Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Back in April 2017, I reviewed Foxhunt! by Rich Hanes, a 2009 337-page science-fiction novel set in a largely-anthropomorphic “Wildstar Universe”. Foxhunt! is primarily about an interstellar nation of anthropomorphic foxes, but it refers to many other species. I was very favorably impressed by it, ending my review saying, “Foxhunt! is superior both as space opera and as furry fiction. Don’t miss it!”
Rich Hanes, the author, e-mailed me to thank me for my review. I took the opportunity to ask him about Foxhunt! and his Wildstar Universe; how he came to write the novel in 2009 and why he hasn’t followed it with more Wildstar Universe stories. This has led to this interview, for anyone who is interested in anthro fox Captain Sebastian Valentino’s adventures in Foxhunt!; in Hanes’ larger Wildstar Universe; and in Rich Hanes himself.
FP: Let’s start with some basic information; date of birth, when & why you started writing, and so on.
RH: My name is Rich Hanes, which is my real name. I’m 32, born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, earned a degree in Computer Drafting from ITT Technical Institute in Canton, Michigan at the age of 23, then moved to Seattle to work for Boeing on the 787 Dreamliner for 6 years until being laid off. Now I live back with my parents in Detroit while searching for adequate employment, and earn money right now through writing and my YouTube channel, L-1011 Widebody
FP: Your email address is richard.harlan.hanes, which I assume is your full name. How long has your YouTube channel been going? Is its main focus on your Wildstar Universe?
RH: No, it’s focused primarily on retro-gaming — a lot of it is doing Let’s Plays of games that I owned as a kid and still have the original CD for. But I do have two short videos there that I put together as an ‘introduction’ of sorts to my concept for Wildstar. About 7 minutes in total. Perhaps that will help answer some basic questions, or if you want to link to the actual videos.
FP: Since this interview is mostly about your Foxhunt! and its whole Wildstar Universe, why don’t you tell us how you came to develop its galactic civilization and the Star Nation of anthro foxes?
RH: It really started with MechWarrior 2, a video game in the BattleTech style. Way back in 1995, when I was only ten years old, my father won a copy of MechWarrior 2 as a prize for some sports trivia thing. The game had a real sense of depth to it, a feeling that it wasn’t just giant robots battling for some shallow reason. It had many cut scenes, and a backstory. I was impressed that so much detail was put into it, to make it feel so immersive. Its manual was even made to look like some pages had coffee-cup stains on them, and hand-scribbled notes.
It’s important to note that the two factions you could play as in MechWarrior 2 were named Clan Wolf and Clan Jade Falcon. And all the other Clans had animal names. The entire centerpiece of the Clans in the BattleTech universe is that they are genetically engineered to be superior soldiers and warriors. So this got me to thinking, why not combine the two? If we’re already doing genetic engineering, why not literally engineer humans with wolf features, or wolves with human features?
My parents had a timeshare in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Right on the ocean, it’s a great place. Since this was back in the old-timey days before cell phones and even laptops, I brought along books to read. This would’ve been around the early 2000s, I believe. So I read through many of the BattleTech novels. At some point, I had a eureka moment. Like, ‘I can write better than this.’
2006 is the earliest I can trace back any files. That was when I started creating the idea of Wildstar. The idea behind it at first was basically ‘What if Clan Wolf mechs were piloted by anthro wolves?’. So the earliest drafts of Wildstar were basically furries in battlemechs. A lot of that real early stuff was garbage, before I knew what I was doing. I had about 40,000 words written about a Chihuahua infiltrating the Canis Dominion, and being some kind of rebel on a starship, stealing a starfighter. It just didn’t work out.
About this time, I entered college; it would’ve been 2007. I went to the ITT Technical Institute in Canton, Michigan. I needed a laptop for studies. It was right around here that things really started developing for Wildstar. I started honing down which factions it would have. At the same time, I was doing some pre-engineering courses in college, so I started to think like an engineer for my Wildstar universe.
This is how I came up with the concept of ‘practical’ animal-human hybrids. Because I was developing an engineering sense, I thought, ‘Well, these different animal races should have a role to fulfill, otherwise why would you make them?’, so I tackled the Wildstar setup as if it were an actual scientific project. What purpose does uplifting such-and-such species serve? Well, I think through my research into animal behavior and social dynamics, that I have crafted a universe of diverse races that all act logically and rationally and as realistically as possible.
