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Beyond The Softness of His Fur, by TammyJo Eckhart - Elf M. Sternberg
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Beyond The Softness of His Fur, by TammyJo Eckhart
tl;dr: The hot sex scenes do not make up for a book whose moral anchors are non-existent. The author fails to live up to her premise because she doesn't understand what science fiction is *for*.

I really wanted to like Beyond the Softness of His Fur, by TammyJo Eckhart, but I'm afraid that any genuine pleasure out of this book was completely obliterated by setting. You see, the setting is sometime in the future, and our heroine, Emily, has received marching orders from her corporation that she must have "a pet": a biological, engineered furry companion with a limited mental capacity but an infinite capacity to absorb whatever abuse the owner wishes. Emily is a sexual sadist but so far only of the consensual kind. She selects Wynn, a pretty, male fox-morph built for her kind of pleasure, and the story sets off.

Wynn needs time at "the facility" to be "trained," to be oriented toward his new owner and his role for her, and the abuse heaped upon him because he's just "a stupid morph" is legion. Eckhart is trying to contrast people who are genuinely cruel, people who are "just doing their job," and consensual sadists like Emily (who, eventually, comes to recognize that something is very wrong about the utter one-sidedness of her relationship with Wynn), but she just can't.

Because her universe is probably the most poorly thought-out excuse for a sex story I've read in a while. It is, we are told, The Future. Our heroine is vaguely associated with an advertising corporation, but her role is so poorly sketched out it's only important as an executive role with which to ensnare her in something salacious. At one point she says there are "dozens and dozens" of other "elite pet genetics firms," but later says the one she buys from is but "one of four on the planet," yet if there's a world out beyond Emily's house, Eckhart hasn't thought much about it. There is no Internet.

I can stand Used Furniture; there are only so many ways to get around the universe, and making decisions about having or not having teleportation, wet nanotech, dry nanotech, artificial intelligence, humanoid robots, and what have you are "one from column A, one from column B" decisions every writer has to make. But when the used furniture comes from all over the place, and doesn't come together into a coherent whole, stories fall apart.

It's awful to force a character to say something she wouldn't normally say because you need it said to move the plot forward, without regard to the discipline of writing about people, not caricatures. It's just as awful to force a technology point, or a cultural point, without regard to the actual discipline of world building.

And the culture in this story is simply impossible. Somehow the re-emergence of blatant slavery, by dint of growing our slaves in test tubes and mentally stifiling them, seems to have happened without much of a cultural ripple; I wonder if the downtrodden are simply so downtrodden they're just grateful the 1% have something to piss all over that isn't themselves or their children. I want Emily and her ilk to live in fucking terror of PETA and Earth First! and the Earth Anti-Slavery Society. There should be bombings of these "dozens" of places. This society could never have emerged in the first place without, as one commentor on the antebellum American South, the emergence of a constant, relentless, and definitive culture expectation that some people are born with boots and spurs, and some are born with saddles. Instead, the world is blithe and bonny. With furry slaves.

How is a morph "made"? Are they born "adult?" Do they get an education? How do they learn to speak? How long do they live? What happens when an owner gives one up? For a high-powered, wealthy executive who claims to be very interested in human behavior (she specializes in selling stuff, after all), Emily is utterly incurious about the origins, treatment, or moral consequences of the entire 'morph culture. Unfortunately, apparently so is the author.

The author wants you to be outraged that such a universe exists. I'm *glad* Emily is starting to develop a moral conscience by the end of the book; but the author mistakes strong emotions about the culture presented in the book with strong emotions about how poorly and ridiculously the writer proposes, or fails to convincingly describe, how that culture came about in the first place.

Don't bother. There's better.

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Comments
jeriendhal From: jeriendhal Date: May 26th, 2015 08:29 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad I avoided that one then. I don't mind reading stuff like that, but I do want the characters and world to make a slight amount of sense.
valarltd From: valarltd Date: May 26th, 2015 04:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well damn. That was on my short-list of TammyJo's work.
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