Review: 'ROAR Volume 6: Scoundrels' edited by Mary E. Lowd
Mary E. Lowd takes over the editing helm of the ROAR series from Bad Dog Books, taking on the theme of "Scoundrels" for this year. The 28 stories in ROAR volume 6 explore scoundrels from the light-hearted to the most dire.
Ms. Lowd went out of her way to look for writers who hadn't written for the furry fandom before and quite successfully brought back gold (along with fan favorites like Kyell Gold).
By the way, the table of contents is slightly off. There's a story out of order and the page numbers get a bit off. Considering the wayward story is about a dog being chased by his future father in law, you might say that he's trying to do this.
FurPlanet Productions, July, 2015, trade paperback $19.95 (294 pgs.). Edited by Mary E. Lowd.
"Squonk the Dragon" by Pete Butler
What a cute way to start a general audience collection! The scoundrel of the piece is a wizard that just wants an acceptable amount of isolation from humanity. The middle of a forest seems like the perfect answer.
And then there's the hero of the piece, a still growing dragon that compares favorably to Baby Huey: Squonk.
The story has plenty of asides and winks, perfect for a children's bed time story or for the Furry fan to relax with in front of a fire. Pairs well with cheese and fermented apples.
"Into the Wind" by Rechan
This story reminded me very strongly of an Asian folk tale with the hero winning by wit and trickery. Yet, the Serpent of the Air is no villain. He keeps to the challenge limits. I kinda think this is a big deal, if only to separate it from a more Western tale.
Did the character need to be furry? Not exactly. The story would have worked well with humans alone, but that's not important with a tale that reads allegorically. Also, furry allows the tale to take place in a geographically anonymous area. The reader can decide if this is a folk tale with Japanese or the American West or ancient Gaulic influences. Or perhaps a totally different world. They can take it on face value, a Stoat after power and knowledge.
"Brush and Sniff" by mwalimu
This takes place in a nicely fleshed out primitive world with tribes and rites of passage that feels whole and well thought out. And there are two worlds here, overlapping, separated by a gap of languages, instincts, technology and size.
Very nice use of furry here, and while maybe the wolves could have been human plot-wise, the tale would have lost more than just the flavor of the tribe. Itchit would not have been able to learn how to read a wolf's emotion as easily. A set of expressive ears and a tail surely helped.
mwalimu's writing is smooth and sure, like perfectly churned ice cream. And like the best desserts, it seems very sweet, but there are other flavors adding dimension and richness.
This story was the perfect serving size, leaving me wanting more.
"Faithful" by Marshall L. Moseley
This is the second "Uplift Universe" story I've read by Marshall L. Moseley and I feel compelled once again to mention that this is a different and distinct universe from David Brin's "Uplift". The first Moseley "Uplift" story I read was in Inhuman Acts, and it left me a little teary eyed.
This tale was a more straight-forward action piece with a strong background in the events that built this world and how it got to this point. This story didn't leave me in tears, but it did make me feel a little smug. Humans!
A very nice, polished read where the furriness isn't a nice bonus but an important plot-point to the story and worldview.
"Gerbil 07" by Huskyteer
How good a writer is Huskyteer?
At the risk of spoilers, she takes a gender fluid rodent that witnesses two men having sex in the restroom and is later forced to bite a third man in the ass ... and keeps it all G-Rated.
How does she do that? This is the funniest thing (and the cutest) that I've read all year.
"CSI: Transylvania" by Kevin M. Glover
The hero of CSI:T, Granger, compares favorably with Jack Spatt, the detective from "Nursery Crimes". Yet, Granger isn't dealing with PDRs (Person of Dubious Reality) and from page one, I expected him to be insane.
But nope, just his universe as it goes crashing off the rails full Thurber.
"Hard Scratching In Kittytown" by Blake Hutchins
Shadowpaws Jones is really something. I am surprised that I didn't see him in Inhuman Acts, but then it's hard to herd cats.
This is the first time I've come across a Kittytown story. I like that the cats have barely gained any mass (relative to other change in anthro universe stories). In a time when my fellow Americans are spewing a lot of hate talk about different races and religions, and parts of this country are actively trying to limits the rights of different sexual orientations, its hard to imagine these cute little changed cats could get their freedoms and rights so soon, a few years after becoming sentient critters.
Well, enough social commentary.
The story is well crafted and paced nicely. My only complaint would be to exposition of the solution. Our victim gets no lines and there were more than a few facts in Shadowpaw's summation that could have come from her, but no spoilers.
"Hold the Moon" by Eric M. Witchey
Celeste is a very old cat and she has a power; a responsibility.
It's a simple passing of the torch story but I found it moving and sweet. I don't think I've seen this type of moon magic before, but credit to Mr. Witchey for creating an new elemental and divining a cat's relationship with it.
The cats in this story live very much as cats, the anthropomorphism is mental and spiritual, in the way of Midnight Louie or Watership Down. The mainstream furry you might say, or the type that goes back to Aesop.
"Ernest" by Lyn McConchie
This is classic story-telling at its best, neither over-sentimental nor silly. The star of the story is the most "animal" animal in the collection so far, despite his screaming in full sentences here and there. The balance woven in here is subtle and impressive.
