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Review: 'Allasso, Volume 1: Shame', edited by Brian Lee Cook

Edited by GreenReaper as of Fri 19 Oct 2012 - 18:51
Your rating: None Average: 4.6 (8 votes)

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)

The destruction of the city is reminiscent of the devastation of Halifax in 1917 or of Texas City in 1947.

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 last story, “Fetching Asteroids” by Mary E. Lowd, is ultra-short; only one page. It is also one of last year’s Ursa Major Award finalists in the Best Anthropomorphic Short Fiction category.

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.

The publisher supplied this review copy.


Your rating: None Average: 4.8 (6 votes)

Thank you very much for the review! Just had a few things to say.

1. "Biannual" generally means "twice a year." The word is frequently confused with "biennial," which means "once every two years." The Oxford English Dictionary claims that the adjective means twice yearly while the noun "bi-annual" would be once every two years. Since it was used as an adjective, the word was used correctly. This all stems from a long Twitter conversation I had, and I might change the word to avoid this confusion in the future.

2. I think you hit on a point that really will be my focus in the next volumes. My main desire in furry fiction is for anthropomorphism to do something new; the themes in the story need to directly tie into the genre. Not every story will do this, nor does every story need this -- I know one or two in the second volume lack that connection. As a whole, future volumes will use anthropomorphism to explore the human condition.

I'm a new editor. It's taken me a while to find exactly what I wanted, and I still have a lot to learn.

3. Volume 2 will have much less poetry and has pieces exclusively from people in the fandom. This wasn't my intention -- sometimes submission pools choose how things go -- but the overall theme will be much more focused.

Again, thank you for taking the time to review this. I think most weaknesses will be strengthened in the future, and the good will only be made better.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

I don't think you should dumb down words just because they can be confusing. See it rather as a chance to educate people so they don't make the mistake in future. We should be moving to better ourselves, not lower standards to please others.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 2.4 (7 votes)

Is insisting upon a distinction between "biannual" and "biennial" rather than using the more clearly different "semiannual" and "biannual" really lowering grammatical standards to please others? It still seems like an artificial and unnecessary similarity to me when we already have two perfectly good words, semiannual and biannual, that cannot be mistaken for each other.

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

"There is no reason for the characters to be anthropomorphic animals instead of humans."

Yes, there is. The reason is that that is what furries prefer and that is sufficient reason. If people can draw anthropomorphic characters for "no reason" other than that's what they prefer then they can write about anthropomorphic characters with the same justification.

Edit: This was meant to be on it's own. I'm pretty sure I did post it on it's own so I have no idea why it's attached to another comment now. :/

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 3 (5 votes)

The fact is that "anthropomorphic" and "Furry" mean different things to different fans. Some are happy to accept any characters that look superficially like anthropomorphic animals, even when this means that all species are the size of humans, have the same diet as humans, and so on. Others prefer a more distinct difference between the species; characters are closer to their species' sizes (the mice are smaller than the dogs and the elephants are larger than just about everyone else), the carnivores are distinct from the herbivores, etc. I disagree that you can say that furries in general prefer the "funny animal" approach where all animal-people are just like humans. For those that are satisfied with this, these stories are fine. I try in my reviews to distinguish between funny-animal stories and those with a more discernible species difference, and well-written stories vs. poorly-written stories, so that readers can judge accordingly.

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

Those distinctions don't fit in any widely accepted definition of furry. They couldn't because they meaningless in a lot of art, the main medium of the furry fandom. If you just have a picture of an anthropomorphic fox then almost any fur would be happy to claim that it's furry without pestering the artist for information on how other species would have looked if they had been included or what the character's diet and mannerisms are like.

I didn't say that most furries preferred a specific type of anthropomorphism, I said that they preferred an anthropomorphic character to one which is not.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 3.3 (4 votes)

Okay, this is in reply too Rakuen's "There is no reason..." post just in case of further comment oddities.

Anyway, my problem with your argument is why is the audience automatically furries, and furries only (totally ignore this entire post if your point was "furries writing for themselves as individuals"*). There is no reason to think a non-furry wouldn't enjoy a well written furry piece, on its merits as a story, not as furry. In that case, if you want to expand your audience, you should throw them any ropes available, and giving some kind of reason (and not just a half-assed reason, either) for the change, either artistically (i.e. you are saying something that is better said with anthropomorphic characters) in story (some sci-fi or fantasy reason), or, my preference, both.

