Review: 'Hot Dish' [vol. 1, edited by Alopex]
‘Hotdish’ is another term for casserole – a collection of seemingly disparate ingredients held together by a hot, gooey sauce. It creates a hearty portion of food for those on a relatively modest budget.
Hot Dish is a collection of stories about the romantic and erotic relationships between characters of disparate species and sexual orientations. It is a hearty portion of quality fiction which was too long to fit into our yearly adult anthology, Heat.
Hot, gooey sauce not included. (back cover blurb)
Hot Dish is an anthology intended for an adult audience only and contains some explicit sexual scenes of various sexual orientations. It is not for sale to persons under the age of 18. (publisher’s advisory)
Hot Dish, which includes a number “1” on the spine so more volumes are planned, consists of nine romantic Furry novelettes, about forty pages each, by pseudonymous authors.
(Really, I respect Furry pseudonyms, but when an entire book is filled with stories by Huskyteer, Lady Chastity Chatterley, Dark End, and the like, it makes it look like everyone concerned has something to hide.)
“Seducing the Sky” by Kandrel is a space opera. The tiger Taj (“Taj pulled himself to his full height. ‘I am Taj-Rol-Mani of the Hin generation.’ It had been a long time since he'd the chance to use his full name.” –p. 10), a space warrior, has been mentally connected to his AI partner and friend Raptor for as long as he can remember. When his one-man fighter ship crashes on an unknown planet and his connection to Raptor is lost, Taj must develop a new relationship with the otterlike Rock tribe, particularly the female Sky, who need a warrior. This is a traditional “spaceman is marooned on a primitive planet and joins its tribal natives” tale.
In “Mirror, Signal, Manouvre” by Huskyteer, a British trio of good friends is shaken when gay wolf Max is asked by his best friend, the clouded leopardess Jess, to father a child with the wolfess Cate so Cate and Jess, a lesbian couple, can have a child. Max agrees out of friendship with Jess even though he is terrified by the dominant Cate. Artificial insemination – Cate doesn’t want bachelor Max to have anything to do with the baby – no problems. But as the baby develops, Max becomes obsessed with it being HIS CHILD.
I asked Jess if Cate had suffered from morning sickness—I thought I might be less afraid of her if I could picture her with her head down the loo—but apparently she was cruising through her pregnancy the way she cut through commuter traffic on her motorbike. No cravings, even—when the three of us met for meals she tucked in to saintly salads, or oily fish for a brainy baby. I was the one who found myself getting up one midnight and eating a can of sardines straight from the tin.
With apricot jam.
Towards the bottom of the can I saw fit to ask myself what the hell I was doing. I’d heard of men getting cravings in sympathy with a pregnant partner, but I’d always dismissed it as a pathetic cry for attention. Besides, I wasn’t The Father. I was the sperm donor, and I wasn’t allowed to start having paternal feelings. Or pregnancy cravings.
I was just hungry, that’s all, and I’d always liked sweet-and-sour. Why was I hungry? Because I’d been lying in bed, not sleeping, thinking about the baby. (pgs. 65-66)
Max has met and bonded with basset hound Simon, and they could be a family for MAX’S CUB, and – it’s a domestic mess, with all four gay adults determined to be civilized about it. A heart-melting comedy rather than a farce. You’ll sympathize with everyone.
In “The Evening’s Festivities” by Faora Meridian, dapper coyote Nelin Reprobas is really a jewel thief who has wangled an invitation to wolf Lord Litanno Consalius’ exclusive ball to search the house for the fabled Sword of Merzaa the Fifteenth. Even though he is confident of his skill, he is dazzled by the unbelievable good luck of finding that Lord Litanno has entrusted the Sword to his incredibly beautiful daughter Lady Lucia, who is so smitten by him that she takes him into her bedroom to give him a private showing:
Their lips met anew as the surprisingly strong wolfess pushed at Nelin’s body, and their lips parted once more as the coyote found himself bent back at the knees over the edge of her bed. He allowed himself to tumble back as he gripped at Lucia’s sides, and the coyote grinned up at her as she yipped and giggled. Her cheek fell against his thigh as her fingertips played up and down his legs, and Nelin’s ears tipped back slightly to hide their pink tinge as she began to remove the cloth between her paws and his fur. ‘My dear Lady Consalius, if you are going where I believe you are to be going—’ (p. 93)
But it’s not the showing that he expects, nor is the evening over after he steals the Sword. Complications ensue.
