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Review: The David Birkenhead series, by Phil Geusz

Your rating: None Average: 3.3 (6 votes)

Ship's Boy - art by Tavi MunkFlash! Phil Geusz abandons writing anthropomorphic fiction; switches to military s-f to dramatically increase sales.

Featuring genengineered rabbit- and dog-morph soldiers.

Phil Geusz and Legion Publishing have chosen an unusual format in which to publish the adventures of David Birkenhead. Instead of publishing them together as three or more novels, they are putting out a set of seven booklets of roughly 150 pages to 200 pages each. Although most are available in trade paperback editions (and there was a 106-page trade paperback booklet edition of Ship’s Boy as a promotional giveaway at Anthrocon), Geusz and Legion expect virtually all sales to be of the Kindle e-books, to Amazon.com readers who cannot pass up the bargain of a “whole book” for only 1¢ or 99¢ or $2.99 in these days when an ordinary paperback is $8.

They are being marketed as military s-f, not Furry fiction. Amazon.com’s advertising targeted to its customers who buy military s-f is, “Are you looking for something in our Science Fiction & Fantasy books department? If so, you might be interested in these items,” with a list that includes the David Birkenhead books among ten or twelve other military s-f titles.

And it’s paying off. Geusz reports that:

[…] earlier today I had two books ranked in Amazon's top 100 for SF. […] Both were in the 90's, but they were there. […] There are almost never any furry books listed in connection with the Birkenhead buyers -- it's all either military SF or straight action-adventure stuff. So it's fair to guess that only a tiny proportion of my buyers are furs.

Will Geusz and the David Birkenhead series bring new readers to Furry fandom?

The seven books are reminiscent of the Heinlein Juveniles for adolescent s-f fans. The setting is a galactic civilization at war between a Kingdom and an Empire modeled after the 18th-century British empire. Both sides consist of a human middle class and aristocracy supported by a lower class of genengineered slavebunnies who do all the work. (There are also a few slavedogs for guard dog duties, and horses which are not physically anthropomorphized but have been given human intelligence.)

The protagonist is David Birkenhead, a 12-year-old slavebunny when we meet him in Ship’s Boy. David is owned and raised on the planet-wide estate of Lord Marcus, a nobleman of the Kingdom whose family was responsible for genengineering animal slaves in the past, but whose present lord has come to recognize this as immoral and is working to slowly raise the intelligent animals to social equality. Unfortunately, the Kingdom is losing the galactic civil war with the Empire, a viciously ruthless society that places its own humans above other humans, and ignores the slavebunnies entirely.

While the other slavebunnies are trained to perform menial tasks, David and his father are raised to be interstellar ship’s engineers. When the Empire makes a surprise raid to capture Marcus Prime, David and his father are part of the only crew available to launch Lord Marcus’ personal space yacht. Through the dramatic story, David saves their spaceship from capture, and he, Lord Marcus’ young son James, and the dying lord are the only survivors. “Milord” lives only long enough to thank David by publicly freeing him from slavery and making him an official member of the House of Marcus.

Normally, this would make David a social freak; a technically free Rabbit in a society of free humans and slave bunnies. But he has powerful supporters in James, the new Lord Marcus; Lord Robert, the former Lord’s brother and representative at the royal court on Earth Secundis; and even King Albert himself.

‘The House of Marcus created you Rabbits,’ [King Albert] continued after a time. ‘Horses and Dogs too, of course. But it was Rabbits that first made them wealthy, then ennobled them, then carried them to the highest ranks of all. There will always be unpleasant, mind-numbing labor that absolutely needs to be done. You Rabbits were specifically bred to perform it so that we humans wouldn’t have to. Dogs and Horses have their places, yes. But it’s Rabbits that are the key.’ He paused. ‘Did you know that there are nearly as many Rabbits in this kingdom as there are humans?’ (Midshipman)

All three are a part of the movement to modernize society and win rights for Rabbits -- to make it socially practical to manumit them all. They ask David to help them; to not just relax with the freedom that he has been given, but to use his status as the hero of a space battle to enroll in the Naval Academy and become an officer – to become a role model for equality for bunnies in the face of the prejudice that he will encounter from the aristocratic noblemen who currently run the Navy.

The David Birkenhead series recounts David’s slow rise over years from Midshipman to Admiral. His adventures alternate between open conflicts with the Empire, his own Naval peers’ hostility to taking orders from a Rabbit, to upper-class politics within the Kingdom. There is seldom a dull moment, whether it is space-battlefield action or high-level social and political skullduggery.