I wanted my universe to feel like it was an already established setting. This is one thing I like about Star Wars, the idea that the future has had past events in it to bring us to this narrative point.
So for a practical answer, there never really was a time I wasn’t developing Wildstar. But I’d say about 2006 to 2009 was when it really honed in. And I’m still working on it today. Really, there is ever so much to explore.
FP: Foxhunt! is set in the fox-dominant Star Alliance, but you refer in it to the Canis Dominion, the Pan-Atlantica Federation, the Balkany Democratic Republic, and the Lupine Order. Duel of Honor, your 15-page short story (which I haven’t read yet), is apparently set in the Lupine Order. To what extent are these just names, and to what extent have you developed extensive backgrounds for them?
RH: The short answer is – yes, the various factions are fleshed out in my back-story. CenCon, the Central Concordinate, holds all the animal races together. As it’s primarily human (with some Created ambassadors), CenCon establishes the rules and law of interstellar conflict. Like the U.N., but with more power. The Canis Dominion is an authoritative state, socialist and strictly regimented, a sort of analog of the Soviet Union but played more practical. The Pan-Atlantica Federation is a much more democratic society, much less rigid than the other states, with a lot of freedom for any one of any species to do anything. It’s subsequently weak on military matters, however.
As for the Balkany Democratic Republic, and other smaller lesser nations of concern, I haven’t quite fleshed those out yet. The idea is more that they would just be too far from the Capital planet to really be governable. They just sort of were like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do our own thing, okay?’. When you think about it, there’s really not much necessary to holding territory in space.
The long answer is….
After the Great War, which is when Foxhunt! takes place, there are four remaining interstellar nations – the Star Alliance, the Canis Dominion, the Lupine Order, and the Pan-Atlantica Federation. At least, these were the nations that withstood the Great War, which was a really awful thing culminating in the nuking of entire planets — this is what would be called the Alienation Zone, no ownership or treaties apply there. I could write something fun for the post-apocalypse sometime. The Caledon Republic broke up because of the Great War.
But if you would like to hear more backstory, I would love to expound upon the politics of the Wildstar universe!
At first, before the Great War, the foxes controlled most of the galaxy (I’ll just use ‘galaxy’ as a short-hand for the group of star systems that surround Planet Genesis), through their sheer numbers and adaptability. As they expanded, they took their various Volpa House factions with them. This led to the obvious strife and discord one would expect when societies clash. Various canines were brought along with the foxes as ‘servants’. Eventually the canine species had enough, especially the wolves, and thus began the Contraction Wars around 300 years post-Founding. The canines united, rebelled, and drove the foxes out, sometimes into another House. This led to fox-on-fox wars. The foxes were still divided amongst their Houses. So when the big dogs united into the Canine Confederation (which was really just an alliance of convenience between the various smaller dog and wolf nations), it put up a strong front against the disorganized foxes, and the foxes were driven back quite easily.
The Canis Dominion was formed sometime between the third and fourth Contraction Wars. The Canine Confederation could not hold up as a real state, with it spread across so many systems and so many species. Thus a group of smaller canine-dominated nations united into the Dominion, sort of Soviet Union style. The Canis Dominion at this time was composed mostly of Wild (canids like African wild dogs, coyotes, and jackals) and Wolves, since they were the strongest and most willing to fight for more space. So the Canis Dominion became a rather rigid, socialist, hierarchy-based society.
Around this time the more familiar canine (and other species) states decided they didn’t really want to live with socialist dogs (is that a funny phrase or what?). While they were invited to the Canis party, they declined. So thus sprang up the more democratic/republican type representative nations of the Pan-Atlantica Federation, and the Caledon Republic.
So when the Canis Dominion ran over the fox-held systems in the Fourth Contraction War (it’s called that because the foxes believe they were being contracted into a smaller space), it triggered the initiative to form the Star Alliance. The Fourth Contraction War saw the foxes finally begrudgingly uniting under one nation, the Star Alliance, which is composed of ten of the remaining twelve Volpa Houses. Houses Murrel and Wallace elected to remain independent. So now the foxes finally have a cohesive bond that they can use to stop the Canis Dominion intrusion, who were invading mostly because they could.