“The Moment at Eternity” by Dark End is a bit confusing as scenes jump back and forth from four years before “the Event” to six months after it, but they soon clarify into a powerful story. The Event is the sinking of a cruise ship touring the beautiful but harsh Alaskan coast. There are only two survivors; Callie, a human bartender, and Aion, “a meta, a genetically-engineered pseudo-human with the outer appearance of a dog—a black Labrador, in this case. Although metas could be used for dangerous jobs or as soldiers, if this one had been on the ship with her, then he almost certainly worked as a prostitute and sex slave.” (p. 117)
Callie and Aion have to find civilization together. This shouldn’t be too hard; Alaska is settled enough that there should be a small town within a week or two’s trek away. But Callie has no survival skills, and as for Aion:
She saw the meta removing his own jacket and holding it open for her. Even though he was only a few feet away, it was a struggle to reach him—unused muscles screamed at her as they were forced back into motion, and each slick stone was a potential landmine under her unsteady legs. But she made it without further injury and pulled the jacket around herself even as the meta pulled her body in close against his fur. ‘Thanks,’ she mumbled, glad for any amount of comfort.
For a while they did nothing but rest, recuperating their strength.
Callie noticed the meta's hand, the one he had been clenching and unclenching before. It shook, shivering in the wind. ‘You're cold,’ she said. ‘You should take your jacket back.’
‘No. I'm plenty warm. With my fur, I could be naked and comfortable here.’
‘But you're shivering.’
The dog-faced meta looked to his hand and again clenched and unclenched it. ‘I'm warm. I just can't feel the tips of my fingers anymore.’
‘Frostbite?’ she asked, although it didn't seem possible if he was as warm as he said.
‘No.’ And then he added, as if to clarify, ‘I'm dying.’ (pgs. 118-119)
Metas are built to “wear out” after three years. Aion knew that he was due to start dying soon; the stress of the crash may have begun the process. His sole worry is that he may die before he can bring Callie back to civilization; or become so physically or mentally infirm that he will become an additional burden to her. Callie is deeply impressed by his devotion to her at a time when he could just let everything go. Much of the story is set after the Event, devoted to Callie’s attempt to fulfill Aion’s last wishes despite her human friends’ lack of understanding. A very quiet tearjerker.
“A Monster and a Gentleman” by Lady Chastity Chatterley is a slight but significant variant of the Beauty and the Beast theme. This fantasy is the only faux European fairy tale in Hot Dish. What if the Beast was not isolated but was an accepted although reviled member of society?
Queen Muriel has two babies; Prince Domongart, who grows up to be handsome and perfect of body, and Prince Fergus who, because of a curse, “had the head and hindquarters of a pig, and the tail and scaly back of a lizard. Worst of all, it was covered in green fuzz that resembled the down of a chick.” (p. 157) A palace servant abandons him in an enchanted forest until he is rediscovered when he is 21. Since he is intelligent and well-mannered, and his royal blood cannot be denied, he is reluctantly taken to the castle to assume his rightful place at the royal court.
Everyone ignores and shuns Prince Fergus as much as possible except Lady Isolte, a noblewoman who has been promised to Prince Domongart for political reasons. Since she is pretty but hardly the most beautiful in the land, he palms her off on Fergus. Forced into Fergus’ company, she comes to realize that he has all of a prince’s ideal qualities except physical handsomeness – but can anyone accept such extreme ugliness just because of his genuine love for her?
The following night when he came to Isolte, she sat waiting on the edge of her bed. She looked even more nervous than the previous night. She was pale, beads of sweat dotted her forehead, and her eyes were red and puffy. Fergus seated himself beside her and took her hands in his. ‘Are you ill, Isolte?’
She shook her head. ‘Nay, not ill. I must do something that Valdorian ladies are not wont to do as it is considered most unheard of…’
Fergus glanced at the sword where it leaned against the wall on the other side of the room. She didn’t intend to slay him. At least, not at the moment.
‘I must tell you what I fear and hope you are willing to listen.’ She held her breath as if afraid of how he might react to this.
Fergus smiled gently, or what he hoped was gently. He bowed his head. ‘Please, tell me what weighs on your heart.’
She told him all the fears that ailed her: that he would accidentally eat her or crush her—or behead her if she didn’t give him an heir. (p. 183)
The closer that she comes to accepting Fergus, which means that Domongart’s practical joke has failed, the more the crown prince’s disdain for his brother turns to jealousy and hatred …
This review is running too long. The remaining stories are “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Kandrel again, back-cover-blurbed as, “A young mink’s computer-aided dreams go awry, leading to revelations about his waking reality”; “A Secret Place” by Dwale, “A stallion learns about love and finds a deeper purpose in life while studying the arcane language of flowers”; “Dance With Me” by Tack Otter, “An odd couple of canine and crow battle tradition and taboo amidst the chaos of a talent competition”; and “What Would You Do If I’m Not What I’m Supposed To Be?’ by Arcane Reno, “An African wild dog finds he can no longer escape reality when his best online friend decides to move to town.
Nine stories. Seven of them are arguably funny-animal stories in which the anthro-animal characters could have just as easily be human, and only two in which the anthro-status is meaningful. But all are well-written. If you can put up with mild lovemaking (by modern standards) to hot ‘n heavy XXX gay scenes, put Hot Dish volume 1 on your definitely-to-be-read list.
See also: Video review by Isiah Jacobs