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Mind of a Witness, by Bill Ricardi

Sun 29 Sep 2019 - 12:59
The novella, Mind of a Witness, is an “OthEarth” story, or a tale which is set in an alternate history where magic is quite real and the existence of ogres and werewolves (or lupines) is part and parcel. This particular tale follows the Queen’s Witness, a human named Andy chosen by the Queen to be bonded to her and function as an extension of her will. Of course, enemies are afoot, the Queen has fallen for a Lupine prince, and somebody wants someone dead. Several attacks on Andy and the wolf prince, Gnarl, suggest the target is either the Queen herself, or one of them, and an investigation ensues with Andy and Gnarl at the lead. Mind of a Witness is an engaging story and a fun twist on history that is well researched and full of intriguing characters and concepts. The relationship between Andy and the Queen is unique and original and I enjoyed the exploration of discrimination between the humans and lupines, and between various classes and professions of humans, a great deal. The writing waxes a bit “telling” in places, and the action is bogged down in technical jargon that is likely fascinating for a student of fencing but felt a bit like the author trying too hard to share all his research with the reader. It stalled the flow for me in places as did the times when the characters used modern turns of phrase or spoke in ways that seemed out of period for the timeline chosen. Not only did the dialog wax modern in places, there were times when the choice of verbiage made the characters seem suddenly much younger than they’d been portrayed. Despite these few quibbles, the story really held my interest. I liked the characters and felt good rooting for them, and the detailed research will be a big draw for fans of history, fantasy, and the two working in tandem. The ending, however, came very quickly and without much resolution. The story stops in mid-step and nothing is really resolved or answered for the reader. This gave the novella the feel more like the first installment in a serial than a complete story in its own right, and if the reader wants to know exactly what was going on and what the answers are, they’ll most definitely need to seek out a future sequel.
Categories: News

Kherishdar's Exception, by M.C.A. Hogarth

Thu 19 Sep 2019 - 13:42
Before tackling M. C. A. Hogarth’s Kherishdar’s Exception, the fourth book in the series, potential readers should start with one of the earlier books: The Aphorisms of Kherishdar, The Admonishments of Kherishdar, or Black Blossom. The first two books are more accessible: interrelated collections of short-short stories (500 words or so). Aphorisms comprises various vignettes of Farren—a calligrapher/artist—and his interactions with customers and friends. Admonishments follows Kor, Kherishdar’s “Shame,” a traveling judge of sorts, who’s duty is to ‘correct’ rather than punish various lawbreakers. These corrections are supposed to bring the guilty back into ‘harmony with their ishas,’ (spirit) , but a lot of these corrections seem to involve ropes, whips, gags and public humiliations, so I guess one culture’s correction is another’s punishment.The Kherishdar books feature nominally furry aliens, the Ai-Naidari. Their furriness is what the late Fred Patten would refer to as “window dressing,” i.e., the characters are described as being furry, but they don’t do anything that a human wouldn’t or couldn’t do. They’re basically human-shaped, but a bit taller, a lot thinner, with long necks, cat ears and tails. More interesting than their appearance is their society, which is extremely hierarchical, conformist and xenophobic. It’s a world of polite people, where everyone is nice to each other, citizens are happy with their station in life, and there’s no social discord. They’re ruled by Therukedi, a benevolent, immortal emperor, who oversees a complicated social structure of Regals, Nobles, ministers, public servants and so on. There ‘s little opportunity for personal advancement—if you’re not born a Regal or Noble, you’re stuck. But it’s all good, because the Regals and Nobles take their nobeless oblige VERY seriously, and if they abuse their power they get a visit from Shame.With a few exceptions, the world of the Ai-Naidari ‘s is very low-tech. People either walk or ride ‘beasts.’ The only real SF element are the world gates, ancient structures that allow instant passage to various colony worlds. In both Aphorisms and Admonishments there is talk of (and brief encounters with) ‘aliens,’ called aunera. They’re not described or really interacted with until the novel Black Blossom, where a group of Ai-Naidari have become ‘tainted’ by dealing with aunera, who turn out to be a small colony of humans. It’s unclear if there are any other alien species known on Kherishdar.Kherishdar’s Exception is told in first person by the Ai-Naidari Haraa, and takes up directly after Black Blossom. Formerly a ‘Decoration’ (sort of a Geisha/courtesan that’s owned by a particular house or family) Haraa is now living in a blended household with Kor, Farren and a number of other people. She’s charged by the Emperor, Thirukedi, to learn the human’s language and society. That sounds interesting, but it mostly serves as an author soapbox to expound on the evils of abortion and the hypocrisy of making pets of some animals and eating others. The humans come off as dolts, incapable of (or unwilling to) explain the complex biological, evolutionary and the societal forces that shape human behavior.Most of the direct human interaction is in the first part of the story, and early on it looked like things might get exciting when one of the humans is openly hostile to Haraa due to events that happened in the previous book. But she ends up making friends with him, along with the other humans she gets to know. Later on the narration shifts to Haraa’s interaction with various members of her household, including an unrequited crush on Farren (who views her as a daughter), discussions about relationships (including a gay couple who are romantically involved but don’t have sex) and ongoing conversations with the Emperor Thirukedi about the humans. When another member of the household has a baby, Haraa is so overwhelmed with baby love that she immediately decides to have one too. A male character helpfully obliges with some great sex, despite declaring in a previous volume he didn’t want children. Only in the latter part of the book does anything external happen that throws Haraa’s ordered world into chaos, if only briefly. We find out that the Ai-Naidari are so xenophobic that they’d rather let their people die than accept any help from the human colonists, an attitude that is not really explained, particularly since the first two books had scenes with aliens being out and about (if accompanied) among them.And what of the Exception, the title character? She is the one person among all the Ai-Naidari who has no caste or rank and can comment on society with impunity, which makes her a potentially fascinating character. Unfortunately we see her only a few times, briefly, saying some rude things that upset Haraa. Other than the Exception the most intriguing character is Therukedi, whom Haraa adores so much she’s sent into orgasmic bliss simply by his touch. This volume does answer the question about who and what the Emperor is, and gives some background on the development of their society, so if you’ve wondered about that after reading the previous books then there is some payoff.Would I recommend any of the Kherishdar books? The Aphorisms of Kherishdar and The Admonishments of Kherishdar, yes, if only because their format and brevity keep things moving. The novels are another story (so to speak.). If you’re looking for a dynamic page-turner with action, conflict and suspense, look elsewhere. If you’re interested in a long, meandering tale about relationships, personal introspection and Ai-Naidari cultural customs, you might want to give Black Blossom and Kherishdar’s Exception a try.
Categories: News

