Furry Book Review
We all remember fondly all those times when we were young and sat near the bonfire, joking and playing with each other before someone, or someones, also took a seat. Everything would go quiet as these persons, each taking turns to speak, started to narrate a story. Ghosts, vampires, aliens, and more peppered our experiences throughout the night as we passed around a sachet and sprinkled the Midnight Dust into the fire as...no, wait, that was a TV show. Anyway, The Haunted Den by Thurston Howl Publications follows a similar premise: seven authors, each bringing us a ghost story, all tied by a single overall theme. Hauntings.
CW: This anthology contains references and descriptions of, but is not limited to, suicide, death, gore, violence, dubious consent, domestic abuse, among others.
The anthology has a strong start with "The Well" by Anastasia Spinet. In this story, we follow Jonah, the patriarch of a family of ring-tailed cats, and his fascination with the eponymous deep well located in the garden of his new home, one that seems to have changed hands quite often. While I liked the slight The Shining vibes and the way the main character develops throughout the story, I think that what most makes it stand out is how it mixes its "furry" elements with its plot (surprisingly, something not as common in furry literature as you might think). However, I feel like this story could have maybe used a few more pages, as once the ball starts rolling it starts feeling quite rushed with everything that happens.
Next is "The Road to Kyoto" by Alison Cybe. In this story, we follow Roka, a fox-spirit-turned-Shinto-monk in a pilgrimage who, in a manner similar to Aura, soon finds himself at the mercy of an old innkeeper and her underage daughter. The story has tension written all over it, with the main character never getting a moment of rest as danger and dread follow him everywhere he goes; however, for a short story, I feel that there were several superfluous elements introduced. A few of them do kind of make sense, aiding to the tension of very specific scenes before being discarded altogether, but others just have no payoff or any bearing with the story at all.
Changing things up a little, we have "Postmortem Plundering" by Ferric. Unlike the rest of the anthology, the titular haunting refers to a person and not a place as we follow John, a blue jay who receives an unexpected visit from a former, not-so-dead lover. My biggest gripe with this stor is how, for the most part, it feels more like a paranormal romance and not bonafide horror, only changing that tone very near the end of it (though in a very effective way, I might add); but I guess that could be a big plus for someone else who's into the actions and type of relationship being portrayed. Also, in an unrelated tangent, this story has the honor of being the only one with an individual Content Warning right at the start of it.
Next, we have "Saturn in the Sky" by Will Sidel. Kind of following the same trend as the previous story, here we have a more personal type of horror as we follow Lou, a lioness who not only has to deal with the haunting memories of her dead father, but also with his rapidly expanding corpse. While I like the setup and the relationship of Lou with her father, especially regarding the mysterious rules he had her follow, I feel like there was not much of a payoff in the end. Though I'll admit that maybe it was just me as I get the feeling that there was some underlying symbolism I didn't understand, and that left me in the dark with no explicit explanation in the text itself.
Returning to our regular schedule, we have "Snowblind" by Robert Shelters. In this story, we follow a rescue team sent to investigate a remote research station after losing all contact with it. The vivid and detailed descriptions really make this story stand out, and that coupled with nice pacing really help set the mood of the story, yet, in spite of them, the story has an overall feeling of lack of tension. The research station, in all its dilapidated and dangerous glory, feels like an aftermath for the most part (which, to be honest, it is) rather than an actual setting, and Neil, our raccoon protagonist, never really feels like he's in any actual danger.
Next is "Old Callow House" by Nathaniel "LeCount" Edwards. In this story, we follow a trio of friends as they investigate the long-abandoned house of the Callow family, left like that after the mysterious disappearance of its previous occupants. Much like in the previous story, here we can see a lot of detail given to the description of the eponymous house, its current state, and history, which almost makes it feel like the house itself was another character. Overall a nice read, but the story at times gives vibes of something that you could find in r/noSleep, both in a good and a bad sense.
Last, but definitely not least, we have my favorite: "The Buccaneer's Bay" by Nathan Hopp. In this story, we follow the host of "Trent Explorers", an otter named Trent, as he ventures into the eponymous waterpark which was abandoned after the deaths of several parkgoers. The meta-narrative format coupled with a good use of dread and tension are what made the story for me, not to mention that it has the most likable protagonist in this anthology, which made me more invested in the story and his story as a whole. My only complaint would be the epilogue, which felt kind of unnecessary.
While the anthology as a whole had a few misses, overall I can say that I had a good time reading The Haunted Den. The different takes on what is a haunting and the ways the authors handled them was interesting, and I have to applaud the illustrations by Nik Raccoon both in art style and how well they fit their individual story. However, I feel that the anthology could have used a little more developmental editing, as many of the stories could have used some very small tweaks to better play to their strengths and fix their most glaring issues.
In an unrelated subject, if the editors of this anthology - or any editor for that matter - see this review, I'd like to bring up again the individual Content Warning of Postmortem Plundering. This was a great idea (even if it was weird that only one story had it) and something that I'd personally love to see in more anthologies; especially for cases like horror, where the content and subjects are meant to disturb the reader, and you risk having specific topics that might be too much for very specific readers.
The Haunted Den, eds. Tarl Voice Hoch and Thurston Howl
Dajan Tafari’s novella “Spin the Bottle” is unabashed vore erotica. If you don’t find furries swallowing one another whole and digesting them to be sexy, you should turn back now. The book presents a world where the consumption of furries by other furries is uncommon, but not unheard of, and at this one college, one fraternity house in particular is known for parties where many guests end up in guts. Our main character, a fairly small housecat, desperately wants to be a predator, so he goes to one of the frat’s parties with his roommate who is opposed to vore. There, they get into a party game with a twist, “spin the bottle” in which the spinner tries to devour whoever the bottle points at. Who will walk away? Who becomes dinner? The bottle decides. Now, I know this is the author’s first long-form story, and there were points where that much was obvious. After the first player gets eaten, the next spinner is selected using a random phone app, which is understandably necessary given how players kept getting eliminated, and could have played into the MC’s obliviousness to the game’s nature, but it felt like Dajan was pulling it out of his ass. **SPOILER ALERT** It’s also hard to see why prey anthros would willingly play the game knowing what it was, they say it’s their one possible chance to potentially be a pred for once, but we don’t see any prey species successfully eat somebody. The mouse and pig never even get a chance to spin before they’re nommed and the rabbit gags on her “prey.” **SPOILERS OVER** It gives more thought to the societal implications of vore than most stories and a couple well-known webcomics, but that’s not necessarily the kind of thing you want to read when you’re trying to wank off. A bit like erotic horror really. The setting is horrific, but in a kinky way that evokes seemingly contradictory feelings in you. If you've been looking for a novel-length vore story, and I haven't seen many of those, check this one out. But if you’re not a vorearephile, this book probably isn’t for you.Spin the Bottle, by Dajan Tafari
“One person’s trash, is another’s treasure.” I didn’t quite know what to expect going into FURRY TRASH, and I was curious to see how the anthology would define trash with the selection of stories that it features. From mob bosses, to underground societies, and even creatively “cringy” characters, FURRY TRASH is an anthology that seems to allow the author to define “trash” in their own way. And while the collection as a whole is enjoyable and interesting to read, I would have liked a bit more cohesion to the project, or even just a preface to the anthology from the editor that gave the reader their vision for this book. That being said, there’s not a story here that I absolutely hated.
"A Leap Forward" by MikasiWolf starts this anthology off. A story about an underground society called “The Movement,” it is an action-filled story with lots of description on parkour, running from the cops, and finding your own way in life as a young teen. I would have liked the start of this story to be a bit quicker, but overall it was a fun read.
"Flying Rat" by Dan Leinir Turthra Jensen follows. Bureaucracy is one of the most frustrating things to deal with, and I feel the author tackles this really well in this story. We’re immediately given this bleak image of life barreling into dull cubicles and losing a sense of yourself as you settle for it. It’s a frustrating tale, but overall not a bad one. The author forces the reader to feel the main character’s mundane life, while feeling the dread of loopholes that are being crossed to help someone’s living situation.
"Foxbatwolfponydragontigerplant with Angel Wings" by Thurston Howl. There have been very few moments in my life where I have had to put down a book and sigh. Sigh hard. Sigh really, really hard. The author knew what they were doing when they wrote this, and it’s honestly one of the funniest stories of the book. You can just feel the amount of edgy they wanted to have steaming off the pages. It’s short. It’s funny. And it doesn’t need much of an introduction given the title.
"Gambit" by Kittara Foxworthy. A group of kids take on extra work to help pay off Illandra’s debt, thus freeing her. It reminds me of the old science fiction novels of like the 70s. Something like Gordon R. Dickson or Arthur C. Clarke. The author knows how to use suspense to keep the readers engaged. Kittara Foxworthy is an author I’ve not ever heard of, but I’m definitely curious to read other work they have put out.
"Ibis Hotel" by Tom Mullins is a story where the main character desires a better life, one outside of the corporate hellhole he and his family currently live in. The story is dark and deals a devastating blow to the reader as we progress through it.
"Learning the Curve" by TJ Minde focuses on a gay possum trying to fit in with his bowling class. A typical story of a shy guy not yet comfortable with himself to be outgoing, make friends, or even date. He befriends a tiger and has to learn to handle his own trust issues as the class progresses.
"One Night Last Summer" by Cedric G! Bacon has characters I would want to murder. But that’s just me. Piper is roped into a date with someone she barely knows. Having a double date with her friend Dallas and her partner, Piper isn’t the most welcomed person at the table. Cedric has a way of writing characters and making me hate them. And with the bar atmosphere, he’s done it perfectly. Easily one of my favorites of the book.
"One Sentient’s Trash" by the late Fred Patten is a story where anthropomorphic animals are discriminated against. They take on a member of a “human supremacy” group in order to be able to do their jobs. From a race perspective, I found the story a bit problematic. When it comes to race, using animals to portray BIPOC characters is racist as it dehumanizes BIPOC folx. We’ve seen this fairly recently with Disney’s The Princess and the Frog and Soul, where the characters don’t even get to stay human in their own film. By toning down discussions of race to human-animal interaction, you further the stereotype that BIPOC aren’t human. Fred writes well enough, but I don’t think this is the story I would have picked to publish in the anthology.
"Salvage" by Harwich Wolcott is a rather dark story. The anthology moves between dark- and light-hearted, but this story plunges right down while tackling sexual abuse, sexual violence, and searching for safety in a world that is ready to use you and leave you in the garbage.
"The Janitor" by Ivan Snow, though a bit cheesy in spots, wasn’t an overall terrible story. A character lost in life and unsure of where he really wants to go is asked to clean up a mess made by one of the employees at work. It’s funny in spots, gritty in others, and the ending lines were cheesy. Good. But cheesy.
"The Otter’s Mermaid" by Mary E. Lowd. I really liked this story, but I’m also a sucker for a bit of romance in fiction. An Otter falls in love with a mermaid and brings her new inventions to help her in work. Though the mermaid doesn’t always like the gifts, the relationship between the two grows strong. "The Otter’s Mermaid" is one of the cutest reads of the book, and a good, light-hearted break from the prior grit and darkness.
"The River in the Mist" by Dwale. Out of all the stories in this collection, I’m glad to see it end on this one. Dwale’s story is a strong, action-filled piece of fiction that gets the blood rushing up until the very end. It’s dark, it’s bleak, and it’s adventurous. I’m surprised Dwale hasn’t come out with a collection of their own work. I’ve always found Dwale’s fiction fun and hard-hitting, and "The River in the Mist" is no exception. It’s a story that will not disappoint.
