Review: 'Other Trails Taken', by Bernard Doove
CreateSpace, May 2011
Trade paperback $25.95 (499 pgs.)
Doove lives in Melbourne and has been one of Australia’s leading Furry fans since 1993. His “Chakat’s Den” website, the home of his (and others’) chakat fan fiction, has been up since 1995. A large number of his short stories were on the website before he began collecting and self-publishing them in book form.
Other Trails Taken is subtitled A Chakat Family Journal, Book II. In fact, it is a direct followup to Forest Tales: a Chakat Family Journal, published in May 2010. It does NOT stand on its own. You have to read Forest Tales, including the stories collected in Transformations (review) in 2005 (new ed. 2008), to understand it.
According to Doove’s Foreword in Other Trails Taken, the stories in Forest Tales come first, then Transformations, then the stories in More Terrible Than Chains, and finally these in Other Trails Taken. Fortunately, readers can get all these for free on the “Chakat’s Den” site, without spending a fortune.
Unlike the previous books, Other Trails Taken has considerable original material. The website has the Forest Tales from #29 through #35 (written in 2008); this book goes up to #41, plus three independent stories set much later in the Chakat Universe. (It also includes Doove’s Life’s Dream as “Tales of the Foxtaur Clans” #6-#14, which won the 2007 Ursa Major Award for Best Anthropomorphic Novel.1)
Doove’s chakat stories, some featuring plots and characters suggested by his readers, are very popular with some fans, but are controversial with others. The chakats are spacegoing centauroid felinoids, mostly leopard- and cougar-based, in a 24th century Stellar Federation similar to the Star Trek universe. There are also humans and a variety of bioengineered humanoid Furry peoples, both bipedal and/or centauroid, including foxes, wolves, rabbits, and skunks.
What makes chakats controversial is that they are also hermaphrodites (with their own bisexual pronouns of shi, hir, etc.) They, and Doove’s other characters, are great enthusiasts of free and open sex. The stories emphasize nudity and extreme interspecies male/male, male/female, and female/female graphic sex, well-illustrated by a plethora of artists. This book does not have a “For Mature Readers Only” restriction, but readers had better apply their own.
Other Trails Taken opens in one of the main back-to-nature foxtaur communities on Earth, which is apparently under attack from the wolftaurs — but not really, as Malena, Purteshka, Goldendale, Goldfur, Garrek, and the other central characters realize. And if you don’t know who these are and what the background is, you haven’t read Forest Tales and Transformations yet.
Aside from lots of loving but graphic sex, the emphasis of these stories is on the interpersonal relationships of the characters; the social customs of courting, mating, and family raising in rural societies of casual nudity and sex, plus the urban Double H Club – “Hermaphrodite Haven”.
But lest the reader think that these Forest Tales are all hillbilly Furry stuff, there is also space exploration, teleportation and similar Star Fleet and Star Corps activities; including meeting new alien species without human sexual hang-ups and new sexual biology. (What happens to a telepath who comes to a planet whose inhabitants are all obsessed with sex?)
These fifteen stories contain numerous illustrations by over two dozen Furry artists, notably Kacey Miyagami, Kyomana, Roy D. Pounds II, XianJaguar, and Kim Kirkdorfer. Unfortunately, this book could only print them in black-&-white, instead of the full color of Doove’s website.
The book ends satisfactorily, but without a real climax or conclusion; Doove is still writing new Forest Tales. The blatant erotic content makes it not for everybody, but if you don’t mind a lot of sex in futuristic s-f stories with a large, exotic Furry cast, then don’t miss Other Trails Taken.
1 The author of the reviewed work is a member of the Ursa Major Award organization ALAA; both nominations and final awards are decided by popular vote.
About the authorFred Patten — read stories — contact (login required)
a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics
Doove says in an e.mail, "I didn't expect [the review] so soon, but it's nice to see it up there. The one thing that I might point out is that although you are right about the erotic content, it would have been nice to point out that a couple of the stories did not have any.
By the way, I think Taodog deserves a mention for the great cover art that he did."
This is not right... *vomiting*
Unlike the fellow above me, I find this to be interesting, especially from a gender perspective.
To be honest, this review seems very "softball" to me, and doesn't seem to address common concerns and complaints many have to the series. Are the chakats still portrayed as over-perfected mary sues? Are the villains still strawman Christians? And does the story still have substance outside of the sex scenes, or is it just another example of the fetishizing of hermaphrodism?
As the author, I am obviously biased, but I feel I have written much stronger stories lately. Where sex scenes are involved, they are all relevant to the story and not gratuitous, even if some reasons are not immediately obvious because the pay-off comes in later stories. And while every story might contain a herm character, their sex is often no more relevant than the fact that you are male. Some stories have no sex in them whatsoever. Some have a lot of sex, but for very good reasons. Often it's to show the negative aspects of certain traits. I tend to like exploring odd or controversial subjects. In the end though, you need to decide for yourself if the stories are good writing or not.
Color me surprised.
Isn't this part of the reviewer's job? We're given a good description of the work, and a recommendation, but where the latter comes from is unclear. This review, unlike others, doesn't highlight examples of good writing – or the lack of it. This doesn't mean we should assume it's bad, but it does make it harder to justify a purchase based on the review.
In fairness, in this case people can always start reading and see if the rest are worth buying, but I can understand Talon's point.
(It might also have been mentioned that you are on the committee which administers the Ursa Majors, though it is not a juried award; this is something I should have caught in editing, and I'll fix it now).
I didn't want to emphasize this in the review, but as GreenReaper says above, any Flayrah reader can click to Goldfur's "Chakat's Den" website and read the first stories in this book for free. And ALL of his previous books for free. The stories in "Other Trails Taken" are the "Forest Tales" from #29 to #35, except for #30. As to whether I think these stories are good writing or not, yes. The subject matter may not be to all tastes, but the quality of the writing, while not spectacular enough to highlight any examples, leaves nothing to be desired. The characters are all quite sympathetic; gregarious, friendly, intelligent, and -- as the stories point out -- loving.
Yes, both Bernard Doove and I are on the Anthropomorphic Literature and Arts Ass'n committee, which administers the Ursa Major Awards. But as we always point out, the awards are popular vote awards, controlled by the voters, which are open to all of Furry fandom. If any work does not get enough nominations, it doesn't get onto the final ballot; and if it doesn't get enough votes, it doesn't win. One of the main reasons I write so many reviews is to encourage Furry fans to read the many good (but often little-known) new books in this field; and I hope that the fans will then go on to nominate and vote for what they think are the best of the year.
Bernard Doove was one of the furs that pulled me further into the furry fandom. A lot of his artwork inspired the creation of my second fursona T'Lar Sorrat, the Star Trek Universe Caitian. His pictures and stories actually got me into writing my own, although I am not a fan of Chakats and it the beginning the hermaphrodite stuff made me a bit uncomfortable. But all in all Bernard Doove has been a huge creative influence on me.
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