Mark of the Conifer, by L.K.D. Jennings

Thu 19 Sep 2019 - 12:54
The path of L.K.D. Jennings’s Mark of the Conifer to publication is almost as epic as the dinosaur saga itself. After an unsuccessful initial Kickstarter campaign in 2016, she retooled it and successfully funded the book in early 2017. Fully illustrated in color, it promised to be a handsome volume. Unfortunately, the printer she picked proved to be less than reliable, and delay followed delay, ultimately ending with her having to sue the printer for breach of contract. A year after the Kickstarter ended the EBook was finally released, with the hardcopy following some months later. Because I was a backer for only the EBook (I was really broke at the time), I have no clue how the final printed version came out, but expect it looked awesome.Readers can be thankful that the author was so persistent in bringing this book out, because it is a first-rate tale. If Baker’s Raptor Red set the bar for naturalistic dinosaur fiction, then Mark of the Conifer sets the standard for dinosaur fantasy. Any book featuring talking animals is invariably compared to Watership Down, but a more accurate comparison would be to Tailchaser’s Song. I can’t say exactly why without some spoilers, but it will be clear to anyone who’s read both that Jenning’s dinosaurs have more in common with Tad Williams’s cats than Adams’s rabbits.The protagonist is Sunstrike, a “droemar” (raptor). Hatched during a solar eclipse, Sunstrike has the mark of a sacred conifer cone on his chest. Clearly destined for great things! From the beginning, he’s taught the legends of his people; stories of the goddess Sol and her creations, the dinosaurs and dragon kings. The central tale borrows heavily from Meso-American mythology, with Sol requiring a blood sacrifice in order to renew her strength each day. Both hunters and their prey follow ‘The Pact,’ where injured or old herbivores offer themselves to hunters in return for a quick and painless death, their shed blood enabling Sol to rise each morning.Despite some early traumas-- including skirmishes with the lowest dinosaurs, Pact-rejectors contemptuously called ‘Ornis’-- Sunstrike’s childhood (chickhood?)passes normally. That all changes when his clan’s territory is invaded by the tyrannosaur Cheharraphix and her followers. Deliberately rejecting the Pact, they kill any Pact-following hunters and enslave the herbivores. Aided by her brother Sarkanj, who has discovered the secret of controlling fire, Cheharraphix carves a bloody swath through the land, seeking to wipe out all of Sol’s followers.After his family is added to Cheharraphix’s toll, Sunstrike gradually acquires an odd assortment of friends and followers who have also suffered at her claws. This includes Leaf, a young sauropod (long-necked) dinosaur, a couple of armored anklyosaurs, and a small horned dinosaur that leads the resistance against Cheharraphix. The rest of the story is the standard Hero’s Journey, as Sunstrike learns lessons, has battles, finds friends and foes, and suffers self-doubt. But really, even if the story arc is familiar, the fun is in getting there, and exploring the world of the dinosaurs.The two nitpicks I have with the book are technical. The EBook I read was badly formatted, with no paragraph or dialogue indentations, which made it difficult to follow who was saying what. I don’t know if that issue has since been ironed out, or if it was a problem with my particular tablet (a Kindle Paperwhite.) Because I have a dinky black-and-white reader, I didn’t get the full effect of the illustrations, but what I could see looked great.The second issue was the author referring to the dinosaur’s feet and hands as ‘paws.’ To me paws = mammal foot with pads. Call them claws, talons, feet, or something completely made-up, but every time I read ‘paws’ I cringed a little. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought it was an extremely odd detail.Those quibbles aside, I really enjoyed the book, and enjoyed it again when I reread it for this review. I’ll add that it does help to have a good working knowledge of types of dinosaurs so you can better picture the characters, but it’s not a prerequisite. Mark of the Conifer is highly recommended to anyone who loves a good adventure saga, animal POV books, or dinosaurs. This book has all three locked in its paws—talons!
Categories: News

