Review: 'An Anthropomorphic Century', edited by Fred Patten
Edited by Furry Fandom's most beloved Eagle, Fred Patten, An Anthropomorphic Century reprints stories ranging from 1909 to 2008, including the talents of Peter S. Beagle, Philip K. Dick, Michael H. Payne, Phil Geusz, Renee Carter Hall, and more… including myself.
Starting with "Tobermory" by Saki in 1909, Fred does an excellent job putting these stories in a historical and social context. Around the midpoint, however, the historical context begins to soften just a little. The stories are excellent, but not all are milestones, so I would have enjoyed a bit more perspective in what was going on in the real world when they saw print.
Fred may have decided to let the newer stories stand on their own rather than distracting readers from the work themselves. Perhaps this was a good decision; the collection puts on no airs that of a textbook, after all – but Fred Patten is an expert historian of two fandoms (the other being anime). I couldn't imagine a person better suited to bringing external context to these stories.
Disclaimer: I have a story in this anthology. I'll address that story last.
Saki, aka H.H. Munroe, was a wry social commentator in the UK of the early 20th Century and the cat, with it obvious and unmistakable disdain for humanity yet its seemingly cultured behavior makes for the perfect mirror for the cultured set.
It might not be considered Furry by fandom's standard, and the science may be weak, but it is most certainly an anthropomorphic work, allowing a cat to speak to its "betters" and finding the "betters" wanting. The nearly unanimous plot against Tobermory for his mere honesty says enough about the upper class to get Saki's point across.
I found it amusing, although I had to reread a few sentences several times. I suspect I missed some humor simply because some references were now too obscure for me to understand. More of Saki's stories can be found here with no annoying pop-up ads.
"Dr. Lu-mie" by Clifton B. Kruse
Amazing Stories was a pulp magazine with the thinly veiled intentions of teaching science through, well, amazing stories. This kidnapped horror piece was meant to educate young minds about termites in 1934. The most amazing thing to me is that this isn't a story about how to kill and destroy the damn things.
The victim or hero of this piece is rather randomly invited into Dr. Lu-mie's lair, although that might be because the tall, talking bug only knew what the local natives could teach him?
I'm not too fond of educational science fiction, but talking bugs are rare outside of truly demonic horror (at least, in my experience). I give it 6 out 10 stars and it only gets a six because it does show the evolution of anthropomorphic.
A very enjoyable tale with the kind of framing sequence that I just adore, the conversational doughnut. In this tale, the conversation is an child asking his father if he was adopted. Apparently the child, Peter, is different enough from his father and mother that they can't be related. De Camp wisely decides to skip describing the child.
The story is one of fantastic mutations and a people who just so happen to look like baboons... except, as it turns out, they are mutated baboons. He rescues one of them, they rescue him. It's a classic "adventure" shtick we've seen before that suddenly forces an unwanted engagement on the civilized man.
Except the Baboons want to breed up the evolutionary ladder.
I like this story, even if the father seems to chicken out from admitting that the boy has more monkey in his mix than other "guys" he hangs with. Well, who knows maybe he is being honest or everything is a lie and he told his child to completely distract him.
Fred notes that in the 80's on forward, the furry fandom always had fuzzy animal mutations breed true. I don't think that's quite true. Metamor Keep's cursed Keepers had normal human babies... except when two exact cursed species mated.
I had unpublished stories in the '90's from a world I called "Story World." A few humans were born every year to Furries that otherwise bred true. These humans were universal breeders; but I don't think I created more than three or four stories, and my storyverse name kinda tells the much older me that maybe that was a good thing to stop there.
I enjoyed this story with primitive and not idealized Baboon Furries, and I'm old enough to wonder how much truth is in the story within the story.
"Barney" by Will Stanton
This is a short and wonderful lab rat story. Seriously amusing,
I give it four our of five lab rats. Females. Not Males.
"Expendable" by Philip K. Dick
Enough people have claimed that Dick was extremely paranoid that it now qualifies as a world-wide conspiracy against him. Still, the paranoia brings a wonderfully unique flavor to his oft imitated work.
Imagine Dr. Doolittle gone horribly wrong. Well, not the man so much, as the universe about him.
Of course, the universe has a thing or two to say about that. Man is an invader to Earth and the insects are working in secret to eliminate humans. This one man, who can suddenly and accidentally understand all bugs, cannot be allowed to destroy their plans.
It's a charmingly paranoid story with a neat but unhappy ending. Perfectly Furry, even if we don't see many mammals. The black widow is kinda fuzzy, so that should count for something.
"The Conspirators" by James White
This story was a joy and very complex tale disguised as an escape-adventure story. Felix the cat (not that Felix the Cat™) plays strong man for a group of uplifted mice... and some silly hamsters.
Just before the escape is completed, Felix gains a complex and deep insight to not only to the fate of the mice and, by extension, his own future, but to humanity among the stars. This is one of the most brilliant furry SF short stories that I've read this year so far and its over 50 years old.