This story also had the most "human" humans in here. Truth be told, I think this is the best story in ROAR 6. It's certainly my favorite story in ROAR 6 without horses in the lead role. McConchie is a great find: I hope she writes more furry tales.
"Two Crows, Two Wires, and the Moon" by Andrew S. Taylor
You may think you see the end coming, and you might be right, but ending is very satisfying all the same. I honestly just want to type a sound effect and then three lines of me giggling, but that would be a spoiler and it wasn't that funny.
Just very satisfying.
Especially if you are an old crow.
"Ivan and the Black Riders" by Kris Schnee
This story of a man that allows himself to be transformed into a wolfman in order to be young and free of pain again might possibly be his best.
My only negative here is that the story takes place in Russia or another in the Soviet block, and while the story is peppered with Russian/Georgian phrases and words, I don't feel much Russian here. Yes, it's a bit like complaining the wine was properly chilled but served in the wrong glass, but that's my take on it.
The plot and characters, however, I stress, are seasoned nicely and the conflict between right and wrong, good and bad, and exactly how to build a better world are a lot richer than you get in most short stories.
"At What Cost" by Jeeves the Roo
This a well told tale full of vivid descriptions, and I feel I can't say much without spoiling the story. It is the cover tale and more than worthy of the honor.
The only flaw, if you are willing to call such a thing a flaw, is that this did not have to be a furry story. It adds nothing to the story, except slightly different flavor text. It could have happened in a dark version of England's past, it could have happened on Kyrnn, or Game of Thrones, any place with kings and honor, without changing a plot point or character motivation.
Others may also find the end less than satisfying. This is the price of honor and commitment, so, without spoilers, it is hard to imagine it ending any other way.
"A City With No Children" by James Stegall
Well, this is pleasantly dark and a reminder for me that a PG-13 rating doesn't mean it's all sunshine and bunny trails. It is truly a noir science fiction piece that raises the bar for all the dark pieces that come after it ... and I'm not just limiting that to ROAR 6.
Every sentence of description and dialogue buys a bit more darkness with a knowing frugality, weighing us down, so that even after the mystery is solved, the villains revealed, and the hero goes home, what should be a happy scene becomes worrisome instead.
I did not follow the solution of the mystery as well as I might have, but I didn't have to. It was easy to let Hanlin march forward. Anthropomorphism was used well here and gave the world a darker depth to hang its shadows on.
"Perch" by Sarah Doebereiner
From a story-verse with no children, we land in a universe were hybrid children are totally possible. This isn't rainbows and bunny trails here either, but Matthew is a bright, colorful character and he's in love. Much of the story is sweet.
It's hard to say what happens without spoilers, so lets say that this is a wonderful use of furriness and that a great many animal traits still come through. I liked the descriptions of characters and clothing. I am not so happy with the last few lines because I'm not sure exactly what happened.
This may be more lack of strong tea than a story weakness, but I feel Matthew ends up with two conflicting fates that I can't explore without spoilers.
"The Cat Thief" by Laura "Munchkin" Lewis
A literal translation of "cat burglar", with outright "dogs versus cats" action.
A cute story with swift action and a sweet ending, but I found myself wondering more about the next story with these characters. Will Tabitha and Gunner meet? Will Gunner recognize the dress his daughter's date is wearing?
I wish I knew where to tune into to see what happens next.
"Food, Feuds and Fake Flora" by Ocean Tigrox
By the time I was done with this story, I was seeing it in my head, animated in the style of Archer. It seemed to start out as a morality piece, greedy predator gets his comeuppance and all that. It takes a left turn - not a wrong turn, mind you - and gets silly.
Nothing wrong with silly and I've worked enough cube farms over the years to think the dynamics of Tigrox's story aren't far off at all.
"Puppy Love" by George S. Walker
This was a fine, funny tale with almost cartoon-like violence. It's another transformation tale and that makes me quite happy. My only complaint is that John gets a kiss at the end. Maybe it's just the women I dated, but I think there would have been more of letting John twist in the wind at the end.
Still, it's a fine enough ending and this isn't real life. It made me smile and be happy.
"I Hold My Father's Paws" by David D. Levine
Spoiler: I, too, have daddy issues.
Jason and his father have some issues to work out. The least of which is his father's transformation into a dog, which is being done is stages. I have experience with much of these issues and I really liked how they were handled. And, of course, I am happy to see another transformation story in this furry collection.
If this was a free sample of the first chapter, I would buy the book on my next payday.
The emotional journey is very realistic here and I would like to see Jason dealing with what is (on one level) the ghost of his father as he resumes his normal life.
Once again, kudos to Mary K. Lowd for going far afield to find the stories that would speak to us furries and give us satisfying stories that ofttimes leave us wanting more.
"0mega" by Garrett Marco
The furriness is used in the virtual world here, which is fine. Its where most of the action is taking place and it's a world that's evolving as people learn to master it. W0lf is on the cusp of a major transformation when he decides to investigate the appearance of what may be a new level of awareness. Or a ghost in the machine.
