Review: 'Allasso, Volume 1: Shame', edited by Brian Lee Cook
Bringing together writers and artists from both within and outside the furry fandom, Allasso aims to discover humanity by embodying it in the familiar as well as the foreign. Through exploring our emotions in the wordless world around us, we may discover what truly makes us human.
The first volume of the series, Shame, probes past comfortable feelings in search of hidden actions and taboo desires. While people may wear masks of complacency, everyone has something they wish could never be discovered. (publisher’s blurb)
Allasso appears to be a cross between a book and a magazine. “A bi-annual [they mean semiannual; twice a year in May and November, not once every two years] online publication dedicated to finding new experiences within anthropomorphic writing and art. Publications will be released as an online journal” in the form of a trade paperback book through CreateSpace.
The title is a Greek word meaning “to change, to exchange one thing for another, to transform”; it appears in the King James version of the New Testament. This first volume presents seven short stories mixed with seven poems. There are also six illustrations.
Woods Cross, UT, Pink Fox Publications/North Charleston, SC, CreateSpace, November 2011, trade paperback $7.99 (110 pages). Illustrated.
The first story, “Best of Breed” by Renee Carter Hall, is the longest in the volume. It is labeled “Editor’s Choice Awards for best fiction, best overall piece.” I agree that it is the best story in the volume. The narrator is Silver Willow or Mina, a prizewinning naïve young Angoran Mau cat.
I don’t like the hotel where this show is. It smells like cigarettes and makes me want to wash my fur constantly. I follow Shawn through the crowd of cats and handlers. The cats flatten their ears and hiss when someone gets too close. We’re all edgy, all bristling. I try to act as if I’m not, the way Shawn has taught me ever since I was a kitten.
Easy,” Shawn says, and he places a hand on my back as we get in line to register. I purr softly, trying to soothe myself. I don’t mind the judging, but these hours before, the cats, the smells, the strange place, the waiting—these close in around me, and I’m glad for his touch. (p. 2)
The cats in this story are intelligent and able to talk. One of the show tests is reading comprehension:
I won my first ribbon that weekend, and after the show was over, I asked him why I had to answer the questions. I didn’t understand then about the drinking, but that’s what he was doing. The glass had only a few amber drops left in the bottom. The bottle was empty too.
“Makes them feel better,” he said.
“The judges. That way they can tell off everybody who says we’re breeding intelligence out. Makes it seem respectable.” He had to say the last word three times before he got it right. (p. 9)
Mina gradually comes to realize that being a show cat is a form of slavery, and although her human handler Shawn may love her, he loves winning awards more. And slavery is still slavery. This is a story that everyone should read.
“The Dare” by Tristan Black Wolf is narrated by a tiger school principal who has to gently play therapist to a scared young bear cub student. It is well-written enough, but it is a “funny animal” story. There is no reason for the characters to be anthropomorphic animals instead of humans.
“Scarheart” by Dwale is narrated by Selahni, Scarheart, Saint of Sunsets, Lady of Lullabies, a white-furred avenger who is slaying the canine soldier conquerors of a ruined city. Despite some brutal deeds, her descriptions are in almost poetic terms.
On the streets, I flit between heaps of filth, collapsed walls, burned out masonry like the husks of spiders, and I am almost invisible, just another shadow in a city of shadows where the constancy of the funeral march means that no one native is ever out of mourning attire for very long. I did not grow up here. I do not know the city’s name or that of anyone around me. But, it is the world I inhabit now, for however long THEY choose to remain. (p. 50)
This is more of a mood piece than an action story.
“Steam” by Tybalt Maxwell is a Lovecraftian-style horror story. Giacomo, the elderly cat narrator, tells what happened on the Arrival; the dramatic day, seventy years earlier, when the sky above his prosperous multispecies city ripped open and a huge four-eyed, tentacled, beaked monster writhed through.
It didn’t seem like we were hearing the scream with our ears. It felt more like we heard it with our minds, a psychic scream that filled our brains with shards of glass and ripped at our heads from the inside. When it stopped, after excruciating seconds that seemed to last for hours, we heard the crazed howl as Seth ripped his own eyes out. (p. 73)
I’m sorry, but “The Drifter and the Dragon Egg” by Lenowill is just not an anthropomorphic story. It’s well-written enough, but it’s a human-into-unintelligent-dragon transformation story. It does not belong here. Lenowill’s “The Dragon Mother’s Oath”, a ten-line poem, is a sort-of sequel to this.
In “An Otter with a Pen” by Justin Moore, Jeremy Morris, an otter author living in Seattle, is devastated by the traffic-accident death of Sam Ellis, his husky homosexual lover. This is a powerfully emotional story, but it’s another where the characters seem more like unconvincing fursuiters than real animals.
The poetry: I don’t care if “Bolm is Burning” by Isaac Timm isn’t truly anthropomorphic. It’s funny and I like it! As for the others, I will confess that I don’t like poetry, and I do care that these aren’t particularly anthropomorphic. They’re all short, at least; no more than two double-spaced pages.
So: three really good stories and four that are well-enough written but don’t particularly turn me on. Seven short poems that I don’t feel competent to judge except to say that I like one of them; and if you know my feelings about poetry, you will recognize this as a strong recommendation. Six illustrations – these certainly leave room for improvement. Is this worth $7.99? To support Allasso, surely; otherwise you can read the whole volume for free on the Allasso website, which has some of the illustrations in color. This volume 1 is a promising beginning.