Hard SF to boot, especially the scenes without gravity.
"Sic Transit… ? A Shaggy Hairless-Dog Story" by Howard Waldrop
I love Willow and Patrox and I love the fairy tale feel of it all. Published in 1976, it's not to jarring to have Willow wanting to be breed with something... anything... even if he gets brutally rebuffed for his efforts. No, no details in the book but Willow doesn't realize that his battle is with Mother Nature... but Patrox finally shows him how to best survive her wrath.
Cute story. It's very telling that this allegorical tale premiered in STELLAR 2, Science Fiction stories collected by Judith Del Rey. Fandom, Writers, and Publishers were all struggling to define what SF really was. In the mid-Seventies, SF was whatever the publisher said it was.
"Crow’s Curse" by Michael H. Payne
According to Fred, the Ottergate universe is the first Furry Fan series to contain professional quality stories. I can't argue with the quality, but I wouldn't envy the person who went back to read all the Boards and archived Geocities sites to be sure. (Plus, it predates my entry to the online Furry universe, so why argue? :-D)
I love the complexity, not just of the world, but of the characters and their turmoil. I read a lot of pieces from a few years before (and many years after). A great many Furry (and TF) writers are often too content to let impulses, wants, and needs overlap into a gray quagmire of unquestioned actions and pat justifications. It advances the plot.
The plot is merely a vehicle to a story.
This story's a journey into temptation and beyond. Sure, it's about guilt but there's also world-building. Without trotting out a single human, it speaks elegantly about Humanity and society.
So far, it's one of the most well-rounded tales in the book, giving a nod to fantastic story elements while still allowing an out to a "mundane" explanation of the science of the world. It's also an allegorical tale (which Furry is so great at) of addiction and the shame that can come with "slipping."
I would prefer this universe over the Red Wall universe, so now I need to add Payne's "Blood Jaguar" to my reading list.
"Nine Lives To Live" by Sharyn McCrumb
Stray cats can turn up anywhere, like in this story with transformation via reincarnation. It's not an uncommon 'trope, so it doesn't feel as fresh as it might. Still, just a bit above average.
Despite being a tale of murder and revenge, there is a lightness here that I like. Danby's hand/paw is sorta forced to commit murder because his human murderer turns out to be a pretty decent cat daddy.
"Vole" by John Gregory Betancourt
Short, sweet and funny in a backhanded way. It certainly got me to want to read Rememory by John Gregory Betancourt. Now, if only I could find a non-Kindle version.
"Choice Cuts" by Edd Vick
I subscribed to Electric Velocipede in the early 21st century, so I got to read this in the "non-furry" version. It was and remains a very, very good story. Making it furry certainly adds more color and flavor, but it doesn't really change the plot. In the "normal" version, I recall that I was quite happy with how the Farmers accepted Robin's change. It was, as I recall, little more than a transgender change. It was the near future and I like that race changes weren't that big a deal. That sex reassignment only produced a little bit of awkwardness.
In the furry version, these Unchanged Farmers are basically surrounded by monsters. Not that their colony couldn't have some fancy genetic stuff compared to the modern day, but the refugees implied that their technology was more limited to detection and not correction. So, I wouldn't think a talking squirrel would be so easy to accept. Hell, they maybe never seen a wild squirrel in their lives, except on whatever media they have up there.
I'd have like to see more of the farmers coming to terms with their surroundings and the new culture they were throwing themselves into. But that would have made it a different story, I suppose.
I love the term NullPop and the lack of curiosities explanation. It's a good world. I wonder if Edd Vick has ever revisited it.
"Transmutational Transcontinental" by Phil Geusz
A wonderful and classic Transformation story for which the Rabbit has always been good with.
It's short on action, but long on animals.
Note: The intro to this story implies otherwise, but the website that ran the contest this story won is still around, with the submitted stories: although the contests themselves were short lived.
"Daylight Fading" by Chris Hoekstra
My fondness for Metamor Keep runs very deep. I've been involved in this storyverse/shared universe for almost 20 years, on and off. But it has quirks, beyond the triad of shape-changing curses set upon the Keep and its defenders.
One of the hardest things for me to get used to was the modern attitudes and speech patterns of those supposedly in the medieval period. After watching A Knight's Tale and a few translated movies I began to accept that they weren't speaking in English, so I shouldn't get hung up on that… and if the Keepers seem too sophisticated for a feudal society, than it was simply because they'd had to step up their game during the last seven years under this twisted curse.
If you don't like Daylight Falling, the only good reason for that is that the dialogue and settings might be a bit jarring if you are looking for Ye Olde Phantasy setting. Or maybe not, the scope of fantasy novels have changed a bit since 2000.
It's a slice of relationship life as the Kayla and Rick work to build bridges or take down walls… not an easy thing as they were both cursed. All the real work was pretty much played out in other stories. We are down to relationship basics… are we both ready to take the risk? And will we?