In Flux, ed. Rechan

Mon 9 Sep 2019 - 19:59
What constitutes one’s self is never static: one’s mind is always changing a little at a time; the body is continually in flux. Hence the title of Rechan’s short anthology of transformation stories. Transformation fiction bears a particular relevance to the furry fandom as it has provided an introduction to the fandom for many writers and artists. In Flux showcases four different varieties of transformation: sex change (but not gender identity), species shift, non-sapient animal transformation, and finally a combination of the above. Most of these stories also feature depictions of domestic abuse and/or rape, so you have been warned. “Aesop’s Universe: Savages in Space” by Bill Kieffer is set on a generation ship where the passengers live in mono-species recreations of low-tech cultures while the multi-species crew keeps things running behind the scenes. As the lioness passenger Thandiwe is hunting on the savanna deck with her crewman boyfriend Bobby, a hull breach almost kills her, but Bobby gets her to the medical bay in time. During the regeneration process Thandiwe is discovered to have Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, and because the crew apparently values a genetically diverse colonist population over individual rights and because people with AIS are sterile, they clone a fully functional set of male reproductive organs for her and she emerges from the regeneration tank with a massive case of gender dysphoria. I will give Kieffer some props for Thandiwe continuing to use female pronouns in her own internal narrative, unlike most forced sex reassignment recipients in fiction. The way Thandiwe’s family rejects her bears similarities to the way many LGBT+ people find themselves ostracized, even if their reasons differ. The passengers have no context for anything but heterosexuality and cis-genderism thanks to the hormones the crew administers; instead they reject her because they think she’s one of the undead. Honestly, the premise of this story made my skin crawl, but it’s a fair portrayal of an intersex character. Franklin Leo’s “Wild Dog” doesn’t explicitly refer to the animal-people as “were-” anything, but the transformation process is clearly inspired by werewolf myths. When someone gets bitten by an animal-person, they start slowly transforming into the biter’s species, even if they were previously transformed. Riley, who’s built his life and identity around being one of the few African wild dogs to the extent of changing his name when he transformed, finds that identity crumbling after his Dalmatian girlfriend nips him during a blowjob. Part of his identity crisis seems to stem from lingering feelings for his old girlfriend who first turned him into a wild dog, and then left him for a lion. We see a very brief flashback of Riley turning another ex-girlfriend against her will, as if to imply that he deserves what is now happening to him. But it just doesn’t land: the Dalmatian simply comes across as a bitch, and not just in terms of species. I felt this was a weak story with contradicting messages. “Good Boy” by Friday Donnelly initially appears to be a short and simple “revenge TF” story where the human main character is transformed into a non-anthropomorphic German Shepherd after cheating on his boyfriend. But then the character’s mind starts slipping away as he becomes a dog in mind as well as body. Memories vanishing, thoughts turning from anger at the boyfriend and the guy he cheated with to something more along the lines of “I love Master.” It’s short, but communicates the horror well. I didn’t know what to expect going in to Tarl Hoch’s “Never Lick a PCV Vixen”, but it wasn’t a lesbian tanuki getting possessed by a demon that was sealed in an action figure and transformed into a hulking male wolf. The story also explains a little bit on the difference between questionable consent and non-con when Kaiya is discussing why her girlfriend got mad at her with her gay fox friend, and shows it later while the demon is using her transformed body to rail him. Kaiya prefers things gentle, ironically, while her bunny girlfriend likes tentacle rape hentai but doesn’t outright say what she wants in bed: you can practically feel Kaiya’s frustration. This was one of the longer stories, but I also found it one of the more enjoyable if only because it didn’t try to be as serious as the others. SPOILER ALERT: This story is also the only one in the anthology where the transformation is reversed, if temporarily. END SPOILER Something I noticed about the anthology—though I don’t know if it was intentional—was that every transformation in the book was involuntary. Involuntary transformation in particular has been around since the beginning of the genre, but modern TF fiction has brought in an additional element of consideration for the victim in such situations. Your body warping around you, having what little control you had over your form taken away, losing an aspect of, if not your entire, identity. It’s a level of violation far beyond anything possible in real life. After reading In Flux, I find it not that surprising that certain hosting websites (Patreon for one) that have banned portrayals of rape are also banning forced TF fiction.
Categories: News

Nexus Nine, by Mary E. Lowd

Mon 9 Sep 2019 - 17:27
Welcome to Nexus Nine, a wormhole near the planet Avia which forms the central pillar of the Avioran religion, and which just might hold answers to the mysterious origins of an ancient consciousness passed down from one individual to another….Nexus Nine is Mary E. Lowd’s new science fiction tale, a sibling (or close cousin) to her Tri-Galactic Trek stories, and a delightful romp through both the familiar and the deeply original. Lowd’s ability to pay tribute through allusion to a much-loved universe and still tell a deeply unique and powerful story is dialed up to eleven in Nexus Nine. The story follows the arrival and integration of Lieutenant Mazel Rheum, a calico cat in possession of a neural chip which carries lifetimes worth of memories from its previous hosts. Mazel is adjusting to the onslaught of other identities now living in her brain and also attempting to unravel the mystery of her Rheum chip’s origin. The Nexus Nine wormhole quite possibly holds her answers, but to unlock it, she must venture deep into the mythos that the Aviorans have built around the phenomenon which they call The Sky Nest. If any of this sounds interesting, you are definitely the target audience for this novel. Lowd tells Mazel’s story expertly and with a loving hand. The writing is sharp, the story gripping, and the characters beautifully familiar and simultaneously new. A page-turner and a delight, and by far my favorite work by this author so far. Nexus Nine stands alone, despite the allusion, and will be loved by space opera and furry scifi fans of all ages.
Categories: News

Dissident Signals, ed. NightEyes DaySpring and Slip-Wolf

Fri 26 Jul 2019 - 14:05
Dissident Signals is a compilation of post-apocalyptic furry fiction published by FurPlanet and edited by NightEyes DaySpring and Slip-Wolf. The individual stories are (very) loosely linked by short paragraphs, written by Slip-Wolf, that relate all the stories as broadcasts intended for any survivors of the ruined world to use to understand what went wrong and how to rebuild. It's an idea which would've been more effective had all the stories been set in the same universe but which does serve as a nice bookending device.There is a lot of variety in the stories themselves: while most go with a science fiction premise, others include aspects of magic or worlds that barely differ from our own. There are stories where humans and furries coexist (to a certain extent), worlds which are completely furred, and even one story where all the characters are human and the furry aspect comes in a very unique way. Despite all the variety in settings, ideas and originality, nearly all of them are excellently written, though most are quite bleak.There are a few stories which really stood out to me and which I would like to highlight for various reasons. I will present them in the order in which they appear in the compilation.Losing Yourself by George SquaresThis is a fascinating story that is completely furry but without any actual furries. I will let you discover what that means. Apart from one of the most original takes on the idea, it also offered a very good critique of politics, how we see (or don't see) others and the importance of what metrics we use in society.A Road of Dust and Honey by Searska GreyRavenThis is unique in the compilation in that it includes a touch of magic in the world. While I wouldn't say it offers too much in the way of political commentary, it is a very cute and touching story which I really enjoyed reading.The Preacherman by Stephen M. CoghlanAs the title implies, this story is heavy on the religious content; particularly a mix of religion and justice as our main character is in jail and waiting for his judgement. If you are interested in theology and the idea that we are all flawed then there will be plenty here for you. I was more interested in the way that justice was served in the world both in terms of selecting a neutral jury and how god's will was manifested in the spin of a revolver's chamber.Photographs by TelevassiPhotographs is a story about the power of symbols, of iconic leaders, of mistakes, compromises and love. I think perhaps this story resonates with me because I have seen some of what it describes in my own home country. Our main character is kept apart from the one he loves because of their differences, helped lead part of the struggle against the government, was the subject of an iconic photograph and eventually compromised with his opponents. Did he make the right decision? Did some of his followers feel betrayed? Did he sell out? These are the questions that "Photographs" explores.Not All Dogs by Mary E. LowdMuch like In a Dog's World, her previous novel which I reviewed, this is set in a world after humans have vanished and cats and dogs have become anthropomorphic but which feels contemporaneous. The main character here is a dog; married to a cat and father of a litter of kittens. He sees dogs as good, but when a dog cop pulls a gun on his kittens, he begins to see the world a bit more clearly. This is an obvious metaphor for the police violence in the US that falls disproportionately on black citizens and, because of the strong connection to the present, is, despite the relatively mild content compared to some stories, probably the hardest to actually read.Aside from these five stories which I consider to be the best in the collection, there are a further eleven stories which should not be dismissed. They are almost all of excellent quality and examine many pressing issues such as the rise of AI, environmental degradation and how we should treat those who think differently from the rest of society. These ideas all matter and, unless we want to live a dystopian future, we should give them some thought. I would highly recommend Dissident Signals as a starting point.
Categories: News