Overall, FURRY TRASH was fun and sometimes dark read. If you’re looking for a bit of sci-fi, or something on the darker side of fiction, or even a good laugh, you’ll find it here.Furry Trash, ed. J. F. R. Coates
"Awoo, Who’s This?" is an intriguing anthology that takes a unique approach to the way anthologies are usually organized. The stories within are focused around a centered theme, but the theme itself is a trick. Essentially, this anthology is a group of authors trying to imitate each other. We, as readers, are simply along for the ride.
That’s about where the common theme stops. Since each author likes to write in their preferred genre, each story is completely different. The remaining product is a grab-bag of stories, starting with “Callie’s Luck,” allegedly by Rose LaCroix. An important note about each story is that the author listed on the table of contents is not the actual author of that particular story. (I like to mention the authors’ names in my reviews to make sure they get the credit they deserve, so I’ll be using the actual authors’ names going forward.) SPOILERS AHEAD.
“Callie’s Luck,” by Kuroko, is a tale of desire. It’s not too long, has two main characters, and is a pleasant start to the anthology. John, a coyote pilot, works as a cargo delivery dog in the deep recesses of space. The story starts off with him recalling the time he spent with Callie, a cat that stole his heart--and his old ship. When the two meet up again, Callie says she needs John’s help to retire. As they discuss what’s happened in their lives since Callie ran off, John has to decide if helping this cold cat is worth his time. The main thing I want to mention is the narrative style of this story. It’s set up to make John the protagonist which isn’t really a surprise until the end when a ‘You in?’ gets thrown in to make us, as readers, characters in the story as well. It’s subtle, but the story reads as an almost noir-style retelling of this cat that got away. You feel sorry for John, the same type of sorrow that you’d feel for a close friend going through a break-up. I really like how Kuroko worked this style into her piece, and I think it was absolutely perfect for a short tale like this.
Continuing along the sort-of noir-style theme, Bill Kieffer writes about a newspaperman named Clark Kenmore in his story, “Stay Dead.” Clark, a wolf, starts recollecting about a particular case involving a serial killer named Sweet Butcher. A series of murders has left the city scared. Everyone wants the killer to be caught, including the killer himself. Clark just so happens to be the one with the most verbal contact to him. Phone call after phone call leaves Clark more tired and more confused about the killer than before, and the police can’t seem to do anything about it. After a close-call with an imposter, Clark thinks he knows who the killer is, and he decides to take action into his own paws. I enjoyed this story for the most part. It was exciting, suspenseful, and well-written. I really liked that the killer was more complex than I originally thought. It had all the tension needed to bring a mystery to its long-awaited conclusion. However, it was the conclusion that I had a bit of a problem with. When I first approached the ending--when I started figuring out who the killer was--I felt like the cords of tension were being cut nicely. One after the other. But the knife didn’t seem to go all the way through, so I was left with feeling a bit confused. Things added up, stuff made sense, but I don’t think there was enough falling action to make it as satisfying as it could have been. The story definitely had the dark, solemn mood it needed, but it didn’t really follow through with all the problems and questions it introduced. I wanted to know about how the other characters felt about what happened, but I never got that.
“Caged Beasts” by Thurston Howl introduces us to a story about lust, passion, and desire. It’s Friday night at the Satin Menagerie--a mansion that fills itself with moans and grunts over the entire weekend--and Carmilla, a vixen, prides herself on entertaining her guests. Her pets, Damien and Nikki, are there to pleasure and entertain her. After their romp, however, Carmilla has to decide whether they did a good enough job to earn their freedom. This story was interesting, to say the least. I liked the beginning, but as the story went on I found it hard to enjoy. The intimate moments were written really well. Personally, I’m not a fan of dark sex, which wasn’t the majority of this story, but it did play a part towards the end. And that’s what killed the mood for me. I did enjoy the concept of a sex-filled mansion, however.
Vincenzo Pasquarella brings us a tale of horror in his piece, “Horror.” Not a very creative title, but I liked the story. Joshua, a fox, wakes up to see the house he’s in basically destroyed. With a looming fear that he was the one that caused the destruction, he searches the burned rooms for his friends, only to find their corpses lying on the ground with blood everywhere. A voice breaks through his terrified mind, but it doesn’t belong to anyone he knows… As short as this story was, I really enjoyed it. There isn’t much of a plot, but the hints we get from the voice talking to Joshua give us a haunting nightmare of what could have happened to him in the past few hours. I like that it’s all aftermath; we never get told what actually happened, only what might have happened. Joshua’s solemn self-doubt, as well as the horrifying descriptions of his surroundings when he wakes up, give this story a wild start that immediately captivated me. The ending is just as scary, leaving me with all sorts of possibilities as to how Joshua will live his new life, if he even has a say in it.
“The Prince with Obsidian Eyes” by Rose LaCroix is a longer story about a wolf named Preston that has the power to see into one’s past through physical contact. After he retells a story from his college days, he gets a hit on a gay messaging app from a so-called ‘Black Prince.’ Wasting no time, he sets up a date with the Black Prince and finds out what it means to be dominated...but not in the way he’s used to. Things turn dark when the Black Prince orders him to put someone in mortal danger. Preston has to decide whether being a sub in this instance is worth the danger, but he might not even have a choice. I felt that this story was going one way in the beginning, and then takes a completely different turn halfway through. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the way it’s written makes it feel contrived and unnecessary. The introductory story about Preston’s aunt serves as foreshadowing, which is okay. But then it goes into Preston’s story about how he lost his virginity, which doesn’t really need to be there in my opinion as it only serves as a long-winded explanation as to how his power works. I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed it because I thought that’s where the story was going. Halfway through, the Black Prince is introduced and the whole mood of the story switches from hopeful to creepy. I really liked the concept of Preston’s power, but felt the story didn’t really make use of it as much as it could have. Overall, I didn’t really like it because it felt too much like a mash-up of concepts that never had enough time to flesh themselves out.
Alison Cybe writes about a rabbit captain named Aeyon in their short story “Nine Shots.” In a deep space battle against pirates, Aeyon comes to learn that each hit on her ship kills another member of her crew. When the key jobs are no longer functioning, she has to take the initiative to try and save the ship and the remaining crew. But the situation is looking bleaker and bleaker as the battle continues. Soon, the pirates manage to dock with her ship. Aeyon is doubtful she’ll get out of this alive, but she’ll be damned if she doesn’t try. There isn’t much plot to this story either. It feels more like it’s written to be a scene, but it’s definitely an exciting one! I’m a sucker for tragedy--those moments when it feels like there’s no hope or things are crashing down all around the protagonist probably capture my interest the most. That’s what this story does very well in only a few pages. There’s an immediate threat that’s met with an immediate hope, which in turn creates immediate tension that I can latch onto. Granted, there’s no real resolution and no real climax, but the sad descriptions Cybe gives us through Aeyon’s eyes really add to the bleak mood of the piece. Wish there was more to read!
The last story in this anthology is “Rewrite” by Nathan Hopp. It’s a short story about two young adults, Matt and Leaf, that meet in secret at a Hatsukoi Motel--a motel that manages its rooms with a rather nosey A.I. The year is 2056 and AniGens--a hybrid species of humans and anthropomorphic canines or felines--live with humans as the dominant species on Earth. Matt, a human, meets up with his boyfriend Leaf, an AniGen, for the first time since they’ve gotten together. Shortly after the two embrace, Matt orders the A.I. to shut down its projection, leaving it to simply observe the intimate moments that follow. The next morning, however, leaves Matt with doubts. In a world where discrimination against AniGens exists, how will his future turn out if he decides to be with Leaf forever? He confronts Leaf with his doubts when Leaf returns with breakfast, only to have the moment soured in an emotional argument. Now, Matt has to refer to the A.I. for help in addressing this situation, a solution he never would have considered if he hadn’t reserved a room at the Hatsukoi Motel. I greatly enjoyed this story! The main thing I liked about it was the creative use of the A.I. perspective. It felt intrusive when it needed to be, and it backed off at specific points that allowed me to be more of an active consumer of the story. I also liked that the A.I. had a personality and wasn’t a completely neutral figure. Leaf and Matt weren’t the most interesting characters, but they didn’t really need to be. I felt they were used more as vessels to convey the conflict, which was fine for a short story such as this. It was nice to see a different use of ‘furry’ as well. Making them hybrids and giving them their own history spruced up the worldbuilding which I always appreciate in a story.
Frankly, I don’t really understand the appeal of the ‘imitation’ theme of this anthology. I’ve had the opportunity to read only one of these authors prior to this book, so the game of guessing who wrote which story didn’t really entertain me. The idea actually confuses me a bit because I’m not sure which author of a certain story to look up if I liked their work. Do I look up the author who actually wrote it? Or do I look up the author they tried to mimic? It just left me tilting my head to be honest. That being said, I don’t think this anthology was meant to be super serious. It felt more like a group of authors just having fun. Nothing wrong with that. But that leaves me questioning why this particular anthology was set up to be a fundraiser for the Furry Writers Guild (especially since ‘Guild’ is misspelled on the front cover--not a good look). I couldn’t get a good taste of any author’s writing style. Having read "From Paw to Print" just last month, I felt that "Awoo, Who’s This?" paled in comparison. The personal strengths and interests of each author in "From Paw to Print" were way more captivating and would have definitely gotten me more interested in the guild than this anthology. "Awoo, Who’s This?" has a few typos here and there, though none of them are too distracting. My main gripe with this anthology as a whole is the lack of consistency with the length of the pieces. Some of them are complete short stories whereas others feel more like scenes. Neither of these are inherently bad, but I think the anthology would have been better if it stuck to one style or the other.
I think this book would only really appeal to fans of the authors involved. There’s no real overarching theme that’s easy to latch onto, and the lack of consistency in the length of the pieces really threw me off as a reader. I would suggest that anyone under eighteen not pick up this anthology since it does contain sexual and violent content.Awoo, Who's This?, compiled by Thurston Howl
An epic fantasy adventure aimed at younger readers, North by the Rose features Iona, a heroic white hare on a quest to rescue her brother from his own misguided actions. Iona is blessed by The Rose, her world’s version of a good deity, and is equipped with a magic sword and protective cloak and sent on her way to save her brother from the wicked cult that has seduced him into joining. Along the way, she meets a merry band of critters of varied skills, forms a party of adventurers, and encounters trials and tests to prepare her for the ultimate confrontation both with her brother and between good and evil for the sake of everyone’s future.
I found North by the Rose to be a delightfully charming read. The characters are sweet and distinct, diverse and merry, and the heroine, Iona, is the sort of protagonist anyone can root for. She is brave and destined, but also humble, kind, and vulnerable. Despite wielding a great deal of power, she never strays into unbelievable flawlessness.
Any quibbles I had with the writing were easily overlooked, many of which are simply customary with middle grade fiction. Things were a little over-stated in places, told for the most part, and the story is very linear, striding conveniently directly toward its goal. All of which did nothing to reduce the reading pleasure when keeping the target audience in mind. There were a few things less easily excused, repeating words, and a couple small errors (like using encantus and incantus interchangeably for the same item), but the story was rich and the nitpicks so very minor.
