Review: 'ROAR' vol. 4, edited by Buck C. Turner (by Fred Patten)
Here is the fourth approximately-annual anthology of “literary” (non-erotic) anthropomorphic fiction from Bad Dog Books. There are practically no magazines of anthropomorphic fiction published today, leaving ROAR as one of the few remaining markets for anthropomorphic short stories.
This fourth volume has the theme of “fame”:
Fame—that siren song Celebrity has many stories. Perhaps it is nothing more than an incredible tale. What amazing lengths people will go to in order to find it—or escape from it. In this volume of ROAR, twelve authors explore what celebrity means and how its impact is felt. New stories from celebrated anthropomorphic authors such as Tim Susman, Mary E. Lowd, and Whyte Yoté share these pages with talented newcomers.
Editor's note: This is the first of two reviews of ROAR 4; the second, by Roz Gibson, is here.
The “Magnificent Dogs” by Huskyteer are dog equivalents of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (illustrated on the cover by ConfusedOO). The setting is a British aeroplane race in 1913, the eve of World War I. The contest is between four planes and their pilots, representing America, Britain, France, and Germany. The British public idolizes the charismatic British pilot, Mick Millson, a German Shepherd, and his Mayfly biplane. But the story’s protagonist is Gus Whipple, the crippled, overweight black Labrador retriever who is the inventor of the Mayfly.
Whipple has devoted his every waking moment to working on and improving the Mayfly, to the point of endangering his marriage. He and Mick are close friends, but he cannot help being disappointed seeing all the credit go to the pilot and the plane, and none to its inventor.
Whipple couldn’t blame them [his children]. Naturally a handsome German Shepherd made a better role model than a fat, crippled Lab. He blamed the picture papers and the newsreels that made his boy and girl, and all the other boys and girls, value looks over genius. (p. 5)
Whipple learns to accept his background role, and that he is not as ignored as he feared.
In “Phantom” by Benjamin “eSca” Reed, SEAL Mark Richter, a German Shepherd, is the member of the famous yet highly secretive Alpha Pack team who assassinated hated and feared vulture terrorist leader Khad Pakem after seven years of searching for his hideout. Yet by the nature of his team’s secrecy, Mark cannot claim any public credit for his heroism. Mark likens himself to a comic-book costumed hero; idolized for his public secret identity but a nonentity in his real identity. He broods over this to the point of resigning from the team, despite his CO, Lieutenant Eric Callahan, a cougar, urging him to get psychiatric help for his depression. But when a follower of Pakem’s terrorists prepares to bomb a crowded Louisville mall in revenge, Mark performs a highly publicized act of personal heroism that brings him the public credit that he craves.
In “St. Kalwain and the Lady Uta” by Mary E. Lowd, St. Kalwain, a famous medieval human knight, has been cursed by a faerie queen into the form of a wolflike beast-man. He becomes a hermit living alone in the forest. When human Lady Uta travels to ask him to kill the dragon menacing a village, despite his beastliness, and the faerie queen promises to lift his curse after this last assignment, he accepts because isn’t this what he wants? He is confused when Lady Uta tells him that this isn’t her village; that she is spending her life going about rescuing one village after another from sorcerous plagues.
“Chasing the Spotlight” by Tim Susman is narrated by Alex Roberts, the one-man reporter/editor/producer of the WhispOWorld computer news feed, one of the top 50 North American online news sites. Alex gets a tip to a guy who has apparently had himself surgically made into a furry – faint fur all over, pointed ears, a drooping tail. The guy, “Lon”, talks vaguely about it being part of a plan for a career as a horror movie actor, but Alex senses that Lon is just saying what he’s been ordered to say. The group who performed Lon’s surgery are being too secretive, and Lon seems frightened of saying too much because he isn’t the first artificial furry but the others have “disappeared”. What if there are more furry fans willing to undergo surgical modification than anyone suspects?
And the more I thought about that, the more I thought maybe there was an industry out there dedicated to giving these people what they wanted for exorbitant amounts of money […] Maybe there was a lot of money in that market. (p. 95)
What if this “industry” is ruthless enough to make its mistakes “disappear”? If Alex breaks the story, he’ll be famous.
In “Second Chance” by Sean Silva, auto stock car racing has gotten so deadly that humans have left it to biomodified animal racers. Kasi was one of the tops – as a cheetah, he was built for speed anyway – but he’s gotten too old for the top championship circuits and dropped out. Rick Walker, Kasi’s human former manager, talks him into coming back for one last major race, against his better judgment. Because Kasi isn’t really afraid that he’s gotten too old. He’s afraid that in the tension of a major race, his predator’s instincts take over and he cannot restrain himself from trying to kill the other drivers. How badly does Kasi want the fame of winning one last major race?
