Review: 'Inhuman Acts: A Collection of Noir' edited by Ocean Tigrox
Inhuman Acts: A Collection of Noir is tied together with a framing sequence as Stanley Rivets, private investigator, reviews 13 case files given to him by a mysterious figure.
It's my least favorite narrative in the book as many of these all new stories simply take place on incompatible worlds. Stanley (or his host) is, I imagine, giving the introduction to each story. The introductions are done well enough, but they aren't exactly in the flavor of (nor consistent with) the foreword.
That's OK. You're not really paying for the foreword, nor the introductions. These stories of anthropomorphic noir all stand alone well enough. Some stories are weak in their presentation of the anthropomorphic aspect of the story-telling; by that I mean these stories could too easily be about humans. This doesn't bother some furries.
The best of the collection mix the science fiction, the fantastic, and the crushing atmosphere of dark or darkening worlds to create Ocean Tigrox's vision of furry noir.
Disclaimer: I have a story in this collection.
'Muskrat Blues' by Ianus Wolf
This was a smashing good story set in a story-verse where predator and prey still divides the species on some basic levels, but not on all levels. I like the premise and nod to racial stereotypes. The solution of the mystery and justice achieved is believable but ... because it's the first story set in a noir book that (at least for me) evokes the the mid-20th century, I'm a little iffy on the technology of the era we're in. Something for me to research when I get a moment.
Also, I loved the mudbath. I imagine it would retain heat better than water and probably feel really good on that bum leg. Great idea bringing that into the universe and making it a plot point. I'd like that for my aching bones. I wish I'd thought of it.
I may steal it. I like pigs.
'Fixer' by Watts Martin
A fixer story with lesbians and bisexuals. I love it. It must be very hard to be a "cleaner" when everybody sheds like mad, so no wonder the protagonist is ready to retire. The story and mystery were decent but I just didn't get what the protagonist's special talents were, exactly.
This was an expensive job, I would think. She might have to put off that retirement for awhile.
'Danger in the Lumo-Bay' by Mary E. Lowd
Hey, I love Star Trek. Picard does have a taste for noir, as we fans know.
This doesn't seem to be a parody of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but there's more than a bit of a homage to the crew of the Enterprise D, so I'm torn.
If you apply the rule of thumb that good furry stories should be best told as a furry story (in another words, turning all the characters human should change more than a few descriptions) then this furry trek story fails that test.
The mystery within the mystery is quite nice; a locked room mystery I might have enjoyed more without it being hidden within an enigma and wrapped in a furry riddle.
On the other hoof, faux fur fan fiction is a whole genre within furry fandom that perhaps I should not simply dismiss. Looking at it that way, this Lumo-Bay adventure hits all the points with all the winks and nods in the right places while being told well by a lovely crafts-person.
I've chosen to answer this conflict with the statement that the chief engineer is trying to kill the command staff because that's the only way a pussy like him can achieve command of a starship.
Surprisingly, this theory also works well with a few of the ST:TNG episodes also.
'River City Nights' by Tana Simensis
As a former cab driver, this story holds a special spot for me. I know how "Dick" feels being held hostage by a fare, trying to find the degree of conversation they want and felt comfortable with. I thought that was nicely portrayed.
The queue at the reporting desk, that was also a pleasant surprise. In the movies, the hero is almost always running in and getting to the desk sergeant right off. Not only was this scene a nice change, it is probably more realistic (especially in the pre-social app age) and it was put to good plot use by allowing the detective to hook up with Dick.
'Every Breath Closer' by Slip Wolf
The furriness is well done here and I did not see the end coming. I can't even complain about the Mighty Mouse reference because it's so obviously a different, bigger Mighty Mouse he's referring to. Can't be the cartoon I'm thinking of.
I liked the taxidermy show, I really did.
I might steal this, too.
'Ghosts' by Solus Lupus
This felt very cyberpunk, to me. Yet, at the same time, I got a Cold War vibe (although its not a Cold War era piece, clearly). It was properly dark and noir to be sure. It was less than satisfying, to me, for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing.
I suspect it's the ghosts from the title. Without mentioning spoilers, I think I would have liked to have seen a certain ghost a little earlier. To see that ghost "alive," as it were. Maybe a little misdirection.
Just my opinion. The description of the cowering wolf was certainly worth the price of admission.
'A Blacker Dog' by Huskyteer
I did not know that there was a "Black Dog" mythos. Now that I know, I'm going to have to steal a little bit of this for a later Brooklyn Blackie story.
This was a nice fantasy tale and a wonderful story of what happens when we let ourselves see the dark side of the best things in our life, the things we've chosen not to think about. Ever.
Noir stories often revolve around the way we chose to use our gifts. Sometimes it's talent, sometimes it's money, sometimes it is opportunity. In this case, Jon Mazza's gift is supernatural and has its limits. His situation is not bleak, but neither is it a smashing success. He's a real person ... who just happens to have a talking, invisible dog.
