Review: 'Five Fortunes'
Five Fortunes, edited by Fred Patten (FurPlanet), is a collection of five novellas from some of the best writers who write for general audiences in the Furry Fandom. The five stories provided in this anthology are as follows:
- Chosen People by Phil Geusz
- Huntress by Renee Carter Hall
- Going Concerns by Watts Martin
- When a Cat Loves a Dog by Mary E. Lowd
- Piece of Mind by Bernard Doove
I am not sure how well the the term "fortune" applies to the five works, so on that level the collection doesn't feel as if it is all that well tied together as a theme. However, with five long works here it's not too problematic to have them each be their own thing. It's not like there's a lot of "destiny" fans out there. Each story approaches the nugget of self-determination from a different angle: from being mindful of doing the right thing (Geusz), to the finding one's self (Hall), to finding a way to survive the week (Martin) or the condition of one's life overall(Doove).
It's a furry sampler of novel sized works. This size is perfect for people who don't always like short stories because the story's over just as they get to know a character, but also don't wish to invest in story cover to cover. If, somehow, you don't know these writers or their universes, then this is a good place to start learning.
"Chosen People" by Phil Guesz
This is the story that inspired the cover art for this collection.
I've had the advantage of enjoying Geusz's stories for far longer than most of the Furry Fandom. As part of the TSA-Talk, he was one of the voices that helped shaped my own writing voice through example and conversation. His heroes have an an honesty and vulnerability that I have never been able to match. His worlds reflect the diversity of morality and pragmatism of humanity, and the Lapist story-verse is no exception.
Sheriff Juniper Rabbit is in many ways a typical Geusz hero. Transformed and a minority by choice, they have a specific set of skills. Our new sheriff has a unique point of view of both the Average Joe and the Privileged classes. Unlike the more moneyed Lapists, Juniper understands that just choosing to become a Rabbit, doesn't make you a better person. Like most of Geusz's heroes, Juniper inspires by example and most of his success isn't just in winning against impossible odds, but in stepping up and being the "better man" (rabbit?) time and time again.
Juniper differs from the author's other Transformed heroes in that his transformation is by choice, without coercion or being born into this form. Not that it is without sacrifice, of course, but these changes seem worth it to our hero.
The story's nice and flies by in Geusz's light and tight style. The mystery of the arsonist is wrapped up rather too quickly and much of it off camera, but this is less a crime story than a story exploring the Haves' willingness to dehumanize the Have-Nots. Overlooking the cause of conflicts is much too easy, its always been much too easy.
"Huntress" by Renee Carter Hall
This is a very nice and sweeping tale set in an alternate Africa with anthropomorphic lions villages and somewhat nomadic hunters. This intelligently combines the human and realistic dynamics of human villages with the hunting schemes of lions in the natural world. In Huntress, all the big game hunters are females with their own way of life and traditions. Yet, they are also tied to the villages for trade and recruiting.
This is a multi-layered coming of age story as Leya grows into an adult, trying to find her place in the world. Yet, at no time is she portrayed as an outright outcast, a typically overplayed staple of the genre. She finds her place several times in the course of the story, and often enjoys the sensation of fitting in.
Over the years, it's not that she outgrows her place in the world so much as it becomes time to take another role.
Leya's story was very refreshing in this way. Leya's not a super-skilled Huntress and Leya is not rejected at every step. Leya grows and does not create a single enemy along the way. Everyone is supportive; but they also have their own emotional needs. In this way, it reminds me of the best chick-lit novels: growing and exploring both your skills and emotional landscape. However, fear not, there's still plenty of physical action to this story it's not all about the conflicts in Leya's head.
"Going Concerns" by Watts Martin
If I recall correctly, this is the second story I've read set in this universe. The first was Indigo Rain. I quite enjoyed both works even if I think the humans and the furred people get along just a bit too well.
The sparsity of commas was my only complaint I had in Indigo Rain. With Fred running the edits here, I found no complaints with the comma placement and grammar here.
The dialogue might have been way too witty for its own good, but it was played off as a character flaw with the feline detective. To my old eyes, I think the proper placement of "old school" pauses that a comma brings really made the dialogue pop. The plot was a shade tighter and more robust than I recall of Indigo Rain.
I hope I can find more stories with Swift and Scava in them.
"When a Cat loves a Dog" by Mary Lowd
We return to the universe of Otters In Space and join our lead characters, Lashonda (a cat) and Topher (a dog) getting married in a rare mixed-species ceremony. It is a nice enough ceremony, marred only by the fact that Topher's mother believes that this is a publicity stunt. Topher's a comedian in the early stages of his career and it's not a wholly unreasonable possibility. The dog is known for his cat jokes; jokes the uplifted felines tend to understand are actually mocking the dogs who are largely in charge of the human-free world. But the romance there is in fact a reality.
At first, both claim that they aren't interested in children -- cats and dogs cannot produce offspring in this universe -- but when Lashanda sees Topher playing with children in the park, the flood gates open. At first, she wants a litter for Topher and then herself.
How they follow this new dream is an exploration of love and science that made me smile several times and turn green with envy once or twice.
Lowd's style and execution always fascinate me. She's a superb craftsman and has a deft hand with a light style. I honestly don't know how she explores the life changing issues and challenges that she does while keeping it honest, yet light. There's more than a suggestion of depth here, but it never gets too dark or too common. I keep watching her stuff, hoping to learn her tricks, but I oft-times have to just settle with being entertained and inspired.
"Piece of Mind" by Bernard Doove
I know I've been aware of Chakats and Doove's universe for quite some time. I don't recall the stories readily, but I'm sure that I must have read some of them over the years. I certainly found his pictures on Usenet from my dial-up days. Finding his art on the web today made me feel wonderfully nostalgic.
Reading this story felt like slipping into comfortable old slippers.
In Piece of Mind, I can see that there's a lot of world building and culture here, but sometimes the struts and framework are a little too exposed. A little too on the money, maybe. The craftsmanship needed to build a cohesive universe are obviously here.
How can I not attach myself to our story lead instantly? I've too have had to deal with anxiety, guilt, and the judgement of others. This should be a cinch, but it's not that easy. The author's decision to hide the Caitian's deep secret played well for story needs, but in keeping the reader in the dark about an important aspect of their character, it created distance that I had to overcome.
By the time I was invested in Arrak (who went by three or four names in the story -- that didn't help, either), I had very little energy to start getting to know the Chakat Windy as well. Honestly, she became likable quickly enough and was well used to foil Arrak while mentoring him. Given her role in the ending of the story, I didn't see much of a sniff of the emotions that the conclusion should have been made of.
The end is much too pat, but be that as it may be, the cold cat on the skiing slopes created a few amused and touching moments that let me know that Doove's capable of selling characters to me.
There's an epilogue on the web version of the story. I'm not sure if it fixes my issue of feeling contrived, but it does seem a better and more natural display of intimacy than their earlier confession of love. In a short story, the sudden conclusion of the story might have worked better, but in a longer work, there is room to really explore what was not.
I enjoyed this collection. I must thank Rechan Mole for sending me a copy. Most of the stories are available as very affordable ebooks if the reader thinks they will only like any one of the stories on its own. As I mentioned, Doove's story is even free on the web. The collection is well worth the price of admission; the only thing I didn't like was the anthology's title.