Overall, this is a sweet and charming book which reads like a fable and will appeal immensely to any Redwall fans. This reader easily preferred it to Redwall, to be honest, as it suffers none of the speciesist issues of that franchise. I would highly recommend it to any fan of fable-esque animal tales, Jacques, or Wind in the Willows. And if there are young readers in your life, this is a must-read for them. Even as an adult reader, I thoroughly enjoyed it.North by the Rose, by M. A. Packer
Lawrence M. Schoen’s Soup of the Moment: A Tale of Barsk is a distant prequel to his earlier novel Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard but can easily be read as a standalone story. As the title suggests, it takes place on Barsk, a planet of islands colonized by genetically modified elephants or “Fants.” The Fants display a number of traits inherited from their non-sapient ancestors, such as a tendency to live in large matriarchal herds, while males can enter a hormonal rage called musth if they go without sex for too long. They’re also divided into two “races'' called Elephs and Loxs (presumably Elephas maximus and Loxodonta africana). However, they also have a few traits that are obviously engineered but not elephantine in origin, namely their physical inability to conceive children out of wedlock.
Soup of the Moment is presented as the “true story” behind a Barsk legend about a Fant who could fly. Pholo, the Fant in question, was a post-grad who discovered a means of using the limited technology available on Barsk to build an anti-gravity harness powered by the planet’s constant storms. However, nearly everybody else—both her male and female lovers, her great-great-grandmother, and one of the senior faculty at her university—seems to think it’s a horrible idea and try to talk her out of it. While flying is physically dangerous, the core conflicts of the story are more social in nature. Each naysayer has their own arguments and reasons to discourage her, forcing Pholo to come up with different counter-arguments to mollify them.
For a story about a flying elephant on a distant planet in the far future, Soup of the Moment is surprisingly down-to-Earth. It seems evocative of sci-fi novels of the 80s, such as those of Frank Herbert and C.J. Cherryh, that emphasized the social sciences over the physical. One particularly intriguing scene was the “projective test” performed by Pholo’s therapist, in which she laid out Tarot-like cards and asked Pholo to relate them to herself. It turned Pholo’s therapy session into a debate with herself, without any obviously supernatural elements, and acted as a vehicle for exposition about the world of Barsk as she interpreted the symbolism out loud. That was a creative means of bypassing a big info-dump and changed up the debate formula of the previous chapters a bit.
Schoen's writing is very effective at conveying the complex characters of the story and their social situations. Pholo has a life outside of her work, and she has to balance it carefully with her family, her polyamorous lovers, and the university. Nor are the other characters 1-dimensional caricatures: every one of them has their own line of reasoning and different reactions to Pholo's decisions.
If you’re into high-concept science-fiction about ordinary people in strange well-developed worlds, check this story and the other Barsk novels out.Soup of the Moment: A Tale of Barsk, by Lawrence M. Schoen
If you’ve ever wanted a conglomeration of great writing advice from established writers and publishers in the furry fandom, “From Paw to Print” is your book. It’s like a mini-anthology with the theme being writing, but now the authors are free to talk candidly about their experiences for the sole purpose of educating aspiring writers about the good, the bad, and the unspoken aspects one will probably find in their journey to put a published piece in someone else’s hands. Or paws. I thoroughly enjoyed all eleven essays in this book, and I believe I will be coming back to them several times as I try to wade through the (less) daunting waters of publishing.
“From Paw to Print” is a book about the process of taking a piece of writing and turning it into a published work. Each essay inside was written by a different writer or publisher, with topics ranging from the differences of sex, erotica, and porn to the importance of having a writer’s platform. Most of the essays serve as a place to start for beginning writers while others serve as food for thought. “Furry Erotica and Pornography: Art, Yiff, and the Self” by Katav, for example, was a particularly compelling essay about harmful preconceptions we may have about writing and reading sexual stories. “Small Press vs. Self Publishing” by Weasel, on the other hand, served as a helpful guide about what to expect, as well as what to avoid, when using small press to publish your work. So if you’re curious about where to start or what to expect in the writing world, try reading this book. It’ll give you a lot to think about.
A daring, but much needed, essay about the differences between romance, erotica, and porn starts off the book. Tarl “Voice” Hoch explains that, on a basic level, the difference is how much eroticism goes into them. A helpful tip for deciding which to write is to think about what your audience is there for. Overall, I found this essay extremely helpful in deciding which of the three I’d personally like to write about, and I’m sure the same will happen for you. If you want to, that is.
Next is an essay about worldbuilding by J.F.R. Coates. He separates his essay into four parts, with each one being an important starting point to creating your own world. Knowing what to leave out, Coates states, is just as important as what to put in. He also gives a few pointers on how to not be racist when creating your world, which can be tricky if you’re considering putting stereotypes from the real world into your fictional world. I would have liked a bit more from Coates into how he goes about worldbuilding in his own stories. I think a few examples from his own work would have been nice to read about.
Amy Claire Fontaine details a very helpful guide about animal behavior in her essay titled “Animal Attributes in Furry Writing.” Using her experience as a wildlife biologist, Fontaine writes about topics like sensory perception, cognition, and communication—aspects of animal behavior that differ greatly from our own. I really liked this essay; there was a lot to learn, and a lot I would like to implement in my own writing. I especially liked how she talked about the “spectrum of zoological realism” we find in furry media, and how differing levels of anthropomorphism can achieve different kinds of effects in furry writing.
Where Hoch talked about the overarching differences between romance, erotica, and porn, Katav’s essay talks more about how our views of such topics say a lot about ourselves. Not only that, but there are pitfalls we may stumble into if we don’t think critically about these topics. Even as I’m writing this, I’m trying to treat this with the importance I’ve learned since reading Katav’s essay. Our preconceived notions about each type of writing—romance, erotica, and porn—do affect us. I thoroughly enjoyed this essay and plan on coming back to it whenever I think about these genres.
“Small Press vs. Self Publishing” by Weasel kicks off the Publishing portion of the book. Weasel’s essay is filled with tips and pointers for those considering either method of publication. He breaks down the task of publishing into specific points to consider, and then gives monetary examples of each to give you a real world example of the cost of publishing. In addition to financial things, he also warns us about the possibility of being taken advantage of. I really enjoyed the tips Weasel gave, but not as much as his voice. It was a fun essay to read.
Rayah’s essay about submitting work is a good read for anyone who is vaguely considering writing to submit or publish their work. It’s a shorter essay, but, nonetheless, it’s helpful to think about the proper practices any writer should incorporate into their creative flow. I think Rayah’s essay could have also benefited from a few examples of their own experiences, just to let me and the readers know what to do if we get stuck somewhere along the way.
Andrew Rabbit gives us a brief look into how the publishing world has changed in the twenty years Rabbit Valley Comics has been around. The pictures and descriptions were a nice touch, but overall I think this essay could be expanded into a full story. It was hard for me to grasp what some of the terms meant in the few pages this essay crossed. There’s history here, and where there’s history, there’s a story. It was a nice break from some of the more critical essays though.
The next two essays are by Madison “Makyo” Scott-Clary. The first one is about layout and design, a super important part in all publishing journeys. She mentions how things you may not notice, like margin length and odd lines that stick out at the bottoms and tops of pages, are actually huge factors in how the reader, well, reads. (I took a book arts class in college where I had to learn about margin length, text size, font, kerning… Let me tell you, it’s not easy.) There’s a ton that goes into the way a page looks. The point, she says, is to not let it be distracting. I would have liked to know so much more about the designing process, but I also know it’s very technical, so I really appreciate the way she broke it down into easily digestible words.
In her next essay, she talks about problems you may run into if you plan on running an anthology. The process is not easy and takes a lot of time, but with careful time management and communication, you can make a masterpiece. Like her previous essay, I really enjoyed this one. Again, it serves as a simple introduction to the process of creating an anthology, but having a generic step-by-step process is extremely helpful to those starting out.
Moving along the anthology train, Thurston Howl writes about how to give an anthology cohesion. First, they refute a couple preconceptions that may be popular in the writing field, then they share a few tips to keep in mind when editing the anthology, like including trigger warnings and varying the types of stories you’ve accepted. It’s a pleasant essay that is sure to help anyone considering making an anthology.
Tarl “Voice” Hoch finishes us off with a longer essay about writers’ platforms and why they’re important. What happens after someone reads your book for the first time? They google your name. Which is why, Hoch states, that it’s important to have something that comes up in Google’s search engine. Book reviews, blog posts, anything to give your new fan a better read on you as a writer, and more content that you hope they will like. Underneath it all, Hoch says the best thing you can do is to be professional, and I fully agree. This essay was extremely helpful, and it was wonderfully written.
The essays in this book were super helpful, but not in the way I expected. Like I said before, every essay is a helpful start at the writing and publishing scene, but it’s the fact that they’re essays and not stories that kept me reading. Most of the time when you read books, you’re reading the most polished version of a journey that someone wanted to take you on. Which is great! But rarely ever do you see those authors producing short-form content that aim to help people. At least, I haven’t seen much of that, and that’s why I really like this book. Not because what they’re saying is helpful—although that’s also a huge reason I like it—but because I feel like I’m getting to know the authors’ voices a little better. There’s a lot more personality shining through the words that you don’t always get to see. This doesn’t come as a surprise. Rather, an observation I wanted to share. Such is the way essays tend to be.
Aside from the amazing content, I really liked how the book was organized. The table of contents categorizes the topics into four themes: writing, publishing, anthologies, and other. More importantly, the bios section at the end of the book lists each author by name and tells you a little about them, as well as where you can find them. There were a fair amount of typos here and there, but nothing that really broke me out of my ramen-fueled concentration.
“From Paw to Print” is great for anyone who wants to dip their toes into the writing world. That being said, there are some adult themes so I wouldn’t recommend it for minors.From Paw to Print, compiled by Thurston Howl
Let me preface this review by saying that I got this as an ARC, so take it with a grain of salt. There's no guarantee that the final book, be it in title or in content, will be as I read it, and therefore your experience might be completely different from mine.
Carnage. A museum, a haunted house, and a fitting name for the events described in this work. Carnage is a single-author anthology by Weasel from Sinister Stoat Press where a group of three friends get to experience in the flesh the exhibitions contained within.
CW: With a name like this, I won't go into detail of all the graphic violence and gore that it contains. Besides that, you can also expect such stuff as: Necrophilia, sexual abuse, cannibalism, self-harm, and many other things.
Since you cannot spell Carnage without "Car," the anthology starts with "Hell on a Two-Lane Blacktop." In this story, we follow Rick, a psychotic panda in search of a new victim, the plot in a way echoing that of Death Proof, but more violent, gay, and with the antagonist as the protagonist this time. A very good fit for the first story in this collection as it's bloody, with a villainous narrator, and an ending that could be considered bittersweet at best; setting the tone well for what's next to come.
Back in the framing story, our trio of protagonists get split into three halls. The first one, The Unrevealed, paying more attention to the violence than the other two and having a more sexual connotation.
Starting this hall is "Toothache." With a very self-explanatory title, this is the story of the pit bull Barry and his many struggles with, well, a toothache. Out of this hallway, this could be considered the least sexual, or at least the one where sex does not matter as much to the actual plot; with its biggest saving grace being the way it plays with the typography, the only story in this collection to do so and with great effect.
Continuing on this hall we have "Death Wish," my favorite of this set. This is the story of a wolf, using a hookup app to lure and seduce people before killing them, who meets his match in SluttySkunkBoi, his, well, newest match. The power struggle between both characters is a delight to read, mixing the horror and eroticism really well, not to mention that it has one of the most satisfying endings for me.
