Dissident Signals, Edited by NightEyes DaySpring and Slip Wolf – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Dissident Signals, edited by NightEyes DaySpring and Slip Wolf.
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, July 2018, trade paperback, $19.95 (349 pages), Kindle $9.95.
“Everyone wants to create a perfect world.
Whether crafted by benevolent computers or drafted in the boardrooms of corporations that own all we ever know, shining cities and indomitable Empires have risen to reveal the very best of us. The leaders we choose, and those forced upon us, can create hell or paradise. Sometimes they create both at the same time.” (blurb)
Of course, things don’t go as intended. This anthology contains “sixteen dystopian stories about greed, power, and control from worlds like ours but not ours. Stories about hope, despair, and those willing to stand up to their oppressors to resist.” (blurb)
The frame, created by the editors and illustrated on the cover by Teagan Gavet, is of a nameless individual holed up in a ruined building, broadcasting sixteen accounts of what went wrong all over the world.
In “0.02%” by Faora Meridian, 0.02% is the amount of the world population that is immune to Core’s brainwashing additive to the air, called Whimsy, making everyone happy and peaceful and docile. Since Core can’t Whimsy-fy the entire atmosphere of Earth, people are brought inside enclosed Colonies all around the world. The 0.02% of the population who are unaffected by Whimsy are considered unmanageable and warlike, and are regretfully euthanized. Jordan Mulley and her brother Blake are freedom fighters among the 0.02%, trying to infiltrate Core Colony Sixty-Two to rescue a youth about to be tested for his susceptibility or resistance to Whimsy. The characters debate whether a world where 99.9998% of people are happy and peaceful in a idyllic setting is bad, if the other 0.02% are killed.
“Chasing the Feeling” by Mog Moogle is like the previous story, but much bleaker. Mirra is also inside an enclosed dome, but the entire world outside is uninhabitable:
“The reddened sky dissipated over the wall. Behind the emitters, the deadly cloud was repulsed and the original shades of night stretched on in its place. With a hiss, the access hatch opened and the vixen crawled in.” (p. 39)
Again, everyone is brainwashed, but the regimentation is much harsher. Mirra also fights against the system, but subconsciously rather than deliberately, and it is implied that it is too late to oppose the system if any life is to survive. “Chasing the Feeling” is better-written than “0.002%”, but more depressing. Both “0.02%” and “Chasing the Feeling” are funny-animal stories. Their characters are described as anthropomorphic animals, but they might as well be humans.
“Losing Yourself” by George Squares does feature humans, in a society where wearing fursuits is mandatory. Okay, they’re enclosed costumes including helmets with a holographic overlay. Macie Owens looks like a “graceful looking orange tabby cat with a dainty pink nose made from holographic light” (p. 57). Inside, she’s sweating to death:
“‘It’s not the fucking animal that’s the problem. I just don’t want to spend the majority of my time in a glorified football mascot.’
Jonas’ costume pupils [he’s a coyote] slit in that angry, predatory way to show that he was about to say something serious, but Macie was so used to it by now that the feature didn’t even phase her. ‘Three centuries of peace and prosperity is nothing to balk at. Especially,’ he hissed, ‘considering the era we woke you up from.’” (p. 58)
Macie has spent 400 years in medical dormant sleep, and the society into which she emerges is what she considers needlessly flamboyant:
“At the entrance of the room was a podium near a red belt fence, and Macie couldn’t help but gawk at the security guard. He stared at her and Jonas as they entered and Macie stared right back. He looked to be at least eight feet tall, and he was… mostly a zebra. He had the arms and legs and tail of a crocodile, and leathery bat-like wings that hung to his sides. They seemed stiff, so they probably weren’t functional. But most distracting were his muscles. He had so many sinews that his body reminded her of a lobster, but probably not as delicious. She looked back and forth from him to Jonas in disbelief. Jonas was ignoring her, and apparently, the security guard was too.” (p. 60)
Macie finds an uninhibited old woman who explains to her what the rules of the new society are, instead of just talking at her like Jonas did. Macie decides what she has to do.
In “The Melting Pot Has Frozen Over” by T. D. Coltraine, enthusiastic but naïve Diana Mondeline, a new Washington, D.C. bureaucrat (human) in the future, decides to visit her district and survey her constituents. She finds that the slum reality is nothing like the reports she has been getting:
“‘It was my idea. I thought it would benefit everyone if I came to Independence District personally and spoke directly with the citizens. It’s something that hasn’t happened in far too long.’
‘But there’s polling data and election results!’ She picked up her tablet again and pointed at a page of numbers, dozens of them, in tightly packed rows almost too dense to read. ‘This is from just last month. The residents approved a six percent tax on luxury items to fund air quality improvements.’” (pgs. 80-81)
Low-class rabbit factory worker Rue Nikolades shows her the reality:
‘But it ain’t what you expected, is it.’
