The furry fandom originated, according to most accounts, back in the late 80s, when a group of cartoonists got together to share their love of drawing anthropomorphic animals. Many old-time furries cite Steve Gallacci’s Albedo Anthropomorphics as the earliest “modern furry” comic, and Gallacci’s table at a southern California science fiction convention as the focal point that led to ConFurence Zero. Wherever it started, furry fandom diverged quickly from science fiction in practice, if not in theory. Furry tracks at SF cons quickly grew to the point that organizers chose (or, according to some accounts, were asked) to start their own conventions. This began a divide between furry and SF/F fandoms that only grew as furry began to generate its own stories and novels more specifically relevant to its fans.
On the face of it, furry fiction would appear to be inseparable from science fiction. The main characters of furry stories are anthropomorphic animals, creatures that do not exist in the real world. What can that be but science fiction or fantasy? And yet SF/F has been as reluctant to embrace furry as furry has been to return to SF/F. There are SF/F stories with anthropomorphic animal characters, I am often reminded, but they do not seem to be as popular in the fandom as the home-grown furry books.
The central thing that makes a story furry is the quality of its characters. What makes a story science fiction is the idea behind it, the “what if” in a scientific sense. What makes a story fantasy is the worldbuilding (even urban fantasy builds a whole hidden world to graft onto our real one). These are pretty diverse concepts, and it should be easy when you look at them this way to see how a story can be one but neither of the other two–or could be furry fantasy or furry SF (fantasy and SF are traditionally separate, because when you build a new world for your fantasy story, the scientific “what if” loses its context; science fiction is traditionally at least based in the real world and real science).
If your story’s central idea is “how would the world change if everyone became an animal-person,” then that falls into the realm of science fiction (or, some might argue, fantasy, or slipstream; at the very least, it’s speculative fiction). If your story is about a new world in which everyone is an animal-person, then you are pretty okay with fantasy (my own Argaea series is sort of thinly fantasy, because there is no spellcasting nor anything else fantastical–except the characters). If your story is “how hard is it to be gay when society wants you to be straight, and also you’re a fox,” well. That’s not science fiction, and it’s not fantasy: it’s our real world with animal-people dropped in place of human people and the world changed to suit them. Scent markers become important and houses take on different shapes and sizes, for instance. But that’s not enough to make it a fantasy world.
So a subset of furry fiction is SF, and a larger subset is fantasy. But there’s a bunch of furry fiction that is just exploring human stories in the real world without enough fantasy or SF elements to appeal to readers of those genres. This seems to put furry into the realm of plain ol’ fiction, with furries a metaphor for people, or a way to have character types defined. But of course, making everyone a furry is a little far out for most modern fiction as well. Science fiction and fantasy fandoms have the most in common with furry fandom, and yet you can’t get past the fact that many SF/F fans don’t want to read furry stories–in some cases because they’re not weird enough.
I don’t think the fandoms need to merge or aggressively court each other’s fans, but I would like to see more communication between them. Furry is growing while SF/F is shrinking, or at least growing at a slower rate (if you exclude YA and video gamers and TV fans, which the core fandom continues to try to do), and yet the writing part of the SF/F fandom is chugging along just fine.
As furry fiction continues to grow and gain a wider audience in the fandom, I hope furries will look outside to what fantasy and SF are doing. There are some great stories being written in both fandoms, and though SF/F has the more accomplished stable of writers now, furry is on its way up. I think furry writers specifically could bring a lot of wonderful things back to the fandom from the SF/F books that are coming out now, things like cultural diversity and experimentation with literary forms, and sheer breadth of imagination.
Furry fiction has much to offer in return: the diversity of lifestyles in the furry fandom (QUILTBAG1 people are well represented and visible, and that is reflected in our fiction), and a way of reimagining our bodies and identities that is currently only skimmed in SF/F, an association with animal forms that has a rich literary and mythological tradition.
Some SF/F fans I’ve encountered won’t try any furry books–even the SF/F ones–but they’re missing out. Just because you don’t want to read all the books in a genre doesn’t mean you won’t want to read any. My “Dev and Lee” series has gained a pretty nice following among gay romance fans who recognize that at the heart of the story, there are people, no matter whether they have fur and tails or not. Do those people also want to read Kevin Frane’s excellent SF-furry novel Summerhill, which has a very minor gay romance in it? Not so much. But that doesn’t stop them from enjoying the furry books that do appeal to them.
Furry is not science fiction, nor is it fantasy–nor should it be. Furry is its own thing (I have heard from people who say “I just don’t want to read stories without furries in them”), and it has a vibrant, creative fandom. I am seeing more SF/F markets open to furry stories that otherwise fit their criteria, and more furries showing interest again in the SF/F world. This kind of cross-pollination of creative communities can only result in good things for both.
- A more inclusive evolution of the acronym LGBT. See Julia Rios’ “Reaching into the QUILTBAG: The Evolving World of Queer Speculative Fiction” for more. –Ed. ↩