Akela, by Ben Goodridge

Tue 23 Jul 2019 - 12:08
Akela is a novel set at the intersection of societies, but the world Goodridge has created feels much, much larger than even this. The Animorphs—even more so than the Aborigines and First Peoples—have developed an intimate relationship with the land we’ve colonised and claimed as our own. They have seen civilizations come and go, and their songs will forever remind them of the transient nature of life.The California Consortium follows the narrative that Animorphs should be domesticated for the survival of modern man. This is alarmingly reminiscent of the Aboriginal Integration policies applied in Australia, not too long ago. This and other issues provoke thought without resorting to excessive violence or sentimentality. Intentions are blurred, and one cannot help but wonder. Akela feels relevant to our world—even without the presence of Animorphs.An overarching theme is the resilience of native peoples to find their own way of survival and integration—at their own pace and on their own terms—to the toxic world we have created around them.The only criticism of this piece is that readers who want to dive right into the action might find the pace in the first half of the book a bit slow. There is a lot of necessary world-building and character exploration. It is, however, done in an interesting manner so it is never boring, and the investment is worth it in the end.Whereas “The White Crusade” left me wanting, Goodridge is right back on form with this offering. Akela is an amazing book and comes highly recommended. The world is larger than life, the characters are relatable and the issues it raises are topical without being preachy. It is a world that begs further exploration. *****
Categories: News

I Was a Gay Teenage Zombie, by Alison Cybe

Thu 18 Jul 2019 - 14:20
Sold here - Tagline: Talk about a hickey.Back Tagline: Boooyyyssss[Editor's note: Since this is not one of our usual Furry Book Reviewers, we left this unedited. We still wanted to showcase this review (by a furry) of a book (by a furry author) all the same.]This review is a take on the talented and humorous work of http://www.bloggerbeware.comBrief Synopsis: Jay, a fifteen-year-old boy who lives in a town a drive away from Victoria station. Which from what I can gather looking at a map I can only determine is East of London and is probably as specific as saying West of Sydney which could be something like Lidcombe or Richmond. Anyway, Jay has a bad case of Corey Harts only known song I wear my Sunglasses at Night and Daryl Hall & Oates, Maneater. He’s the Z-word, a zombie.He got bit down under the pier in Florida getting mad pash-rash from this hottie that sounded like he could have appeared in Gone Home, except well Dragonforce hadn’t formed until 1999, so maybe not. Unless he was a time travelling gay zombie, but I don’t think he is.It’s been a few months since the ‘incident’ and Jay’s finding some normalcy in his new body and routing. Lots of makeup to bring the life back to his pale dead skin and stashes and stashes of meat to quench his HUNGER FOR FLESH! *electric guitar strings* Which is played petty cute and fun. Though in a neat foreshadowing event he eats a live rat which is in comparison, harrowing.The story is told through his writings in his diary that recently received from his Dad over Christmas as an outlet for his unmentionable secrets, both the gay and the z-word. This is kind of cool as it plays into his family’s financial situation.I won’t spoil the rest, but we go through the school year. Jay gets a boyfriend, the quiet, sexy hottie who wears a leather jacket, plays basketball in skins and who only recently came to school and now has the lead role at the upcoming school play. Sadly, he doesn’t turn out to be a werewolf, sorry. He might still smell like one if that’s any condolence.We also have some cool and deep perspective on the relationships of those around Jay, his parents and their struggles in a low, single income with the Father out of a job. His friend CC, their philosophy teachers infidelity divorce and depression, and Mr. and Mrs. Price, theirs was a quiet shock and extremely well done.But the Twist is:Wales. We go there, and it has one of those beaches you stand on stare out to sea lamenting your dead husband, except its Jay half dead-undead wondering how he got to Wales.Apparently, it is proper English humour to speak disparagingly or contempt of it. Also, can I point out the NHS hospital staff not catching on to Jay being dead, or undead. He has no heartbeat, let alone his eyes and skin. How deep does this go? The Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:Jay and CC. In a really good way, like they’ll still be friends even after Uni and when Archer breaks it off because a detachable penis is not his idea of an open relationship, or it could be weed. Like a certain black fox and otter gay furry power couple that are certainly NOT TOGETHER, YOU CAN’T STOP ME I WON’T GO QUIETLY. FIGHT ME YOU FIENDS!Questionable Parenting:Jay’s Mom, for not bringing up the conversation, again of the cooler full of raw meat she had found under her son’s bed. Like I understand an even tenser conversation interrupted it but come on. Meat is expensive, my mum would at the very least think it’s been nicked!Questionable Teaching:The coach for not noticing Jay snapped off an arm or let alone was cradling it. Yeah shower that dislocated elbow away!Mid 10’s cultural references:Jay plays an exciting round of Call-of-Duty. Ghosts came out in 2013, so presumptuously, Jay must have been playing last years COD, Black Ops 2.Alison Cybe shows they are down with the kids:Jay knows all about the Alt-Right manipulative Facebook campaigns and rightly calls out his mothers sharing of Britain’s First propaganda.Memorable Cliff-hanger Chapter Ending:Chapter April/May. “I’m going to ask Archer if I can bite them him.”Opens with Jay watching Archer play basketball and decides against it and that it would ruin his basketball career.Great Prose Alert: “It turns out that what I thought were plates and dishes hitting against the wall during their arguments weren’t plates or dishes at all! It was her.”Conclusion:I read I was a Gay Teen Teenage Zombie in a single sitting (aside from stopping to go to work) which in my opinion is the best praise you can say about a book. It’s great, there’s a lot of things to love and the uniqueness in it’s exposing of uncomfortable topics, like domestic abuse, bad parenting, relationships and straight up racism in a way that doesn’t spotlight or focus sharply, but says ‘hey this is a part of growing up these days and shapes us and we need to acknowledge it and stand up to it too.’Go buy I was a Gay Teenage Zombie -
Categories: News

