SPSFC Author Interview: Malcolm F. Cross, author of “Dog Country”

Author Interview: Malcolm F. Cross (Twitter @foozzzball) , author of Dog Country

See my review of Dog Country here.

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! Specifically, I’ll have interviews from my team’s semifinalists. Without further adieu, to the interview!

First off, what’s a foozzzball [his Twitter handle]?

Malcolm: So there’s that table football game, foosball? A foozzzball is that, but lazy. And my internet handle, mostly for use in the furry fandom. It goes on my conbadges and everything.

How did you get into sci-fi?

Sci-fi has been around in my life for a long enough time it’s hard to say what the actual start was, but what absolutely cemented it for me was Diane Duane’s X-Com tie in novel. I was totally wild about that game, and I was… not necessarily a hesitant reader, but I was very much into non-fiction over fiction. The tie-in changed that. I saw this book that was about my favourite thing in the world, and I picked it out for myself. Which was, I think, the first time I’d really seen a book that just absolutely spoke to me. Which also goes to show, the works you don’t necessarily think will have an impact are sometimes the ones that will reach someone at exactly the right time to teach them how rewarding it is to explore fiction on their own.

You mentioned engaging with furry fandom. How has furry fandom impacted your writing?

The furry fandom is great. It’s an unusual fandom, since the majority of it is self-generated. We don’t have a central work to use as a canon, like a film or corporate-owned IP or whatever, so, we’re pretty much all fans of all the wildly creative stuff other furries do in the fandom. That’s been the major impact, honestly.

It makes it a wonderful community, and there are lots of places to go for support, especially as a new author. There are a lot of small presses (shout outs to Sofawolf, Furplanet and Fenris), which provide a lot of opportunities to pick up experience. There are in-fandom awards, there are some organized groups like the Furry Writer’s Guild, there’s pretty much always something going on and someone interested in hearing about what you’ve been making or eager to show you what they’ve made/drawn/written. As a result of all that support, most of my early publications went to furry small presses. And off the back of that I got a short story sold at a pro rate and did enough other professional-ish stuff to join SFWA – which is something several other furry-fandom involved authors have done, so I’m far from an anomaly like that.

The support the fandom gives has been helpful to a lot of authors. But that’s pretty much all strong community stuff, and not unique to the furry fandom. I could cheap out and tell you that writing in the furry fandom has resulted in me being unable to write a character without whiskers, but the truth of it is that the fandom’s helped me value tolerance and acceptance. Furries skew heavily LGBTQ+, and, learning to be a more mindful ally (I am far from perfect, but I try) has undoubtedly made me a better human being. And being around people who work hard to accept each other’s weird sides has helped me accept my own. And that kind of self-acceptance is really valuable for a writer – I don’t worry about what other people think about my writing, because I know that what I think about my writing matters more than other people’s opinions.

What inspired you to write Dog Country?

When the Arab Spring hit, I kept having one thought, which was, ‘these people have money, so where are the PMCs?’ PMCs, if you’re not familiar, are private military companies. Over in the US there’s Blackwater, which rebranded as Xe Services and then Academi, then Constellis, in a series of jumps to get away from a reputation for, y’know, war crimes. In the UK we have Sandline, who made bold claims about how private military companies could be used to end armed conflicts and replace international intervention efforts with a more efficient, more humanitarian, positive force for change in the face of authoritarian and genocidal dictatorships. Given that PMCs frequently tend to shut down, rebrand, and the same people mysteriously found new companies a few months later (Sandline is currently Aegis), I think it’s fair to say that the Blackwater situation is a little more realistic.

The basic issue is interventionism – it’s one of the defining elements of modern international politics, and the bread and butter for many PMCs. Arguably it’s a continuation of colonialist policies, but at the same time it’s terribly appealing to think someone could stop all the horrible things happening in the world. What if the Arab Spring protestors had someone they could call on to protect them from the violence of their own governments? (Or, as I now wonder, the George Floyd Protestors?) Would that change the situation and turn out better?