I was able to ride along with W0lf without getting lost in the cybernoir and I didn't see the end coming. I liked the tale, but I am not sure how much. When I am done with the collection, I should know.
"Skinned" by Kyell Gold
Well, this is certainly a transformation story of a different color. It was funny and amusing, with the fur quotient exactly where it should be, and a heroic troll. I feel like it could be a set-up for a greater story, and in retrospect, this story shares a slightly similar device to Slip Wolf's story in this same collection.
No spoilers, so you will have to figure it out yourself.
"Relics, Rabbits, and Tuscan Reds" by Slip Wolf
Updike seems what women want from a man: spontaneous, yet with a lot of planning behind it. Nancy wants him, and she wants redemption, as well ... which is something of a surprise to her. It all makes for a great plot that stops short of being overly complicated.
Updike is a rabbit and the narrator is a ferret. Neither one really has to be. Yes, it does add a little spice to the fight scene and it could add spice to a sex scene (which we don't have), but the plot doesn't care and neither do the players, really. Updike might be missing a few "tells" when Nancy talks, but you don't know. Updike seems pretty aware of a lot of things, almost supernaturally so.
There's a scene near the end of story with Sinjun and Nancy where I expect to look up and see Updike nodding knowingly, and with satisfaction from a window as he listens in. That would have been too pat, perhaps, but Slip Wolf has done a good job dressing the set.
The only real flaw is that Sinjun is a wolf at the top of one page and a coyote by the bottom. It's just a copy-edit flaw. It was jarring at the moment, of course, but does roll me back to the point that these characters could have been any species. Slip Wolf's work is so nicely crafted that I think that's a bit more world-building is the only dimension he could add to his furry work.
"Shadows of Horses" by Phil Geusz
As a horse, myself, I was so looking forward to this story when I saw it in the table of contents. Phil Geusz is one of my top ten favorite writers from the Internet. I first met him in the transformation community and "Metamor Keep". He helped shape how I see furry fandom. I am, admittedly, biased and predisposed to like his stuff, even if his stuff tends to be clean. I can do no better than to advise you to visit the "Metamor Keep" story archives and check out his work. Look up Charles Matthias's work, too, while you are at it. Go ahead, I'll wait.
I read this story years ago in earlier draft revisions. I loved it then and I love it now, although I can see few changes. What makes it so wonderful, is that Scott and the Magician would have been plain old stock characters in transformation porn in a another writer's paws. Scott, emotionally and terminally immature, is - dare I say it? - fluffed out and built with strength and integrity. In countless other stories with a similar transformation plot, this would be a story of a victim's suicide of sorts. Phil strips away the transformation cliches and builds a whole real person here by folding in the past and then folding it again, each layer different and enriching.
Scott's parents are also deep and three dimensional, where in another story, their dissatisfaction would be a mere mention; a mere reason on the transformation highway.
The Mage and his rabbit are characters, too. Drunk he may be, but there are hidden depths. Plus, he's casually bisexual and while that's not a plot point, I love that its there.
The child's drawing of a smiling horse and the moon shadows of prancing horses on a nursery wall, these images are adroit and poetic. I've walked hundreds of miles with the images of this story prancing thru my head, and while it's one of the least furry story in this collection, it is one of my favorites.
"Coyote's Voice" by Altivo Overo
Aesop never met a coyote, but if he had, he might have written this story.
There are all sorts of fables and this seems to fit in nicely in a New Agey but North American way. I found it sweet and coyotes everywhere should love it.
"Prof Fox" by Mark Patrick Lynch
There's something about this that reminds me of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, only thrown into a serious high gear. Started sweet, went dark ... how very vulpine of Danny Foxx. Certainly not your average furry tale.
Interesting. Nested, instead of framed. I love it.
I wonderfully simple tale folded into richness. Another might call it a gimmick, but I think it elevates the story.
"Unexpected Bouquets" by Ellen Saunders
I liked the dungeon crawl portion of this, cynical and disgusting. Then things got a little silly and I had to go back in with a white board and map it out. I didn't dislike how the story went, I just didn't fully understand it. There were just little pieces here that jammed me up from time to time, so even on the reread I felt the flow of the story snapping off.
Maybe I just don't get Quarnates ...
"Clearance Papers" by Fred Patten
I had a bit of a confusion as the otters seemed to arrive at the party twice, once on page 368 and then again on page 369, but I think now it was more a matter of a missing story break to suggest that we were switching points of view.
Still, I quite enjoyed the tale, the humor spread with a consistent eye. I did think the confession came a bit too easily (the henchman's panic could have been played for more yucks) but the pacing was perfect in my opinion. More proof that a good furry tale needn't be stuffed to the gills with fuzzy creatures.
"Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk" by Ken Scholes
Oh, Pooh ... this was a very good salute to A. A. Milne's lovable plush bear. Very sweet, despite the situation. And I am envious because I don't think I could really pull off anything this sweet without undoing it with darkness. The author injects a little darkness and makes things sweeter still.
Still a furry tale even if Edward Bear is a robot and not a real bear. Pooh was hardly a real bear, either.