Dogs of War, vol. 2, ed. Fred Patten

Thu 18 Jul 2019 - 13:43
War has followed society since its formation, either a function of civilization or an unfortunate side-effect. The Dogs of War anthologies explore the effect of war on anthropomorphic populations and cover a diverse variety of theaters both historical and original. The Aftermath is volume two in the collection, and like its predecessor, it delivers a lovely cross section of sweeping war stories and very personal war experiences. "Dog, Extended" (Cairyn) opens the collection, a lovely, brilliantly written, and heartbreaking piece about sacrifice and duty. The protagonist is a dog who has been given a level of uplifting via technology, and this is easily my favorite story of the lot. It’s just beautiful. "Remembrance" (Alice "Huskyteer" Dryden): Another beautifully written piece about anthros in the trenches of WWI. The alt history is well portrayed, and the story is touching and engaging. The animal soldiers’ experiences as outcasts among their own men are both harsh and beautiful. "Scars" (Televassi): Epic fantasy fans will love this one. It’s very well written, if a little slow for my tastes. The omniscient point of view pulled me out here and there as did the jumping of the timeline, but it was a well told story that follows a young fawn on his rise to power. A sweeping fantasy saga feel, which is hard to do in a short story."The Surface Tension" (Dwale): Another very well written story, though not as anthro-centric as some. I felt like the cloning and the exosuits were more central to the story than the animal element, but they were still incredibly cool. This one had interesting concepts and a sweet, sexy ending that was ambiguous in a way that I loved and very much suited the story. "My Brother’s Shadow" (M.R. Anglin): Felt like it was less about war than some of the other stories. It focused on the family dynamic of the main character who does eventually get into the action, hunting for terrorists and preventing a rebellion. It was a little slow to get going but turned out to be a very sweet story that surprised me in the end. "Close to Us" (MikasiWolf) is a story about friends from two different cultures who get caught in the middle of their people’s conflict. The point of view was a bit squishy as we were not always fully embedded in any one character, and the story is definitely a little exposition heavy, being told in places instead of shown. The overall sentiment is really beautiful but fell flat for me because of the distance the reader is kept from the characters by not having a solid point of view. "Lime Tiger" (Slip-Wolf): This one was not just well written; it was gorgeous. I couldn’t stop reading from page one. The protagonist is an ex-soldier who has a history full of secrets you’ll never see coming. "Lime Tiger" really showcases how hard it is to integrate back into ordinary life after the atrocities of war, and it alone is worth picking up this anthology. "Umbra’s Legion: The Destruction of Ismara" (Geoff Galt): This one is part of a pair of stories each told from different sides of the same conflict. I loved the idea of showcasing both sides but felt that the second story was the stronger of the two. In "Umbra’s Legion," there are places where multiple characters' dialogues are mixed up all in one paragraph which makes the story confusing. It is, however, action packed and full of really cool tech with a great ending."Umbra’s Legion: Charon’s Obol" (Adam Baker): In this installment, the Canids are the good guys, and our previous ape heroes become the villain. The two stories paired together make a cool contrast, and despite some tense issues, I liked the second one a great deal. It switches occasionally from past to present tense but is a much tighter story and has a fabulous ending and more impact."The Call" (Lord Ikari): This one has an excellent opening and is well-written. I never could tell for certain what species the protag was, as he isn’t really described. Though he leads a group of “mostly mice,” there are also humans and other species about. In places the story relies a little too much on telling instead of showing the action. And there is very little description of characters or their enemies, who is what species, etc. It really got the feeling of war across at the beginning but lapsed into “telling” and summing up the action toward the end. "Every Horse Will Do His Duty" (Thurston Howl): This is a tight and well-written short about a horse soldier in a naval battle, surrounded by human officers and soldiers who are biased against him. The details of naval warfare are super cool and feel very accurate. It’s a well-executed and fully engaging piece. "Matched Up" (K. Hubschmid): A story about a soldier at odds with their own species. I felt like "Matched Up" suffered a little from lack of description both of the characters and the setting. It felt like a lot of the action was floating and made it hard to visualize, in particular the opening scene. I was confused a lot about the world and setting as things were not clearly defined, but the prose itself is well written and action packed. It seemed as if the author was being intentionally ambiguous, but it didn’t quite work for me. "The Son of Goulon Stumptail" (NightEyes Dayspring): This one had some great characters. The writing was a little clunky in places, but the story was very engaging. It has a fantasy epic feel and a good message, but the end felt somewhat anti-climactic. I liked the wolves versus deer angle and the not-so-clear-cut good and bad sides a great deal. "Nobel" (Thomas "Faux" Steele): The story has a good voice and a great gritty sci-fi feel. There is an immediacy to the action that makes it an exciting, beautiful read. Another one with a protagonist that has a veiled past and a few fun surprises in store for them. "Trial by Error" (Jaden Drackus): This one follows a river otter stationed in the pacific theater. His “Sea Bees battalion” is tasked with building a runway for some fancy and mysterious new planes. It’s a fun, well-executed story with strong characters, but in the end, it felt a lot like a few chapters from a bigger novel rather than a stand-alone story. A fun romp, and if there is more novel, I’d be ready to keep reading. "The Night the Stars Fell" (KC Alpinus): This one has an opening that is sort of horrific, and it’s definitely not for the squeamish. The tale has a colorful and authentic feeling and showcases a culture that feels alive and visceral. It is also brutal, well-written and nicely told. I enjoyed the alt history use of a region that is not explored very often. "Tears of the Sea" (MikasiWolf): This is a creation myth and as such felt a little omniscient and distant. The tense use at the beginning was awkward, but it smoothed out quickly. The tale has a nice mythic quality but, as a story in its own right, was not super engaging. It felt more like an explanation for building a world that other stories might take place in. "The Pack" (Argyron): Levi Leopard is learning how to be a part of a team. The author never really explains what the goal is or who the two sides are, and at times it seems like the heroes have more time to act than the bad guys, as they do six actions and the bad guys just barely have time to turn around and get killed. Or they sneak into a room full of the enemy and are not seen. So, I had some believability issues and there were also a few minor grammatical errors. The ending didn’t really feel like an ending. It was more like the story just stopped in media res. I think it might be destined to be a solid chapter in a larger work, but it did a good job of exploring the main character and his development. "Going Home" (Miles Reaver): This is a story about a fox tank soldier whose vehicle has broken down. When they can’t fix it, the tank team takes off on foot through enemy territory. The prose is a little clunky, but there’s good tension and lots of conflict. I felt like the protagonist didn’t really seem like a soldier, but that might have been because he was usually confined to a tank. The characters made some decisions that I found odd, like forgetting to use their weapons, not looking for tracks or even trying to track their man who runs off and shouting when they were trying to hide from the enemy. It never really clarifies where Grig goes when he runs off, or why the fox is always tripping over his own tail. The writing itself had some tense issues and kept switching to Past Perfect tense in odd places. The story’s ending was solid, but I’m not sure it made a lot of sense or followed naturally based on the action before it. Dogs of War: Aftermath is a solid collection of diverse war stories and a worthwhile read. The highlights for me were: "Lime Tiger," "The Night the Stars Fell,"" Remembrance," and "Dog, Extended," but all the pieces are worthy of inclusion and fit well together to make a cohesive and powerful anthology.
Categories: News