Last for this section we have "The Junkman." In this story we follow Gordi, a deer who's about to have his first face-to-face meeting with a coyote he met online, but he soon learns of the perils of online dating. Unlike all of the previous stories, this one starts to break from the mold by having a slower pace and being less graphic; exchanging both of these elements for a slightly more expanded plot and character development. An enjoyable read, but definitely the weakest of its kind in this anthology.
With only two stories in it, the second hall, Absolution, has a more balanced mix of both types of stories presented in the previous one. "Desolation," its first story, follows JC, a horse trying to escape from his toxic relationship, and Riley, a rabbit who'll do anything in his power to stop that from happening. "Desolation" is more aligned to the same formula used by "The Junkman," focusing more on its characters than on graphic violence, yet doesn't neglect the latter as much as the previous one.
Second and last for this hall is "Eaten Alive." This is the story of Zack, a meerkat who decides to cancel his betrothal, only to later on be distracted by the screams coming from the shower where his ex-fiance was. "Eaten Alive" has the honor of being the only straight story in this anthology, but I'd say that's its only high point. Following the same formula used in the first stories but lacking any of their charm, the bulk of this story could basically be described as nothing more than a mechanical description of the murder that takes place. No tension, no setup, and with forgettable characters, this is easily the worst story in the anthology for me.
Thankfully, the third and last hall happens afterward. With good plots, good character development, nice horror, and a length of around half of the complete work, the hall of Breaking Free / Letting Go has the best stories in my opinion. The hall starts with "Madness Vase," the story of a couple who, after spending a night at the cemetery, start experiencing weird things in their home. While the story follows many common Haunted House tropes, I have to say that I loved the emotional beats throughout it and even more its outcome.
Following "Madness Vase" is "How Well You Walk Through Death." In this story we follow Axel, a lion who decides to go to the funeral of his abusive ex, but sometimes there are things that not even death can stop. Personally, my favorite story in this collection, not only for its slow-boiling horror and its emotional impact, but also because it gave some hints on non-Cthulhu Lovecraft works. Bonus points for enby representation too.
Technically not part of this hall, but still fitting in, we have "Love in the Time of Death." In this story we follow a stoat who decides to hook up with a cop in a zombie-infested world. As expected of this sub-genre, this story goes back to being more gore-y than the rest in this hallway, but I'd say its biggest shortcoming is how predictable it is, feeling a little disappointed with the ending since it felt like it was finally going into a different direction.
Last, but definitely not least, is "Down into the Inferno." This is the story of a bear with a mission: finding Cliff, his deer boyfriend who disappeared after going to an extreme SM bar. Possibly the best story, at least from a horror perspective, not shying away from the gore but depending exclusively on it. There's mystery too, good sex scenes that enhance that plot, and incredible pacing. Very solid all the way around.
Overall, Carnage is a very good entry for the horror genre, and I don't mean that as just "furry horror." Brutal when it needs to be, emotional from time to time, and gut-wrenching all around, I'd say that most of these stories accomplished what they meant to do. Sure, it does have its lows and more than a few errors (as expected of an ARC), but I did have a nice time reading it. If you're squeamish, many of these stories might not be to your taste; but if you're into horror, you're likely more than ready to tackle all, or at least most, of them head on.Carnage, by Weasel
The ROAR franchise has a reputation for publishing high-quality SFW furry stories from some of the best writers in the fandom. ROAR 10 is one more testament that this reputation is well-deserved. The theme of this volume is “community,” and the anthology features sixteen varied author interpretations that all manage to hit that target spot on…if from very different angles.
"Bourbon Jack" is a Leo Award-winning short story by Linnea Capps. It’s the story of a fisher taking on the Appalachian trail in a test of both his preparation and his determination. The tale is solidly written and full of sympathetic and entertaining characters. An excellent opening on the theme from a tight, small-knit community perspective.
"Squonk and the Horde of Apprentices" by Pete Butler-Davis tells of a dragon and his forest friends who have hornswoggled the local Wizard into taking them all on as apprentices. It is an infinitely cute story, at times silly, amusing, and very light. I enjoyed it, though the humor didn’t land quite as solidly as intended for me. It was cute, but a story that perhaps is slightly less funny than it believes itself to be.
"The Widehorn Herd" by Madison Keller is one installment in the author’s Sam the Beaver stories. In this one, Sam and her mini Texas longhorn boyfriend go home to meet the herd. As a solitary animal, Sam struggles with the tight-knit community that is bovine family life. I always enjoy these stories, and though I was very frustrated with Oscar’s blindsiding Sam with the herd’s expectations in this one, it made for great conflict.
In "Outsiders" by Kyell Gold, an exiled fox must choose between the friends he’s made in his tropical refuge and the sudden opportunity to go back home to his original friends and family. Gold’s writing is always top-notch, and his characters shine in "Outsiders" as they always do. I enjoyed the brisk, action-adventure feel of this one a great deal.
"No Choice About It" by MikasiWolf is a flash-fiction piece that is more a brief treatise on the nature of war, free will, and fate. It is a lovely bit of writing, and though the ending is easily spotted out of the gate, knowing what was coming did not spoil the read for me in the least. Different and beautiful.
"The Hero Of Brambleward" will not be included in this review a it was written by myself.
"Once We Were Meercats" by Huskyteer is an eerie sci-fi piece about a colony of engineered Meercats who build cities on other planets for human colonists to eventually occupy. I’m a big fan of Huskyteer’s work, and this story did not disappoint. It is clever and beautifully written. The ending waxed a little ephemeral, and I’m not sure I fully parsed what exactly happened, but that tone fit nicely with the ominous feeling of the rest of the piece.
"Year Forty-Four" by Lloyd Yaeger is one of my favorite stories in the anthology. It somehow manages to marry small-town, social slice of life seamlessly with a sci-fi colony adventure. It was touching, believable, and, at its core, incredibly real and relatable. I loved it.
"Folding in the Wolf" is another story that I found very real and touching. Written by Bill Kieffer, the tale follows a horse and wolf who have body-swapped and are now attempting to integrate into the horse’s herd during a family reunion. The opening scenes were ambiguous enough that I had to re-read a few times to make sure I was getting what was actually going on, but once fully oriented in the situation, I had no problem embedding, empathizing, and following along to the very sweet and moving ending.
"Thoughts and Prayers" by Thurston Howl comes with some trigger warnings, and so I won’t delve too much into the content except to say that I agree with the editor’s note that this is an important and powerful work. It is a story I would like to make everyone I know read, and I hope that the trigger warnings don’t scare you off. Beautifully done and heart-breakingly accurate.
"Schism" by Anhedral is a different sort of werewolf story about a doctor who chooses to work in a community set aside for those who have been turned into werewolves by a viral outbreak. It is another important story and one that seems incredibly timely at the moment. Well written and with sweet notes that I have to admit left me a little teary-eyed at the end.
"A Scrappy Start" by Cathy Smith is the story of a wizard’s feline apprentice who dallies with a ship’s cat and produces an unlikely heir. It is whimsical and cute, but the way the story skips about made it seem choppy and a bit discordant to me. The POV is primarily omniscient with moments here and there embedded in a single character, and the time skips quite a bit as well. I think it would have been smoother and easier on the reader if the story had just been fully fleshed out, a bit longer, and embedded in one character per scene or segment.
"The 180-Pound Gorilla" by Tim Susman is another flash piece. This one lands firmly in my top three in the book, and I would also label it as a must-read for just about everyone. It is written in the voice of a fable and fits that title perfectly. Both quaint and massive, intimate and universal. I enjoyed every word.
"The Corvid King" by Amy Clare Fontaine is a fun, romping addition to the massive collection of stories surrounding the King Arthur mythos. It begins when Arthur is brought forward in time, awakening as a crow in the modern era. Desperate to find his purpose, he allies himself with a city cart horse and trots off in search of Avalon. This was whimsical and sweet, with a lovely message and solid writing.
"The Human-English Lexicon: Notes From An Anthro-Xeno Biologist" by A. Humphrey Lanham is another quick flash piece and another delightfully fun read. It is brief, witty, and made me chortle at least once, which is clearly its aim. A very clever story with bonus points for an epic title that is nearly as long as the tale itself.
"Curiosity Kills" by Blake Hutchins is the final story in ROAR 10. While I’m not usually a fan of the fashion which ends an anthology with a massive story or novella, perhaps it is only because I haven’t found one as amazing as "Curiosity Kills" waiting at the end of other books. This was my favorite story in the anthology, and I will happily read it again… and again. The tale is a classic noir detective story and captures that aesthetic flawlessly. It is tight, twisty, and full of delicious “punny” language. It was the perfect, strong note on which to finish the book.
Overall, ROAR 10 gets ten out of ten from me. There is a lot to love inside these pages, a lot to learn, and a lot that is simply too important not to read.ROAR 10, ed. Mary E. Lowd
At its core, tennis is simple: two players hitting a ball back and forth across a net. LOVE MATCH: BOOK 3 takes the simple game and puts it under a microscope, detailing Rocky’s on- and off-the-court adventure to become one of the best players in the world. The challenges he faces outside of the game as a result of being an immigrant from Africa give additional flavor to an already vivid story. He’s also one of the few players on the tennis pro tour who is gay. That adds a bit of flair as well. All of the challenges that he encounters make this novel by Kyell Gold compelling. Gold’s detailed descriptions of the action, tennis and otherwise, lead to an excellent page-turner that leaves the reader rifling through the pages from point to point.
The relationships that Rocky has are the focal point of the novel. Exes, best friends, romantic interests, all are presented with their own special flavor. It’s difficult not to like Rocky as a character; he’s doing the best he can to look out for his friends. He tries to do the right thing. Some of the more memorable moments come from Rocky’s late mother through often idiomatic sayings that provide guidance for his current situation. Rocky gets put into many difficult situations, and he always tries to make the right decision, even if it might be hard. Even then, it’s still a priority that he takes care of his friends and family. I couldn’t help but to be happy for when things went well for him.
One of the challenges of writing a book about sports is it can tend to turn formulaic. There are only so many ways to say a point was scored without bogging the reader down with every detail. Gold shines here, portraying action in a fast-paced way that keeps you on your toes without feeling disoriented. Even with singles and doubles tournaments going on concurrently, Gold does well to stay engaging and clear. For someone with clear intimate knowledge of the sport, the task of keeping it understandable to someone that lacks that knowledge is not small but is handled with ease. Even if you’re not familiar with tennis, I’d highly recommend picking up LOVE MATCH: BOOK 3.Love Match - Book 3 (2013-2015), by Kyell Gold
T. Kingfisher’s “Minor Mage” is a fantasy novella for about a boy and his… armadillo. When an isolated farming village suffers a seemingly endless drought, the villagers feel they have no choice but to send their resident wizard, Oliver, on the dangerous journey to the Rainblade mountains to try and convince the Cloud Herders to bring back the rain. Problem is, Oliver is only twelve years old and, in the words of his smart-aleck armadillo familiar, a very minor mage. Still, the crowd of irate villagers are very persuasive, and so the young wizard and his familiar set out for the mountains and hope for the best. After escaping from a pair of bloodthirsty ghuls posing as farmers, they venture into a possibly haunted forest. There they meet their third traveling companion, a minstrel named Tresbastion who has a talent for making human remains into instruments that shriek the identities of their murderers, and is currently hiding from the last village he got chased out of.
