Review: 'Pile', by Kandrel
Scott Beecham, a young U.S. soldier, is killed in action and brought back to life as a bioengineered part-human, part-jackal “dog-man” member of a secret team of government super-animal-men agents.
In most stories, that would be just the setup for much action. In Pile, that is the story. This novella is a quiet mood-piece about Scott’s awakening in what he assumes to be his army barracks to discover that he is no longer human:
I was alive! I couldn’t feel much yet, but if I was thinking, it meant I was still here. Everything else was just going to have to follow. Right hand? Yeah, I could do that, too. In fact, I could feel my right hand. There was something in it. Something I could form a fist around and squeeze. I did that, and I felt whatever was between my fingers bend a bit. (p. 3)
I opened my mouth, and I could feel senses slowly filing back into place. I could taste the air. There were chemicals: bleach, ammonia, rubbing alcohol, and something sweet. I could smell them, too, every bit of them. I could also smell the dog-girl who was leaning over me. She smelled like the sharp smell of water on roofing tar that came in my window every morning after it’d rained.
I could even smell a cat somewhere around. Since when did the army barracks have a veterinary ward? (pgs. 4-5)
Scott gradually, incredulously gets used to his new body -- “She [Dr. Snow] caught my gaze and grinned. ‘In the significant gene identifiers, about forty-three percent jackal, forty-five percent human, five percent Asian river otter, and actually about three percent tree frog. Don’t ask about the tree frog part. It gets rather technical and squidgy.’” (p. 11) – to the part-human, part arctic fox Dr. Snow; and to his new teammates: a tiger-man, a deer-man, a husky/Samoyed-man, a ferret-woman, and a talking female cheetah. “‘Sure his brain’s screwed in right, Snowie?’ the cheetah scoffed. It was talking. It wasn’t too far of a stretch when I saw Dr. Snow talking, because she wasn’t really a dog. Two legs, two arms, and all; she was like a human with fur and whiskers. This, though, was a cheetah, an honest-to-god cheetah, and it was talking.” (p. 17)
Scott (who takes the new name of Jack for jackal, since he is not Scott Beecham any more) tries to blend into his new life, solve the mystery of the Pile, and accept his new teammates. But he can’t forget his devotion to his fiancée, Emily. They were extremely devoted to each other. If he had been crippled or maimed in action, she would have stuck by him; but turned into a dog-man? Jack obsesses on this until he just has to find out. He leaves the team and, disguised in an opaque motorcycle helmet, sets out cross-country to find out.
And then there is the sex.
Considering that there is no hint of sex until over halfway through the novella, I feel that I am giving away an important spoiler by mentioning it at all. But some readers do not like explicit sex, and they should be warned. Kandrel tries to make it a basic plot point in good taste, but it feels forced; just an excuse for gender-irrelevant “Hey, is there anyone here I haven’t fucked yet?” orgies.
To be blunt, Pile seems intended to deliberately appeal to “the typical Furry fan”. It is well-written, emphasizing the reader-identification with handsome, almost immortal animal-men and -women, with lots of casual open bi-sex with everyone having fun. What more could a Furry fan want?
Since this is a feel-good mood-piece, there is no need to wonder how well this setup would work in practice. The eight are a team of super animal-men to respond to military or natural disasters, who have apparently been acting in strict secrecy for the last several years. How long would they go unnoticed in reality? How well would a jackal-man (there are quips about jackals being almost undistinguishable from coyotes, so he looks like WB’s Wile E. Coyote) be able to pass as human in just a motorcyclist’s heavy clothes and an opaque helmet? Why is Amy the cheetah a full cheetah instead of a half-human like the others? But it fits the feel-good atmosphere of the story, so don’t question it too deeply.