Review: 'ROAR vol. 3', edited by Buck C. Turner
Amsterdam, Bad Dog Books/Dallas, FurPlanet Productions, February 2011.
Trade paperback $19.95 (iii + 257 pages).
ROAR is Bad Dog Books’ approximately-annual anthology of “literary” anthropomorphic fiction, as distinct from FANG, BDB’S anthology of erotic anthropomorphic fiction. With three volumes now, ROAR has established itself as one of the best publications of Furry short fiction.
This third volume has the theme of “moments” – “In a world where time flows steadily on, individual moments crystallize into the memories that define us, that we use to measure ourselves. At certain times our actions can change the course of an evening, or the rest of our lives.” Each story is about a defining moment in someone’s life.
Comparisons of “Drawn From Memory”, by Renee Carter Hall (Poetigress), with Gary Wolf’s classic “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” are obvious, but Hall has her own take on “living toons”. Lauren Mitchell, a young human animation fan, interviews Terrence Tiger, the now mostly-forgotten star of the old TV program ‘Jungle Jam’.
As the two chat and develop a touching romantic relationship, it becomes poignantly obvious that they are waiting for Terrence’s waning popularity to cause him to “wink out” of existence (p. 5):
I knew exactly what the ‘it’ was that we were politely dancing around. They call it ‘winking in’, and it happens all at once, when they appear more or less fully formed, although their appearance and personality can still be molded to some extent by the role they play. For instance, I don’t know if Terrence had that stripe across his throat that’s shaped like a bow tie when he first winked in. But for all intents and purposes, toons have no childhood.
The flip side of this is what happens to toons when they wink out. They disappear, but no one’s quite sure exactly what decides the time. The best theory at the moment has to do with not how popular or loved they are, but how relevant they are -- that is, loved at the moment, not out of pure nostalgia.
“Shadows of Novoprypiatsk”, by Kevin Frane (Rikoshi) – a story in his Thousand Leaves universe – has gotten my ire up! Montserrat Léonide, a stylish arctic fox, returns reluctantly after eight years to the frozen city of Novoprypiatsk to meet the weasel Lars, her brother (subject of ROAR’s wraparound cover by ConfusedOO). The relationship between Montserrat and Lars, and what happened eight years ago, is the focus of the story. It’s well-written, but the fox-weasel brother & sister relationship completely destroys it for me, making this an “animal-headed human” story where there is no real excuse for any of the cast to be funny animals instead of humans.
There is not much in “Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night”, by John “The Gneech” Robey, either, but this is a hip parody of the hard-boiled private eye stereotype, so a cast of anthro animals does not grate. Sexy Madeline Mink hires the PI agency of Squash (Otter) and Stretch (Ferret) to find out who pilfered the safety deposit box of her murdered playboy husband Mortimer. Robey’s writing (narrated by Stretch) is witty, exaggeratedly snappy and sarcastic (p. 44):
I opened [the door], revealing a gorgeous mink femme wearing a long black dress and a veiled, wide-brimmed hat. She was accompanied by what appeared to be a rat in a zoot suit, who played a juicy riff on the saxophone he was inexplicably carrying.
It also becomes a clever, genuine murder mystery. Kudos to Robey!
“Al Coda”, by Marcus Reeve, successfully establishes its anthropomorphic animal milieu. Ryan Johnson, an aging piano virtuoso, enters the most important competition of his career (p. 77):
A lynx performing a piano piece was not a common sight. The instrument was usually dominated by canids and the daintier felines. A lynx’s thick, wide paws made striking the keys with his pads all but impossible. Learning to use only his claws to play was an enormous challenge, one that took years of practice to overcome. Most preferred a more naturally suitable instrument, such as the viola or cello.
Reeve details the rubber caps on Ryan’s claws that safeguard the keys, adding to the anthro verisimilitude; yet this is unobtrusively worked into the story, which is not so much about the piano competition as what happens to Ryan after he has achieved his lifelong dream.
“Unfit”, by Kandrel, seems a curiously incomplete story, not to mention very depressing (as it is intended to be). Rachel (leopard) lives in Stochden, a city under quarantine that has fallen under the totalitarian dictatorship of a political “savior”. Kandrel paints a convincing picture of life in a bleak, decaying city whose faceless ruler (called just He or Him) is represented by his omnipresent jackal police. Rachel’s slowly revealed past gives the story needed details, but the action still seems lifeless and does not go far enough to be satisfying.
“Touchdown”, by Teiran, takes place in 2024 of an anthro U.S. that is watching “the last space shuttle launch ever” and the first manned mission to Mars. Joseph Ryans, the gray and white husky mission project director, and Paul Dawson, the Doberman commander of the Mars mission, are the main characters, but there are plenty of other anthros among both the mission control staff and the astronauts in this tensely realistic story. This is another in which the cast might as well be human, but there is sufficient description of ruffled fur and coiled tails to keep the story Furry.
“Johnny R.”, by Ben Goodridge, is Johnny Rat, a young backwoods “shaggy” (a derogatory term for all anthros) who dreams of becoming a pro guitarist, but whose Pa Rat is determined that he carry on the family tradition of bootlegging. Goodridge is clearly using the anthro species as a metaphor for country Blacks before the era of Civil Rights, but his description of Rats is richly Furry.
“Still Life in Ice and Snow”, by NightEyes DaySpring, is a semi-ghost story set at a Furry ski resort. Kai, a restless German shepherd looking for a new relationship, finds a stranger one than he expects. The last two stories – “Pori”, by James Steele; and “Escape From New Dansmouth”, by Jacob Staley – are good but standard Furry adventure tales.
On the whole, this volume has no less than solid fiction, and three or four outstanding tales. ROAR volume 3 is a definite winner.