At first, “Minor Mage” seems a fairly straightforward coming-of-age adventure story, but Kingfisher is good at subverting expectations. After it’s mentioned that Oliver’s mother is a retired mercenary you keep expecting her to come and bail out her little boy whenever things start to look hopeless for him, only for him to figure something out himself. From the mobs after both Oliver and Trebastion, you might pick up a bit of a “humans are the real monsters” message, but the mobs both have a central figure leading the rest. The grouchy miller in Oliver’s village, and the mayor Trebastion exposed as a murderer. This makes it more of a nuanced warning against being misled by forceful personalities. Kingfisher notes in the afterword that she considers “Minor Mage” a children’s book, though many editors were turned off by the amount of danger faced by a twelve-year-old. Having read it, I agree with her that the intended audience wouldn’t mind, and frankly compared to the YA novels I read when I was Oliver’s age, it’s really tame. About the most objectionable thing in this book might be Tresbastion’s description of making harps from the ribs and hair of murder victims, and it doesn’t actually show that.
I will note that Oliver isn’t your typical “inept mage”; he’s not incompetent; he just doesn’t know many spells and can’t muster the energy for a spell more powerful than some minor telekinesis or tying someone’s shoelaces together. And given his age and the fact that his mentor died before he could teach him many spells, it’s very understandable. So he’s forced to use the little magic he has creatively. A reminder to work within your own limits rather than striving for the impossible when the chips are down.
Overall, I’d call “Minor Mage” a nice short fantasy adventure that you can read through in a few hours, appropriate for both adults and young adults.Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher
Pet play, possibly one of the kinks and communities closest to the furry fandom; yet, ironically, one that's not as popular or as represented as it should be inside it. The idea of getting into a different head-space, behaving in an animalistic way, or wearing gear such as collars, leashes, and harnesses should be more than familiar to your average furry; and, even then, I think this is the first work that I've seen dealing directly with this theme. In this anthology by Thurston Howl Publications, we get to explore those who love being a pup, a horse, or anything else, and those who love them in turn. The anthology starts with what I consider to be its best: "Waggy" by TJ Minde. This is the story of Hayden and Wagner, a human/anthro couple where the anthro, the eponymous "Waggy," helps ease his human partner into dog play when they go out on vacation. While I liked both characters and the overall emotional tone of the story, I loved more the way the author handled the kink, gradually explaining it to his partner and the reader, followed by several scenes where they put those lessons into play. Though I have to say that the story felt a little slow at times, which is unsurprising since (according to my Kindle) just this one is around 1/4 of the length of the whole anthology. Next comes "The Familiar" by Linnea "LiteralGrill" Capps. In this story we follow Katherine, a girl in a rural society who must deal with her feelings for her neighbor, Sarah, but things get complicated when Sarah asks Katherine to serve as her familiar spirit. To be honest, I was quite surprised when I first read it, not only because it felt more like erotic-horror (especially in the latter parts of the story), but also because the "kitten play" in it is done in a more literal way than the rest of the anthology because of the fantasy elements in it. In fact, it reminded me more of something I could find in a collection such as Howloween. In "Deference of Shining Joy" by Al Song we have a series of vignettes concerning Kyle, a dhole who's part of a string quartet, and his interactions with the rest of the members of this polyamorous quartet as they practice for their upcoming concert at the next "pup night." While the representation for this type of relationship was nice and all members in it were likable, I feel that the "pet play" did not have as much of a role for the individual vignettes as it did for the collective one, and that maybe the story was a little too ambitious for the format, perhaps being better told in something longer like a novella. Next up is "What You Really Want" by Thiger. In this story we follow an unnamed man in an unhappy marriage who discovers pony play after getting more acquainted with George, the sexy jackal that he met at the gym. While I liked the kinky-ness of both George and the overall story, and appreciated some of the later character developments that happen as it goes along, I do have to say that the relationships shown here were not really up my alley. The protagonist's relationship with his wife is not good (which is fine taking into account the context), but the one that he develops with George is not exactly what I'd call healthy either. In a slightly similar setup we have "Good Boy" by Faolan. In this story we follow Mark, a wolf who is fed up with his work and who gets introduced into dog play by a friend of his. While the pet play community was somehow mentioned or referenced in some of the previous stories, this is the first one where we see a hint of it thanks to Remy, Mark's friend, who offers some much needed by now explanations on the actual mechanics of the play like the gear, what does it mean to "play," the difference with BDSM, etc. not to mention that it's the first where we can see the community as that, a community, when Remy takes Mark to a party with other pups. This makes it great for those not as familiar with pet play, yet also could make it drag on for others that do have more experience. Next comes "The Wingman's Pup" by Jaden Drackus. In this story, we follow Drake, a wolfox captain of a starfighter team (no, not that one) who has to learn to let go of control. For me, both its high and low points are its characters. On one hand, Drake can be a little too annoying and wishy-washy at times for my taste, especially taking into account how the pup play is in many ways his kink and not so much that of his partner. On the other hand, Wash, Drake's wingman and partner, is understanding, patient, and hot as hell; while the rest of the crew are also very supportive of Drake, making it sweeter from that point of view but also bringing into question why the scenario as a whole was such a big problem for him in the first place. Last but not least is "The Competition" by Thomas "Faux" Steele. In this story we follow three protagonists: a dog, a cat, and a horse; all of which ended up playing as each other's species, and just like in "Deference of a Shining Joy," this story is divided in several parts, one for each protagonist, where the character in turn retells the story according to their point of view. While each of the PoVs has its own individual ups and downs, in general the story makes a good example of how each of these types of plays differs from each other, but it does so at the cost of some of the character development, which gets cut short because of how you basically get three short stories at the length of just one. Overall, I won't deny that I was expecting something different when I picked up this anthology. As a pup myself, I hoped to see more discussions on what the kink is, how it works, what the community's like, and, in many ways, serve as a sort of introduction for the... uninitiated. However, I can see why these stories were picked as let's not forget that this is a pet play erotic anthology, not Pet Play 101, and on that front, it fulfills its promise. Besides, even if it had been meant to be something more instructional, it's not like you could have each and every story going over the same explanations over and over again. If you're completely unfamiliar with pet play and its many variants, this anthology might not be the best place to answer the many questions you might have. But if you're already familiar with all these concepts, I can assure that you'll have a better time. As for me, I'll be waiting for Dogpile 2 to see what tomorrow might bring.
It is incredible how much the five human senses can shape the way writers describe a scene in literature. This is especially apparent in the niche realm of furry literature and anthropomorphic erotica. Sometimes, we take them for granted. The tiniest of details can change how we perceive sexual intercourse and the way it is imagined in our heads whenever we read a work of erotic fiction. Thus, we have SENSORY DE-TAILS, an erotic anthology edited by Thurston Howl, which focuses on the five human senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.
Be warned though, some of these stories contain some elements that play into their respective themes of the anthology, which can make readers uncomfortable. They include, but aren’t limited to depicted expressions of ableism, sadomasochism and even dubious consent in one story. None are too extreme, but it is better to be safe than sorry for some of the interested readers out there. And there are content warnings in the book at the beginning of each story!
“Paths” by Kyell Gold
For the first short story appropriately centered around Sight, we have “Paths” by Kyell Gold focusing on a gay blind fennec fox named Kesh, who is convinced by his best friend, a lesbian possum named Jenny, to join her in attending a costume convention. While she is dressing up as a superheroine named Vicious Vixen, Kesh is convinced to costume as a blind shaman fox named Puquanah, or "Puck" for short. Both hope to have fun at the convention, especially after Kesh’s boyfriend recently dumped him, as well as to hopefully hook up with other convention goers in costume. One of them is a seemingly charming cougar dressed as a fantasy soldier only known as "Xiller." Sexy and contemplative hijinks ensue.
For those who do not know, Puck is a character (who is also a gay blind fox like our main character) from Rukis Croax’s fictional Red Lantern universe, specifically in her “Off the Beaten Path” trilogy while Vicious Vixen and Xiller belongs to Kyell Gold’s “In the Doghouse of Justice” and his “Volle” novels respectively. As someone who has read both series and “In the Doghouse of Justice”, it was a genuine surprise that enhanced how I read the story. From understanding the inside jokes to drawing parallels between each fictional character as well as how much Kesh and the various con attendees stayed in character, it greatly immersed me into the narrative. However, even if the reader has no idea who anyone is cosplaying as, it does not change how sexy and entertaining “Paths” is as a standalone work.
The way Kyell Gold describes how Kesh interacts with the world is realistic without leaving too little to the imagination. The lack of description in the setting beyond what is heard, smelt, touched, or tasted actually manages to display some of the chaotic nature of fandom conventions. You, as the reader, are with him as he navigates the con with Jenny, without Jenny and when he is alone or intimate with someone else. Without diving too much into spoilers, you are also understanding in how much Kesh feels frustrated towards the way people view his blindness as a disability.
If I needed to complain about something, I wish Kyell maybe could have delved into the backstory of the ex-boyfriend; I feel like it is a small nitpick. Overall, “Paths” is a strong start with great character, a unique but subtle commentary on cosplay and a dedication between fandoms. Highly recommended.
“These Are the Days of Our Lives” by Weasel
In this cute yet sexy submission apparently based on a true story, a purple-colored Doberman secretly prepares to propose to his loyal, equally horny terrier boyfriend out on a walk, where they end up having public sex.
Unfortunately, while the story itself is not bad and is adorably sexy, I feel like it does not wholly commit to what I wanted to see in SENSORY DE-TAILS. In my opinion, while Weasel does focus on incorporating sight and aspects of color, he could have gone further with it into the plot. Like, why not have the Doberman change color based on his mood or something? There is so much to consider in terms of literary possibilities.
In all fairness though, “These Are the Days of Our Lives” does have so much to go for it, from the corny but comedic dialogue to how much chemistry the Doberman and terrier have. The location itself is wonderfully mystifying and the way that Weasel describes the characters and the gothic atmosphere surrounding it and the protagonists’ sexual excitement really makes it a delight to read. I personally could have benefited from more plot; it is still a sensual and romantic piece of short fiction to read, whether by yourself or with a partner by your side.
“Violets” by Joel Kreissman
The first story for Smell does incorporate the sense further into the narrative, as we follow an arctic fox named Lucy trying out a new artificial pheromone with the help of her extraordinarily supportive and sweet boyfriend, a bisexual fox named Tom. See, Lucy’s therapist wishes for her to try wearing the pheromone in private and public before starting gender confirming surgery, hoping that it will help them become more used to the different scent that will be produced if Lucy decides to fully transition into a vixen.
Basically, the entire story focuses on Lucy trying out the artificial pheromone while she and Tom have a dinner date together. There is not much to cover in terms of plot, yet Joel Kreissman does an excellent job describing the differences between Lucy’s original scent and the artificial pheromones that, as Tom describes, makes Lucy feel like she's in heat.
As to be expected, “Violets” has a musk-descriptive sex scene between Tom and Lucy that is one-third intense, one-third romantic, one-third sensual and 100% erotic for any reader. I don’t know what else to say other than that it is simply a good story about how far you will go for those you truly love.
“Filthy Coyote” by Shoji
The next short story for Smell is “Filthy Coyote” by Shoji. This is also a very good addition to the anthology, though for me, it starts off sketchily. An otter named Remmy and his fox boyfriend James are struggling to live in Hollywood, with the latter trying to be one of thousands of baristas hoping to become a famous singer despite his lack of initiative for change and jealous nature. Needing to save enough money for the monthly rent, Remmy makes a deal to sleep with their Spanish-speaking landlord, a musky, dominating coyote by the name of Alejandro. After the deed is done though, not only does Remmy realize it was probably the most phenomenal sex he has had in some time, but it reveals the cracks underneath his and James’ seemingly perfect relationship.
