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.

“Distant Shores” by Tony Greyfox features an astronaut forced into suspended animation to escape a catastrophe. She’s discovered by a terraforming crew of anthropomorphic animals, and learns the nature and consequences of all the scientific advancements that happened while she was under. The furries she meets are living, breathing people. Their temperaments are widely varied, and their past experiences push them toward extreme action when she arrives in their midst. In addition to being different species, a lot of the crew members come from different cultural backgrounds—their language is peppered with non-English terms. When the human protagonist discovers just why the members of the crew behave the way they do around her, it’s genuinely exciting to see how things play out—everyone, even the antagonists, come across as sympathetic and understandable. It’s a complicated situation that Greyfox navigates deftly.

The Furry Future cover

Watts Martin’s “Tow,” about a woman who underwent a series of genetic modifications to make herself a human-animal hybrid called a totemic, is another story that deals with humanity’s reaction to the new and frightening head on. Martin uses a style that often creates a distance between the point-of-view character and the action around her, but the protagonist’s vulnerability (and investment) in her situation is palpable, making the stakes fairly high despite her physical advantages. And “The Analogue Cat,” by Alice Dryden, tells a tale of a brand-new creature who exists in the border between the old world and the new. It’s told in second-person perspective, in a way that works astonishingly well. Dryden uses the voice to create an immediacy and emotional impact that sneaks up on you.

Not all the stories serve the tension between humans and newer sapient animals as well. Michael Payne’s “Emergency Maintenance” features a pair of furry detectives, set in a world where their kind is chafing at the bonds set for them by their human creators. While they’re allowed independent lives and some autonomy, the setting calls to mind the Jim Crow South; certain citizens might be legally free, but there’s a long way to go before they’re considered “equal.” Yet the detectives spend much of the story trading thinly-veiled barbs about their human patron while he’s standing right there. Living in a world where being a second-class citizen is ground into you all your life shapes your psyche in distinct and fundamental ways, and the way Chelisse relates to her boss and the humans around her rings false. Even so, the closing sequence, where Chelisse speaks with her pastor about an existential crisis, is effective, and a few of the plot elements are intriguing.

In “Experiment Seventy” by J.F.R. Coates, a created furry hides with a human good samaritan from a supposedly sadistic creator. We spend most of the story engaging with the awkwardness of first contact and learning more about the brief and tormented existence of this experiment. When the final confrontation comes, though, it’s a letdown. The creator’s revealed attitude only provokes more questions. MikasiWolf’s “The Future is Yours” features a human threatening to blow up his personal life and career due to a vague hatred of people enhancing their physical features and/or becoming furries. His actions are so extreme that it points to a near psychotic aversion to the concept, but his reasoning is never satisfactorily explained. Worse yet, his girlfriend only exists in the narrative for the sake of catalyzing his behavior.

On the “new furry” side of the anthology, “A Bedsheet for a Cape” from Nathaniel Gass is a winner. It essentially serves as an endearing origin story for a furry superhero. Arf is a wonderful character, and the ramifications of his adoption by Tarla and her family are fascinating. The handling of these new creatures by their creators makes sense even though it’s horrifying, and Arf’s slow climb from “living instrument” to “free-thinking person” is a joy to read. I’d love to see a novel set in this world.

“Lunar Cavity” by Mary Lowd details a furry alien/human collaboration that significantly changes both parties. The concepts on display are a virtual buffet of neat science fiction ideas that would be well-served in a longer epic, but she roots the action firmly in the psychology of her two protagonists to give us solid ground with which to navigate the world. The imagination and sensitivity on display here are impressive. Likewise, “Evolver” by Ronald W. Klemp features furry aliens and humans working together to solve a mystery about their shared origin. It leans into the differences between humans and aliens through well-realized characters, thoughtfully-created settings and crisp writing.

The post-human or non-human stories are the most exciting in the anthology, though. For me the jewel of the collection was Dwale’s “The Darkness of Dead Stars.” It’s a nasty—in the best possible way—bit of existential horror that seeps under your skin and stays there long after the story ends. A bio-engineered race of naked mole rats are trapped inside a ship searching fruitlessly for a life-sustaining planet in a universe approaching its heat death. The ship is slowly but steadily succumbing to its advancing age, and an entire level has been abandoned to a malicious entity the crew picked up in its travels. The story is richly atmospheric, almost oppressive in the way of great horror, and there’s a lot going on in the subtext that makes it worth reading again and again.

“Thebe and the Angry Red Eye” by David Hopkins is another bleak tale, and a wonderful way to close out the collection. An astronaut crash-lands on a Jovian moon after a failed expedition; his life is built around the things he must do to survive, and the extremity of the situation is such that the strain might be driving him insane. Again, the writing is powerful here, drawing you in to the desperation of our nameless protagonist and immersing you in his loneliness and ever-present fear. At what point is the effort needed to keep living too great a price to pay for the quality of life you have? Like most great science fiction, Hopkins imagines a scenario that pushes that question to its extreme. It’s a brutal, but beautiful, story.

“Trinka and the Robot,” from Ocean Tigrox, is a story about what happens when a new society rises from the ashes of the old. The tone of the tale makes it feel like young adult fiction, but that’s not a handicap; Trinka is a wonderful protagonist whose bravery and optimism provides a nice balance against the (justifiable) fearful conservatism from the rest of her tribe. This short story reads like the prologue to a series of novels that I would totally buy; hopefully, there’ll be more coming in this setting.

There are a half-dozen excellent stories here, another half-dozen good ones, and only a few that don’t land well. Most of the problems with the stories that didn’t work were the same: humanity wasn’t illuminated well enough through the concept, especially in the cases where they shared (or dominated) a world featuring other sapient people. With real-world racial issues splashed across recent news cycles, it’s disappointing to see stories that miss the opportunity to explore the mentality and motivations of these prejudices carefully. It would be wonderful to see stories that try to deeply understand the people who perpetuate these abuses and/or the minority populations who must endure them.

However, the best stories in The Furry Future imagine a future where both humans and anthropomorphic animals grapple with the complications of their existence in meaningful ways, drawing the realities of their environment into their personal lives and reflecting them back through their actions. No matter how far we advance technologically, or how different we may be physically, we still have to deal with the same foibles and problems we always have. The stories that do this best are ones I’d recommend to non-furry science fiction fans—they’re that good.

(Disclosure: Watts Martin, one of the contributors to The Furry Future, is Claw & Quill’s head editor.)