Seeing as how members of the furry fandom have printed out reams of cartoon fox art and yet still managed to overwhelmingly think Avatar was a better movie than Fantastic Mr. Fox, expanding your audience beyond the fandom is pretty much the only option if you really respect your work.

*It has been said that "high art" is art created by the artist for the artist, while "low art" is art created by the artist for an audience. I do not personally view either as superior to the other, but am personally a "low artist" myself; I always have an audience in mind. Starting out believing the audience for the artform is limited is, well, limiting for the artform; I always find it disturbing when furries say "well, it's just not for non-furries," because that shows a lack of faith in the artform.

Your rating: None Average: 4.5 (6 votes)

High Art vs. Low Art

Your rating: None Average: 2 (4 votes)

I like Calvin and Hobbes, but Bill Watterson is an idiot.

I once decided to read a collection of Calvin and Hobbes, one of the omnibuses, and the beginning had an author's introduction. I read those because it's polite, you know, and besides, they're usually short. A quick, "so this is my strip, and here's how I got the idea, and now for a self deprecating comment about how the art used to suck even worse, and thanks for reading, okay, bye!" and you're done. A page and a half, at most.

So, I was about five pages in when I realized Bill Watterson was writing an essay on artistic integrity. Because that's what I want to read when I open up a comic strip collection.

Anyway, he was going off on other strips for "selling out to the man" or whatever, and producing merchandise, because that is apparently evil, because artistic integrity. Okay, let's think about this for a second. You know Garfield? Fat cat, likes lasagna, sleeping and kicking dogs? Dislikes Mondays, dogs (duh) and Internet parodies of himself? So, anyway, that cat is a whore, totally, because, I mean, seriously, what hasn't been merchandised using Garfield? The friggin' Cub Scouts once used him in a promotion, which makes no Goddamned sense whatsoever, but okay.

Perhaps you remember those suction cup Garfields you would sometimes see on the back window of vehicles. They were kinda cute, I guess. You used to see them a lot, now, hardly ever. So, that's Garfield merchandise; kinda cute, mostly forgotten.

You ever seen Calvin on the back window of a vehicle?

Moral of the story; if you're a popular artist with artistic integrity, sell out to corporate America ASAP, because fuck your fans before they fuck you.

Your rating: None Average: 4 (4 votes)

Yes, I saw Calvin on the back window of vehicles lots of times, usually badly-drawn. As I recall, when Calvin and Hobbs was really popular about twenty-five years ago, there was a greater quantity than usual of usually-crappy unauthorized merchandise -- T-shirts and decals and stuff. I don't recall suction cup Calvins; they were probably too high-tech for amateur rip-offs. There was no Calvin and Hobbes animated TV program, which everyone expected. There were two reasons. Firstly, Watterson refused to license any authorized merchandise, leaving the market open for the amateur bootlegs. Secondly, because Watterson refused to merchandise Calvin and Hobbes, legally nobody cared. There were no authorized licensees to go after the bootleggers. Because Watterson's newspaper syndicate wasn't making any money from licensed T-shirts and decals, they weren't interested. If Watterson cared, nobody knew because he was such a private person that he never said anything, and he was too much a hermit to go after any bootleggers himself. The general public attitude was that, if Watterson was so high and mighty about his artistic integrity to throw away millions in potential merchandising for himself and his newspaper syndicate (which was rumored to be privately extremely pissed, but they officially supported Watterson's choice), that was his decision. So: who was fucking whom?

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 1 (4 votes)

It was a circle jerk.

Your rating: None Average: 3.7 (6 votes)

The audience is automatically furry because that is the target, or at least focus, audience and creators. There's no reason a non-fur can't enjoy a furry story as a story but if it can stand on it's merits as a story then you don't need to justify any of that. It might be necessary for some stories but a good story is a good story regardless of how you have your characters. For example Lord of the Rings could have been written with just humans but people enjoy it without needing Tolkien to justify making some characters elves or dwarfs.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 1.3 (3 votes)

Actually, a lot of fun for a lot of people is the justifying of the elves and dwarfs, and why they are the way they are, including Tolkien himself. Hence the Silmarillon.

