So not too long ago I got a reach-out (not a reach-around) from the publicist for a new author with a new book coming out. This has happened before, mainly because a little lady from the Carolinas named Portia Porter once talked me into reviewing her book. Since then, I occasionally get a request from some author or company to give a read to a book and let loose the dogs of war on the piece. The vast majority of them I’ve turned down, simply because I don’t have enough time in the day as it is without paging through somebody’s vanity piece looking for good things to say about it.
So it wasn’t exactly out of the normal when, a bit back, the publisher (or publicist) for another author reached out and asked if I would play Pimp Daddy Boozy to a book about the goddamn furries that pull my strings these days. The book in question was the new survey of the history of the furry fandom, “Furry Nation” by Joe Strike (Yes, that link takes you to the Amazon page where you can buy the sucker). I was, personally, a little taken aback to be asked first to promote the book, but they quickly followed up with an email saying, essentially, “Here’s a review copy, we get that you won’t blindly endorse the book.” So, you know, free book motherfuckers! But more importantly, a free chance to learn a bit more about the furry fandom from someone that’s been hanging around it for longer than a lot of the folks I’ve been dirtying myself up by mingling with.
And guys, I gotta say, it was a pretty good read.
Let’s start at the beginning, with the pedigree of the author (although a quick check with the American Kennel Club does not show he has papers, but who are those elitist pricks anyhow, eh?). Joe Strike has been in the furry fandom since…well…it looks like damn near the beginning. I mean, not longer than I’ve been alive, but still a long fucking time. From time immemorial one might say, if one were inclined to be a grandiose bastard. He’s a writer, an artist, and a “gray muzzle” (Am I using that right?) who has grown up in the fandom and apparently made it his mission to document everything he could about the furries.
I mean fucking everything.
The book is more Strike’s love letter to the furry fandom and all the things it’s done in his life than a history of the fandom as a whole, although the history of the fandom is in there. From the beginnings of the furry fandom in the hushed hotel rooms filled with secretive societies of furries, all in their hooded robes and chanting over an animation cel from “Robin Hood,” all the way up to the most recent Anthrocon. It discusses, in a general way and with plenty of personal anecdotes that only experience can provide, the growth of a fandom on the fuzzy fringes of even larger fandoms, and how it went out and, like David S. Pumpkins, became “It’s own thing.”
And it details the people in it. From the excitable scientist that stands at the helm of Anthrocon to keep it from getting dashed into rocks annually down to the group of folks who formed the Prancing Skiltaire, a live-in furry commune out in California (because fucking of course California is the location of a Furry Commune). It’s touching to read about Joe’s connection not just to his fursona, a giant komodo dragon in a dinner jacket, but how it found him acceptance and, yes, even love through a mutual interest in the furry fandom with his longtime partner. It’s, in many ways, Mr. Strike’s love letter to the furry fandom.
Unfortunately, that’s what it really looks like: a love letter. A well-written and engaging love letter, but a love letter nonetheless. It’s a damn good read, it’s engaging, and it covers aspects of the furry fandom that the youngin’s and new folk (much like…you know…lawyers who were shanghaied into badger heads) aren’t aware of. It presents a good overview, but it’s not really a deep-dive historical monograph…nor is it intended to be. It’s a passion project that hands out a high level overview of the history of the furry fandom, and it’s a well-written one that’s definitely worth the purchase price.
But, and this is important, it’s anecdotal in large parts, drawing from Mr. Strike’s personal experience to typify groups within the furry fandom. It glosses over some of the more controversial parts of the fandom, and no, I’m not talking about sex. It acknowledges the sex stuff (we’ll talk about that in a second), but the overwhelming picture is a happy, cohesive fandom of people that are generally accepting of each other. One fucking look at Twitter shoots that one to shit pretty quick, and not because “furry drama,” but because people, even those in a fandom, are people and therefore likely to have the same bullshit squabbles they always have.
And…you know…then there’s the sex thing.
I want to be really clear, Mr. Strike has been around much fucking longer than I have and knows what he’s talking about. He doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the sexual side of the furry fandom. Instead, he addresses it head-0n with an entire section of the book dedicated to the common question about furries being sexual deviants. It’s a refreshing and even-handed look at the question. But…you know…then he keeps going.
Frankly, there’s hardly a section of the book that doesn’t loop back around to the sex aspect in some way, normally in a “It’s not this!” manner. That’s great, and from hanging around the furries I understand why Mr. Strike, who has been there through CSI episodes and Tyra interviews, feels the need to make it goddamn good and clear the furry fandom isn’t sexual. But around the tenth time it was mentioned, my mind started saying “Jesus, that’s a lot of protestation…is there something below the surface?”
Guys, that’s coming from me. I’ve met you guys. I know there’s nothing below the surface that isn’t there for any other group, and I don’t doubt Mr. Strike’s intention is to make that really fucking clear, but after a bit it turns into the classic case of “Doth protest too much!”
But, and quite honestly, that’s my one niggling complaint: The constant looping back to “not a fetish” and the fact that it isn’t some deep-digging historical monograph on the furry fandom. The latter is really my inner historian stretching out over years of the past and screaming “This is not the proper format for researching and there’s no peer review!” But it isn’t meant to be the definitive furry history. It’s meant to be more like a Furry Erik Larson novel, and it serves that goal pretty fucking well.
Overall, though, what Mr. Strike has written is an engaging high-level overview of the furry fandom, a good piece for furries to educate themselves and something they can hand to family members or friends to give them some working knowledge of that “weird internet thing” they’re into. It’s touching at parts, amusing at parts, funny at parts, and, in some instances, induces the exasperated sigh and eyeroll reaction – but never in a bad way. Mr. Strike’s love for his community bleeds through the pages like ink and is, in its own way, infectious.
So yeah. I’d suggest it. Because it’s good enough to read in a couple sittings and, overall, a nice book.
But…you know…don’t cite it in a research paper, kay?