On the one hand, I can understand the eroticism of tenant/landlord relationships in pornography, but ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and people started losing their jobs and homes, it has really soured for me. Unless it is written carefully, the basic premise all comes down to: protagonist needs to avoid becoming homeless by trading their body for leniency on the rent. Nowadays, I’m not a fan of this particular trope in erotica.
Luckily, Alejandro is not only a likable character as far as landlords go, but he is the catalyst that essentially changes Remmy (and hopefully James) into a better person in the context of the story. Shoji makes the right decision by making none of the characters perfect. Each has flaws that do not make them bad people, yet the story shows they need to make serious introspections on their lives, especially in regards to the relationship between Remmy and James. I don’t know what else to say other than I wished we could’ve gotten more to read.
“The Things We Do” by Tarl "Voice" Hoch
For Touch, we have “The Things We Do” by Tarl "Voice" Hoch, among the more obscure and…strangest of the stories here. And that is saying quite a bit, as we follow a non-binary rabbit in the future named Xe who is talked by their best friend/occasional lover Zain into performing a strange dare in order to join some kind group we never get a full explanation of. That dare involves going into the darkest pitch-black alleyway in New Seattle and touching the other end while avoiding whatever dangers lurk in the darkness. One of these so-called dangers is a nameless yet sentient and massive spider (with a large cock) who is infatuated by Xe. And much ado about kinky spiders.
I have not been this weirded out by an erotic story in some time. And I’m not saying it is a bad thing. Far from it. As far as ideas go, the plot of “The Things We Do” is going to leave you wondering what you read, but it will also make you hot under the collar in the descriptive way Voice describes Xe’s exotic predicament. While there are some hints of dubious consent, the primordial spider—whatever the heck it is—makes it absolutely clear he will take "no" for an answer.
The primary themes surrounding attraction, gender, consent, and identity help mold this together as a decent read for the sci-fi readers and the supernatural readers. The pairing is not for me, but I can still understand the appeal. Overall, a nice addition.
“Black, White, Red” by Kuroko
“Black, White, Red” by Kuroko goes further into the theme of Touch by delving into heavy themes of sadomasochism, involving a female human being slowly yet sensually dominated by a female cabbit (cat + rabbit?) for what I assume to be a pornographic video. There is very little to discuss here or analyze beyond how refreshing it is to read female-on-female erotica in a mostly male anthology.
If you like S/M stories that utilize an anthropomorphic animal’s claws and tearing apart clothing, you will enjoy this story. I personally could’ve been more entranced by having a deeper narrative or complex characters beyond the usual dominant and submissive roles, but I liked this fine. Go check it out. Kuroko knows their writing skills.
“The Spirits of the Woods” by Nathanial LeCount Edwards
The best way I can go on to describe “The Spirits of the Woods” goes along the lines of "erotic fairy tale," which I mean in all the best ways. In the aftermath of a cataclysmic thunderstorm that destroys his father’s crops, a nameless buck is drawn into the nearby forests by a mysterious figure. It is a woodland fairy, who tells the buck that if he wishes to have his family’s farm restored, he must meet with three of the fey guardians that rule over the woodland forest. Should he speak a single word or remove his blindfold however while traversing the path to them, the buck will fail, and likely become one with the forest itself. Once again, sexy hijinks ensue as he loses each of his senses, except his ability to touch, as he completes each task.
“The Spirits in the Woods” is my favorite story for good reason. With its simplistic protagonist in a mythical realm of hunky forest guardians he must please, what makes this even hotter is the way Edwards incorporates the theme of Touch into the plot. For every other sense the buck loses, it only emphasizes the erotic imagination of each scene for the readers. The feeling of uncertainty you have for the buck, mixed together with the amorous way each guardian is described without actual visual descriptions only helps to enhance the three sexual encounters for our protagonist.
Written in a timeless prose and enriched deeply in the aesthetic of fairy tale fables, I can think of very little to complain about. It is a great addition to the anthology.
“Blind as a Bat” by Jay Coates
Jay Coates brings us “Blind as a Bat”, which plays once again into the blind aspect, but this time, it focuses on the way Hearing can be utilized in complete darkness.
A male bat named Silver brings his mouse girlfriend Sierre to his apartment for, what else, but a night of passion. However, wanting to make the moment more interesting and exotic for her, Silver turns off all the lights and teases Sierre as she tries to listen for him in the darkness of the dwelling, especially as he can hang upside down from the ceiling, which is cleverly utilized when they try a few different sex positions.
I love it when a short story incorporates the traits of animals and utilizes it into their anthropomorphic forms. The way that Jay Coates writes makes you practically hear each time someone whispers or taps the floor. I feel like it is a little too similar in narrative to the previous story, which is nobody’s fault. However, it does make me wonder if it would’ve been more interesting to have Silver be the protagonist, and we are allowed to see his point-of-view. In the few works of fiction out there that have a bat as the protagonist, we rarely see echolocation visualized, and I frankly would like to see Jay try to go even further in exploring it.
“Symphonic Completion” by Al Song
Here we come to my second-favorite story in SENSORY DE-TAILS. Al Song fittingly combines music, romance, and sex into a slice-of-life setting, which I believed at first would be difficult to pull off in a literary medium, but he managed to succeed. “Symphonic Completion” is about a fruit bat named Gus, who is struggling between maintaining a long-distance relationship with Francis, his loving kangaroo boyfriend, trying to have a social life beyond college classes and trying to maintain old friendships, while also trying to write his own musical composition.
Out of all the accepted submissions in this anthology, I feel like “Symphonic Completion” hits the most at home for me personally. As someone who has also gone to college, fell in love, forged friendships I thought would last forever and even had a long-distance relationship, I completely understand Gus’ frustrations of juggling so much responsibility on a daily basis. The feelings of sadness from your friends growing distant due to having their own lives, needing to give up social life in exchange for income, as well as making a relationship work across different time zones. These elements really made me connect with the protagonist.
Anyway, how are the sex scenes in this?
Frankly, they are nothing short of amazingly well-written and thematically ambient. Some slice-of-life stories often don’t need to be erotic, but the way Al Song incorporates it into the story makes sense. Gus is described as almost always thinking of music (his and Francis’ first time even happens mixed with a real-life symphony) and finds a way to incorporate music-based words into the narrative. This makes the sex feel like watching two lovers dance in tune with beautiful symphonies.
What else can I say? It is a good story with melodically charged sex, complex characters, and an excellent taste in classical music.
“Titillating Trivia” by Linnea "LiteralGrill" Capps
The first entry in the final category of Taste is “Titillating Trivia”. Written by Linnea "LiteralGrill" Capps, the main character is a hare named Walter, who likes to hang out with his friends and play a game of shots and junk food to a trivia gameshow. After correctly guessing that a beaver’s anal secretions are used in creating food flavorings such as vanilla, cherry, etc., his friends are quick to ask why Walter would know such obscure trivia, to which he reluctantly explains a bi-curious encounter he once had with an outspoken, motorcycle-obsessed male beaver he met on a gay hookup app.
Overall, the story is simplistic and ingeniously contains real-life knowledge into the sexual encounter, but not without including a memorable main couple between Walter and the beaver, named Anthony. I probably would have liked to see more of the two, especially after their first sexual encounter, and maybe LiteralGrill could have dived deeper into the biology of beavers regarding their unique gland aroma; however, it is good for what it is. I can only think of a couple other stories I have read in the past that explored such an interesting bit of trivia in furry erotica, and if you like a good story that includes that with a character exploring his sexuality, you will enjoy this very much.
“Tasteful Education” by Patrick D. Lambert
The final entry for the anthology is “Tasteful Education”, and boy is it the goofiest of all the previous stories. Though, not without maintaining a sexually charged plotline that seems to toe the line between motivational erotica and erotic parody. The main character we follow is Jay, a flamboyant crocodile college student who is unashamed about being loose with his frat brothers and even teachers. Wanting direction in his life after graduation, he miraculously decides to become a sexual therapist, and—somehow, too easily in fact—employs the college’s hunky coach, who is a closeted polar bear, into being his assistant during a secretive sex class he holds with other horny male students in the locker rooms. That's when the fun begins.
Much like a couple of the stories on here, I feel like “Tasteful Education” could have gone even further with the plot it presents and went more into incorporating the theme of Taste. Don’t get me wrong: the intellectual way that Jay discusses foreplay, consensual teasing and how to arouse your partner is educational. Yet I feel like Patrick D. Lambert had an opportunity to go even further into regarding such a stereotypically fun scenario but is only limited to two characters when the climax—pun slightly intended—has an entire audience watching them. Maybe it is just me wanting to read an orgy.
However, I still really enjoy what the writer has given us. The hands-on demonstration between Jay and the coach is incredibly luscious with smell and taste, as the crocodile keeps the coach on sweaty edge throughout the ‘class’. As for the protagonist himself, I don’t know where Patrick D. Lambert came up with such an idea for a character, but I don’t care. He somehow managed to create a hilarious, sexy, well-meaning, well-spoken, and slutty crocodile I really want to see in a sequel in the future.
In conclusion, SENSORY DE-TAILS is a furry anthology that I highly recommend. Each of the submitted authors provides a unique story that reminds furry writers and readers how much the five senses play a role in fiction. Anyone out there can write a short story, but it takes dedication to make the pages come to life and make the reader feel as if they themselves are experiencing it for themselves. This can come from the way a lover’s scent is described to how their touch feels against yours, to even the background noises of an entire scene. The five senses are an essential tool for the writer to pull us into the illusion of a fictional world.
Should there be a Volume 2 of SENSORY DE-TAILS in the future, I will be more than excited to see what these writers and others will have to bring to the table next time.
As usual, here's our annual post announcing the Leo Literary Award Judges for 2020!
Thiger is a furry editor, writer and artist who has been published in The Electric Sewer, Dogpile, Sensory De-Tails, and Howloween 2.
Linnea Capps is an award-winning poet and author who has worked in writing spaces for over ten years. She has edited everything from anthologies to board game rulebooks and currently in the President of the Furry Writers' Guild. She also writes reviews for the Furry Book Review.
Coming from the distant lands Down Under, J.F.R. Coates is a speculative fiction author and former publisher. He has five novels published across the fantasy, science-fiction, and furry genres. He has also been the editor for anthologies such as Furry Trash.
Aaron J. Muller is a transgender author from Kingston, NY, where he lives with his husband and their two cats. He has been published in Taco Bell Quarterly, Inverted Syntax, and Owl Canyon Press. He is currently pursuing his MFA in fiction at Bennington College.
Scott Hughes is a Georgia author whose fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in such publications as Crazyhorse, One Sentence Poems, Deep Magic, Redheaded Stepchild, Entropy, and Strange Horizons. He is the Division Head of English at Central Georgia Technical College. His short story collection, The Last Book You’ll Ever Read, is available from Sinister Stoat Press/Weasel Press, and his poetry collection, The Universe You Swallowed Whole, is available from Finishing Line Press. His latest story collection, Horrors & Wonders, is available now.