But then everyone has one of those.
The underlying investigation is not filled with back alley threats, but complications of trust and facing fear. It's rare when that trust and fear is the same target (well, noir is full of betrayal where you come to fear or hate what you once trusted ... Huskyteer didn't bring us that. This was a subtle twist beyond that, I think).
Without spoilers, the end is depressing. Perfect.
'Crimson on Copper' by Tony Greyfox
This is dieselpunk (I think? It's my first one. I think I like this sort of thing. Someone let me know if I'm right or wrong. I don't get out much.).
Detective Faraday is a hyena with the unwanted nickname of Smiley. The murder suspect is not a hyena and is, in fact, a queer little copper robot with no registered owner. The murder victims are numerous. There was enough foreshadowing to hint at the how and not enough to hint at the mastermind behind it all.
It was nicely done, although the Furriness only adds a flavor to the text but not the plot. I found myself not minding too much. Possibly, some days it bothers me more than others. Possibly, it was that good.
'Vermin's Vice' by T.S. McNally
Rats and mice living in a town divided. The furriness used as an allegory to race and class distinction to good effect, if not much depth. Dark times and weariness, wariness and worry. Split point of view was a little confusing at first but then it's been a tough week for me. I appreciated it at the end.
Cynical, but noir can be like that.
'Scorned' by K.C. Alpinus
This was very much in the mold of the classic hard-boiled PI story you find in noir; especially the movies on late night TV. I liked it very much, reminding me of the longer stories I'd sometimes get in Ellery Queen Magazine way back when.
I had a little trouble keeping Frank and Preston apart in my head in some scenes, but I read this in two or three sittings, so there's that. Furriness added to the flavor-text and depth of the investigation, not the solution so much, but that's OK.
I think I might have wanted full disclosure about Maltese's relationship with Sapphire a little earlier. Not just because I love seeing lesbians represented, but it seemed a little too convenient when the signature perfume scent was detected and she knew whose it was at the time.
Good classic story without being derivative. Thanks for that.
'Bullet Tooth Claw' by Marshall L. Moseley
I have always loved the "Uplift Universe" by David Brin.
This wasn't that universe and the uplift here is a different thing. The virus was as good an explanation for a furry version of our world as any, and produces a slightly different earth-world, so big kudos for world-building, even if we don't get to explore it here much. Reminds me of early San Francisco, I think, if San Francisco had been built on top of a dead and dying San Francisco ... new in ways, yet old enough that corruption has set in.
A society sophisticated enough to strike a balance with various elements and needs as is practical. A society primitive enough that a man (or dog) can take the law into his own hands when he needs to.
In this, the element of noir seems best brought out.
The whiskey, the guns, the failed police dog are familiar elements.
The plot's quite satisfactory, yet I'm dubious of the usefulness of the McGuffin to the villain because I'm uncertain of the age of it. No spoilers.
I found the ending scene to be mournful, soulful, and left me teary eyed.
'Guardian Angels' by Nicholas Hardin
I was struck pleasantly by the violence. It reminded me of Dark City; but in a less complicated way. It reminded me of Supernatural, but in a more serious way. In short, it's a wonderfully visual story. I don't remember a single line or piece of dialogue other than "It's what we do," but then it's a visual story without apology. Next to the final scene in "Bullet Tooth Claw", it has possibly the most images that will stay with me from the book.
If things fell apart slower, if the tale was longer, some of the dialogue might have come out more naturally. It's not a think-piece, but it could have been since these character flirt with the metaphysics of good versus evil.
This could have been a movie with humans, it would not have lost the visual impact, plotting, or metaphysics. Again, as mentioned when I spoke of Mary's Star Trek nod, I really do prefer to see the animals skins as something more than the characters have dressed up in. Here the angels have enhanced senses because they are angels.
'Brooklyn Blackie and the Unappetizing Menu' by Bill Kieffer
OK, this is my story, and I can't very well review it. I would like to once again publicly thank Ocean Tigrox for liking my story enough to greenlight it even though it was more than twice too long a story and, of course, for his help and guidance in bullying what I had into a smaller and better story. Epic efforts all across the board.
So, instead of reviewing it, I'm going to tell you a secret about this story that you will only read here on Flayrah:
There are 100 sentient species on Aesop's Planet, the Earth that Brooklyn Blackie exists on. These species are all capitalized. There are dogs and Dogs, cats and Cats, and so forth. Horses, goats, deer, are just animals; most hooved animals didn't evolve into sentient creatures. The reasoning, for those who believe in evolution on Aesop's Planet, is that the fingers aren't freed up to evolve. The meta-reason is that I wanted to avoid giving myself a Mary Sue. I'm a horse. I'd be tempted.
I haven't written out what species are here. I'll eventually have to decide. I know that elephants, crocodiles, and rats have not evolved. I know that Rhinos, Alligators, and Mice have. Neither bugs nor fish have evolved.