The Pride of Parahumans, by Joel Kreissman – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

The Pride of Parahumans, by Joel Kreissman
Knoxville, TN, Thurston Howl Publications, December 2016, trade paperback $11.99 (161 pages), Kindle $2.99.

The Pride of Parahumans starts with a small, cramped prospecting spaceship in the Asteroid Belt in the late 2100s or early 2200s, crewed by four parahumans (bioengineered anthro animals); Argentum, the black fox mineral analyst (and narrator); Cole, the raven pilot, Denal, the red panda mechanic, and Aniya, a human-wolf-possum mix taur rescue/medic. They’re exploring asteroids, looking for a big strike. They may have just discovered one when they’re attacked by an unknown pirate spaceship. They shoot back and destroy it, killing its one-parahuman crew.

Unfortunately, they (and probably the pirate) are from the Ceres Directorate, the major Asteroid Belt and parahuman government. And the Ceres Directorate has a draconian law against killing. Self-defense is no excuse. Anyone (and in this case the whole crew) who kills has all assets seized and is sentenced to fifty years at hard labor. They agree to keep everything secret and return to Ceres.

“Naturally, we got the first indication that things on Ceres were about to go wrong just as we were leaving the cavern.” (p. 24)

The Pride of Parahumans begins as an okay space opera, full of action and suspense. Unfortunately, it seems very similar to Kismet by Watts Martin, which is also about an anthro space pilot involved in action and suspense in an asteroid belt full of furry characters and space governments, published at almost the same time. And Kismet is MUCH better written.

There are differences. Argentum is a bioengineered experiment, designed to be without genitals and androgynous. (The pronoun zie is used.) The other furries have genitals but they were made sterile (they reproduce by cloning), so they can indulge in lots of sex without worrying about getting pregnant. (Argen qveches that zie’s missing out on the fun.) The Asteroid Belt governments are more chaotic and dictatorial – they all seem like wretched hives of scum and villainy — which increases the suspense, but are less logical.

In almost every respect in which The Pride of Parahumans can be compared with Kismet, it comes off second. Pride begins with huge expository lumps to describe the parahumans and their Asteroid Belt culture:

“Anyways, that brief history of Ceres does not do justice to the wonder that is the market caverns. As the corps mined out the dwarf planet they dug huge holes miles beneath the surface in order to get to the largest concentrations of mass in the asteroid. These tunnels were a minimum of two meters tall to accommodate the miners and their equipment, but the caves that had held the most valuable minerals often reached five meters in height and a football field or two in length or width. Since there was plenty of pre-existing living space in the worker barracks and tunnels, many of these caverns had been reinforced with long titanium columns and filled with multiple levels of storefronts. The .028 gravities made it easy for most people to simply jump from one level to another through holes in the rickety paneling placed in front of shops so the customers had something to window browse from. It’s rather incredible, in a ramshackle slum kind of way.” (p. 21)

Kismet blends the setting into the action smoothly. Kismet’s third-person narration is more natural to a novel, while Pride is narrated by Argen in a conversational style that makes you constantly wonder who zie’s supposed to be talking to.

In Pride, the parahumans were bioengineered by human corporations to explore and mine the Asteroid Belt. They successfully revolted and set up their own Asteroid Belt nations. Kismet also has furry nations in the Asteroid Belt, but the animal types seem more reasonable for space exploration and exploitation. Rats, wolves, foxes, large dogs, the big felines. In Pride there are those, but also enlarged ravens and others such as “a heavy set spider monkey”, parrots, and octopi, that do not seem to be logical for space mining. The ravens have sort-of hands:

“His [Cole’s] wings were also modified with small claws at the ends, apparently a small atavism the bioengineers found that dated back to the earliest birds from the time of the dinosaurs. They enabled him to hang onto an overhead handlebar while his feet manipulated the flight controls. Apparently there was a prevailing theory among some of the corps that created us that creatures that evolved in a three dimensional environment would be better suited to navigating the depths of space than us terrestrials. So rather than adding some animal genes to a human baseline genome like most did for their deep space workforce, they took the genomes of dolphins, parrots, octopi, corvids, and seals – basically any aquatic or flying animal that showed a decent level of intelligence – and boosted their brainpower until they could operate a spaceship. I don’t know how well it worked but I do know that for all his annoying quirks, Cole was a great pilot.” (pgs. 4-5)

This is imaginative and more colorful – birds or octopi piloting spaceships? — but is less plausible than the big mammals of Kismet.

Another imaginative bit is the culture of cloning. Parahumans buy their “children”. Here the four protagonists have moved from Ceres to Vesta. They find that the manufacture of clones there is controlled by the Society for the Preservation of Parahuman Species.

“Then he [Denal] paused as if in contemplation. ‘Hey, maybe we should all get clones. We can be like one of those human families. Me and Cole can be the dads, Aniya can be the mom, but what would that make you?’

I snorted derisively. ‘Save it until we have enough money to actually buy clones. I doubt they would charge a bunch of prospectors fresh from Ceres anything less than full price. And last I checked, clones were expensive.’” (p. 53)

And then, slightly less than halfway through, The Pride of Parahumans swings in a completely new direction! The quality of the writing improves (the expository lump is over), and the plot becomes entirely original – not just in comparison to Kismet but to other s-f. What had seemed like a pale imitation of Kismet becomes impossible to guess at – and very worth reading.

The Pride of Parahumans (cover by Donryu) is still not as good as Kismet, but you wouldn’t believe how two novels that begin so similarly can become so different. Read both, and if the beginning of Pride seems too similar to Kismet at first, stick with it. You’ll be glad that you did.

Fred Patten

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