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I was going to comment on your Fantastic Mr. Fox vs. Avatar comparison by starting with "while I see your point..." then realized that I'm not entirely sure I do see your point. Here's the thing: regardless of one's feelings about either work, Avatar is the highest-grossing movie worldwide in film history. Statistically speaking, the entire planet thought Avatar was a better movie than Fantastic Mr. Fox. So are we lamenting that furries are failing to be statistical outliers here? :)

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with writing for an audience that you know is going to be small; I've seen some pretty good writing aimed at pretty esoteric groups. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with consciously approaching "furry" stories with the notion that you want to appeal to an audience that isn't just in the fandom, too. Go after the Nebula and Hugo, or at least see if you can be the first furry novel since The Blood Jaguar to be put out in hardcover by a major publisher.*

I suppose my attitude has become prosaic over the years: I wanted to change the fandom and change the world twenty years ago. I couldn't break into the bigger markets, though -- maybe I wasn't good enough then, maybe I just didn't persevere enough -- and, for both better and worse, furry fandom grew. And grew. and grew. We're at the point where appealing "just to the fandom" is enough to earn a living wage, and I'm not going to tell people who are making a living doing their art that they don't respect their work because they're not successfully peddling it to Marvel, Bantam or art galleries.

I'd still like to write stuff that appeals to a broader audience. I hope my short story collection does, although the reviews of it on Amazon have a distinct "he's a pretty good writer if you can deal with the anthropomorphic animal crap" tone to them. Maybe the novel I'm working on won't engender the same reaction, but who knows. The best way I can respect the work is to tell the best story I can tell, and to worry about who's going to publish it later.

*As far as I know, the only distinctly furry books that have come out in hardcover after Jaguar have been put out by presses that came out of the fandom like Sofawolf. (Although I'd definitely argue that Sofawolf is a very real small press publisher that, by now, regularly gets fairly positive attention outside furryspace. They're expanding the fandom in what might be the best possible way: setting a good example.)

— Chipotle

Your rating: None Average: 4 (4 votes)

I believe crossaffliction does not see Avatar's beings as anthropomorphic animals, but aliens, and therefore thinks it should not have won Best Anthropomorphic Movie. (Also, that Fantastic Mr. Fox was better.)

Given the source of the character appearance (and fideliy to it), this is not an entirely unreasonable position:

We discussed this over a year ago at Inkbunny - the piece under consideration [NSFW] was right on the line, but the cat-like facial characteristics ultimately rendered it "not human" (it's unclear whether it's furry, but that's not a requirement at IB).

Of course, I'm hardly one to talk when it comes to alien characters being represented as furries . . .

Your rating: None Average: 2.3 (4 votes)

You've got me completely backwards.

It's not the lack of anthropomorphism I have a problem with; it's the lack of animal...ism. Which is the exact opposite of my problem with How To Train Your Dragon; 2009's winner lacked animal-based characters, while 2010 lacked anthropomorphic characters.

For the record, however, I actually voted for How To Train Your Dragon; despite the fact that it wasn't truly furry at the basic "anthropomorphic animal" level, there wasn't really a decent contender with both properties. Alpha and Omega? That stupid owl movie?

Why I get into a frothing shitfit about Avatar is the fact that THERE WAS A VIABLE "FURRY" CONTENDER IN Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Your rating: None Average: 3.8 (4 votes)

I understood you, but I guess I didn't put that across as best as I could. It's late. :-)

While I've disagreed with you on draconic anthropomorphism, I'm with you about 95% on the animals.

Your rating: None Average: 3 (4 votes)

I don't know, if furry is anthropomorphic animals, I would like my anthropomorphic animal movies to have anthropomorphic animals, if that's not too much to ask.

I'm not arguing the characters aren't anthropomorphic; I don't give a flying fuck whether or not they're anthropomorphic. I'm saying you've got TWO FREAKING WORDS there (anthropomorphic and animal), and only one of them applies to Avatar, while both apply to Fantastic Mr. Fox. My argument is they are not animals, and seriously, the fandom has a hang-up about the word anthropomorphic because it's big and a lot of people don't even know it exists outside the fandom, so it makes them feel important, but seriously, one word is an adjective, and the other is a NOUN, BABY!


I mean, seriously, when a sizeable group of the fandom can't even pick their own genre out of a line-up, that's a problem.

Also, seriously, and I'm guessing you agree, but Avatar sucks, and if we're going to vote for a movie about a man who changes into a member of a downtrodden-by-man alien species in an award it doesn't belong in, then at least nominate and vote for District 9.

Your rating: None Average: 3 (5 votes)

Vas ist das "biannual" & "biennial"? I don't know about the Oxford English Dictionary; the way that I learned it is that "semiannual" means twice a year and "biannual" means every two years. Biannual vs. biennial sounds like an excuse for confusion, no matter what the OED may say.