One thing that won’t change is that interventionism involves sending someone with no interest in local affairs to hold a gun somewhere nobody wants them to be. The violence that led them there should never have happened, and protection for the communities involved should be coming from within those communities. The fact this soldier is standing there is a geopolitical failure on a thousand levels, and yet they are standing there, holding a gun, getting shot at, and being told to kill people. And, I’ve always thought, it must really suck to be in that situation. And modern conflicts have put thousands and thousands of people into one just like it. But that’s just one aspect to the book.

Your focus on the internal life of the characters and how their actions–or inactions–impacted them is one of the things I enjoyed most about the story. Questions about colonialism, protest, and violence as a problem-solving strategy certainly abound throughout Dog Country.

Do you have plans for more works in the world of Dog Country? What else can readers look forward to from you?

Thank you! The close viewpoint and spotlight on the inner lives is definitely something I’m trying my hand at again – I’ve actually been off the writing-wagon for a few years, so, I’m very pleased to say that I’m in the middle of editing a standalone in the same San Iadras setting, Mouse Cage. The book features Troy Salcedo – a gengineered mouse-person who was built not as a soldier like Dog Country’s Edane, but as a surgical research subject. Also freed in childhood, his story goes deep into dealing with trauma and loss, guilt, a struggle to make an imperfect relationship with the love of his life work out, and the search for a way to be at peace with who he once was and who he now is. This one is very different, very little war-action, much more emotional psychodrama with some romance thrown in. A bit more detail sneaks in about how the setting’s cloned uplift furries came to be, given that Troy grew up in one of the labs making them. So in some ways a total shift in genre, in another, very much the same kind of close character study with a lot of parallels to Dog Country, just without guns. I am hoping to have that done and released in the vicinity of June, but timing is still a little up in the air.

Other than that, I’m trying to find an agent for a non-selfpub novel manuscript, making some notes for the next few self-pub book projects in the San Iadras setting, and thinking about trying my hand at finally writing a space opera I planned out a few years ago, which may or may not have one or two token uplift characters in it.

Finally, where can readers keep track of/follow/obsessively read about you?

If you want to keep track of me, I’m on twitter as @foozzzball, I have a Patreon which is relatively low on exclusive content, but fans can get a spot on my corkboard. And, finally, for anyone just browsing interviews who’s now curious and who’d like a smaller taste, there’s Pavlov’s House, a short story about a side-character who briefly appears in Dog Country, published at Strange Horizons.

Malcolm F. Cross can also be found on his author page on Amazon.

Thank you!

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Book Review: “Dog Country” by Malcolm F. Cross

Dog Country by Malcolm F. Cross

Dog Country follows the story of Edane, a geneforged dog-person who was created to be a soldier. The powers that be, however, had to acquiesce to citizens’ demands to end the program, and Edane and others were “emancipated”–set free to live by others’ definitions of a “normal” life. Readers follow Edane (and a few other intermittent viewpoints) as he tries to navigate this new world.

Janine is Edane’s girlfriend, and some of the best scenes in the story take place between these two as Edane attempts to figure out how to even express himself. He struggles to live by the standards of what is “normal” and joins up with a MilSim team trying to work its way up the ranks in a simulated combat game. There’s no small amount of discussion of what runaway capitalism could do. This especially looms large in the way the main plot takes off as the geneforged dogs start a crowdfunding campaign to depose a dictator. The campaign is a runaway success and Edane ultimately joins on for real battle, trying to find his own place in the world and meaning for himself. As readers follow the intense action scenes, flashbacks abound to Edane’s first combat action two years earlier.

The action is great, with strategic and tactical decisions abounding. It doesn’t take up much space in the story, but when it’s there, it absolutely delivers. I’m not an expert on military action, merely a fan of military sci-fi and history, and I found it satisfying each time the military action showed up. The political and civil issues raised loom large, but aren’t explored in great depth. Nonetheless, they do create breaks in the intense story of Edane’s life and background that are welcome.