[image cropped due to adult content ;) ]
When I first saw the call for submissions to Thurston Howl’s Electric Sewer I was uncertain what they meant by “Neon punk.” It’s only after reading it that I think I know: gritty noir set in the 80s or 90s, in this case mixed with THP’s characteristic erotic horror. Electric Sewer is a shared world anthology, meaning that all of the stories take place in the same world. However it’s looser than most similar projects I’ve seen, with the only common element being a nightclub called the Electric Sewer. There, clothing is optional, and blood and cum flow freely on the dance floor, and into the drinks. Don’t visit the back rooms if you know what’s good for you. The book includes a mixtape list of suggested songs to listen to while reading (https://tinyurl.com/electricsewer). Along with a bunch of cocktail recipes based on the different stories. The content warning just before the first story pulls no punches and gives no crap about what is in this book. Yet it still fails to do this pink-lit cesspool justice. DO NOT skip it. The print and PDF formats use a black background and a different color text for each story. The bright colors in the darkness fit the neon night's theme, but ink might rub off on your hands while reading. I haven't had many opportunities to try the cocktails, but the playlist certainly helped immerse me in the dark alleys and dimly lit dance floors. The first story in this anthology, “Electric Groove” by Thomas “Faux” Steele, pitches the reader headlong into the brutal setting of the Electric Sewer. Our protagonist is a respectable government employee by day, party animal by night. But even disguising his species (arctic fox) with red fur dye won’t keep him safe from a bloodthirsty mob hitman. This story establishes the anthology as ridden with gore, both in and outside of sex scenes. But while the villain uses blood as lube I thought it was actually his running a family car into a semi that established his character as a ruthless cat who would slaughter anyone who got in the way of his target. “A Fat Jackrabbit and Other Bargain Oddities Based on a True Story” by Nikolas James has a lengthy title for such a short story. You’ve got a rabbit who has severe erectile dysfunction, and feels like a failure as a male and a bunny. Fortunately, there’s this new food truck in the Electric Sewer’s parking lot that sells this incredible tasting stew with questionable ingredients, and a magical effect on his dick. It could be interpreted as an exploration of societal concepts of masculinity, and the lengths men go to to be seen as manly, but the Electric Sewer seems almost irrelevant here. The food truck of horrors could have been parked anywhere, even a regular sex club or porn shop would have rubbed poor Lonnie’s ED in his face the same way. Cedric G! Bacon’s “The Jack” is the longest story in the book by a wide margin, about a cocky beagle who thought he could beat the unbeatable. While narrated by a would-be card shark, the real focus of the story is Carlos, the Electric Sewer’s rat bartender seen mixing a cocktail of semen and blood on the cover. Carlos is an avid card-player, and as our beagle friend discovers, he plays for very high stakes, and never loses. Try to cheat, and you lose even more. Something that stuck out to me was the beagle claiming he lived a hard life on the streets, but without showing much of his life outside the club it’s hard to see his wager as worth the risk. “The Glow” by Linnea “LiteralGrill” Capps is the only speculative fiction story in this “neonpunk” anthology. I’ve seen a lot of furry characters with “tattoos” with no explanation how they show through fur. This story has a half-feasible version in fluorescent “chem-brands” that stamp permanent glowing designs into the fur. But when a doe develops a fixation with glowing lights after a club encounter with a polar bear covered in chem-brands, could it be that there’s something more than benign chemicals to the brands? The ambiguity of the Glow intrigued me, I’d like to see more about it. Thiger’s “Not Enough” is slow to start, but pays off in time. The POV character is dating a wolf who seems oddly cold, detached, distant. Sometimes he comes home with fresh wounds. One day, the protagonist happens to visit the Electric Sewer during the day, and finds his boyfriend in one of the back rooms. From there, everything changes. This offered a chilling glimpse into the crapsack world the Sewer exists in, our viewpoint character is a club “outsider” of sorts, unaware of the darkness lying beneath his world, much like the readers themselves (one hopes). Thurston Howl’s own story, “Sharp,” is the last story of this collection. We’ve got a gangbanger who leads a gang called “the Razors” and who believes he runs the neighborhood, including the Electric Sewer. Two other gangs, the Pentagrams and CyberSk8ters, have been giving him some trouble for a while, but tonight the Pentagrams have presented him a “peace offering” in one of the Sewer’s back rooms. It’s erotic, it’s horrific, the characters are straight out of a 90s film, it exemplifies the kind of story this anthology was looking for.
Neonpunk is still a new subgenre with few stories in it yet. I look forward to what other authors might make of it in the future.The Electric Sewer, ed. Thurston Howl
The ROAR anthologies are always an impressive collection of quality stories, and ROAR 9 continues that tradition with contributions on the theme of “resistance.” The table of contents includes more than a few powerhouse furry authors, and the stories inside are, for the most part, explorations of very serious themes and often heartbreaking situations in which individuals rise up in a spirit of resistance against oppression, discrimination, and bigotry.
"Saguaros" by Watts Martin is an exquisitely written story about a rabbit who lives in service to a coyote woman. This is a tale of magic, illusion, and rebellion that has such a sweet, poetic note to it that it is a delight to read. As an opener to the anthology, it set the bar very high.
Thankfully, the rest of the stories had no problem holding up that standard.
"Ghosts" by Searska GreyRaven features a pizza delivery girl with a crush on one of her customers and a dangerous paranormal secret. The story is touching, sweet, terrifying, and masterfully written.
"Froggy Stews" by A. Humphrey Lanham tells the story of a frog attempting to share living space with a sea lion. Another piece with really stellar writing, this is one of the few stories in the book in which the resisting protagonist isn’t the clear-cut “good guy.” That being said, I found it charming and hilarious despite the somewhat grim ending.
"Post-Isolation" by Ellis Aen is a non-linear story and takes a bit of effort on the reader’s part, but of the lot, I think it is one of my absolute favorites. It is heart wrenching in its plot, beautiful in execution, and saying too much more about it would ruin it for the reader. A stellar tale.
"Resistance" by David M. Sula is another heartbreaking but lovely story about a lion and a human living together in a time of plague. Considering that ROAR 9 was published in 2018, this story has some eerily familiar themes to today’s reader. It might be a tough read, but it’s well worth it. I did see the ending coming a little way in, but it was still very impactful.
"The Hard Way" by Val E. Ford is an unusual exploration on the idea of soulmates that ends up being a strange blend of tragedy and humor. I found it fascinating and delightful with its bizarre mixture of violence and affection.
"Coyote Magic" by Ryan Campbell is another one that quickly became a favorite even while it broke my heart. In a world where everyone has magic, a boy must come to terms with a disappointing manifestation of his power. As a lifetime fan of old man Coyote, this story perfectly captured for me the concept of trickster magic. I loved it.
"The Last Roundup" by Amy Fontaine explores a clash between environmentalism and tradition in a beautiful, nostalgic way. The story has a bittersweet tone that is just delicious and does a fabulous job of showing a situation in which there is no easy, clear-cut answer. Fontaine describes it with a sensitivity and authenticity that is amazing on the page.
"Safe Mode" by John Giezentanner is easily the best, most visceral portrayal of social anxiety I’ve ever encountered on the page. A pangolin is the perfect vehicle for communicating what it feels like inside a panic attack, and the topic was dealt with so sensitively and adorably that it’s impossible not to fully embed in this story. An easy favorite.
"Laotian Rhapsody" by Al Song tells the story of a young Dhole magician who wants to do something meaningful with his music. It illustrates the struggle of a young artist against the tide of commercialism and the solution comes from an unexpected source that makes for a lovely story with a very sweet ending.
"Qibla" by Bill Kieffer follows Cecil and Jinx, an alligator and a cat dealing with the difficulties and differences of being in a relationship together, facing religious and speciesist discrimination, and finding common ground to face their difficulties as a united front. The writing is top notch on this one, and I love the inclusion of a reptilian protagonist. The story is tough and honest yet still manages to be loving and hopeful. I enjoyed every moment with these characters.
"Dear Sis" by Matt Doyle is a story told through a letter to the protagonist’s sister. It is a lovely and intimate look at the struggles of the gender-fluid main character but is another one where the ending becomes clear fairly early into the read. Still a well written and beautiful piece.
"Every Last Paw" by Blake Hutchins is a surprising inclusion in a sea of super serious and somewhat dark stories. The tone of this one is much lighter, and though it’s a well written and fun story, it felt off theme mostly because of the sort of grim-dark feel of the pieces leading up to it. That being said, who can resist a fun adventure story featuring an adorable kitten?
"Mixed Blessings" by Kittara Foxworthy is another one that felt slightly out of step with the literary somberness of the rest of the anthology. It’s a sci-fi piece and definitely fits the idea of resistance, but had a younger, lighter tone than most of the other stories. I still enjoyed it, though I found a lot of the plot’s events tended toward very convenient solutions. It’s a solid story and a fun read, nonetheless.
"No Dogs" by KC Alpinus uses dog breeds as allegory for racism and is both a serious read and a heartwarming story with an uplifting ending. It fits well with the tone of the early stories in the book, but also provides a nice bridge from the preceding two as the young age of several of the characters gives it an almost middle grade feel in places. "No Dogs" does a fabulous job of tying up the end of the collection and leaving the reader on a high note.
Overall ROAR 9 is exactly what I’ve come to expect from this series. Quality stories with excellent writing that will definitely not disappoint. A great sample of furry literature and an inspiring peek into the many forms of resistance.ROAR 9, ed. Mary E. Lowd
There has been a glut of gryphon books recently: Jess E. Owen’s Summer King series, K. Vale Nagle’s The Gryphon Insurrection, Dire, by John Bailey, and The Gryphon Generation by Alexander Bizzell (not to mention my own Griffin Ranger series). So now we can add the simply titled The Gryphon to this list.
Stripped down to the basics, The Gryphon is a princess story. With a mostly female cast, it definitely passes the Bechdel Test. Sunsky is the princess, set to inherit the rule of Gryphonia from her wise grandmother Queen Heartsong. Gryphonia is a menagerie of gryphons and gryphon-type creatures. There’s the winged gryphons, who are all female, the opinici, who are winged, male, and have the front legs of a lion instead of eagle talons. Then there’s keythongs and kryphons, wingless male and female, who are doomed to sterile servitude to the winged ones. Then there’s winged hippogryphs, winged horses, and regular horses, who live in the Valley of the Outcasts. There’s also an isolated colony of humans, called hopahs by the gryphons.
This cast of species has an interesting biology, and can all interbreed with each other. Gryphons can give birth to live young, or lay eggs that they keep in a pouch, and produce both winged and wingless offspring from any given mating. Even though contact between the gryphons and equines is strictly forbidden (according to the Gryphonic Code), everyone in this story is very promiscuous (which is why there’re so many hippogryphs). So in addition to her two full sisters, Sunsky has a half-sister named Talona, the result of a ‘courtesy mating’ her father had with another gryphon. With a name like “Talona,” she’s pre-destined to be the bad guy, and her conniving mother wants her to inherit the queenship instead of Sunsky.
When Sunsky is injured and nursed back to health by a dashing winged stallion, of course mating with him is the only polite thing to do. Since she’d already mated with her promised prince, Dreamspinner, when she finds out that out that she’s expecting she hopes all the offspring will be gryphonic. Unfortunately one of the three offspring is going to be a winged hippogryph, and Sunsky is given a choice between renouncing her royal title and going to the Valley of the Outcasts, or turning the ‘choal’ (chick + foal) over to the hippogryphs to be raised by them.
She chooses exile, which sets off the main plot of the evil Talona becoming queen, while Sunsky (renaming herself Sunground) raises her offspring among the winged horses and hippogryphs. Skip ahead a lot of years, and (predictably) Talona’s reign has not gone well, and Sunsky is called on to reclaim her throne.
The overarching theme of this book is tolerance and forgiveness, where Sunsky chooses a Ghandi-type approach rather than a bloody civil war. All the characters and species have to overcome long-standing prejudices, and in some cases admit their own culpability when things go wrong. It is rare to come across such an aggressively non-violent tale.