To avoid giving away any spoilers, consider instead the Battle of Toulon, February 22, 1744, during the War of the Austrian Succession. The English fleet in the Mediterranean consisted of 39 ships under the command of Vice-Admiral Thomas Mathews. His second-in-command was Rear Admiral Richard Lestock, who considered himself socially superior to Matthews. On February 21, 1744, a combined force of 33 Spanish and French ships sailed from Toulon harbor and Matthews moved to intercept them. He ordered by flag all ships to form a line of battle and attack. Lestock and the ships under his direct command did nothing, leaving a large gap in the British line that many Spanish and French ships used to escape and deliver troops and supplies to the Spanish army in Italy. There was a public scandal in England and Matthews was court-martialed for disorganization and failure to defeat an inferior enemy. Although the true facts were never disputed, Lestock’s social faction controlled the court and Matthews was found guilty, although he was such a public hero by then that nothing much was done to him aside from dismissing him from the Navy. A contemporary historian wrote, “[T]he nation could not be persuaded that the vice-admiral ought to be exculpated for not fighting, and the admiral cashiered for fighting.” Similarly, David faces many situations in which he is not supported by his superiors and must fight from an inferior position, which makes him a hero to human commoners and all the Rabbits in both the Kingdom and the Empire.

The strategy of battle has long been likened to a game of chess, and artist Tavi Munkart (Octavius Cook) represents the covers of these seven books as the advancing pieces of a chess game. Four books have been published so far, although Geusz has finished all seven. To Furry fans, this will be a well-written but unsurprising saga of a genengineered class of anthropomorphic rabbits fighting for equality in a human society. To military s-f fans and fans of action-adventure, let’s hope that it leads them to read more Furry fiction.

Ship’s Boy; The David Birkenhead Series, Book 1 - January 2012, trade paperback 1¢ (80 pages)*, Kindle 1¢.
Midshipman; The David Birkenhead Series, Book 2, August 2012, trade paperback $4.95 (179 pages)*, Kindle 99¢.
Lieutenant; The David Birkenhead Series, Book 3 - September 2012, trade paperback $4.95 (151 pages)*, Kindle $2.99.
Commander; The David Birkenhead Series, Book 4 - October 2012, trade paperback $4.95 (194 pages)*, Kindle $2.99.
Captain; The David Birkenhead Series, Book 5 - November 2012, trade paperback $4.95 (154 pages)*, Kindle $1.99.
Commodore; The David Birkenhead Series, Book 6 - November 2012, trade paperback $4.95 (324 pages)*, Kindle $2.99.
Admiral; The David Birkenhead Series, Book 7 - December 2012, trade paperback $4.95 (132 pages)*, Kindle $2.99.

By Phil Geusz, published by Legion Publishing (Birmingham, AL).* Add $5 s&h to trade paperback orders.

Comments

Your rating: None

The series started a bit slow with little descriptions of the people and their species but as the second book starts you get a better idea of the universe. I have read all the books that has been released and can't wait for the next books. It is sad that he is not going to write any more anthropomorphic fiction. His knowledge of pasts wars and military strategy is quite impressive and has been fully enjoyed in this s-f furry universe series. Not that I buy many furry books that interest me I am one and he should not think few furries are reading his books. Some just wants some s-f topics compared to the normal fantasy furry stories that is the norm.
If his next books are still furry related and science fiction I will be happy indeed :)

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

It is sad that he is not going to write any more anthropomorphic fiction.

I think perhaps Fred may have been exaggerating for dramatic effect there.

Your rating: None

First, thank you Fred for an excellent review!

Second, I fear there has indeed been a bit of a misunderstanding. I'm a fur to the bone, and I'm not sure I could quit writing furry stories if I tried. While I always have written non-furry fiction, it's been a sideline. I've actually written a little furry stuff since this series already, though my output is way down due to a massive editing load. Fred and i are both deeply interested in furry fiction. We exchanged several letters on this topic, and I can certainly see how he got the impression he did.

Again, I'm a fur to the bone and remain more grateful to this fandom than I can properly express. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon.