Diana nodded with an uncharacteristic sigh. ‘Everything I’ve heard and seen today is exactly the opposite of my expectations. Worse, it’s the opposite of everything the party says.’ She ran her fingers through her hair then turned her screen towards Rue. ‘Like this. Just last calendar year, we put a full 170 million credits into transit programs. I can’t even find any sign you have the systems the money was meant to upgrade, let along the upgrades.’” (p. 91)
The factory workers are all anthro animals, the descendants of bioengineered soldiers in a war several hundred years earlier, so there is a purpose for their being furry.
“A Road of Dust and Honey” by Searska GreyRaven is set on an Earth turned into a wasteland studded with infrequent Farms under sealed domes. The remainder of this world runs on both machines and magic; a repairman of a cobbled-together rig is a magi-canic. There are a few humans left, but most of the survivors are combinations of human and an animal, called “splices” derogatorily. The stars of the story are Vex, an adult bearkin, and Kine, a juvenile foxkin; the villains are a human and assorted canidkin:
“She rolled up to the next Farm just after dawn, dust settling on her long coat and boots as she hopped from the cab and shouldered Wilson, her rifle. Frick and Frack, her pistols, hung from holsters on her wide hips, polished metal gleaming in the sun. Tucked into her belt was a Y-shaped slingshot, and next to it dangled a small leather pouch cinched shut with a drawstring. Her rig shuddered as it shut down, letting out a wheeze and a belch of blue smoke. Vex grumbled back, entirely unsurprised by her rig’s outburst. She plopped a wide-brim hat atop her head and swept the gauzy veil back out of her eyes.” (p. 105)
Vex is part trucker, part cowboy (that’s sexist, but cowwoman is misleading), and telling what her magic talent is would be a spoiler. The villains are particularly nasty and deserve what happens to them. A well-told story.
“Protecting the Code” by TJ Minde is unusual in that all the characters are a single species, pine martens, rather than the usual variety of funny-animal species. Dixion is a minor bureaucrat in a completely regimented society where doing practically anything without permission is forbidden grounds for being “disappeared”. When Dixion’s kid sister gets pregnant without being married, he helps her to escape into the next country where the people are all wildcats, even though propaganda says the wildcats eat pine martens. The story is smoothly written, but how many stories (usually not furry) are there about characters in repressive totalitarian societies who try to escape to freedom?
“Gilded Cage” by Jelliqal Belle is narrated by Meg Airedale gens, a harem breeder in a militaristic expanding canine Empire at war with the Catkin nations:
“Mother Xaviera was an upright Poodle gens who wobbled on two legs. There was no pleasing her. You were too loud, too soft, too brusque, too uninteresting, or too know-it-all. We mocked her funny walk behind her back.
Xaviera taught us the right way to howl the patriotic songs that we only half-knew from hearing the soldiers march by to fight the Catkin Celts, or the Tigris Tigers, or whomever we were battling at the time. The Empire had many enemies. That was the price of being the greatest empire in the world: everyone else was jealous of our greatness and wanted to tear us down. In those lessons, we learned my sister Tabs had a powerful voice. Who knew? Xaviera suggested that she could train for musician as her second vocation.” (p. 160)
Matriarch, a “grey-muzzled Labrador gens”, explains further:
“‘I encourage you to listen to the nurse; follow her advice on what to eat. Do the exercises you learned in training, even when you don’t feel like it. You’ll stay healthy longer.’
‘You mean have more babies,’ barked a cynic in the back.
Matriarch rose from the cushion, helped up by a nearby lute player, and leaned into her cane. ‘No, I mean it might help prevent your bones from shattering from the frequent pregnancies, or help you not bleed to death in labor. Having litter after litter takes a high toll on your body. I don’t know what your life was before you came here, but you will be dreaming of it as paradise before year’s end.’” (pgs. 164-165)
The bitches, or “chew toys”, are baby factories for the Empire, ordered to have as many litters as possible, as quickly as possible. The males are bred for cruelty and viciousness, which makes them more effective soldiers but brutal lovers in the harems on their furloughs. Meg and her twin sister Tabitha learn that Mother Xaviera walks funny because her hip was broken and her leg dislocated by Alpha Pilus Spike, a powerful Bulldog gens who likes to play rough. The females of the Empire, whether they are in harems or factories or labor farms, do not enjoy themselves.
In “The Tower” by Gullwolf, Thistle, a jackrabbit, is a messenger because he is so fast:
“Thistle’s ears shot up, knocking his hat off his head as they swiveled, straining behind him.
Thistle ducked to snatch the hat, sweeping the cap over his ears as he tucked his head underneath the door frame and dashed out, breaking one of his cardinal rules of never traveling faster than the surrounding citizens. Using the full length of his stride was always bound to cause undue attention, and as he sprinted along the edge of the sidewalk, several canines and felines were glaring at him in his wake for interrupting their meandering stroll. He didn’t stop until the shadow of the skyscraper crossed over him, and the temperature dropped several degrees. The eye was unblinking now, the slit pupil sliding to and fro to keep a watchful eye over its citizens. Thistle shifted the package under his arm and folded his ears back as he shook his identification bracelet on his wrist, reviewing the message once more.” (p. 189)
Thistle lives in a regimented city of mammals watched over by the eye of SECURNET atop the tallest skyscraper in the city. It is enclosed by a fence that everyone is forbidden to go outside, although why anyone would want to is unexplained:
“Thistle’s breath caught as he stepped back. The fence was a good thing. It kept those others away. It kept away those whose diets had razed the land to the barren wasteland it was now, it kept those away those whose needs had swallowed the precious resources for the collected whole, it kept those away who had gutted his ancestors over differences in blood and claw. It kept everyone inside safe. If he didn’t look, the others wouldn’t be there because they knew about the fence. The skyscraper watched and if anything approached from beyond, it would let the citizens know. They were safe under the skyscraper and its ever-watchful gaze.” (pgs. 190-191)
Those outside are the avians and the reptiles. “The Tower” has an eerie ambiance, and the characters are certainly more than funny-animals.
“The Preacherman” by Stephen M. Coghlan is set in Australia. The narrator, Joshua Ezekiel Thompson, is a badger imprisoned for the murder of his stoat best friend. The Preacherman is a hellfire-spouting Tasmanian Devil as the prosecutor, forcing the accused to march in chains through the desert to the next town to be tried before God and the townspeople, with his two announcers (revolvers) as the judge to deliver God’s verdict. But the Preacherman loads the announcers, one chamber to six. The cast may be funny-animals, but this is a powerful fantasy of a bleak, God-fearing frontier community where both all hope in God, and there is no hope.
“Forbidden Fruit” by Detroit follows Turner, a bobcat junk dealer specializing in electronic parts, in a decaying Memphis, TN of the future:
“Turner lived in South Memphis, and he would have to take three separate buses to reach his destination. They were rolling north now along Riverside Drive, headed towards downtown. They’d passed the old exit for the I-55 Bridge into Arkansas, which had collapsed into the Mississippi River a decade ago. The river itself had disappeared from view well before that. The lack of plant life meant hellish erosion of the river’s watershed, rapidly worsening the already notorious flooding o the Big Muddy. Now Riverside Drive traveled alongside a massive dike built of dirt and rubble. Here and there, recognizable pieces of debris poked out from its ugly sides. Memphians had been so desperate to stop the flooding that they had piled whatever could be spared into building the wall: smashed homes, old trailers, cars, and the constantly eroding, infertile dirt. Turner had traveled this way enough times that he instinctively knew where to look for the most recognizable pieces: a hunk of an airplane fuselage, half of a faded beer billboard, the burnt hulk of an old dump truck. The bus shuddered and jarred as it rattled over the long trails of eroded dirt snaking across the crumbling road. Soon the bulldozers would be back out, pushing the dirt up against the dike yet again. Massive walls of compacted earth and rubble surrounded the rest of the city, offering some protection from the hellish dust storms that regularly swept the denuded countryside. The walls allowed Memphians to cling to life, but they kept much of the city shrouded in darkness.” (p. 223)
“Forbidden Fruit” is the scariest story so far, because its leadup to this ruined future America through the consequences of climate change is so plausible — despite the unnecessary nature of its funny-animal cast.
In “Photographs” by Televassi, the protagonist is Val, a former revolutionary in his youth who is a middle-aged establishment history teacher today. Val is also a horse Chimera in the Haven, a domed society in a ruined future Earth society of humans and three Chimera breeds – horses, wolves, and fallow deer – the descendants of bioengineered soldiers:
“‘Right now [Kira says] my research focuses on Chimera’s physical imperfections. We all know wolves lack the hand structure for delicate work thanks to the dewclaws, but it’s not actually a purpose bred trait from their design. We need to stop believing our genetic engineering is so perfect. It’s a neglected interaction between the human and lupine alleles, that causes roughly two-thirds to get them instead of thumbs – in short, they were made to be the unfinished product.’” (p. 250)
Val, a horse, is married to Edna, another horse Chimera whom he does not love. He still loves Kira, who had been a fellow revolutionary in their youth; but she is a deer, and Chimeras are not supposed to marry outside their breeds. Then, after decades, the Underground contacts Val again…
“Gloves” by James L. Steele is set in a modern world of anthro lion prides. The males sit at home, nude, and spend all day fucking their factory-laborer wives (they take turns going to work, and staying home to be fucked) and taking their paychecks:
“‘Males tell us we’re living in modern times. Our factories make computer systems and automobiles. Medicine has saved countless lives. Technology eliminated the need to live in prides, where the females did all the hunting and males merely guarded their territory from intruders. Now we herd the animals we used to hunt and we have leisure time to pursue our interests. But we still live in prides. The lionesses still do all the hunting, and the males do nothing but sit at home and collect wives. They keep us in this role because they benefit from it. We have not advanced beyond our primitive nature, and things are worse than ever because now they know what they are doing. Before, it was instinct. Now it is deliberate.’” (p. 280)
Flora, the lioness narrator, is sullen but she does not know what to do about the status quo. Ant introduces her to the feminine revolution. It can get bloody.
“The Reclaimers” by Joseph Vandehey takes place in a far future where humanity has concentrated in sybaritic artificial mid-ocean cities, and the land has been abandoned to raising food to feed those cities:
“The Vermin are genetically engineered rats, ferrets, raccoons, and otters, with the occasional badger or other species thrown in. They stand a meter tall, with hunched shoulders, and brains pre-programmed with a certain task and enough intelligence to carry it out. A Vermin farmer waters a cornfield. A Vermin plumber fixes the water pipes when they leak. A Vermin picker harvests the corn. A Vermin loader monitors the corn being packed into crates. A Vermin driver takes the crates to the train. A Vermin stevedore offloads the crates onto boats. They are the new domesticates, the wheels by which humanity lives a life of luxury.
But their minds are limited. The same farmer who happily waters corn would be flummoxed by wheat. They have no inkling of the world beyond their pre-programed task, the most basic of problem solving, and the necessities for survival.” (p. 286)
The nameless narrator is a human “scientist”, really a bureaucratic “assessor” assigned to find out why the manufacturing output in what was Eastern Europe has dropped. So he ventures into the ruined towns and finds …
What he finds is described in a letter to his colleagues. It’s eerily colorful, an “unintended consequence” of the Vermin’s programming. Whether it is encouraging or horrific is up to the reader. It might be better if the letter-writing narrator was less histrionically Lovecraftian in his descriptions.
“Coffee Grounds” by Thurston Howl begins with an unforgettable brief paragraph:
“Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice. They never would have guessed it would end in coffee.” (p. 297)
That’s such a great paragraph that I won’t describe the story any further. Just read it.
“Not All Dogs” by Mary E. Lowd is set in her Otters in Space world, and is specifically a spinoff of the scene in Otters in Space III where Petra Brighton (cat) is arrested on a trumped-up charge by a dog policeman. Here her husband Lucky (terrier), one of the dogs not prejudiced against cats, is persuaded to join the protest march outside the police station. He has to bring their three kitten children (adopted) with him for lack of a babysitter:
“It wasn’t that Lucky didn’t support cats’ rights. Of course, he did. He was married to one, wasn’t he? But there’s a difference between voting for equal wage laws and standing outside [the police station] with a poster board sign. Democracy depended on voting; protests were for when democracy broke down. And as far as Lucky knew, democracy hadn’t broken down in in the Uplifted States since the Dark Times after the humans left Earth. In fact, given that they’d elected their first feline president last year, democracy and cats’ rights seemed better than ever.
‘You’re here early!’ Cassandra meowed, marching out of the crowd to meet Lucky. ‘And you’ve got all three kittens! That’ll look great on camera.’
‘You sound surprised…’ Lucky woofed. ‘Were you not expecting me this early? Or to bring the kittens?’” (p. 314)
Lucky had been naïve before the protest march about the canine establishment’s prejudice against felines. Not afterwards.
“A Better America 501(c)(3)” by NightEyes DaySpring is also about a degenerate, rundown future America. X35670, a.k.a. Hunter, is a manufactured coyote morph working for the charity A Better America in Washington, D.C. It, and the morphs working for it (technically owned by it), are constantly harassed by the authorities because their increasing charity work makes the establishment look bad. What happens can’t be easily summarized because of too many legal twists and turns, but Hunter – who prefers X35670; there are too many Hunters while he is the only X35670 – volunteers for a dangerous scam to take at least one of the corrupt government rulers down.
The sixteen stories are all powerful. They start out with the destruction of the planetary biosphere, or at least of civilization, and end with a positive note. The last two stories just feature a corrupt America which could be redeemed. The best story My favorite story is “Gilded Cage” by Jelliqal Belle, followed by “Losing Yourself” by George Squares, “A Road of Dust and Honey” by Searska GreyRaven, “Forbidden Fruit” by Detroit, and “Not All Dogs” by Mary E. Lowd. You may prefer others; I’m prejudiced against funny-animal stories where the characters could as easily be humans, while if you don’t mind them, there are some fine ones here. A technical quibble is that the front ¾ of the book is admirably proofread, while the last two or three stories don’t seem to have been proofread at all.
Dissident Signals (cover by Teagan Gavet) is overall a very good furry anthology. You’ll enjoy it.
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