by Fred Patten
©2006 Fred Patten
Editors note: The mass-market publication of Furry! is definitely a milestone for furdom. But at the same time, it also presented a bit of a puzzle for Anthro. The obvious thing for us to do would be to run a review of Furry!but our reviewer, Fred Patten, happens to be the guy whose name is on the cover! Thus, in order to evade the whole conflict of interest thing, we asked Mr. Patten not to review his own book, but, rather, to say a few words about how Furry! came to exist
|Title:||Best in Show: Fifteen Years of Outstanding Furry Fiction||Title:||Furry!: The Worlds Best Anthropomorphic Fiction|
|Publisher:||Sofawolf Press (St. Paul, MN), Jul 2003||Publisher:||iBooks (NYC), Feb 2006|
|Trade Paperback, 455 pages, USD $19.95||Trade Paperback, 445 pages, USD $12.95|
Best in Show as Sofawolf Press calls it, or Furry! as iBooks has retitled it, is an anthology of 26 short stories from the first fifteen years of the small press of anthropomorphic (aka Furry) fandom. Most are taken from the literary fanzines of Furry fandom, but we also considered stories posted on the Furry Internet websites. In addition to making these 26 stories (most of which were never seen by more than 200 or 300 readers, and have been long out of print) available to todays much larger Furry fandom (and, thanks to iBooks, to the general public), the book is virtually a Whos Who of the top authors in Furry fandom. There is also a succinct, comprehensive description and history of Furry fandom in the Afterword.
I began trying to sell an anthology of anthropomorphic short stories back in 1994. I discovered science-fiction when I was nine years old in 1950, and during my teens I devoured all the excellent SF short-story anthologies and single-author collections that were published during the 1950s. By about five years after the Furry fanzines began in the late 1980s, I felt that there were plenty of stories in them that were just as good as the stories in the professional SF magazines, and that they should be made available in book form. Since nobody else was interested in doing anything about it, I decided to myself.
My original idea was to edit an anthology that would consist of about twenty stories, half by famous SF authors reprinted from the SF magazines, and half by talented Furry authors from the Furry fanzines, to be published by one of the major SF publishers. My tentative list of stories included a lot of classics that I first read during the 1950s such as Robert Heinlein's Jerry Is A Man, Cleve Cartmill's Number Nine, Fredric Brown's The Star Mouse, A. Bertram Chandlers Giant Killer, John Christophers Socrates, one of the Anderson & Dickson Hoka stories, and one of L. Sprague de Camp's Johnny Black stories, plus more recent stories by newer authors like Paul Di Filippo, Roland Green and Esther Friesner; with an equal number of stories of comparable quality by Furry authors like Michael Payne, Watts Martin, Gerald Perkins, Robert Carspecken and others from the Furry fanzines (or small press literary magazines). I got a literary agent, Ashley Grayson, who agreed that my idea was of professional quality, and he spent about a year during 1994 and 1995 pitching the project to all the major SF publishers, but without any success. Without a publisher, I never carried the project to the next step of finding out which of the stories I had wanted to include were actually available.
At the time I wondered whether this failure had any hidden motive behind it, since there were SF & fantasy anthologies on even more specialized topics being published. But I learned the truth when I went to Bucconeer, the 1998 World Science Fiction Convention in Baltimore. One of its panels was on SF short story anthologies, with some of the most prominent editors including Martin H. Greenbergwho seems to have a new SF anthology published every month. One of the first questions asked from the audience was why all the SF anthologies for the 1990s consisted of all-original stories, and why were the famous SF short stories of the past that used to be available in four or five different anthologies now out of print? Greenberg said that the SF industry was currently convinced that the public would no longer buy old stories, no matter how good or famous they or their authors were. He had tried to create some new anthologies of classic short stories that had been out of print for awhile, and not even he with all his professional contacts could find an interested publisher. They all told him to stick with coming up with ideas for all-new anthologies and getting authors to write the new stories for them. This made me feel a bit better about the failure of my proposed anthology. It was not a prejudice against Furry stories, but against any reprints.
It was a year later, 1999, that the first Furry small-press book publishers appeared; Darrell Benvenuto with Vision Books and Martin Dudman with United Publications, which both started with novels by Paul Kidd. By this time there were five years more of good stories in Furry fanzines, totalling more than enough to fill a whole book. I pitched the idea of a best of Furry fiction collection to both of them, and also to Yarf! which was considering expanding into book publication. But none of them were really interested.
The book really got started in late 2001 after Tim Susman and Jeff Eddy of Sofawolf Press asked me if I would proofread their first book, Susman's Breaking the Ice, which they wanted to publish for Further Confusion in January 2002. Sofawolf Press had begun in 2000 with the fanzine Anthrolations, which contained excellent Furry fiction. I agreed to proofread Breaking the Ice, and told them my idea for an anthology of the best stories from all the Furry magazines going back to the late 1980s. They loved the idea, and agreed to make it Sofawolf's next book.
