Best in Show: Fifteen Years of Outstanding Furry
(Sofawolf Press, US $19.95,
455 pages, trade paperback; 2003.)
the subtitle explains, this anthology collects the most powerful and
influential short stories published in the evolving genre of "furry"
or "anthropomorphic" fiction. Furry fiction revolves around sentient
animals or characters who have animal aspects, including everything
from genetically engineered creatures to hairy aliens to werewolves.
Although related to science fiction, fantasy, and horror, this branch
of speculative fiction has a style all its own and deserves independent
recognition as such. Also worth noting are the handsome illustrations
scattered through the book, reprinted from the original publications
along with their matching stories.
Do not, even if it is customarily your practice, skip reading the nonfiction
parts of this anthology! These include an introduction by Fred Patten,
a note from publisher J.L. Eddy, the Section One foreword by Tim Susman,
the Section Two foreword by Gene Breshears, the Section Three foreword
by Phil Geusz, and the afterword and bibliography by Fred Patten. This
material alone is worth the price of the book, as it covers in loving
detail the evolution and characteristics of furry fiction. Many of the
featured stories come from a large volume of writing set in the same
universe, so there are pointers describing the characters and setting
of the more spectacular examples. These folks have a lot to say about
genre development. Don't miss it.
The anthology breaks down into three sections. Section One is Living
Among Us: Furries and Humans. It explores the relationships between
humans and nonhumans, the myriad opportunities to repeat old mistakes
in new ways ... or to go beyond them. "To the Magic Born" by Brian W.
Antoine presents a quiet picture of a mixed human/furry family of Mages,
and what happens when one of the children manifests magical talent.
Lawrence Watt-Evans introduces a mainstay motif of furry fiction --
slavery -- in "Foxy Lady," but the story's sweet and thoughtful tone
illustrates how we can rise above the lowest common denominator. Kim
Liu revisits a similar quandary with a much darker tone in "Crucible,"
where the struggle for freedom turns violent. "A Snapshot from Fayetteville"
by Mick Collins illuminates the differences of furry culture in a charming
way, while still connecting them to humanity. Todd G. Sutherland's haunting
story "Wings" speaks of the true nature of love and loyalty. In his
historical tale of pirates, Jeff Eddy reminds us to "Respect the Sea."
Section Two is Living Apart: Furry Alternate Worlds. Here we get to
see how anthropomorphic cultures might develop all on their own. "Port
in a Storm" by Robert K. Carspecken investigates the value of belonging
vs. the value of individuality. M.C.A. Hogarth brings us a splendid
tale of language, culture, manipulation, and creative problem-solving
with "Rosettes and Ribbons." Elizabeth McCoy's "Recruiting" suggests
that trouble isn't a matter of problem personalities, but rather of
personalities in the wrong context. Craig Hilton sets up a concise and
entertaining mystery in "Whimper's Law." Through "Messenger," Mel White
considers what things are best remembered ... or forgotten.
Section Three is Living Within: Transformation. It captures the process
of changing from one form to another, one life to another. Some of these
stories throw the sharpest emphasis on what it truly means to be "human,"
not in body but in spirit. By far the best of this set is Phil Geusz's
"Graduation Day," a complex story about several high school students
and their counselor, who face tremendous challenges due to their changed
bodies and instincts. The underlying message is one of connection, understanding,
and plain old refusal to surrender to life's hard knocks. It's a must-read
for anyone who thinks they're stuck in a clunker of a body. "Top of
the Mountain" by Ben Goodridge demonstrates the power of love and sacrifice.
Tim Susman's "Find the Beautiful" shows what can happen when what you
are turns out to be different from what you wanted or expected.
The stories of Best in Show span a wide range of speculative
fiction subgenres, yet combine to give a firm impression of furry literature
itself. They will make you laugh, they will make you cry ... they will
make you think. At least some of them will probably make you
uncomfortable. Ask yourself what you'd do in some of these situations.
Be honest. Share the ideas with your friends, if you're bold enough.
These are stories you can talk about for hours and not get tired. Most
highly recommended. Watch for more publications of serious furry literature
from Sofawolf Press too.
Review by Elizabeth Barrette.