Stylistically, the book is an odd amalgam of My Little Pony type princesses, with characters that really sleep around (no graphic sex, however). In other ways the cast of gryphon and equine characters reminded me of the excellent Firebringer books by Meredith Ann Pierce. The prose at the beginning is awkward and could use some work, but it gets smoother after the first couple chapters. Unusually, this is a self-contained story, and so a good choice for people who don’t want to commit to a long series.
If you don’t mind the character’s laissez faire attitude concerning fidelity, this is an excellent story for tweens, and a good addition to the growing shelf of gryphon-specific tales.The Gryphon, by Paula Grover
This is your classic animal fantasy novel in the “tradition of” (as they like to say in book blurbs) Watership Down. But instead of common European animals, the book features the trials and tribulations of a pack of African hunting dogs (aka Painted Dogs, or Cape Hunting Dogs). This book has a distinct African flavor, with Afrikaans or native names for the characters, and all the flora and fauna painstakingly identified.
Wait a Season for Their Names is the story of alpha female Aalwyn, her mate Grootboom, and their pack, composed of subordinate sisters and brothers of the two alphas. The title refers to the heavy mortality of pups, most of whom don’t survive their first season. Life is hard in the African bush. Prey is sometimes difficult to find. Hyenas and lions steal their kills and threaten their pups. When an exceptionally aggressive male lion, Moordenaar, enters their territory, they’re forced to leave and take a dangerous trek to find a safer place to call home.
Towards the beginning of the story, the pack is joined by a wandering older male named Blackthorn, who ingratiates himself by providing desperately needed food. His help proves invaluable during the journey (It would’ve been nice to have a map) which takes them from Botswana to Zimbabwe to Mozambique, through war-torn lands and farms.
Along the way they encounter all the problems facing wild dogs (referred to in the book as wolves or painted wolves). Chief among them is rabies, which the characters refer to as The Rage. It’s made clear early on that Aalwyn and a couple of the other characters were given an oral vaccine by some park rangers, but the rest of the pack is vulnerable, and every village dog or strange wolf is suspect. There’s also internal strife, as two of the pack want to breed, something that only the alpha pair is allowed to do.
Other than rabies, humans present the biggest danger. There are hazardous roads to cross, poachers and poison to avoid, and angry farmers with guns. In some areas they cross the land is so barren and desertified there’s nothing to eat at all except hares and wandering cattle left to fend for themselves after the farmers were killed by civil strife. But preying on cattle, even stray ones, can have dire consequences.
Because this is meant to be a realistic animal novel (talking wolves not withstanding), the plot is episodic, without a driving goal other than finding a safe place to live. Most of the characters do behave in a realistic way, sometimes even shocking (such as Aalwyn’s treatment of wayward pack members). But there’s also some artistic liberty taken, such as a scene where Aalwyn bites through a chain. Unless it was a decorative necklace chain, I don’t think that was happening. . . . They also seem a lot more willing to take on dangerous foes like lions and hyenas mano a mano than real-life painted wolves, although wolves in this story do get injured and killed during those fights.
Overall, this is not the best of the genre, on level with masterpieces like Watership Down and Garry Kilworth’s Hunter’s Moon, but it is a decent and interesting work. And it’s nice to see this type of book set outside Europe and North America for a change. Definitely recommended for fans of talking animal fiction, as well as anyone who is interested in stories with an African setting. There is a sequel, with the cheerful title of Death Will Know My Name, but I have not read it (yet).Wait a Season for Their Names, by Alexander Kendziorski
When I saw that Ash Coyote had released another documentary, I admit I was a bit apprehensive. Her previous treatment of marginalized communities ,,in The Fandom left me worried about what her newest work Hero might be like. She has apologized for this in the past, saying, “[W]e received criticism that was very valid. Criticism about inclusion and diversity. Which are things that I’m trying to learn from.” Unfortunately, Hero has proven she has much more to learn.
This documentary follows the story of Hero, a furry who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 22. It shows his fursuit being made by WaggeryCostumes while building up to the moment Hero receives it. Fursuits can be a fantastic way for furries to express themselves, and knowing that Hero was able to enjoy the experience of fursuiting with a grim health diagnosis is undeniably a feel-good story, and I’m personally so happy for Hero. However, sharing it with this inspirational narrative ignores fundamental issues that haunt the furry fandom as a whole.
Walela Nehanda has ,,discussed why inspiration porn like this hurts disabled people, especially those with cancer, and I couldn’t agree with them more on the points they raised. For those who do not know, inspiration porn is the portrayal of people with disabilities as inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability. Inspiration porn exists so that able-bodied people can put their worries into perspective. “Well, it could be worse; I could be like that person!”
This documentary does just that and serves as nothing more than a way for able-bodied people to pat themselves on the back for doing something when in all reality the furry community actively ignores its disabled members in a way that is almost hostile.
As of writing this review, I am only aware of two conventions that take accessibility issues seriously. Texas Furry Fiesta has an Accessibility Officer, and Harvest Moon Howl Fest intends to be fully ADA compliant. How can we say we care about people who aren’t able-bodied when our entire community can’t manage something that has been standard at almost every single major anime and gaming convention for many years?
Conventions being forced to go digital in 2020 has been one of the only reasons that accessibility has been increased in the furry community, and that’s inexcusable. Between hotels with panel room doors too small for wheelchairs to fit into, lack of seating consideration for panels, ,,incredibly old wheelchair lifts, and having to take elevators through kitchens to reach panels, the community is doing a bad job here. This is only for one kind of disability consideration too — if I listed issues for other kinds of disabilities most people would declare this review too long to finish reading.
Most conventions cannot even bring themselves to donate towards causes that affect marginalized people like those who aren’t able-bodied as they would rather focus on cute animals. Why not do both? Donating to causes that help connect disabled people with service animals (which can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000) is a possibility. What if we took it a step further and helped these people with funds for housing security? Homeless disabled people often find that shelters refuse them as many aren’t accessible. Efforts like these aren’t made, however, as the community feels like they are “doing enough,” and documentaries like Hero cement that belief in their minds.
The closest I could find to this happening was ,,Fur The More supporting ALS charities in honor of Dogbomb. While admirable, this was done for only a single year. Dogbomb was a fantastic man who was well-loved in the fandom but is already being so quickly forgotten. If this is how a “popufur” with a disability is treated, imagine the treatment of disabled furries at large.
This doesn’t even scratch the surface on issues fursuits present themselves. This major status symbol in the furry fandom is inaccessible to most disabled members of the community. Not only are fursuits like this hard to afford for disabled people, ,,26% of whom live in poverty in the United States, but almost no thought has been put into trying to make fursuits easier to use for those who aren’t able-bodied. Can you name a single fursuiter that uses a wheelchair? A fursuiter that uses crutches? A deaf fursuiter? No? Fursuiters like this do exist, and the lack of awareness of them is fostered by the community.
Most people with a terminal illness or disabilities couldn’t even consider affording a fursuit. This one story of joy should highlight just how many more are faced with not only crushing disappointment but exclusion from the community they love. Too bad able-bodied viewers won’t see that. ,,Chadwick Boseman was bullied and ridiculed for his unknown cancer diagnosis, and those within the furry community continue similar mistreatment to disabled people within Furry while trying to feel better about themselves.
The truth of the matter is that Hero’s story will be used so that furries can pat themselves on the back like they did something when they didn’t. They didn’t speak up for better accessibility at conventions, they didn’t donate their time or funds to furries that aren’t popular and able-bodied, and large portions didn’t take seriously a pandemic that kills immunocompromised people like those with cancer.
While the documentary does mention some issues about accessing healthcare, this really isn’t enough to give it a pass here. It’s likely impossible to cover the entirety of issues facing disabled members of the furry community but them being nothing more than a side note shows they were barely a consideration to begin with. While I love this celebration of Hero’s life, this documentary puts into focus how the community only wants to focus on disabled members when it is convenient to them or when it makes them feel better. And the inspiration porn narrative of the film suggests that our community is above such critical issues and that our fandom is good for or on-the-whole empowering for people with disabilities in a way non-furries are not when this is untrue.
I wish instead of this documentary being made to tell one good story, one was made that discussed the major issues the furry community faces when it comes to the treatment of disabled people and how we could do better. The documentary Hero adds to a problem the furry community faces while taking us two steps back to make it worse.
I cannot recommend anyone watch Hero. Instead, I hope readers will consider watching Crip Camp, ,,which is also free to watch on YouTube, as it offers actual insights into the struggles disabled people face and shows the good a community can do. I hope Ash will do better when considering marginalized people within her documentaries in the future, but her current track record gives me little reason to do so.Hero, by AshCoyote
The huge success of fantasy series for older children such as Harry Potter, Warriors and Wings of Fire has developed into an industry led by authors who hope their books are the next big hit. Luckily for fans of anthropomorphic literature, a number of these series feature animal characters.
Pride Wars is a recent series about a war between anthro lions and tigers, set in a typical feudal world with a vaguely African setting. It faithfully follows the major tropes of this genre: a bullied, socially outcast lead character with a hidden special power (who is also an orphan!), a scheming uncle, misunderstandings, and a hidden danger no one knows about. So if you’re looking for something groundbreaking and unusual, this probably isn’t it. But on the other hand, if you were simply interested in a decent yarn, you could do worse.
Leo (not a terribly original name for a lion character) is the bastard grandson of the current king, the son of his dead daughter and an unknown male. Despite this, he’s heir to the throne, which makes his uncle a bit resentful. The opening sequence shows Leo on his rite of passage—a life-or-death hunt against a venomous creature called a slaycon. Nobody expects him to survive the hunt, since he is small and not a good fighter.
When, through dumb luck, Leo successfully takes out the slaycon, he’s sent to an elite battle school to learn to be a fighter. Of course his cousin, daughter of the jealous uncle, is there and prepared to make his life a living hell. I was worried that this was going to turn into yet another “bullied kid at school story,” having to slog through chapter after chapter of Leo getting humiliated and beaten up. Luckily, he only spends a couple of days there before events beyond his control call him back to the capital city, where the plot really gets moving.
The lion’s society is shown to be strictly science- and reason-based. It’s a terrible crime to lie, and they consider fiction stories as lies, since they’re not true. But there are some people, known as "spinners" that have a magical compulsion to tell stories. Spinners are outlawed and reviled, and if one is discovered, their tongue is cut out, and they’re sent into exile. So of course Leo is a very powerful spinner.
Besides the involuntary need to tell stories, Leo’s magic is so strong that after each story a character from it appears to him, ready to do his bidding (a plot twist not unlike the Inkheart series). At first he sends them away, fearful of being found out, but later they prove to be valuable allies.
Forced into exile when his devious uncle seizes the throne after the death of his grandfather, Leo flees into the land of the enemy tigers, trying to avert a war that could destroy both sides. He is helped along by some wise elders and friends from the battle school, and learns the truth behind the long conflict that has divided the lands. Volume 2 ends on a cliffhanger (though it does answer some questions), and so far volume 3 hasn’t been published.
Because this is meant for a younger audience, there’s no adult action. There are plenty of battles and fighting, but no excessive gore. The book would probably appeal to people interested in stories with lion characters, or a younger audience. Readers looking for something unique or challenging (or adult themes) should probably look elsewhere. All that being said, I’m still planning to read book 3 whenever it comes out. The story did keep me reading, and that’s a success for any book.Pride Wars, by Matt Laney