I feel guilty dissing poetry because I know that many people like it very much. There are poems that impress me considerably; "The Raven" by E. A. Poe, for one. But I don't understand the genre very well; anything more complex than "The Night Before Christmas" tends to feel pretentious to me. So when I am given seven poems to review, all that I can honestly say is that I enjoyed one of them and the other six left me cold. I am glad that volume 2 will have much less poetry.

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 2.3 (6 votes)

Jeez, Fred, if your favorite poem is "The Raven," you really don't like poetry. Or Poe, for that matter.

Guy pretty much invented the form of the modern short story, and yet he's still best known for his "Gothic Dr. Seuss."

Your rating: None Average: 3.5 (4 votes)

I also like Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and Chesterton's "Lepanto".

Hmmm ... I never noticed it before, but the poems that I do like are all narrative poems, not pretty mood pieces. I should check out more poems that tell a story. Yes, do check out Timm's "Bolm is Burning". It is on the "Allasso" website for free.

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 2 (5 votes)

"Salon" magazine yesterday posted this commentary by Mary Elizabeth Williams on the OED's ruling that the word "hopefully" is old-fashioned and should no longer be used: "It was bad enough last year when Oxford edged toward edging out that most beloved and sensible of punctuation marks, the Oxford comma. This week, the venerable AP Stylebook has decreed that “Hopefully, you will appreciate this style update, announced at #aces2012. We now support the modern usage of hopefully: it’s hoped, we hope.” To which a million language nerds replied, Noooo!

Perhaps you are the sort of person who wasn’t aware that saying things like, “Hopefully, it won’t rain this weekend” has long been considered a grammatical faux pas. One hopes that you received a deeper language-arts education than that. “Hopefully” is an adverb. An adverb, I tells ya, one that means to do something in a hopeful manner. For decades, however, the word has also been a common shorthand for “I hope.”

Those of us who work with words grapple daily with the issue of where we slide and where we take a hard line. I die a little every time I see a “gonna” or “gotta,” and I’ll jump through linguistic hoops to avoid using “they” or “their” for the singular when the gender isn’t specified. There’s nothing like a note – from a teacher, for God’s sake – commanding that “Every child should bring their lunch” to make me want to switch exclusively to Latin. Yet I’m lax about ending sentences with a preposition, treat phrases like sentences for dramatic effect and use “rapey” and “stabby” and other made-up words on a regular basis. And I start half my sentences with conjunctions."

Williams goes on at greater length than I will quote here. It seems pertinent to Brian Cook's comment above that the Oxford English Dictionary says that biannual and biennial (or bi-annual and biennial) mean twice a year and every two years, but apparently does not mention semi-annual, which I learned was the word for twice a year. But I am 71 and I learned that in the late 1940s or the 1950s. When did the OED make its ruling? Am I being old-fashioned? Probably. People used to use commas much more than they do today. Language evolves; it is a standard truism of s-f writers that a 21st-century English-speaking time-traveller would barely be able to understand a 16-century speaker, and would be hopelessly incomprehensible to William the Conquerer or his contemporaries. (Never mind that they spoke Norman French and not Anglo-Saxon.) So: who is right about semiannual or biannual or biennial?

Who cares? In another fifty years, it will all be different again.

Fred Patten

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I agree with both of you, and let me explain why. The genre is very loosely defined, but by far the largest amount of stories deal with bipedal anthros. Many in the fandom love this for several reasons. Anthropomorphism adds a weird layer of cuteness to it. Also, anthropomorphism may emotionally affect furries more than it would other people. Having anthros gives a layer of protection, as well; even though subjects may be disturbing, the world is clearly more fictional. These reasons alone are enough for anthros to appear in stories.

However, I really want to find some deeper reason for anthropomorphism to be there, and I know others feel the same way. Whenever I find a furry story that does just that, I become ecstatic; to people outside the fandom, the genre makes a little more sense when this connection is established. I believe that the more stories we have making this connection, the more that anthro writing will be recognized as a reputable genre. Not everyone wants this, but I do.

So... yeah. I think having furry characters is completely fine, but I also prefer stories that explore human/animal connections, discrimination, sexism, identity, and other human issues. Again, this is a personal preference, and I can still really enjoy stories that don't explore those themes if they're written well ^_^

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*face-palms* That was supposed to be in reply to Rakuen Growlithe's post #3. This is what happens when you have too many tabs open...

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Maybe the comments are playing up. One of mine isn't in the right place and I'm pretty sure I had it positioned correctly. Maybe you did too and it got moved.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 1.7 (6 votes)

I'd rather not "discover what makes me human," thanks.

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