxy; 300+ mostly canids such as his Senior Lieutenant Corey Delzano, a jackal, and Junior Lieutenant Patricia Darling, a painted dog. The Star Rangers usually are hired by the government of Valentino’s own Star Alliance, and their target is usually the Alliance’s traditional rival, the Canis Dominion.

All this is background that the reader will pick up in the first thirty or forty pages. The story is that Captain Sebastian Valentino is having an extremely bad day. Or bad week. Or bad months. First, his Assistant Captain and best friend Adrian Miller is killed in a botched raid that Sebastian blames himself for. Second, Adrian’s extremely formal Rite of Passage (funeral) is also botched, which Sebastian (who is having a brief nervous breakdown) also blames himself for. Sebastian’s new Assistant Captain, Corey Delzano, talks him out of it, incidentally giving the reader a smooth background course in Volpa history, language, and religion.

The third reason is the most important:

“Sebastian sighed and looked up over the top of his hefty tome on modern naval combat. A dingo with green general-duty epaulets approached him. ‘You’re interrupting the Battle of Morswood, Collins,’ Sebastian said. ‘This better be important.’

‘Extremely. See, we just got into orbit, and –‘

‘Out with it, sydney.’

Librarian Collins thrust a freshly printed newspaper into Sebastian’s paws. ‘You’d better read this.’

Sebastian was long used to the strange texture and appearance of shipboard paper. The translucent sheets glittered when the metal threading in its pressed pulp surface caught the light. Limitations in ink forced grayscale only, and a limited lifespan, but ship life has its concessions. It was a far better solution than shutting the crew out of external news.

Right now, Sebastian was concerned with the newspaper’s cover: crosshairs super-imposed over a photograph of himself.

‘What is this?’ He read the headline. ‘Fox on the Run?’

‘It’s the National Informer –‘

Sebastian slammed the paper down atop the reading table with a dull smack. ‘I can see that, I’m not blind! I mean the caption, ‘Number one mercenary becomes number one target.’

‘We just got it over Lafayette’s newswire, it’s dated yesterday. I got it to you as soon as I could.’

Sebastian mumbled, sought out the associated story, and began to read. ‘Dateline, Sirius, 9 Ares. Canis Dominion officials stunned the galaxy today by proclaiming a bounty upon the head of Captain Sebastian Valentino, founder and commander of MerCom’s highest ranked unit, Valentino’s Star Rangers. The unprecedented announcement came just three triads after the destruction of an unidentified research installation in the Monterrey system, presumed to have been the work of the Star Rangers. This is the first time in history that a state has issued a bounty on a unit sanctioned by the Mercenary Command, and at a total payout of 3,000,000D, by far the largest ever offered for a single head. […]” (pgs. 33-34)

The bounty may be irregular or even illegal, but it’s been issued by a large government, and anyone who wants to collect it can count on being safe in the Canis Dominion. Sebastian is very devoted to traditional Volpa customs, and cannot be dissuaded from going personally to Adrian’s family on the planet Wexford II to pay his condolences, despite the huge bounty on his head. At least he goes in disguise. The conversations, TV newscasts overheard, and so on will give the reader more background on the fox-dominated Star Alliance. Instead of saying “etc, etc, etc”, the foxes say “bark bark bark”. The Alliance is concerned about the declining vulpine birth rate. Other interstellar nations are the Pan-Atlantica Federation, the Balkany Democratic Republic, and the Lupine Order.

I cite all this to show how much background there is. It’s well-integrated into the novel. Sebastian is on Wexford II to see Adrian’s parents. He’s in disguise as a civilian, and is also taking a needed vacation after his recent breakdown. He stays in regular communication with Corey and his Rangers in his warship, the Favored Sky, in orbit. Everything is fine — until they aren’t.

The huge bounty on him makes hiring his Rangers politically unacceptable for the Alliance. Someone tries to hire the Star Rangers themselves to assassinate him. Corey is tempted – with Sebastian dead, he would become the permanent leader of the Rangers. There is a precognition of doom, a tragic romance, and betrayal. Sebastian gives risky orders that, considering his earlier breakdown, make the Rangers doubt his emotional stability. Again Corey is tempted – removing his Captain on mental grounds would be another way to take over the Rangers. The #2 mercenary company in the galaxy, the Disintegrators commanded by red wolf Commander Duke Thompson of the registered mercenary warship Indeterrable, attacks the Rangers to collect on the bounty:

“‘You are a wanted war criminal, Valentino. It is my duty as a member of civilized society to place you under arrest.’” (p. 140)

Thing go from bad to worse. There are even one-on-one battles in titan combat armor (anime giant robots)! And the characters (aside from the odd human) are all furry.

The dialogue contains many vulpine-specific references. “I can smell your lies […]” “And now I get the stiff-tail?” […] “So that’s it,’ he said, ‘after all my loyal service to the Alliance, it’s goodbye, good luck, don’t catch your tail in the door?” (pgs. 59-60) There are also references to the canid species in the Star Rangers:

“‘Is it that time of year?’

Corey scowled and bared his teeth. ‘No!’

Patricia shrugged. ‘Well, how should I know? You look like you’d be helped by the company of a nice jackal woman, if there is such a thing.’

A snicker ran up from the bridge crew.

‘It is not mating season for jackals, you insufferable whelp!’ Corey said.” (p. 52)

For wolf fans, there is a lengthy sequence among the Lupine Order. Foxhunt! is superior both as space opera and as furry fiction. Don’t miss it!

Fred Patten

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