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Death, memory and elephants: Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard
by Lawrence M. Schoen
384 pp., $25.99 hardcover (ebook, $12.99)
Tor Books, December 2015

Furry books have popped up here and there in mainstream fantasy and science fiction.  Most often, the furries are aliens (C.J. Cherryh’s Chanur series) or denizens of a fantasy world (Steven Boyett’s The Architect of Sleep, Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series). Occasionally we get uplifted animals (David Brin’s Startide Rising). Rarely do we get to see furries realizing their own society in a science fiction setting.

Enter Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, a new novel by Lawrence M. Schoen, in which Fants—anthropomorphic elephants—inhabit the planet Barsk, the only source of a drug that allows certain gifted individuals, “Speakers,” to speak to the dead. The Fants are generally despised by the rest of the races of the galaxy, all anthropomorphic Earth-based animals with names mostly derived from their Linnean genus name: Nonyx for cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), Cans for dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), and so on. But the drug, koph, is highly desirable for obvious reasons, and when one of the Fants dies after discovering a secret about koph, the Alliance, the governing body of the known universe, sends a mission to Barsk to find out what the secret is.

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Traveling to The Furry Future

The Furry Future
Edited by Fred Patten
Cover Art by Teagan Gavet
446 pp., $19.95 (ebook, $9.95)
FurPlanet Productions, January 2015

The Furry Future collects nineteen short stories imagining how furries might come into being, whether created by humans, or discovered as aliens mankind must now learn to live with. Furries in science fiction settings offer a wide variety of ideas and approaches, and this anthology, edited by Fred Patten, does a good job mining different veins.

Fiction within the fandom that features a mixed population of anthropomorphic and human characters often centers on the idea that furries are a servant/minority class without equal rights. The protagonists are making their way through this world, either struggling to make sense of it, fighting for better treatment, or just trying to survive the abuses of the ruling class. The problem with these “fursecution” stories is they’ve been told many times before, and worse, they’re fairly easy to get wrong. Many of us reading these are minorities moving through a world where we aren’t treated equally—I’m a politically active black gay man, for instance—and too many fursecution stories show an insufficient grasp on the realities of this situation. It deeply matters to me, on a personal level, that these stories illuminate an understanding of what that’s like. While some of the stories in The Furry Future are stories featuring integrated societies, a fair number are stories about segregation and prejudice, and they work well only some of the time.

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Slow popcorn: The Rise of the Red Shadow

The Rise of the Red Shadow
By Joseph R. Lallo
Cover Art by Nick Deligaris
439 pp., $2.99 (ebook), $16.00 (trade paperback)
Amazon Publishing Services/CreateSpace

From the 1950s up through the 1980s, the paperback original dominated genre fiction. Some became undeniable classics—the Ace Science Fiction Specials included the first publications of Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Wild Shore—but most aimed less at dazzling critics than at presenting rousing adventure tales. They might rarely be your Favorite Book Ever, yet if you got hooked on an author—or a series—you’d grab title after title.

Unless you’ve got the next Dresden Files, though, major publishers aren’t interested in those kinds of titles anymore. This has opened a gap for self-published and small press ebooks to fill. Series like Annie Bellet’s The Twenty-Sided Sorceress and, closer to home, Phil Geusz’s David Birkenhead septology would fit beside 1980s stalwarts like Diane Duane and Alan Dean Foster. Amazon and Goodreads are full of well-loved series—far more than there were in the paperback’s heyday, and once inflation is accounted for, at lower prices.

One of those series is Joseph R. Lallo’s The Book of Deacon, a trilogy starting with a novel of the same title. The Rise of the Red Shadow is a standalone prequel described as “Book 0” of the trilogy, telling the origin story of one of Deacon’s side characters: a “legendary assassin and mythic hero” named Lain, a malthrope—an anthropomorphic fox.

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The Vimana Incident, or what really happened on the Moon in 1939

The Vimana Incident
By Rose LaCroix
Cover Art by NightPhaser
208pp, $9.95
FurPlanet Productions, February 2015

The Vimana Incident features alternate history, time slip, and a deliberate homage to one of the most respected names in science fiction. By her own admission, author Rose LaCroix has set herself some ambitious goals with this novel. Has she bitten off more than she can chew?