“The Savior of Dragondom” by Sarina Dorie is Sephra the dragoness, the winged mount of human knight Erador. Dragons and their human riders are supposed to be equal partners, but the arrogant Erador increasingly treats his dragon as a dumb steed. Sephra teaches him and everyone else the difference between false fame and deserved fame.
“Almost Famous” by Eric Kern is about Kevin Hale, a young bull college office worker. When Kevin slips and gets a faceful of mud, and Jeff, his gazelle friend, gets a cell phone video of it and uploads it onto the Internet where it becomes viral, Kevin is deeply embarrassed. Fame like that, he doesn’t need. But viral fame is transitory, and Kevin takes the advice of Amy, a zebra girl, that the way to help squelch it is to learn how to laugh at himself.
“Best Interests” by Whyte Yoté are what lion President-elect David Kibber, the first Morphic president, has when he plans his administration. But David has a secret; he had a brief homosexual affair with a human lover. David has moved on, but Alex can expose everything. The country may be ready for a Morphic president, but it is not ready for a gay president yet. How badly does Alex want fame? How far will David go to keep quiet a politically embarrassing past?
In “The Gentleman and the Gypsy” by NightEyes DaySpring, the British Gentleman is the red fox Thomas Prenton, son of Lord Prenton, aristocrat, magnate, and politician in the House of Lords. Tsura, also a red fox, is the gypsy fortuneteller, a childhood friend of Thomas before his mother died and his father forbade him to associate with low-class gypsies. When a worker at a factory that Lord Prenton is threatening to close tries to kill Thomas, Tsura emerges from his past to save him and offer him a choice of futures: as his father’s heir, a guided, pampered, but boring life; or with the gypsies, poor but making his own way. Anonymity now but with a chance of future fame if he can earn it, or never more than the inherited fame of being a Lord’s son?
“Inheritance Is What You Leave Behind” by Jesse “Tango” Stringer begins when the morphic seniors of Two Counties High School in Winthrop, Maine, on the verge of graduation, are all agog when major news media representatives descend upon them. Rumor has it that Marcus Irvine, “Descended mostly from wolves, with a bit of husky mixed in” (p. 216), who had graduated from the school eighteen years earlier and who had become a mega-popular film star since then, was cutting a movie shoot in Japan short to make an unplanned visit to his alma mater.
Speculation is that Irvine has just learned that he had a child by a childhood sweetheart eighteen years ago, and wants to meet that child. All eyes turn to Linkin Miranda, who as a taller-than-usual husky is the only student who could be Irvine’s son. Linkin is already preparing to be his class’ Valedictorian; now he is faced with the reflected fame of being a famous actor’s son in addition to the fame that he has earned for himself.
The “Seeing Eye Dog” by Kandrel is not who you’d expect. In a world of both morphic and non-morphic animals, blind writer Chris Parker (a Dalmatian) has just lost his guide dog Cleo to old age. Chris, a hermit since his blindness, is sure that he can get around his house fine for the few weeks until his new guide dog arrives, but his doctor arranges for Malcolm, a caregiver (German Shepherd) to move in with him in the interim. Chris, unused to company, is a surly host, but after several weeks, Malcolm persuades him to come out of his solitary existence and embrace the fame of the best-selling author that he can be.
In “Crooked Pictures” by Alflor Aalto, Doctor Robin Walters (raccoon) is a Transplanter. He is a specialist in recording people’s memories so they can be played back to others; a very lucrative business when discs of a media star’s memories can be sold to millions of fans. Walters is proud and humble to be chosen to Transplant memories of his favorite Hollywood actress, Miss Aleesa (vixen). But when Walters plays her unedited memories for himself, he is devastated to learn how shallow and self-centered she really is. Walters is under contract to edit the memories into a commercial form that will not harm Aleesa’s fame, which, disillusioned, he does.
ROAR vol. 4 presents twelve anthropomorphic stories of the theme of “fame”. All are competently written; “Magnificent Dogs” is my personal favorite. Ten are set in modern worlds; two are fantasies in a magical past. In four of the twelve stories, the presence of anthropomorphic animals is important; they feature both anthropomorphic animals and humans. In seven, all set in Furry worlds, it is only window dressing; the characters could be humans just as easily. One story does not feature any anthropomorphic characters, but human Furry fans. ROAR vol. 4 is a pleasing sampler of the variety that anthropomorphic literature can present.