The Rabbit Dies First, ed. Ryan Campbell

Thu 18 Jul 2019 - 13:24
Cold eyes, lost in dreadBunny for the story’s sakeNow lies cold and dead.This poem by Mog K. Moogle sets the tone for Ryan Campbell’s anthology The Rabbit Dies First. Now, I’ve read many furry anthologies, themed by genre, species, and even the sins of the characters, but this is a new one. As the title suggests, in most stories of this anthology a rabbit dies, sometimes at the beginning of the story, other times at the end, in a few cases the bunny actually lives through several tense moments, but I’ll try not to spoil those ones for you.The first story in this anthology is Tym Greene’s “Under My Skin,” in which a 1920s gangster seduces a bunny banker in preparation for a robbery. It briefly touches upon the logistics required of gay relationships in that era: whisper networks, neighbors who don’t ask questions, keeping up appearances. But frankly, I found the ending rather predictable. Tragic, but predictable.“The Trial of Wandering Star” by David Green takes us into a fantastic world based loosely on East Asian myth where species occupy a strict caste system with herbivores, or “leafbourne,” on the bottom, predators above them, and mythical beings like qilings or kitsune on the top. Some lower-caste animals are capable of magic, but they’re highly regulated by the state, and unlicensed mages are very harshly punished, as the red panda Wandering Star discovers after she’s caught using magic. Fortunately, an organization advocating second chances for unregistered mages sends a rabbit warrior named He-Who-Tramples-Stars (Lo-Yao for short) to supervise her on a mission to recover a noble’s stolen jewelry as penance, and to act as her mentor. It presents an intriguing world that’s easy enough to grasp for newcomers, at least the parts relevant to the story, and gives a lot of room for further exploration. I’ll be watching for further works in this setting.Franklin Leo’s “End of (On)Line” initially leaves the reader as confused as the protagonist, a robot whose memories have been tampered with. This robot, Kyle, is told that he somehow killed his user, a rabbit named Milo who was planning to upload his brain and replace him, but he doesn’t remember that name, or even whether he used to be organic himself. The initial confusion can be difficult to work through; though if you can get through that initial opacity, the story falls into place.“Out the Other Side” by Jellybean starts with the rabbit, Quinn, meeting the Grim Reaper. He’s dead, sort of, but something is preventing him from passing on, and Death sets him to find out what it is. Oh, and Quinn’s girlfriend, an armadillo named Sam, was also supposed to die but didn’t, so that’s his first lead. Now, it’s not particularly surprising that Quinn doesn't remember how he died—that’s a standard ghostly trope—but it’s odd that Sam doesn’t, you would expect her to know if she’s still alive. I didn’t particularly like this one. It’s hard to tell who I’m supposed to feel sympathy for, and I couldn’t discern what Quinn ended up choosing.Mary E. Lowd’s “Black Out in Space” is self-explanatory: the power goes out on a space station. The main character is a claustrophobic buffalo-like alien who shares an apartment with a family of uplifted rabbits and finds herself in a pitch-black room with fifteen bouncing baby bunnies. The contrast between the adults worried that they’re all going to die and the carefree kids who don’t know how serious a blackout is on a space station really ratchets up the tension.“The Detective, The Wife, The Husband, and His Lovers” by Maya Levine covers the investigation of a lapine literature professor’s death by apparent suicide. Only, one of the detectives investigating was a student of his and knows he had a habit of screwing bunny does in his classes, including one of her friends, and has suspicions. I appreciated the nod to furriness in how the professor lived in an underground warren and slept in a depression in the dirt floor, but I thought the story could go further into the dynamics of an multi-species society. Sexism comes up frequently as the detective is distrusted as an “emotional female” (it’s set in the 80s), but nobody seems to care that the rabbit professor was married to a fox save that they couldn’t have biological kids and that seemingly motivated his adulteries. That seemed a little out of place.Ocean Tigrox’s “Swallowed by the Sea” starts with a crew of superstitious sailors accusing a rabbit doe of bringing a storm down on them by “whistling” of all things. Before they force her to walk the plank, she implies the captain has some other reason for throwing her overboard and curses them. Afterwards strange things happen to the captain; whether he’s haunted or hallucinating is left nicely ambiguous. I found “The Unlucky” by Sera Kaine rather opaque: it took me two reads to make any sense of it. Largely because there were three different point-of-view characters with drastically different perspectives: a black rabbit “luck keeper” who can change to human form but has to leave his warren once another black rabbit is born, a cat warrior who ridicules the rabbit’s beliefs because he knows something about the Void that consumed their worlds, and a Hunter tracking them across the multiverse at his Mistress’ command. Had to get an overview of the pieces then read it again to put them all together, but once you understand the story, it’s actually quite clever.Watts Martin’s “An Orange by Any Other Name” evokes a bit of the classic crime noir, except set in sunny Florida, and maybe a little Southern Gothic. The adopted daughter of a senile old rabbit who owns an orange field hires a “fixer” to find out who dumped several tons of sewage on top of her dad’s land before he could sell it to a developer. I’m not sure if the primary theme is rural gentrification, vindictiveness contrasted with greed, or just plain family insanity, probably a mix of all three.“The Road to Macluske” by Nathan Ravenwood takes us into a zombie apocalypse. A lone otter on a motorcycle who only goes by “The Survivor” crosses the path of a rabbit who’s just been bitten, who implores him to take him back to his settlement so he can see his husband one last time before he turns. The zombies, or “Them,” never actually appear on screen, but we see the damage they’ve wrought on society and those left behind. It raises questions of love, revenge, and finding purpose in life. Not to spoil anything, but that last scene almost had me in tears.Lloyd Yaeger goes cyberpunk in “The Snack Rabbit.” It’s another one where the rabbit is already dead, but he’s been reanimated with cybernetic implants. After he’s freed by two more cyber zombies, including one who was his husband in life, it turns out that whoever has been resurrecting the dead usually doesn’t let them keep their memories. Since the rabbit does remember his life, that makes him extremely valuable to certain parties, and brings out no small amount of romantic tension. Sci-fi often conflates identity with memories, and likes to explore the possibility of a completely different person who looks like someone else a character has lost, and this story presents a relatively novel take on the trope.“Two Blocks Apart and the Universe in Between” by Taylor Harbin takes place in an alternate universe where at some point in the 20th century some animals were spontaneously “uplifted” and have been living with humanity, with some tensions. The main character is a human screenwriter hired to adapt the first uplift-written book to film, which is about a human teacher and a rabbit student who form a friendship before things go horribly wrong. This seems to be another one where bunnies are representing innocence, but their importance to the plot is more subdued here.“The Carrot is Mightier Than the Sword” by Nidhi Singh evokes the folklore of many ancient cultures, with a smattering of modern-day knowledge such as the existence of dinosaurs and asteroids. But without the weight of tradition behind it, this story comes across more like a bad acid trip. Maybe it could pass as a children’s tale about the costs of pride and refusing help when offered, but fire-breathing dinosaurs refusing to eat carrots comes across as kind of silly.Finally, Kyell Gold closes the anthology with the Victorian murder mystery “Death on the Tile.” A rabbit working at a hotel is poisoned, and any one of the hotel’s upper-class guests could be responsible, but what could be the motive? In my view, the mark of a good “whodunnit?” story is how difficult it is to discern the killer’s identity even with all the clues available, which this accomplishes. This is also one of the few pieces of fiction that distinguishes between rabbits and hares, and it’s employed as part of the class divide with the rabbit waitstaff and the hare businessman.As I read this anthology, I noticed a few recurring themes in the rabbits’ depictions. The rabbit as prey was most common, likely due to their real life place near the bottom of the animal food chain as food for nearly everything that eats meat. It wasn’t always literal predation: sometimes you saw financial exploitation or armed robbery, even one where a rabbit was treated as simply expendable. The portrayal of rabbits as a sign of innocence frequently crossed over with that prior theme, for the innocent victim is so much more tragic than the one who “deserved it.” A few times we saw a rabbit sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, but I’m having trouble associating that with rabbits specifically. Surprisingly, there were relatively few portrayals of rabbits as sexual beings, and they tended to serve as a means for the rabbits to be preyed upon.In conclusion, this anthology is not for the faint of heart. Not everything in it might be your cup of tea, but the advantage of an anthology is that you have multiple stories in one volume.
Categories: News

