Review: 'The First Book of Lapism', by Phil Geusz
Too much Furry fiction, written inside the fandom and in mainstream s-f, is based on the stereotype of anthropomorphized animals bred by humans to be a prejudiced-against, believed-inferior underclass; laborers, servants, sex objects, cannon-fodder soldiers – slaves -- who revolt against their creators to win equality. Geusz’s stories are more gentle, more imaginative, and more philosophical – and on an inner level, more emotive and dramatic.
The Lapists are humans who believe late 21st-century/early 22nd-century humanity has become lost in a callous, soul-deadening materialism, and who not only create a new thoughtful, more caring religious brotherhood, but transform themselves physically through futuristic biosurgery into rabbit-people as a sign of their faith. What is it like to be an anthropomorphized rabbit-man in a world of humans in near-future America?
This novel is a collection of the first four “Lapism” novellas that appeared in online magazines during 2005 and 2006. The stories are arranged in the order in which they were written, not in internal chronological order. Kris Schnee explains in his Introduction (p. 6):
The problem with arranging them on a timeline is that some of the suspense comes from mysteries raised in ‘later’ stories and revealed ‘earlier’. There’s more excitement in hopping around than in reading the series like a history textbook.
“Drama Class” (Anthro #1, September-October 2005) introduces Lapism. Blueberry Rabbit is a highschooler in an otherwise-human school. The human students are all friendly and free of prejudice; they treat him as a combination of a pet and school mascot. But they don’t really understand Lapism, which he takes very seriously. When his drama class decides to put on a production of Alice in Wonderland just so he can play the White Rabbit — “and for that matter probably the March Hare too” — he worries that agreeing will trivialize Lapism, but does not want to disappoint his classmates. A separate and worse problem is that his younger brother Digger has rejected his “cuddliness” completely. He is skipping school and is fast turning into a furry juvenile delinquent.
This first story establishes the religion/philosophy of Lapism, and why being converted into a rabbit/human hybrid is supposed to make one a better person. It shows this physically in many small ways – Berry drops down to all fours to run; it’s uncomfortable to sit in seats made for humans with his tail; he has extra trouble keeping his white fur clean; his hearing is exceptionally good by human standards – but even more emotionally. Berry is a very responsible individual for his adolescent age, and “Drama Class” shows that this is not just one person’s personal nature. It is a mixture of the formal philosophy of Lapism, and of the biological blend of human and rabbit instincts.
Chapter Twelve [of the Lapists’ Book of Peace] was all about what it truly meant to wear a rabbit’s body; it was in some ways the essence of the work. ‘When we choose to walk through a human-filled world as rabbits,’ my grandfather stated, ‘we are making a crucial statement about ourselves with every breath we take, a public statement that no one can possibly miss. We are dedicating ourselves to peace, to living our lives in search of purity of soul, and to seeking gentle and humble existences. Living one’s life in a rabbit’s body is the most sincere possible commitment to the ideals of peace and harmony. Moreover, because the wearing of a rabbit’s body is such an all-encompassing and obviously different choice of lifestyle, the rabbit is continually reminded by both himself and others that his actions need now be judged by a higher standard. The new body provides both the means by which improvements in human can take place, and a continual spur to achieve greater and greater heights of goodness.’ (pp. 21-22)
The failure of this mixture of philosophy and biology to work on Digger illustrates both the individual differences in the lapinified, and the danger of inducting a child into a religion before the child is mature enough to choose that faith for himself. Berry cannot resist setting himself to solve all his classmates’ emotional crises, plus winning his brother back to the faith, and assuming the responsibility of making the class play a success.
“Full Immersion” (Anthro #4, March-April 2006) features Bluegrass Spelunker Rabbit (Jeremy), a teen who has become a rabbit for bogus reasons. His mercenary foster parents took over Kentucky’s Easter Egg Caverns from his real parents, and have turned it into a cheap tourist trap with their boy “gengineered” into a living Easter Bunny as its star attraction. They had to pretend that Jeremy really wanted to convert to Lapism to get this done, which requires having him counseled by a more experienced rabbit-man to guide him in the faith. Bluegrass’s tutor is the now-adult Digger. Jeremy was browbeaten into agreeing and had no real interest in being a Lapist, but “… there was genuine, actual lepus DNA in a Lapist’s genetic makeup, which made for very real behavioral differences between humans and Rabbits.” (p. 107) Bluegrass finds himself gradually accepting the Lapist philosophy. This increases his emotional conflict since he knows that it is all cynically false to his guardians. Worse, the Lapists have realized the falseness of his conversion, and are preparing to disown him just as he is genuinely adopting it. It takes a dramatic disaster that almost kills Bluegrass and Digger to prove that Bluegrass has become a true Lapist.
“Schism” (TSAT #39, April-May 2005) is set earlier, when the Church of Lapism is just getting started. The protagonist/narrator is Silkfur, son-in-law of Lapism’s founder Sweetgrass, husband of Sundew and father of the infants Blueberry and Digger, and one of the gengineers who transforms humans into rabbit-men. When Sweetgrass is murdered, the other Lapists want Silkfur to become the new leader of the fledgling Church. But the Church is being sued for thirty million dollars by the father of a convert who died while she was being gengineered into a rabbit, and this would force it into bankruptcy. Silkfur wants to continue the practices that Sweetgrass had initiated, of keeping a very low profile and only accepting converts who come to them; while Church Elder Oaktree wants to proselytize aggressively to enlarge the Church as quickly as possible. The disagreement threatens to grow into a schism which would destroy the tiny movement. “Schism” describes how the conflict is resolved, not coincidentally exposing Sweetgrass’ killer.
“In the Beginning” (Anthro #7, September-October 2006), the last written, is set the earliest of all, before Lapism existed. The other stories told that Lapism came about because of the moral bankruptcy of humanity; “In the Beginning” shows that spiritual deadness. Dr. Thomas Aaron is materially successful, as one of the developers of the costly gengineering process that can turn humans into part-animals. But he doesn’t care and is drinking himself to death. His wife has become a cultist who despises him and is divorcing him; his “friends” are all materialists who care only for money; the public has become totally self-centered and is lawsuit-happy; all those who show any sign of spiritual concerns are emotionally weak; and he is depressed because the humans he transforms into cats, wolves, lions, and other popular predators:
‘get all NASTY. They start out as meat-eaters, and then they start to want to hunt. Killing things. They enjoy it.’ He shuddered. (p. 211)
“In the Beginning” is well-written but, because of its goal, it is extremely depressing. It leads to Dr. Tom’s resolution that will lead to Lapism.
The First Book of Lapism may not convince the reader that being bioengineered into semi-rabbithood would solve mankind’s problems, but it is certainly original and thought-provoking. Will there be a Second Book of Lapism? Geusz has written two more stories, “Intermission” and “Prodigal Son”, but they were written some time ago. Geusz says that he does have vague plans to write more, but he is in no hurry about it. He has other adventures that he wants to write, and the “Lapist” tales have not been so popular that people are clamoring for more.