Instead of just agreeing to publish my selection of stories, however, Eddy and Susman wanted to become involved in the whole editorial process. Their proposal was that I would be the senior editor of a triumvirate. Instead of just picking what I thought were the best two dozen stories, I would pick at least fifty—the more, the better (my final pick was over ninety stories)—and they would select the best among those, to narrow the final selection to what all three of us agreed were the best of the best. They also asked me to consider the Furry stories that were being published only on the Internet since about 1996, in addition to the best from the printed fanzines.
Our guidelines were that all the stories had to be of sufficient literary quality that they would be indistinguishable from the stories by the best professional SF authors. Also, we should not include more than one story per author, to also make the book a showcase of as many Furry writers as possible. (Due to an accident, we ended up with two stories by Michael Payne, both so good that we could not decide which one to drop.) Although it was not among our guidelines, we were happy to find that our final selection also covered just about all the worthwhile Furry literary fanzines. There were at least one story from Anthrolations, The Ever-Changing Palace, Furryphile, Rowrbrazzle, PawPrints Fanzine, FurVersion, Mythagoras, Yarf!, and just about every other fanzine published between 1987 and 2002.
I spent the first half of 2002 rereading my collections of Furry fanzines going back to FurVersion in 1987 (and borrowing the couple of fanzines that I did not own), and reading as much Internet Furry fiction as I could find. I mailed photocopies of the stories I considered good enough for the book to Susman & Eddy, and e-mailed them the URLs of my Internet picks. Having three editors who all had to agree on each story made it easier to winnow down the original ninety+ stories under consideration to the two dozen finalists, although the final selection was different than if all the choices had been mine alone. For example, I had started out sure that the book would include one of Clint Warlicks detective stories from Yarf! about Jack Lynch, the only human private investigator who would accept Furry clients. But Eddy and/or Susman objected that Lynch himself was human and the Furries were only supporting characters; and that we should include only stories in which Furries were the main characters. I might otherwise have argued that the Lynch story was so good that this did not matter (and I think that this rule was ignored in the cases of several other stories), but since the anthology was already overly full, it was easier to agree that a Lynch story should not be among the finalists.
The first Furry fanzine, FurVersion, began in May 1987. The earliest story that we considered worth reprinting did not appear until 1989. Nevertheless, we decided to theme the anthology around the concept of fifteen years of fine Furry fiction: 19872002. The title, Best in Show, was either Eddys or Susmans idea. I initially objected because I thought that it would make the anthology sound mistakenly like a book about pedigreed dog or cat shows (in fact, a murder mystery set in the world of dog breeding also titled Best in Show, by Laurien Berenson, was published in September 2003, just two months after our book). But it was hard to complain when I could not think of any better title myself, so Best in Show it was.
Our goal was two dozen stories; twenty-four. But we assumed that we would not be able to get all of our first choicesthat some writers would not agree to let their stories be reprinted, or that we would not be able to locate some of the older writers who had dropped out of Furry fandom. So we picked two extra stories to begin our search for the rights to, figuring that we would probably lose at least two stories and this would leave us with twenty-four. We were amazed and delighted when we managed to track down every single writer, and they all agreed to let their stories be included in Best in Show. Some did feel that their early writing needed to be improved, and they substituted rewritten drafts to replace their fanzine versions (which were already good enough, in our opinions). We agreed to include the two extra stories as a bonus.
We had already chosen all the stories and gotten their authors permissions, when we made the horrifying discovery that the book was too large. We had assumed that twenty-four or twenty-six stories would fill between 300 and 350 pages. It ran to over 450 pages, which would increase the production cost considerably. We had already announced that the book would be a trade paperback priced at $19.95, and we all felt that people would not pay $25 or $30 for a paperback. We considered dropping four or six stories, but we had already sold ourselves on the twenty-six so well that we could not bear to omit any of them. Besides, it would have been too embarrassing to tell the authors that we would have to cut their stories from the book. Best in Show would not actually lose money at $19.95, so we finally decided to publish it as a break-even book for the literary prestige alone, knowing that it would not make a profit. This meant a much smaller print run than originally planned, and that Sofawolf Press would have to sell it almost exclusively since it could not afford to sell it wholesale to bookstores like regular commercial books. Fortunately, todays publishing technology has made very small print runs practical, so it was easy to reprint Best in Show when it quickly sold out. It is in its third printing now.