Tristan, by Sylvain St-Pierre

Sat 25 May 2019 - 12:09
I hate furry sci fi. I've reviewed it in the past (Barsk, Bleak Horizons, and Kismet to name a few), and I've managed to keep a fairly objective stance on these books. I can recognize their talent and skill without having much personal attachment. And that's fine! But this Goal Publications' title, Tristan, by Sylvain St-Pierre, blew my f***ing mind.I won't go into detail with my usual gripes about formatting and copyediting. Instead, I want to present you with a list:The Eight Reasons You Should Read Tristan:1. Even though the story is about the typical rogueish Byronic hero (think Drizzt or Han Solo, for example), the author dispenses with the tropish clumsy, goofy, and charming personality and instead infuses him with cold, hard manipulation. From the beginning when Tristan awakes from a ten-year cryosleep, having been tricked and imprisoned, we see him become heartless and ruthless so fast. He is not the noble trickster we see so often. He actually does just want to survive; he's not just saying it and then joins a damn political rebellion (yes, I'm looking at you, Han).2. The pacing is so tight on this book. We have segments where each chapter has Tristan advancing the plot super fast, and we have segments where he has to wait, and so do we. And we get so much character development here.3. The side characters are actually well-done. In the sci fi books I mentioned above, I could not tell you anything about the side characters from memory, but the side characters here will stick with you. I will always remember Miranda. I will remember Alex. Satan below, I will remember Alex.4. As an action book, it does a great job. It has equal parts violence and suspense, so those payoffs are just great. I know that goes back to pacing, but it really is so artfully done here.5. Alex. I will try not to make any spoilers here. But there is an M/M romance in the book that twisted at my heart so bad. If the author is out there reading this review, thank you for having Tristan do what he did instead of what his instinct was telling him. That said, this is not a romance book, but when it appears, it appears well and is handled quickly.6. World-building. For me, good fantasy/sci-fi worldbuilding is actually simple. I don't want a whole Redwall or Star Trek universe each time I pick up such a genre read. And that's coming from someone who read the entirety of Wheel of Time! For a novella, this was just delightful. Most of the world-building was generic and didn't require a lot of memorizing a million proper nouns. I could keep up with it and be super immersed. No, it wasn't the most unique sci fi setting I'd ever seen. But it's the most unique furry sci I've seen anyway.7. So what makes it unique? It's plot definitely. While we are dealing with a sci fi rogue, we are not dealing with corporate scandals like in most furry sci fi right now. It instead tackles questions of just surviving, family drama, and even finding meaning in the world. I will say, using the TRADITIONAL meanings, not the currently in vogue ones, this book is more of a romance than an epic (that is, we follow one character's personal journey and internal struggles, rather than being a large-scale battle of good versus evil [cf. the Solo movie is a romance; the main Star Wars episodes are all epics]; romance doesn't have anything to do with love necessarily). And for me that worked a lot better. I was so invested in the characters, and I didn't want their interpersonal struggles to be given grandiose stakes magically. I appreciated the simple stakes of surviving, completing jobs, having revenge, etc.8. Furry elements. You never once forget this is a furry protagonist. Now, for the life of me, I couldn't tell you what kind of furry the MC is. The blurred cover conveys it's an antlered mammal of some kind, but I couldn't tell you more than that. (And I just pasted the cover above in this post. I swear the printed version has lower contrast and is glossy, so it's a lot harder to tell what it is. I swear I'm not crazy!) But I never once found myself caring. It matters a lot in the book that the character is an anthro animal, but the species never really matters. In this world, he's labeled as Other from just his animal features generally, and that label matters. Thankfully, the author treated that Othering as so much more complex than something like Skyrim does. People hate him because he's Other, yes, but others fetishize him for that.If this isn't enough, then I don't know what else to tell you. Get this book. We need more sci fi like this. Best furry sci fi I have ever read.
Categories: News

