by Michæl W. Bard
©2009 Michæl W. Bard
In the last year a horror story of mine, The Last of the Niagaras, was published in the anthology Alone in the Dark. Its a themed anthology, and its theme is anthropomorphic horror. All well and good. My story was about a train and a human, and the train was apparently anthropomorphic enough. I offered to furry-ize the story; the editor said I didnt need to; all was fine and dandy. And in November, I got my copy of the anthology and read through it.
There are good stories in it, and bad stories. And then there are stories that literally have furriness pasted onto them as an afterthought. For one particular story in this anthology, I know for certain that its furry content was spot-welded onto it after the fact, because its author told me so. And yet
In some stories its just way, way too transparent. Too superficial. There is one storyIm not going to name it directlywhose ostensible setting is Africa in World War II. Commonwealth and America vs Germany; same countries, same war, same uniforms, same everything
except for the trivial, insignificant detail that its a world of anthropomorphic creatures. The characters are stated to be dogs of various breeds, and other animals. And thatthe species-labels associated with the charactersis the only difference between the WWII of history and the one presented in this story!
The only parts of the text which even hint at anthropomorphism are that the narrator, and the other character, are referred to as dogs, and that the narrators wife was remembered by how she wagged her tail.
And that was it!
There were different dog breeds. Yes, breeds. The storys society is identical to ours, even with herbivores and carnivores on both sides co-operating. Did they evolve civilization in peaceful harmony from a primitive hunter-gatherer society on up? And, they only have human senses! The narrator picks up another dog in the desert, a tank crew survivor. The rescued dog has a badly burned handthird degree or worse, naked muscle visibleand yet, if one had to judge by the characters reactions, the cooked flesh had no scent. None whatsoever! Hell, as a human Id smell it, let alone if I were a dog!
If you removed the list of species, and that the narrators wife wagged her tail, the story would be entirely about humans. Literally! Thats about ten words total!
How, exactly, does that count as furry?
Sadly, too many furry worlds are set up this way, with the anthropomorphic content being purely and entirely superficial. Most have various dog breeds without any thought as to why those breeds are they way they are, why the breeders imposed whichever physical traits upon whichever breed. Worse, most furry worlds have herbivores and carnivores happily living together, without so much as a history of violence! To be sure, the relevant species could be expected to have figured out ways to co-exist without killing each other by the time theyve all achieved civilization. But look at human history: Weve spent thousands of years industriously slaughtering each other, for any number of different reasons. Can anybody seriously believe there would be less conflict between groups of non-human sentients particularly when at least one of those groups regards all of the others as food?
Well, maybe some elder race used biological engineering to uplift the various species of interest. If were talking about an artificial situation, not something which evolved on its own, many of these kinds of problems go away. Even so, there will be physical and sensory differences between species. Tail and seats, different senses of smell, of hearing. Maybe of touch from a dolphin swimming through the water. But if the only furriness in the story is that the author did a few global search-and-replaces to exchange words like hand for words like forepaw, those physical and sensory differences will not be reflected in that story! Is furriness really nothing more than choosing to write forepaw instead of hand?
If a storys furriness really is just a matter of word choice, that story might as well be written about humans who happen to wear fur coats. Indeed, you might as well call the thing a furcoat story! It just isnt that much fuss and bother to put some thought into itto make sure that what youre writing is a sure-enough furry story, rather than yet another furcoat story.
Getting back to the story in question: The author could easily have made one character a wolf, the other a coyote of some kind. If the global distribution of those species didnt work for his story, he could have gone with different breeds of foxes or wolves. If he wanted to use dogs, he could have invented some naturally occurring dog breeds, by analogy to how there are different wolf breeds in the wild; he should not have made them existing human-created breeds. Anddogs have noses! The author should have either mentioned somehow that smell is feeble, or incorporated functional noses into his story. Really, the author could have killed all of my objections to this particular story by changing the species names, the country names, and tweaking two sentences. One about how the narrators wife smelled, and another about the smell of the wound. Two sentencesabout four words in all!
Its not hard!
Let me give you an example of how Id do it:
The brick works were abandoned, overgrown, empty of everything, even animals and plants. All that remained was a graveyard of gravel and clay and rusted iron. I had to fight my way through the overgrown bramble and trees that surrounded it, yanking my stolen coat from each branch that grabbed it, fighting around each trunk subtly leaning away from the emptiness in the center. Even though the trees seemed almost to hold me back, I forced my way through into the wasteland. It was cold and dark, a thin mist was in the air, and the sky was blank behind the dense cloud cover. With my breath misting in the air I stepped out into the brick works and with a quick consult of the map Id ripped from the book I made my way over to the old loading docks to see what I could find. I looked up, just as, by some dark coincidence, a part in the clouds let the moon shine through, and saw what seemed to be the most wonderful sight of my life.
The brick works were abandoned, overgrown, empty of everything, even animals and plants. All that remained was a graveyard of gravel and clay and rusted iron. I had to fight my way through the overgrown bramble and trees that surrounded it, their stench coloured with the oilness of fear, yanking my stolen coat from each branch that grabbed it, fighting around each trunk subtly leaning away from the emptiness in the center. Even though the brush seemed almost to hold me back, I forced my way through into the wasteland. The smell of the trees was replaced with the brittle scent of iron and rust, and the mustiness of age. It was cold and dark, my fur puffing outward as it attempted to keep me warm. A thin mist was in the air, and the sky was blank behind the dense cloud cover. With my breath misting in the air I stepped out into the brick works, my hooves clattering on the cracked cobblestones. With a quick consult of the mold-scented map Id ripped from the book I made my way over to the old loading docks to see what I could find. I looked up, just as, by some dark coincidence, a part in the clouds let the moon shine through, and saw what seemed to be the most wonderful sight of my life.
How much was changed between the two? And how much of a difference does it make?
Now, I admit that the handful of stories in the anthology that read like simple search-and-replace furry are the exception. There are lots of other great stories in it. But, crap like this is far too prevalent in furry literature. Any furry story is a kind of fantasy or science fiction, at least in the world creation, and people spend years making backgrounds for such role-playing worlds. Writers do the same for such stories. To be sure, not all stories call for the same amount of effort; as an example, a one-off short story doesnt need anywhere near as much worldbuilding as, say, a three-volume novel. Nevertheless, worldbuilding is a part of the writers craft, every bit as much as a raised net is a part of the game of tennis. If you dont like to play with the net up, then dont play tennis; if you dont want to do any worldbuildingif you think superficial word-choices are all you need to establish a different worldthen dont write furry fiction!
Is this too much to ask?