Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
MoonDust: Falling From Grace, by Ton Inktail
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, December 2015, trade paperback $14.99 (380 [+1] pages), Kindle $4.99
This is one of the best science-fiction novels I’ve ever read.
It’s also one of the best furry novels I’ve ever read. Humanity is extinct; transgenic animal people, created for the war effort, are all that are left. The protagonist, Imogene Haartz, is a young caribou (reindeer)-human hybrid; she shaves her fur when sent by the military to a hot climate, and takes prescribed drugs to suppress her antlers’ growth. Who needs antlers in the Army? Everyone is a boar or a rabbit or a ferret or an otter or a tiger or some other animal, whether the species is specified or not.
It’s also one of the bleakest novels I’ve ever read. Everyone is miserable until they die. (Metaphorically.) Imogene has grown up in the mid-22nd century in the rubble of Helsinki. The world has evolved until there are only two super-powers left, the UNA (United Nations of America) and the Pan-Asian Federation. If they aren’t in a shooting war, they’re in a cold war so frigid that everyone expects it to boil over at every moment. Imogene’s father was killed in the last active fighting.
“Imogene stared up at her mother’s apartment building. Old and gray, it rose to ten stories of utilitarian serviceability. Of the four buildings that had surrounded a small park, only it survived. Two others were rubble, while the fourth clawed at the sky with broken, concrete fingers.
Most of Helsinki was like that. Twelve years after the United Nations of America ‘liberated’ the city, the cleanup effort was far from complete. Especially away from the wealthy neighborhoods. Imogene couldn’t remember what it was like before the UNA. Derelict buildings and mounds of broken concrete seemed the natural state of things.” (p. 11)
Imogene has gotten out of the UNA Army at 18 after her mandatory military service, prepared to rejoin her fiancé, get a civilian job, and rejoin life. She finds that her boyfriend hasn’t waited for her, and there are no civilian jobs for a teenager with only military training.
“She wished for the thousandth time since returning that she’d picked something other than demolitions for her military specialization. At least if she’d gone in for motor pool she’d have a chance. More people would pay you to fix a car than to blow one up.” (p. 14)
After searching fruitlessly for months, she goes to a UNA recruiting office to re-enlist. Only this time, instead of the Army where she’ll be sent to another hot-climate city that’s mostly broken concrete, she picks the Luna Corps – the UNA’s space program. It’s the one area of service that’s neat and shiny instead of depressing – and there are so few volunteers that she feels secure of getting in. (Even if it means taking more antler-suppression drugs. Who needs antlers in a spacesuit?)
The s-f nature of the novel is evident:
“There, tunneled into the jagged peaks of the Atlas Mountains, lay Toubkal Spaceport. One of four major launch sites under UNA control, Toubkal’s 500 kilometre-long linear induction catapult kept up a steady stream of traffic into low Earth orbit.
Imogene’s middle tightened. The catapult was basically a large-bore electric cannon. Was the distance she was about to put between herself and all her earthly problems really worth becoming a caribou-shaped artillery shell?” (p. 23)
So is the furry nature:
“A dramatization of the Unification Wars, the vid focused on the valor and heroism of the transgenic soldiers, glossing over the fact they were counted as chattel and had no choice but to fight. That wasn’t the only creative liberty taken, but it rankled Imogene the most. True, she hadn’t known her grandparents, let alone the great-grands who’d been forced to war, but it still served the humans right their own bio-weapons got loose and their animal slaves were the only ones immune.” (p. 33)
The novel introduces Imogene’s squadmates on the Moon: Sergeant Robert Hendricks (Dalmatian), Fiona Whiting (polar bear), Ryan Sanders (ground squirrel), Victor Vidal (puma), Bruce Andersen (stag), Lauren Porter (lynx), and Alexei (white rabbit). There are several chapters showing the military in peacetime. Imogene gets to know her squadmates; she makes friends and enemies. The the war boils over – this is not a spoiler since the cover by Katrin “LeSoldatMort” Buttig shows the spacesuited Imogene looking at nuclear detonations on Earth. The last half of the book describes Imogene’s and her team’s desperate fight to survive, as they hope to return to a UNA base – if there is anything to return to – and learn what has happened to Earth.
MoonDust: Falling From Grace is a harrowing, exhausting thriller:
“They rested as long as their dwindling power supplies let them dare, then struck out across the flats.
Smooth, dusty terrain fled past under Imogene’s loping bounds. The valley floor was easy, and even the rolling foothills hardly slowed their march. Scattered pea-size bits of rock and metal continued to drizzle, but she ignored them as much as she could. The best course of action was to hurry on to Borda.
As they climbed, the drizzle turned to a ballistic hail, pelting in from the north. She kept her visor pointed down and her legs pushing her forward. Then a wave of larger impacts broke over the landscape, and Imogene’s blood turned cold.
Her gaze darted over the bleak surroundings. No cover. All they could do was sprint for the still distant mountains.
Towers of dust shot up from the larger strikes, leaving craters the size of manholes. She dodged around the holes, praying she and her friends wouldn’t be hit.” (p. 218)
It becomes a bit melodramatic at the end, but the reader is kept guessing until the last page whether Imogene or any of her team will survive. The novel’s furry nature is both deep – Imogene considers a trans-species romance, and whether the inability to have children would be a serious problem – and superficial. All of the characters are clearly funny animals, who could be turned into humans with only minor rewriting.
It may be pertinent that the author’s only other credits (as Ton Inktail or a.k.a. Tonin; the © is Andy Rohde) are two equally harrowing thrillers, in the FurPlanet anthologies Abandoned Places and Bleak Horizons. MoonDust: Falling From Grace will leave you eager for Ton Inktail’s next novel.
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