You want another book review? Okay, you asked for it. Fine, you didn’t, but here’s one for Mouse Cage, of the Stories from San Iadras series, by Malcolm F. Cross. It’s also on Goodreads.
The Stories from San Iadras series is a 22 Short Films About Springfield-style collection that also includes SPSFC alum Dog Country, which sadly I haven’t read (but I fully intend to rectify that). Let’s call Mouse Cage the “Steamed Hams” part of the collection, for want of a better way to boot this distressing comparison onwards.
Never having read much furry-based fiction, or even actually knowing it existed, or even knowing anything much about furries except that they’re the most dedicated and usually the most heavily overdressed cosplayers at any convention I have ever attended (and I say that as a husky gentleman in spandex) and that they definitely don’t crap in litter boxes at USian high schools … given all that, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a speculative fiction premise like this. Essentially, Cross has created a universe in which furries actually happened. In the not-too-distant future, human experimentation has resulted in the cloned production of large sibling-batches of hybridised animals capable of speech, drug habits, and wearing people clothes. They’re used for all sorts of things (the furries, not the clothes), none of them particularly nice, until the Emancipation that begins their integration into society. The main centre of which, for furries, is the subtitular city of San Iadras.
But having used the phrase “furry-based fiction,” I will have scared away a lot of people for absolutely no logical reason. This book, and I’m going to assume this series, is so much more than that. Think The Island of Doctor Moreau. Cross sure did (and lampshaded it perfectly, might I add). What he does with this premise is bleak, and gut-wrenching, and wonderful, and asks us what it means to be human in a way only the best stories do. And its exploration of sibling dynamics and the weight of family responsibility is matched only by its examination of trauma.
There’s also a fair bit of –
Troy is the ‘eldest’ of a large (albeit not as large as it once was) family of cloned mouse / human hybrids, a batch of brothers all named after various cities and all suffering various forms of trauma from the obscene experiments and assorted cruelties visited upon them at Lake North, the facility where they were raised. Although furries of all kinds are now free, and the Salcedo family are out in the world making their own way in a wide range of lofty fields of endeavour, the past is always there. And always threatening to drag them back.
They’re out … and they never will be.
This endlessly complex and emotionally charged story follows Troy as he attempts to succeed with his life’s work against the impetus of entrenched and jealous human peers; keep his family safe and happy and in line even when it’s him who needs the most help; carry out a complicated relationship with Jenny, another deeply damaged furry from a different gene batch; and deal with the multitude of horrible things that happened to him and his brothers in Lake North. The narrative leads us through nightmare country, with an extended stopover in drug addiction international airport, and the in-flight service of raunchy furry uglies-bumping is at once copious and pitifully inadequate, at once raw and hopelessly, irretrievably burned.
Yes, this is one of the more spectacularly fucked-up lives I have seen committed to paper, and I can only imagine the dog-based soldier furries of the other Cross book (which we see tantalisingly woven into this tale, giving us an eye-widening glimpse of scope and the incredible love with which Cross has created his tragically flawed world) are just as heartbreaking.
Just fucking read this book.
Furries be horny, there’s not much more I can say on the subject. Okay, that’s not fair – the majority of the sex scenes take place between two characters, open relationship or not – I’d expect the same in ‘most any romance novel possessed of a healthy amount of rumpy pumpy. Humans be horny. It’s not the furries’ fault, whether on the page or out here in real life. I give it two sexy, sexy animal people cavorting under an actual kitchen-based aurora borealis while being watched by a grumpy school superintendent, out of a possible burning house with a virgin school principal doing isometric exercise against the window frame. I don’t get it but we started this journey with a Simpsons reference and by God we’re going to see it through.
You want body horror? Look no further than a book where the main character and his entire family are sentient goddamn lab mice. What Mouse Cage lacks in out-and-out explosions and brutality, it more than makes up for with vivisection, organ removal, amputation trauma, compulsive self-harm, gross sadistic nurses, you name it. Four flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
This book was well outside my comfort zone and I’m thoroughly glad I read it. There are unanswered questions aplenty here, about the world of San Iadras and its origins and its ultimate fate. I wouldn’t call these questions WTFs as such, though. Once you’ve come to terms with the (frankly pretty classic sci-fi) premise of human / animal hybrids, there’s not really much pure crazy in this one. And that’s okay. That’s not what this story is for. The familiar, not the surreal, is what makes Mouse Cage so powerful. I’m going to be honest here, I think the WTF-o-meter had sex with the sex-o-meter, because I’m getting the same reading about the aurora borealis here. Except the window frame is made of furry body parts and burned children. Jesus, maybe it was a three-way with the gore-o-meter. This book made my meters fuck each other in an attempt to escape the reality of – ohhh I see what this is.
Wow. I mean, wow. Okay, I would have liked a bit more of a plot arc and resolution for five stars, to say nothing of the fact that I have no doubt even better stories are on their way from this author and I want somewhere to expand upwards. I also get that this was a snapshot, a thread in a tapestry, and wasn’t really about half of the stuff it looked like it was about. This was the story of Troy, unwilling and unwitting head of a family so dysfunctional it’d make Jango Fett stare. And Troy’s story, like real life stories, doesn’t really have a plot so much as a pinballesque series of events and challenges and setbacks. Still, given that, I found the abrupt ending strangely uplifting rather than surprising or upsetting. What a story! Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.
 A husky gentleman, not a husky gentleman. No, I mean not – okay fine. Fat, I meant fat.