This led to a more-or-less cold war (it is very cold in space) between the Star Alliance and the Canis Dominion. It didn’t last for very long (this would be around 415 post-founding), when the wolves in the Canis Dominion began to feel that they were being held back by their ‘lesser’ canine brethren. Thus would enter the prime, the super-alpha-wolf, the Alpha General Luc Vurren, who would establish the Lupine Way of order and honor and the constitution and things like that. Thus the splitting off of the Lupine Order, becoming their own pro-lupine state. And the fun things that happen in the wolf nation…
The Canis Dominion is at first somewhat rattled by the exodus of so many of their most useful citizens. But things settle down peacefully as wolves transition to wolfspace, and the canines in wolf-held territories are given the option of serving in the new Lupine Order or being deported. Many of them choose deportation. The wolves do not think lesser of these dogs, though; they simply view them as not fit for their society… all the practical pragmatic rationalities here.
Anyway, the wolves sit around for a while and get great at what they do (because they are wolves). Eventually they will invade the Star Alliance. Which will be quite exciting I think, I’ve already started on a new story about that.
Duel of Honor is set during the oncoming Lupine Order invasion that is to take place just after the events of Foxhunt!. The Lupine Order wolves will invade fox space, not because they want their territory or any grievances, but because they desire the challenge of the hunt. I am currently working on a new story to portray that bit. It will let me breathe so much life into the lupine culture. I have a lot of writing projects to go through, again, mostly inspired by your wonderful review.
FP: If you write more Wildstar stories, will they be more adventures of Sebastian Valentino and his Star Rangers, or will they be completely different stories in the Wildstar Universe?
RH: I have many stories to tell, about many interesting people. I am working on the prequel to Foxhunt!, that shows Sebastian and Adrian in their academy days. Really, I have just been so inspired thanks to you!
FP: Foxhunt! was published in June 2009 and reprinted in 2014. It must be selling steadily. But the only other Wildstar story that you’ve published is Duel of Honor, a 15-page short story on Kindle in April 2015. Why haven’t you written more?
RH: The reprint is due to some changing configurations or something on Lulu’s behalf. To be completely honest, my world all but imploded around me about 2013. I lost my job, my home, my car, and then various health ailments have caused me to be more or less handicapped now. For obvious reasons, the span there wasn’t very conducive to writing. But I am back in the game now, I am actually working on several new stories, thanks to your review as well as positive comments and feedback from others. Another reason for not writing more is that depression is a hell of a thing, and it will suck the will to live out of you. So I have been dealing with that as best I can.
FP: What is Arkham Bridge Publishing, your publisher? What else have they done? How did you get associated with them?
RH: Now here comes a bit of a confession. Arkham Bridge Publishing is me. I was afraid of the stigma of ‘self-published’ novels. At the time (around 2009 or so) there were really bad vibes going around about self-publishing. Eragon [self-published by Christopher Paolini as Paolini International LLC in 2001 when he was 18 years old] was still fresh on people’s minds.
But I actually did want to be something of a publisher myself, with print-on-demand titles, and Lulu doing the legwork. This was when disposable income was great to have. I registered Arkham Bridge Publishing as a real sole-proprietorship business, and paid business licenses and taxes even. I purchased my own ISBN, I even had an employee for a time. But things just didn’t work out. Arkham Bridge Publishing is essentially defunct.
Mostly, I thought it would look more professional if I had a publisher name on it, rather than self-published. I admit it is rather sneaky and dishonest, in a sense, but really, it fits with what my fox species would do in the situation. [Many authors who self-publish through CreateSpace or Lulu have their own imprints. Some that furry fans may be familiar with include Steven Hammond’s Rockhopper Books, M. C. A. Hogarth’s Studio MCAH, Paul Kidd’s Kitsune Press, and Daniel Potter’s Fallen Kitten Productions.]
The other reason for self-publishing was because I wanted to get the starmap in the back of the book just right. There were a few printers who refused to do overlapping printing.
Like the article? It takes a lot of effort to share these. Please consider supporting Dogpatch Press on Patreon. You can access exclusive stuff for just $1, or get Con*Tact Caffeine Soap as a reward. They’re a popular furry business seen in dealer dens. Be an extra-perky patron – or just order direct from Con*Tact.