Is it Furry? Well, the plot's not terribly furry. We could easily make it a story about two recovering drug addicts with very limited changes. Or any mix of scarred people. But there's some very nice furry flavor text in here that is worth reading and enjoying and if you visit the website and read Rick's stories in order, I think you'll enjoy all this tenfold.
"The Dog Said Bow-Wow" by Michael Swanwick
Two con-men walk into post-Collapse London. One is a human. The other a bio-engineered canine. The titular dog, Surplus, has quite a tall tale that starts out with an SF feel that very quickly goes fantasy the second it all goes South.
In addition to a nice little matchstick plot, we also get a little philosophical insight into the price our creations pay for their roles. Rogues in a rich environment.
No wonder Surplus and Darger had other tales told.
I started out thinking that I would hate this story. A cat and mouse chase scene or scenes in text? How is this going to be a fresh or exciting thing? I figured that it was just here to fill a historical slot.
Well, what does this horse know?
This was more than a bit surreal and yet the best cartoon setting in text that I have ever seen. Whimsically dark with action and deeply introspective, the Cat and Mouse story is about conflict and escalation. And the best and most unexpected parts are when we get inside the heads of our furry leads.
The end result is that all the cartoon violence we laughed out over the years become not funny but somewhat horrifying and we get to see the toll this takes on the long term combatants. And once you accept the horror, a dry, sadistic undertone of humor might be detected.
"Pig Paradise" by Scott Bradfield
This was a wonderful slow burner of a story that explores the emotional expanse of prejudice and working relationships. At first, my real sympathy was with Harry Wolf, who apparently really, really needs to be liked and get approval from those around him. I KNOW that feeling.
I didn't feel much sympathy, at first, for Hubert Pig, who seems something of a bigot and easily annoyed. Yet… And yet, within a few pages I saw the burden Hubert's anxiety is creating for the pig. I know those feelings, too. He can no more help his anxiety than Harry can suppress his need for approval.
And then these two are neighbors, so the poor pig doesn't even get much relief at home.
Things escalate in a natural - and emotionally honest - fashion. These two are reacting and living under a political system on governmental, corporate, community, and family levels that are revealed with a very deft hand. Their wives and children with only a few lines are fleshed out nicely, and while they seem very wise in their support of the spouses and each other, they also commit a cruel deed that suggests there's at least one shallow end of the pool.
But people are like that. People fall short everyday and then… well, life goes on.
The story builds up to the destruction of one of these men… and where the average Furry writer might end the story with that destruction, Scott Bradfield does not.
And it's those last few pages that really made me realize the level of craft and art in this story, as well as the understanding of humanity and Urban society.
There's a whole sub-genre in Furry Fiction about Uplifts for military reasons and editor Fred Patten wisely packed this one to top and represent them all. This story won the 2005 Theodore Sturgeon Award and you don't have to be in much more than a page in to seem the glimmer of why. Chip sounds like a military person and he sounds very much like a dog. When he comes to a concept he doesn't understand, he accepts that. It's either mission critical or it's not… but he does it without a lot of buzzwords like "mission critical."
What does a dog need with buzzwords?
I am not overly fond of the story delivery conceit of Chip mentally transcribing English dialogue for the English illiterate girl to write down, but it does work in the added benefit of showing that Chip has earned his stripes by becoming a leader; rather than a mere soldier.
I hear Fred is putting together a Dogs of War anthology. If this story is the bench mark, it's going to be quite a collection.
What a wonderful story about the power of challenging one's self and challenging the assumptions of others!
A wonderful allegory doing what furry does best by a master storyteller.
The first draft was apparently written in the 40's, but the idea of self-determination by sheer stubbornness and hard-work still seem as relevant today. Even more so to a group of Furries who believe you are exactly what you decide to be!
This story is so wonderful, I'm considering having children just so I can read it to them!
We started this collection with a 100 year old science fiction story, one of the newest genres in prose, and we are ending with this wonderful allegorical animal fable, one of the oldest prose genres (prose historians may send angry and educational corrections… I'll read them eventually).
There are so many things I could say about Hall's writing. One of them being that I am jealous that I could never write such a pleasant tale. My impulses are too dark and mean and I cannot not master them – or at least, I have not yet.
And in this story, we see the unintended victims of alcoholism and mild neglect who deserve a better life. Under her keyboard, she is able to weave a sweet and funny tale that any of us could read to our children.
That's a talent, and one I admire. And here's my story…
I wrote this story in 2000 and it was nominated for the Ursa Major Award in 2001. One of the rules of Metamor Keep is that there are no conspiracies to overthrow the Duke. Well, I just had to see how far I could bend that rule with my Reavers.
While this introductory story isn't about overthrowing anything, I think it's a nice story about some boys playing in the woods… and one of the boys doesn't understands the rule as well as he thinks…
This story introduces, I believe, the first cis-gender gay male Keeper who isn't a rapist; Lars. While homosexuality is tolerated in Metamor Valley, it's only because of the curse (TV Tropes covers this a bit).