Review: ‘Unity Book 1: Ascent’, by fluffy
My problem is that furries tend to start with furry, and add the science fiction later. The visual of a walking, talking fox/cat/rabbit/whatever is introduced in the mind of the furry author, and an explanation is cobbled together as an afterthought. To call this a disservice to science fiction is an understatement.
The comic strip Unity written by fluffy (the author is dedicated to the pseudonym, even putting it on the spine of this collection of the first major storyline), is a rare example where the science fiction does not suffer as a consequence of the furry aspects of the piece.
The story begins with a scene that would be a bit cliché if this were a video game; the main character wakes up with amnesia, not remembering such important characteristics as what it is, where it is, or even its name or gender. I felt like I should be entering this information in myself.
However, the character soon learns that it is named Juni Melrose, that it is a member of the Kayoshan species, and that it is, in point of fact, an it; that is, genderless, though by choice (and surgery), rather than nature. Juni spends the story trying to discover why it allowed itself to lose its memory, while also discovering the very nature of its world, which is very different than what most of the inhabitants believe.
When I first began reading the comic, I believed I had been tricked into reviewing a non-furry science fiction story with vaguely animalistic aliens (I hate those); Juni is a lavender humanoid with blue hair, a vague snout and a tail ending in a spade shape, leading to its species being referred to (somewhat pejoratively) as “spadetails.”
However, it turns out all the strange alien creatures are based on Earth animals, just not the type normally found in furry comics. Juni is a descendant of a platypus, while the bizarre slug-like creatures are anthropomorphic sea slugs.
The neat science fiction trick is that Juni’s appearance is not based on platypuses; the trait for which platypuses were modified into sentient beings has nothing to do with how they look. In the course of changing the platypus into a form more useful to the task they were made to perform, their appearance changed.
It is absolutely wonderful hard science fiction, and Juni’s quest for answers, and the clever answers when they are revealed, provides the real reward for reading this collection.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems. Though adept at science fiction writing, fluffy is not the greatest artist in the furry fandom, to put it mildly. The art is simple, and not very technically polished. However, at least it is consistent, and fluffy seems painfully aware of the artistic shortcomings in the book’s introduction, so that’s all I’ll say about that.
The original strip form is also not the best way to tell this story. The book collection helps smooth this out. As it is, there is a bizarre stop-and-go feeling to the story due to the strip format. This is not a humor-based strip, which can overcome this feeling with jokes. However, in this case, when a strip does end in a joke – even when funny – it seems forced and draws attention to the form in a bad way.
This series originally featured pop-up text; usually a short, sarcastic comment from the author. These have been wisely moved to their own section in the collection. They are often very funny (strips 117 and 118 were particular favorites), but would have been distracting to the story, which is the real star here.
I recommend this strip for its clever use of anthropomorphic animals in a hard science fiction setting, despite problems with the art and pacing. The strip works better as a book than in the original setting, though for a lot of furries this will be offset by the fact that the webcomic is still free.