Review: 'Dog Country', by Malcolm F. Cross
This review is part of my commitment to reviewing anthropomorphic literature during Furry Book Month.
A crowdfunded war fought by genetically identical dog-people created as soldiers and emancipated into a world that doesn't understand, or always approve of, their special talents.
What could possibly go wrong?
Edane, Ereli and their hundreds of brothers were grown and trained to form fighting units, but the company that created them was shut down when they were still, biologically, children.
Now adults, some scrape a living as mercenaries, doing odd jobs, or fighting for a betting audience. The lucky ones have a career in MilSim, a realtime combat simulation game, but some figures in the sport are starting to argue that they're too good and shouldn't compete.
Meanwhile, they struggle to relate to the humans and other gengineered species around them: partners, adoptive parents, colleagues and friends.
What they were built for, what they're good at, what makes them feel right, is war. With no war currently available, they make their own.
The people of Azerbaijan want to topple their country's oppressive regime, so why not set up a fund for anyone who's angry enough, and can spare a few New Dollars, to chip in? Meet the target, and the dogs take out the dictator.
For Ereli, living in a crowded apartment and struggling to pay his share of the rent, joining the operation is an easy decision. Edane, on the other hand, has a girlfriend, a MilSim team, and loving parents, Cathy and Beth. But is he happy?
There are many books about clones and genetically engineered creatures, but few get under the skin of them so well. Cross explores what it's like to enter the world having been institutionalised from birth, and to struggle with concepts like humour and sexual attraction.
As well as clone biology, there's plenty of technical detail surrounding the military and medical technology of the future, and enough about MilSim to make it sound like a pretty good time as well as a convincing sport.
Although the science behind the fiction stands up to even rigorous poking, above all this is a story about coping in a world where you'll never be normal and don't know how to fake it.
Dog Country is set in the same world as several of Cross's earlier works, including the Ursa Major Award-winning Dangerous Jade (FurPlanet, 2012) and War Dog (originally published in New Fables). This is the first full-length novel to come out of San Iadras.
You can take a short trip to Dog Country by visiting Pavlov's House, published April 2014 in Strange Horizons.