Review: 'Stick and Bones', by Phil Geusz
There are many stories in which bioengineered animal-people, bred to be a subservient labor class, turn out to be not so subservient and revolt for their freedom.
A lot, in Stick and Bones by Phil Geusz. Geusz has written numerous stories in which “genengineered” rabbit-people, bred to be timorous and docile, are pushed around until they can’t take it any more. In Stick and Bones, the bunnies are not bred for docility. In fact, they are the baddest bad-asses around.
The Revolution has come and gone, and the rabbits are still on the bottom. They live in the Zone, the lawless ghetto for the lowest-class animal-peoples, because they may have won freedom in the Uprising, but they haven’t known what to do with it. Most rabbits live in the Zone, only leave it to go to their “legitimate gigs as maids, gardeners, factory-slaves and all the other low-class jobs the fucking norms were too fucking good to do for themselves” (p. 7), cash their paychecks, and then head for home to spend it all on liquor, gambling, drugs, amusement arcades, or the other mindless pleasures that they “know” is what freedom is all about.
Not all of them, though. For some, the Revolution isn’t over yet.
Leaving the Zone was a snap; Sammy made up fake work-passes for us whenever we needed them, no questions asked. So long as we wore cheapshit work clothes and kept our eyes low and subservient, no one ever gave us any crap.
All three of us kept a close lookout as we cruised through NormTown, though we didn’t see a thing. […] By five-thirty we were sitting two blocks away from Universal Check-Cashing, an outfit I’d been casing for weeks. It was Friday, and the place was swamped with just-paid furs and even a few norms either so fucking broke, desperate or stupid they’d willingly give up ten percent for cash now, where any sane person would open up a bank account and then get to keep it all when the check cleared on Wednesday. I felt a little sorry for them anyway, even though I knew most of them were hurting because of stick or liquor or gambling or too much time in the chinkshop. They were victims, in the greater scheme of things.
But the owner of the check-cashing place … Who felt sorry for HIM? Certainly not me. (pgs. 7-9)
The narrator-protagonist is Gade, short for Renegade, the street name of Simeon Bolivar, the teen-age son of two of the rabbit leaders of the Uprising that won the furs’ freedom. And who were murdered on the verge of that successful Uprising, by those who wanted to be new masters of the furs. Today Gade is respected as a successful outlaw, the ward of Sammy “the Wizard”, one of the few norms (humans) who has made his headquarters in the Zone and is powerful enough to keep all of the gangs on his good side. Gade is also respected as one of the few rabbits who has educated himself and not ruined himself on drugs or liquor or other shit.
But the status quo goes over the top when Sammy encourages Gade to score him a norm police autocannon. The autocannon could alter the balance of power among the Zone’s two main street gangs, the Avengers and the Skullcrushers, and neither is willing to risk the other gang successfully offing Sammy and gaining the autocannon. When both gangs send secret emissaries to offer Gade a high position in their ranks if he will help them get the autocannon, which will mean betraying and murdering Sammy, Gade realizes that a no-holds-barred gang war is about to break out with himself and Sammy at ground zero. The only thing that might save them is if Sammy can bring off his secret project – including why he needs an autocannon, which Sammy won’t reveal even to Gade – first.
As if this isn’t enough, Gade overhears that Sammy fears that the norms are about to try to reconquer the furs.
‘Look, Stone. For almost fifteen years now the norms have held off. They’ve let us try and work this shit out on our own, because they figured that all they could do by sticking their noses into our business was fuck things up even worse.’ (p. 50)
The remaining dialogue isn’t concise enough to quote, but the norms have gotten tired of waiting for the furs to clean themselves up and have decided that all-out warfare is better than the status quo.
As you can tell by the frequent use of the f-word, Stick and Bones is not a pretty story. The Zone is a crumbling, dirty, depressing place, and Gade seldom misses an opportunity to emphasize it. But it is also more fully depicted than in Geusz’s usual backgrounds. Both gangs consist mostly of rabbits, but there are also greyhound-morphs and various big dogs and big felines among their guards. Growly, one of the biggest drug dealers in The Zone, is a lion-morph. There is even a hint of romance when Gade meets Fina, a teen doe-rabbit.
Eventually it erupts into the all-out gang warfare that Gade fears. Stick and Bones (reprinted from Anthro #17, May-June 2008) has more lapine action and violence than Geusz’s usual tale. You should like it. I do.