I do have one minor complaint about the novel, which is that I wish the larger stakes had been made more clear. Specifically, while there’s plenty to wonder about here, the premise takes a little bit away from the stakes. We don’t have genetically engineered super-soldiers made from animals (or other geneforged people, for that matter) around. That means many of the questions raised are hypothetical. You have to be invested in the characters–which I quickly was–in order for much of the conflict to feel pressing. Of course, all of this also seems to be an extended metaphor for PTSD, with the geneforged problems standing in as problems with PTSD, and that immediately ups the stakes and brings it all together.

As a side note, I especially appreciated how many women (or at least female geneforged people) were major characters given voices in the book. Edane’s mothers have numerous great moments including some brief discussions of motherhood that are touching. Janine equally is a fully-fleshed out character dealing with her own difficulties as a geneforge. It’s great to see. Also, that cover is to die for. I definitely think it’s among the best covers in the contest.

Dog Country is yet another proof that self- and indie-published books can be and often are superb. It’s an excellent book from beginning to end, with strong characterization, a solid plot, and difficult questions. Fans of thoughtful speculative fiction should dive in immediately, and the military sci-fi aspect of it is strong enough to appeal to fans of the same. Highly recommended.

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Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC): Team Red Stars Semifinalists

It’s a hugely exciting day, because today we get to announce our team’s top 3 books. That means we’ve gone as a group from 31 books down to 10, then down to 3. These are the best of the best, folks. And, as a bonus, I have my own personal choice for a book that didn’t make it based on our group’s votes but that I personally would include.

Dog Country by Malcolm F. Cross

My full review of this one is still pending, but suffice to say this is an absolute masterwork. It’s got all the thoughtful brilliance of The Forever War, but asks even more questions and has better characters. Fans of military sci-fi will love it, and those interested in thoughtful science fiction should consider it a must read.

Age of Order by Julian North

It’s a dystopia in a school with enough twists and turns that it had several judges swooning. The emphasis on justice is strong, and the characters are fantastic. My full review.

Of Cinder & Bone by Kyoko M.

It’s like Jurassic Park but with dragons, better characters, and a bigger plot happening behind the scenes. My full review.

HONORABLE MENTION

The Trellis by Jools Cantor

Unfettered capitalism meets a murder investigation in this surprising novel. The group didn’t choose this one for its top 3, but this would have been one of my personal top 3. I think it is superb. My full review.

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Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Top 5 Indie Speculative Fiction Books read in 2021

I read more than 500 books again in 2021, and I wanted to highlight some indie works of speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy). Hopefully, you’ll find some reads here you didn’t know about! Let me know your own thoughts in the comments!

Dog Country by Malcolm F. CrossDog Country is a military science fiction novel about geneforged dog-people who were created for war only to find there’s no war waiting for them in adulthood. The thought behind the book evokes other war adaptations while bringing up questions of PTSD, sexuality, and more. Time and again, there are problems with our major protagonist, Edane, attempting to adapt to the “real world” and away from war. Then, a crowdfunded war to oust a totalitarian regime gets underway and we get some solid military sci-fi action that feels believable and surprisingly intense at times. Edane struggles to find out how to express himself to his girlfriend, Janine, and takes comfort from the his two adoptive mothers. The inter-character relationships are of utmost importance in the book, and I found it impossible not to get deeply invested in Edane’s story and struggles.

Project Nemesis by Jeremy Robinson- I love Kaiju, and this novel delivers on the goods. Robinson has readers follow Jon Hudson, an investigator following lead after lead which leads him into absurd scenarios of crackpot theories and false Bigfoot trails. Ultimately, though, we get some serious Kaiju action that Robinson manages to make more thoughtful than you might think. Check out my full review of the book here.

The Amethyst Panda by Kay MacLeod– The second book in the Maiyamon series by Kay MacLeod is another fun monster-catching romp. What do I want from a monster-catching book? Battles that feel intense and a plot that keeps it going. The Maiyamon have their own weakness/resistance archetypes, along with evolutions and switching in battle. It’s like reading a Pokemon novel specifically with adults young and old in mind. I hugely enjoy the first two books, so I cannot wait for book 3! Check out my full review of the first book in the series here.

The Trellis by Jools Cantor– Here’s the elevator pitch: it’s a murder mystery in a future America in which the dangers of unfettered capitalism are on full display through the eyes of multiple characters. I love mysteries set in the future, but Cantor makes this one its own unique ballgame. One character POV is a detective using a somewhat out-of-date robot to help solve the murder. Another is an eager new-on-the-job mediator-type who provides glimpses into what society might be like if corporations were allowed free reign. It’s a fascinating read and has a powerful ending. I loved it.

The Seeds of Dissolution by William C. Tracy– A portal fantasy gets combined with first contact sci-fi and space opera in this soup of subgenres that Tracy deftly navigates to create a powerful experience. Following in the steps of a human character thrown into a society of allied aliens that appears on the brink of crumbling, readers get to experience a science fantasy adventure that is wonderful from the beginning to the end. The magic system is based upon the notion that the universe has music behind it that some people can sense and modify–but at a cost over time. The characters are compelling, diverse, and complex. The relationships build slowly in believable fashion. I savored this one over the course of about a week, and then immediately grabbed the next one.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPSFC Round 1, Battle Royale Part 3

There were 5 slots left on my “yes” list for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest but 15 books in the running. That means I need to eliminate 2 out of every 3 books. To do so, I decided to commit to fully reading these 15 books (or, minimally, reading until I decide it’s not for me) and pitting them against each other for the final 5 slots. I had to re-think my reading to do this, because I enthusiastically put too many books on the “yes” stack to start off. So, for the sake of seeding, each former “yes” goes up against two “maybe” books (except for one post where two higher seeds will face off).

Dog Country by Malcolm F. Cross

Dog Country is a military science fiction novel about geneforged dog-people who were created for war only to find there’s no war waiting for them in adulthood. Honestly, this is one of the most thoughtful books in our selection, in my opinion. Time and again, there are problems with our major protagonist, Edane, attempting to adapt to the “real world” and away from war. Then, a crowdfunded war to oust a totalitarian regime gets underway and we get some solid military sci-fi action that feels believable and surprisingly intense at times. Edane struggles to find out how to express himself to his girlfriend, Janine, and takes comfort from the his two adoptive mothers. The inter-character relationships are of utmost importance in the book, and I found it impossible not to get deeply invested in Edane’s story and struggles. There are shades of the big questions asked in books like The Forever War, but with a twist because they involve hypothetical situations of future weapons and technology. I hugely enjoyed this novel.

The Coldsuit by Andy Wright

First contact with a twist- our main character grew up effectively a slave laborer for an alien species. Ry grew up believing a lie, and as he discovers the truth, he starts to fight back against it. The plot and characters are interesting, but they didn’t draw me in to this twist on the dystopic genre. Yep, it’s a dystopia but it’s aliens this time instead of some far off human power (as in The Hunger Games). I’d recommend this to people who truly can’t get enough of dystopias, and I’d recommend it to them pretty strongly. For me, it read as too familiar. However, based on how the rest of my group thinks, this might end up on our group’s collective “Yes” pile.

The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King

I wrote in my initial impression of this book that I was interested in finding out more about what powers were at work, whether it was urban fantasy, and more about the characters. Now that I’ve finished, I sort of have the same questions in my mind. The plot meanders quite a bit and I’m still not convinced about how the protagonist’s powers work. It’s a decent yarn, but unfortunately won’t be moving on past this round for me.