Please forgive my typos; I wrote this on a phone

Your rating: None

About 1950, when I was nine years old, I read Robert A. Heinlein's Space Cadet. Set in 2075, it begins with teenager Matt Dodson joining the Space Patrol as a probationary cadet. There is an early scene where he is waiting in line and gets a call on his mobile phone. I remember thinking, "Wow, Heinlein predicts that there will be mobile, personal phones by 2075!" Little did I know ...

Fred Patten

Your rating: None

Read them all in 3 days, really like the hold concept of history repeating itself
Kudos to Mr Geusz for creating a uni-verse that needs uni-ting and using the lowest caste
to bring justice

Your rating: None

Thank you for taking the time to comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed!

Your rating: None

Wonderful books! I read them all in a few days and found myself just unable to put my e-reader down the whole time. Please, Please consider writing more of this. This is some of the best fiction I have read in awhile. Your style brings something to that table that I often find missing in other Space Opera - SF genre. I really think you could pull an Eric Flint and open this whole universe up to other authors. Anyway I could ramble for while but thanks again for the wonderful stories. I will have to check out your other work now since I have to wait for next David book.

Sincerly,
Dr. Knowfun

Your rating: None

Thank you for the very kind words, Doctor!

One of the things I've learned from being an SF fan for four decades is that when it's time for a series to end, it's best to let it end. I can't tell you how many trilogies I've seen expanded to five or six books that, well... _Shouldn't_ have been. While I've written another piece set in that storyverse, I'm sort of averse to releasing it for this reason. I've seen it go wrong too many times. We'll wait a bit longer and see.

On another front, I think that if you liked the Birkenhead books I'd suggest (for entirely different reasons in each case) the "No Glory Sought" series, (a much more solemn look at war), "Resisting Arrest" (a coming-of-age story with action scenes) or "Lagrange" (a not-so-serious coming-of-age story with lots of laughs and action). All are furry to at least some degrees, though they all happen to be among my least-anthropomorphic works.

Again, thank you for both your kindness and for taking the time to leave a reply here! Both are _much_ appreciated! "Commodore" should be out as soon as the cover art is ready. I honestly don't know how long that'll be.

Your rating: None

Been really enjoying this series. I found out about them from this blog, and after finishing Captain I wrote a little blog post with my favorite bits from Midshipman. Really looking forward to Commodore - glad to hear it's just waiting on the cover art.

Your rating: None

Thank you for your interest, and even more for the comments on your blog! In fact, you've left me sort of speechless. I very much hope you continue to enjoy the series. I'm serious-- you've pretty much gobsmacked me. I'm very, very grateful!

Your rating: None

Phil has been writing more about the success of this series in the Furry Writers' Guild forums. This week, he got all seven books into Amazon's top-100 Kindle SF sellers (they're in the top-80 as of today; three are in the all-SF top-100).

What did he conclude from this? That if (clean) furry authors are to be successful, it will be by selling outside furry fandom:

For three to four years now I've been increasingly of the belief that our fandom simply isn't very interested in non-spoogey literary material, and I'm tentatively (still mulling it over) interpreting the data I'm presently gathering from the Birkenhead series as corroboration. The current level of sales to almost a 100% pure SF readership-- still 800-900 per week of the Birkenhead books, I'd estimate-- plus the mostly good reviews I'm getting from SF readers are solid arguments that the stuff is at least readable, while the sales level argues that the series is also easily available and "out there" in the public marketplace to be purchased by anyone, including furries. Yet only a tiny handful of furs are buying "Birkenhead", and I suspect (based on timing-- "Phil, I just bought one of your Birkenhead books!" someone e-mails me, and poof-- suddenly I see two or three furry titles listed for a day or two) they're mostly longtime fans and/or people I know personally.

I've never believed that getting the fandom in large numbers to read my stuff would be easy. But I never would've dreamed that it'd actually be easier to persuade hard-bitten, cynical mainstream SF readers to buy books about anthro bunnies in space instead. I'm a fur all the way down to the bone-- don't get me wrong here. I love my fandom and the people in it very much, and don't plan to leave it until the day I die. But at this point I'm pretty much forced to abandon all hope of selling significant numbers of books to them. If they won't buy the _very_ furry Birkenhead books when readers who don't have the slightest interest in anthro are snapping them up left and right, well... There's a fundamental problem or mismatch of some sort somewhere along the line.

