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.
Technofox, the second novel in the series, makes a far better introduction to the Foxforce universe than the first novel, Firefox. Firefox takes the standard BDSM erotica plot and deconstructs it, but the novel is so steeped in the trappings of the genre–with whips, chains, and collars on almost every page–that it severely limits its appeal to a general audience. Technofox still has its whips and chains, but uses them to inform the main character’s story arc rather than be the main focus of the story.
Each of the Foxforce novels has been a deconstruction of a different genre. Firefox is a deliberate spin on the babes-behind-bars lesbian erotica genre, and the third novel, Silverfox, is a guns-blazing action story with homages to Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.”
Technofox, on the other hand, resists easy classification at first. The story opens with Foxforce investigating a mysterious assassin known only as “7.62,” named after the distinctive ammo he uses. 7.62’s most recent target was an activist for chimera rights, chimerae like those in the Foxforce Four. Following a lead on 7.62’s identity, the team travels to Atlanta, but Firefox has an ulterior motive for the trip: also in Atlanta is Travis Walton, a human geneticist responsible for designing chimerae, who tormented and raped Firefox during the events of the first novel. Firefox wants revenge and asks for Technofox’s help in killing him. From here, the gears of intrigue start to turn.
It’s not until halfway through the novel that Technofox reveals it has been a murder mystery all along. Cowan spends the first half of the novel interweaving the investigation into 7.62’s identity, the planning of Walton’s murder, and the blossoming of Technofox’s sexual desires and her relationship with Firefox; then he deftly shifts the perspective of the story. Characters and events that initially hampered and distracted Foxforce’s plans become a list of suspects and clues. While this is all going on, the story keeps a strong focus on Technofox’s journey of self-discovery and on the fluid landscape of relationships between chimerae and humans which drive almost all the major events. Even the revelation of the murderer’s identity (normally the climax of such a mystery) is relegated to an epilog.
Throughout all the novels, Cowan seems to be at his most comfortable when world-building. He starts with his base premises—what if this really happened, and wasn’t just a cliché?—and then builds his world up around those ideas brick by brick, leading the reader through each logical connection until they are forced to agree with his grim conclusions.
For Firefox, Cowan designed the Blue Diamond slave brothel and its frightening overlords to reimagine BDSM clichés, but he never travels outside of that one place in the novel. Technofox takes place six months after Foxforce’s escape from the brothel; here Cowan’s world-building takes flight. Having designed Blue Diamond for Firefox, Cowan then deconstructs his own creation to explain what sort of Earth could give rise to such a horrible place.
The results are starkly dystopian. Criminal syndicates are everywhere. Corporations hire their own mercenaries (such as Foxforce themselves). World War II was fought to a stalemate and the Nazis are still a force to be reckoned with. The American Civil War never happened. The free-state/slave-state dichotomy persists into the present day. This last element presents unique challenges for the chimerae of the Foxforce Four, who are considered self-owning in Massachusetts, but must be legally owned by a human when they travel to Georgia.
This bleak world is further reinforced by Foxforce’s abilities. In true pulp action style, the Foxforce Four are all incredibly skillful individuals, quite at home taking down the bad guys with a well-timed headshot. But at the same time, they’re running with limited resources, low personal funds, and laws that hem them in from all sides. There’s never a sense that they are saving the world, just patching it up. They aren’t a team full of James Bonds: they are just four more hands desperately trying to keep the leaky dam from bursting.
The juxtaposition of all these elements almost comes across as a farce: a character named (of all things) Technofox works as a corporate mercenary, fights nazis, and secretly has a kinky lesbian love affair with her team commander? But Cowan plays it all so perfectly straight and serious that it is hard not to be sucked into the drama. He even makes the oddities into one more thing to be explained: if Technofox has to be her official name, then she, like anyone would in her position, just goes by the much less cumbersome and prosaic nickname “Tech.”
Fans of Isaac Asimov will find a lot to like in Technofox, as Cowan’s style is similar. Like Asimov, Cowan tends to write high-dialogue, low-description, and many scenes feature characters arguing over their work with the precision of practiced professionals. This is both one of Cowan’s best assets and one of his greatest detriments. If you are the type of analytical reader who wants to walk through each new concept in detail, Cowan is happy to oblige; otherwise you may feel as though you are watching an episode of CSI where they forgot to use a montage to skip past all the laboratory work. The lack of descriptive details also means that secondary characters blend into a fog of indeterminate forms, all with the same shape, voice, and motivations. Even the primary characters are hard to distinguish by their dialogue alone, although this improves considerably in the later books.
My complaints, however, are few. I consider Technofox to be one of the finest furry books I have read, enjoyable on many different levels: an enjoyable mystery in its own right that’s worth at least two read-throughs to catch all the subtle clues, an intriguing setting that makes us confront the downsides to an anthropomorphic world, thrilling action scenes, and more than a few moments of kinky erotica.