We originally planned for the book to go on sale at Further Confusion in January 2003. However, the first cover artist that Sofawolf chose missed her deadline. In fact, as far as I know she never did finish her painting. Sofawolf went to Ursula Vernon next, who did a superb wraparound cover painting. The extra time required meant that the books publication had to be delayed several months, and it was rescheduled for release at Anthrocon in July 2003. The delay was fortunate in that it allowed Sofawolf enough time to contact the artists who had illustrated the stories for their fanzine publications, and get their permissions to reprint their art in the book. So Best in Show also ended up as a showpiece of many of the best artists in Furry fandom. I updated my history of Furry fandom to cover the first half of 2003.
I had mixed emotions when the book won two Ursa Major Awards. I felt it was both an honor and a great embarrassment, since I am one of the main administrators of the Award. The Ursa Majors were started in 2001 to be Furry fandoms equivalent of the awards in SF fandom, mystery fandom, comic fandompractically every fandom except Furry fandom had its own awards for the best art and literature in its field. This was something else that I had tried to promote for Furry fandom for years, and the usual response was, Well, Fred, if you feel so strongly about it, why dont you do something yourself? So in 2001, ConFurence agreed to present the Ursa Majors if I would head the committee to organize them and hold the voting for the winners. After a couple of years it turned out that too many fans thought that the Ursa Major Awards were an activity for the ConFurence alone, so we began asking other Furry conventions like C-ACE and Anthrocon to present the annual Awards to demonstrate that they are intended for all of Furry fandom.
Anyway, when the nominations for Best in Show started coming in during 2004, it was a major conflict of interest. Technically, I should have either resigned as an Ursa Major administrator, or withdrawn Best in Show from eligibility. But the Awards were in the midst of cutting themselves loose from the ConFurence and arranging with C-ACE in Ottawa to host the first non-ConFurence presentations, and we could not find anyone willing to replace me to carry on the correspondence that this involved. Withdrawing the book from eligibility would have penalized Ursula Vernon, who was getting separate nominations for her cover painting. Also, we were having a hard enough time convincing fandom to accept the Awards as representing the best of the year as chosen by the fans themselves without withdrawing what was clearly a very popular nominee on a technicality. The rest of the Ursa Major administrators felt that we could live with the conflict of interest, as long as it was openly acknowledged so fans could vote accordingly if they objected, and since the final ballots were counted by three separate administrators to ensure an honest count. Both Best in Show as Best Other Literary Work (not a novel) and Ursula Vernons cover as Best Published Illustration won by clear majorities, so most of the voters did not consider the conflict of interest a serious problem. I was very happy to see the book win in both categories, which to me justified all the work that we had put into it.
In late 2004, Byron Preiss of iBooks contacted me to inquire if Best in Show was available for a mass-market edition. I did not really know, because Sofawolfs agreement with the books authors was for a single, limited edition to be sold within Furry fandom. I replied that I would be delighted to see the book republished for the general public, but that he would have to deal with Sofawolf Press to clear the rights. Sofawolf went back to all the authors and got their agreements to include their stories in a second, mass-market edition.
I was not involved with the new edition except for writing a new Foreword for it. I was considerably surprised when iBooks announced its edition in mid-2005 under the new title of Furry!: The Best Anthropomorphic Fiction Ever. That is a greater exaggeration than I would ever make, since I do not consider the stories rescued from old Furry fanzines to be superior to those published in the regular SF magazines by such authors as Heinlein, Chandler, Di Filippo and others. Still, I will not object to the exaggeration as long as iBooks has made it.
Preiss hinted in his 2004 letter to me that if its edition sold well, iBooks might be interested in having me edit a second anthology of Furry fiction. I was shocked to read of his death in a traffic accident in July 2005. I do not know how his death may have affected iBooks future plans. It will be a tragedy if iBooks stops publishing new Furry editions, since Preiss was responsible for so many: the English-language editions of the French Blacksad graphic novels by Canales & Guardino; new editions of Fosters early Spellsinger novels, and more. Furry! has just been published (on February 9, 2006), so it is too early to tell how well it is selling, but I frankly think that iBooks has made a big mistake in releasing it as a General Fiction/Literature book rather than as Science Fiction/Fantasy. This may be more prestigious, but the books natural buyers are the SF fans who browse the SF/Fantasy shelves of bookstores, and who are unlikely to find it in the Fiction/Literature shelves.
Last-minute addendum: On 22 February 2006, less than two weeks after its publication of Furry!, iBooks went out of business. The company, which has been essentially leaderless since the death of founder/publisher Byron Preiss last year, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It is not yet known how this will affect iBooks' existing inventory, nor yet whether bookshops will be able to restock Furry! once their initial orders have been sold. Sofawolf Press is currently attempting to re-acquire the rights to Furry!; hopefully, Sofawolfs efforts will bear fruit soon.