I'm going to write what's in my heart-- that's always been my approach and probably always will be. If it sells, wonderful. If not, I won't miss any meals for the lack. Since furry is very much in my heart, that's probably what I'll mostly continue to write. But... In the past, I've advised new authors that the skies are the limit, that we're a growing, thriving fandom and surely a growing, thriving furry literary market will emerge.

I don't think I can do that in good conscience anymore. We're waiting for Godot; I'm coming to believe. I don't think it's ever going to happen, after seeing how furs have reacted-- or rather, failed to react-- to Birkenhead.

He also mentioned in another thread that he would never have approved the cover concept, but is happy that it worked out so well.

Your rating: None

I have just gotten an e-mail from Teiran of FurPlanet on how my The Ursa Major Awards Anthology has been selling after six months. He reports that it is one of FurPlanet's best sellers; their top-selling anthology. Only two novels have sold better; Winter Games by Kyell Gold and Otters in Space by Mary Lowd. The Ursa Major Awards Anthology has sold 96 copies!

96 copies over six months does not sound like much to me, even though this is a $19.95 paperback instead of a $2.99 Kindle book.

Fred Patten

Your rating: None

"Much" is a relative concept. Note for example that my own FurPlanet titles are all selling fewer paper copies (a _lot_ fewer!) than your anthology. I don't think you're doing badly at all, especially for a book that I suspect holds little interest to a non-fur.

Your rating: None

Now I feel a lot better about selling so few of them through Flayrah referrals. ;-p

(Last month was surprisingly good. We were credited with helping to sell 15 items, earning a total of $13.32 - more than we got for the second quarter. Much of that was from hefty historical tomes, but David was in there as well.)

Your rating: None

I enjoyed the books a great deal. I've always liked Horatio Hornblower in space kinda stuff which is how this was marketed. Like the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court kinda books, they are, for me, a guilty pleasure. I mean, with the singularity(s) coming, or something close to them, I don't see titanium ships and iron men (or bunnies) pacing the command deck hollering out orders to drive their fleets into the enemies heart and fire all space torpedoes. It's space opera, which means fantasy without elves and wizards (normally).

No offense intended but I likely would never have purchased the series had I noticed any connection between it and furry. Seeing myself as a fairly normal sf reader (if there is such a thing) I would say that yes, for furry writers to appeal to a larger audience they will have to write material that appeals to a larger audience.
I confess, too, had I learned the protagonist was a rabbit before I bought it chances are I simply would not have bought it. That said, I really enjoyed the series. Does it make me any more likely to seek out furry fiction in the future? Emphatically no, sorry. I don't buy books because of who or what the characters in them are. I would tend to see a book marketing itself to a large degree simply on the basis that it contained furry characters (or characters of any specific race, sex, religion, species, etc.) as a strong hint that the book must not have much else to recommend it. And, frankly, there are too many books out there for me to investigate them all deeply when I am looking for a quick read -- if one thing causes me to hesitate about buying one then I'm generally off to look at another title.

Generally, I like books with strong protagonists, especially ones that it becomes possible to identify with, to at least some degree, even if the main character is an androgynous Denebian swamp slime. That's why I liked this series.

Your rating: None

Thank you for the very kind words-- feedback like this is a rare treat for an author! The Birkenhead books were written strictly to entertain, and I hope they did the trick for you in full measure.

If you're by chance looking for further suggestions, "Resisting Arrest" is probably the most Birkenhead-like of my other books. It's a sort of delayed-coming-of-age story. Another work I'd suggest to those who enjoyed Birkenhead is the No Glory Sought trilogy. Glory is far darker and deeper than Birkenhead, but it has a following as well.

Your rating: None

I have also been enjoying the David Birkenhead tales -- just finished Lieutenant -- and have been reviewing them on my SF site. I'm actually popping in here hoping to get in touch with the author, Rabbit. I'm self-pubbing my own stuff on Kindle and have run into a formatting problem that the Birkenhead books do not seem to have, regarding text justification. I was hoping to pick his brain and figure out what I'm doing wrong. So, Rabbit, if you see this, please drop me a line at dan @ zurg . net.

If not, then thank you anyway for the enjoyable series so far.

Your rating: None

I've replied via the e-mail address provided. Thank you for your kindness and support!

Your rating: None

I highly recommend both the David Birkenhead and the ‘No Glory Sought’ series.
Both are truly page turners and thought provoking.

Your rating: None

Thank you, Dennis!

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About the author

Fred (Fred Patten)read storiescontact (login required)

a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics