Review: The David Birkenhead series, by Phil Geusz
Flash! 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.