Updated: Aug 5, 2022
2015 (Circlet Press)
TammyJo Eckhart´s omnibus collection Beyond the Softness of His Fur defies easy categorization. Erotica, science fiction, social commentary, and more all intermingle into a story set in a not-too-distant future, bringing up engaging questions about intimacy, the increasingly blurred lines between our work and our personal lives, and our relationship to our natural environment.
Anchoring these three novellas is the relationship between Emily Potter, a high-powered executive for a powerful advertising agency that is interplanetary in reach; and Wynn, her non-human companion. Wynn is a "morph", a genetically-engineered animal which possess intelligence and emotions, and whose primary purpose is to provide devoted sexual gratification to their owners. When Emily gets promoted at her powerful position at Inandirmak, she is practically instructed to purchase a morph by her dominating and mysterious employers, the Reizis. Over the course of these books, Emily and Wynn go from owner-pet and human-morph to allies, confidantes, and lovers.
The first novella in this collection, "Wonders of Modern Science," focuses primarily on their intimate relationship, beginning with Emily choosing this white-coated fox-like creature from the Institute of Sensual Morphology. Wynn can not only walk on two legs and speak in simple sentences, but he has been trained specifically to provide sexual gratification to their owners. Particularly in this opening part of Beyond the Softness of His Fur, Eckhart explores dynamics of BDSM within the vocabulary of this speculative, science-fiction universe. Issues of loyalty, pleasure, obedience, and dominance, and especially consent, are addressed with maturity and ingenuity. Early on in this section, there is also a very disturbing episode of human-morph sexual violence, providing the author with the opportunity to also explore how we can effectively heal from trauma (whether one is a human or a morph), including rest, communication, and tenderness .
"Social Corruption," the second book, zooms out into the world of Inandirmak, and Emily´s role within it. In Eckhart´s fictional world, corporations wield more power than nations or governments, and seem to invade every nook and cranny of individual life. The Reizis frequently describe their corporate culture as a "family," a term which becomes utterly creepy when Emily and Wynn attend the company´s first annual retreat. Over the series of a few days, the two are asked to participate in "Showing and Sharing", sexual acts between every kind of configuration of morphs and humans, which are portrayed as "team-building" but which really seem to be a kind of emotional blackmail and dehumanization. Despite it´s futuristic details and setting, one can easily form associations between Eckhart´s imagination and our own contemporary reality.
In the last entry, "Private Revolutions?", conventions are broken on both a corporate and personal level. Wynn and Emily navigate the physical, emotional, and social repercussions of Lindsey, an executive assistant provided by Inandirmak who will become Emily´s spouse, giving a new spin on the concept of work-wife (or "work-husband", in this case). This new relationship makes their personal dynamic closer to a throuple, albeit one which crosses species. There is also a radical change in Emily´s relationship with her employer, galvanized by a series of events which touch upon themes of climate change, personal privacy, and artificial intelligence.
The best speculative fiction reflects issues within our own time, and Eckhart´s trilogy certainly addresses a range of relevant themes that will resonate with contemporary readers. Collectively, the interwoven novellas of Beyond the Softness of His Fur concoct a pretty heady brew. Eckhart´s writing is intelligent and clear, finding a sweet middle-ground within her work which describes a vividly imagined future in direct and concrete language. Reading her stories, one´s senses can experience the truth of it. She doesn´t leave her readers behind, no matter how far ahead she goes in time.
But even more noteworthy is Eckhart´s in-depth portrayal of the relationship between Emily and Wynn. Regardless of one´s kink, this human-fox / organic-synthetic relationship is complex and fascinating. Both of these characters evolve and grow in surprising ways, and I was amazed at how sensual their intimate episodes were. Beyond the Softness of His Fur is a stimulating and rewarding read, highly recommended.
To read my in-depth interview with the author, please go to my Patreon page here.