Round 1 Status

Round 3 of the Battle Royale had some super heavy hitters. Each of these books seems worthy in its own ways, and I won’t be unhappy should my group select others of them for our group reads. For me, though Dog Country stood canine head and (furry) shoulders above the rest. It’s just a fabulous character piece told with excruciatingly powerful moments scattered throughout some solid action sequences. Fans of military or thoughtful sci-fi should consider it a must-read. Coldsuit, again, reads as a very good dystopic setup, but I found myself skimming after a while with a sense of having been there before. The Lore of Prometheus is another intriguing plot with good characters, but I was a bit confused by everything as I approached the end. Again, any of these seems a good read, so if you’re yearning for some indie reads, go grab them and read them! Let me know what you thought of them in the comments.

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Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Announcing Team Red Stars SPSFC Round of 100 reads- The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest

We’ve done it! Team Red Stars has narrowed our 31 selections for the SPSFC down to 10. 10 groups have done so, which means the remaining books are the top 100 out of about 300 entries into the SPSFC! Without further ado, here are our 10 books for the round of 100, along with some comments on each!

Of Cinder and Bone by Kyoko M.

Our whole group was enthused about this read from the sample we read. We loved the character-driven drama and the hints at science-y, dragon-y plot. I have since finished the book and will have a review coming… eventually!

The Shepherd Protocol by Fowler Brown

The group was sold on this AI/Robot mystery that seemed to get deeper the more we read of it. I personally quite enjoy the cover art–it’s not often you see art in this style, which looks like a kind of advanced colored pencil drawing.

The Trellis by Jools Cantor

I may as well say it: I’m a sucker for the mashup of science fiction and mystery. The Trellis has that from the get-go, and Cantor also sprinkles in some commentary on unfettered capitalism and more as the novel gets going. I am about halfway through and it’s captured me completely.

Zenith by Arshad Ahsanuddin

Another character-driven drama, with this one set in space. I found the characters compelling, and it was exciting to see representation of characters outside the norm for science fiction.

Refraction Wick Welker

This story takes place in three different time periods spanning from our past to a future a few hundred years from now. The group was into the main characters, as well as intrigued by the way the plot hinted at bigger things to come.

Age of Order by Julian North

Our group had a bunch of dystopias, and this one was one that stuck out from the crowd with its setting and potential for big implications about its world. We also liked the main character, for whom we’re all rooting!

Wherever Seeds May Fall by Peter Cawdron

I couldn’t stop reading this first contact/hard sci-fi novel by Peter Cawdron. It just kept getting bigger and more intriguing as it went on, and I think it’s just a wonderfully told and timely story. Others in the group enjoyed the tone and were interested to see where the plot goes.

Dog Country by Malcolm F. Cross

Our group enthusiastically selected this no-luck military sci-fi drama that intensely focuses on character-driven plot. I have finished it since, and I’ll save my main thoughts for the review; for now, let’s just say the story is as good as its cover.

Extinction Reversed by J. S. Morin

Artificially intelligent robots are trying to revive the human race in this touching novel about robots. I wasn’t entirely sold on it until I got about 20% in, but it truly starts to ramp up from there. I’m excited to see where it goes.

Above the Sky by J.W. Lynne

Our group dug this dystopia (maybe–it’s not clear if it’s a dystopia or simply playing on the subgenre’s tropes yet) about a looming threat that lingers above the sky. I admit I’ve been sitting on it, waiting for a good moment to start truly diving in. I anticipate savoring it based on the sample I read.

First Round Status

As a group, we’ve determined our final 10 books. I have several posts in the docket to show how I came to my personal top 10, as well. 8 of my personal top 10 made our quarterfinalists, which is pretty exciting for me. So what’s next? More book reviews and discussions. Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you think in the comments!

All links to Amazon are affiliates.

Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– my hub post with links to all of my other posts related to the SPSFC.

Announcing Our SPSFC Round One Top Ten!– Red Star Reviews has his own write-up related to our group’s reads.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.