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Exploring Abandoned Places

Abandoned Places
Edited by Tarl “Voice” Hoch
Cover Art by Kappy Rayne
Interior Art by Silent Ravyn
346 pp., $19.95 (ebook, $9.95)
FurPlanet Productions, November 2014

Tarl Hoch’s Abandoned Places isn’t the first furry horror-themed anthology,1 but the genre includes relatively unmined territory for anthropomorphic fiction. More intriguingly, many of the voices presented here are relatively new to the scene, or at least to the anthology circuit. Hoch himself may be best known in the fandom as one of the co-hosts of the Fangs and Fonts podcast. Authors include novelists Ryan Campbell, James L. Steele and Ben Goodridge, as well as a few authors known more for explicit work, like Rechan and Kandrel.

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Five Fortunes, an anthology of novellas

Five Fortunes
Edited by Fred Patten
Cover Art by Terrie Smith
415 pp., $19.95
FurPlanet Productions, January 2014

This anthology is a collection of five furry novellas, each about 80 pages long. The theme? All the main characters are taking steps forward to choose and shape their own futures. I’ve read work by all of the contributing authors before, but for most of them it’s been a while, so I was curious to see what their recent output would be like.

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Is What Happens Next the right question?

What Happens Next: An anthology of sequels
Edited by Fred Patten
Cover Art by Sara Miles
424 pp., $19.95
FurPlanet Productions, July 2013

Other than annual awards collections, mainstream fantasy and science fiction anthologies have all but vanished. Furrydom, though, has an infatuation with them. We pump out several a year, nearly always of original fiction and nearly always themed: cyberpunk, Halloween, science fiction, gay erotica featuring farmboy foxes. Whether readers share this enthusiasm for anthologies with writers, though, seems murkier.

In What Happens Next, an anthology from 2013, each story connects to a published story from furry’s past. At first blush there’s a logic to this. What sells most consistently in genre fiction has long been the serial, from E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensman series through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Kyell Gold‘s popularity is in no small part due to the Argaea and Dev & Lee series. Yet the chances are slim that a reader who isn’t deeply invested in stories produced by furrydom over the last quarter-century will know all or even most of the earlier works. How interested can you be in continuing adventures of characters you don’t know?

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Deconstructing his own creation: Nathan Cowan’s Technofox

Novel by Nathan Cowan
Self-published on Fur Affinity
Warning: Explicit (NSFW links)

Nathan Cowan has written four novels and two short stories about the adventures of the Foxforce Four, an all-female, all-vulpine paramilitary team consisting of the leader, Firefox; the computer-whiz, Technofox; the soldier, Silverfox; and the spy, Shadowfox. On the surface, the Foxforce stories are classic pulp action tales—with liberal doses of erotica sprinkled in. But this first impression quickly gives way to a surprisingly deep saga, with ethical ponderings on the relation between creator and creation and an imaginative, biopunk setting created with a scientist’s attention to detail.

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In the original “Welcome to Claw & Quill” article from a year ago I said, with unintentional foresight,

Part of what’s made Claw & Quill tough to get off the ground is that it’s hard to describe just what it is. It’s a magazine for furries—but not a fiction magazine or a news magazine, not art or comics. It’s not about furry-as-a-noun, in the sense of lifestyle and identity. It’s not necessarily even a “magazine for furries” the way most people might take that phrase.

You may not be shocked to learn that this kind of nebulousness makes it tough to write for.

So, after a lot of behind-the-scenes shuffling, C&Q is relaunching using WordPress rather than its own custom back end. The rationale for this is two-fold, both relating to making it easier to generate new content.

  • As much as I like the notion of issues, it’s going to be easier to get new articles up if I don’t have to wait to collect four or five in batches.
  • It’s also going to be easier if I don’t personally represent a single point of failure, bluntly. WordPress allows me to give contributors their own accounts at various access levels. As much as a control freak as I may be, this isn’t going to be sustainable unless I let other people into the control room.

Also, it’s pretty clear the main focus is going to be reviews; that’s what a lot of people have indicated they wanted, and it’s one of the things furry really does need.

I have a few now long-overdue articles to return to and get up within the next few weeks, and new people to start bringing on. I promise there will be more here shortly—and that it won’t be a year between reviews.