Thebe and the Angry Red Eye

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Thomas with his companion Oscar the tomato plant. Artwork by David Hopkins.

Thebe and the Angry Eye, a science fiction novella written by David Hopkins, is an acclaimed story about a furry crew's ill-fated space voyage. It first appeared as a serial on Hopkins' Fur Affinity page[1], with several illustrations by Hopkins himself, in 2014. The following year, a version with corrected spelling errors appeared in Fred Patten's anthology The Furry Future[2], with two new illustrations by Roz Gibson.

Plot[edit]


Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.


Note: The original story is told in ananchronic order, with the narrative frequently moving back and forth between the present and the past. For the sake of clarity and simplicity, this synopsis arranges the events in chronological order.

Story setup and characters[edit]

A group portrait of the main cast. Left to right: Tout, Jenare, Captain Hawthorne, Thomas (holding Oscar), Katie, Dr. Slawvitz, Carl, and Mallory. Artwork by David Hopkins.

The story takes place in a future where, for unexplained reasons, anthropomorphic animals replaced humans thousands of years ago. The Hildebrand Corporation has initiated an ambitious program to send a ship called the Hildebrand One on a ten-year expedition to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, in search of extraterrestrial life. A crew of seven is chosen, including:

  • Thomas, who specializes in telescopy, photography and botany. He is the protagonist who narrates the story, and his suffering is central to the plot.
  • Captain Hawthorne, the strong, brave leader of the mission, who keeps his shipmates working together and getting along.
  • Mallory, Hawthorne's very competent second-in-command. She's also the pilot.
  • Carl, the ship's taciturn engineer. He receives the least characterization of the main cast.
  • Doctor Slawvitz, the medic. Compassionate and supportive, she is a strong believer in the benefits of space exploration.
  • Jenare, the navigator and secondary pilot. A likable, wisecracking eccentric who hopes that the mission will make him famous.
  • Tout, an enthusiastic young journalist. She maintains communications with Earth.

Oscar, a tomato plant, is considered the crew's mascot. During their odyssey, the astronauts get past their minor conflicts to bond together as friends.

Radiation surge and crash landing[edit]

All goes well during the voyage until tragedy strikes. While the Hildebrand One is passing Jupiter, it's hit by an unpredictable radiation surge that causes one of the fuel tanks to leak. Hawthorne and Carl suit up and do a space walk to repair the ruptured tank but it explodes, which severs Hawthorne's safety tether and causes him to fatally tumble into Jupiter's rings. The explosion also alters the ship's course so that it too goes through the rings, which overwhelms the shielding and causes the some of the rocks to break through the hull. Mallory becomes the second to die while she repairs a hull breach; one of the stones smashes into her head through the eye and enters her brain, killing her instantly.

These deaths force Thomas, Carl, Slawvitz, Jenare and Tout to figure out what to do next. They decide their best bet for survival is to land on another Jovian moon, Thebe, even though it will be a crash landing because they've lost too much fuel to set down safely. They record a farewell message for their loved ones which they send to Earth, scatter to various parts of the Hildebrand One to increase the chances that at least one of them will live, and hope for the best. Thomas is knocked unconscious during the rough landing; when he wakes up and searches for his four crewmates, he is devastated when he sees that they were all killed when the ship crashed, leaving himself and Oscar as the only ones left alive.

Trapped on Thebe[edit]

Thomas tries to maintain a routine on the wrecked ship: he keeps the part where he lives clean, explores Thebe, and cares for Oscar as best he can. However, the terrible loneliness takes a toll on him, especially since he knows that no rescue is forthcoming. His sanity starts to slip as he imagines conversing with Oscar, and also that the eye of Jupiter, which he calls "the Giant", is a malevolent being who is always watching him. He begins thinking more and more about his beloved wife Katie, whom he believes he will never see again. He also has a vivid dream about the way the voyage should have ended, with him and his friends returning to Earth safely and receiving a heroes' welcome. However, just as he's about to embrace Katie, he wakes up.

Eventually, while "talking" with Oscar, Thomas realizes that he has three choices: keep up the useless routine until he finally expires; kill himself and Oscar; or as Oscar "says", "we live, for one last time". Tiring of his hopeless isolation, Thomas chooses option three. The next morning, he suits up, grabs Oscar, and jumps into the void between Thebe and Jupiter. If he has to die, he will die as an explorer.

Encounter with the Giant[edit]

Thomas is the first person to observe the wonders of the gas giant, although he loses Oscar along the way. Finally, he makes contact with the Giant -- which turns out to have a living being inside it! Its form is an impossibly huge black snake, which causes Thomas to describe it as "resembling one of Lovecraft's signature horrors", but it's actually friendly. Thomas communicates with the creature and says he doesn't hold it responsible for what happened to the ship and its crew; it seems that the snake alien created the radiation surge not as an attack, but as an attempt at first contact gone tragically wrong, which it regrets. The being comforts Thomas in his final moments by showing him the path the Hildebrand One took, the surface of Earth, and finally Katie, who's gardening at their home; she looks up and smiles at him as if she can somehow sense his presence. Thomas is glad to see that she's moved on from her loss.

One moment later, Thomas' suit finally fails and he dies. He notes that "It happens so quickly, that I don't feel a thing." The story ends.

Notes[edit]

Furriness (or lack thereof)[edit]

While the story features furry characters, it doesn't emphasize this aspect very much. Thomas makes occasional mentions of his whiskers, claws and tail. He is also the only character whose species was originally verified, due to every illustration of him portraying him as a domestic housecat. The species of the other characters (except for the snakelike alien) are never mentioned in the text, although they were revealed when Hopkins was commissioned to draw the cast of the story in 2024.

Character names[edit]

Every character in the story is given only one name. Captain Hawthorne and Doctor Slawvitz are referred to by their ranks and surnames, while Thomas, Mallory and Carl have only first names. The names Jenare and Tout are unusual and ambiguous enough that they might be either first or last names.

Human pop culture references[edit]

The story takes place long after the end of humanity, but vestiges of human culture still remain. For example, Jenare plays video games with an Xbox and alludes to What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding, a song written by Nick Lowe and popularized by Elvis Costello. We also see Thomas listening to The Jack Benny Program (misidentified as The Jack Benny Show) and The Shadow (not mentioned by name), two programs from the Golden Age of Radio.

Scientific inaccuracies[edit]

Hopkins wrote [a Fur Affinity post] acknowledging and addressing some of the story's scientific inaccuracies.

Award nomination[edit]

Thebe and the Angry Red Eye was one of the stories nominated for Best Anthropomorphic Short Fiction at the 2015 Ursa Major Awards. It lost to another story from The Furry Future, The Analogue Cat by Alice "Huskyteer" Dryden.

References[edit]

  1. with this cover image
  2. [1]