The Story of Sorrel, by Joseph Lallo

Sat 25 May 2019 - 11:45
Joseph Lallo’s dark fantasy series The Book of Deacon encompasses about half a dozen novels of warfare between humans, elves, dwarves, and your standard Medieval European Fantasy species. But The Story of Sorrel isn’t about them, at least not directly. Rather it follows a family of a somewhat less typical species, intelligent foxes known to the humanoid races as “malthropes”. That name, a fusion of the Greek word “anthropis” or “person”, and the Latin “malus” for “bad”, tells you just what the humans think of them.We open with the malthrope vixen Sorrel and her kits Wren and Reyna playing “the game” as they call it, where the kits try to evade their mother for as long as possible, her way of teaching them how to survive in a world where seemingly everyone is trying to kill them. On the human-dominated continent malthropes are hunted like vermin and have become so rare that Sorrel believes they may be the last of their kind, but sometime before this book she managed to smuggle her family across the ocean to a more sparsely-populated continent and they’ve avoided signs of civilization ever since. The next day, Sorrel’s belief that their kind are nearly extinct is challenged when she happens upon a tribe of fennec malthropes, who mistake her for a raider from a rival tribe of red malthropes and capture her. It turns out that the two malthrope tribes on this continent are under the “protection” of a dragon who demands a tribute of meat and treasure from both tribes, and the fennecs plan to offer up Sorrel for their meat tribute. By the time the kits find her, the dragon is already carrying her off to his lair. Can Wren and Reyna escape and rescue their mother before the dragon gets bored and eats her? We’ll see how well she taught them.SPOILER ALERT: “Children rescuing parents” is a tried-and-true plot arc, but it’s hard to pull off without making the parents seem incompetent. I was pleased to see that Lallo managed to avoid that here: Sorrel stays alive in captivity by her own wits and guile, and their escape is a product of her own efforts as much as the kits. Now, given the grim tone I picked up from the book and series, I was expecting a far more depressing ending, and was surprised when instead the protagonists pulled off a more than Pyrrhic victory using the elements previously shown throughout the story. SPOILERS CONCLUDED.I’d say that The Story of Sorrel works fairly well as a standalone story but I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the series. Sorrel seems to be the only character with any knowledge of the events of the other “Deacon” books, but she’s always vague about it, when the dragon asks her what has become of the land across the sea she simply answers “two great kingdoms wage war.” Another malthrope-centric novel, Rise of the Red Shadow, told me more about the human side of the world in the free Amazon preview than this entire book did.Overall, I’d call this a good story by a good writer, and I’d heartily recommend it if you’re looking for a quick read or are already familiar with the setting. But if you’re looking to dip your toes into an epic fantasy universe I’d check out the other books in the series.
Categories: News

In a Dog's World, by Mary E. Lowd

Tue 23 Apr 2019 - 13:37
Is In a Dog's World set in a dog's world? Well, yes and no. Humans have vanished from Earth, and several species are now "uplifted," gaining human-level intelligence and an anthropomorphic form. The story focuses on dogs and cats, which are now the main inhabitants of North America, and there, if you'll pardon the expression, dogs rule the roost."Everywhere she looked in the world, it was dogs on top. Politicians, CEOs, the biggest celebrities, even the most innovative scientists -- they were all dogs."Our main character, Katasha, is a tabby point Siamese cat, preparing for her high school prom and awaiting the results of her college application. She is not happy with the status that most cats have and wants to be a success. As dogs are successful, that is her aim: not to be a dog but to be a part of their world. She wishes to emulate the traits that dogs possess, wants to go to a predominantly dog college, and desires to date a dog.From this foundation, Lowd builds a short, simple but remarkably interesting story that keeps the focus tight but constantly reminds us of the wider world through its effect on Katasha. The animal nature of the characters matters. Cats and dogs exhibit different sizes, strengths and behaviours. This is relevant when the characters have to consider how a dog can fit in a car made for cats or how a cat can hike while carrying as much as a dog.However, the characters also serve as mirrors to reflect our own world and its issues. The comparison of dogs and cats mimics the racial biases of white and black in America. References to majority dog colleges and programs to enroll more cats seem to make that clear. The situation grows more complex through phrasing such as "there was a glass ceiling sometimes, and cats never rose above it" which directly borrow from feminist vocabulary. Discussion of the doctrine of the First Race, a belief system mostly held by dogs, brings religion into the mix too.What I found fascinating was that the characters expressed many different views on their society and the topics above, but none was ever presented as better than the others. Different viewpoints fall into the background, colouring the way Katasha sees and interacts with the world, but it is left up to the reader to evaluate them. Indeed, it might even seem strange for me to spend so much time talking about them as Katasha is primarily concerned with herself, her future and obtaining a canine boyfriend.While the story may be a simple, generic romance, it is a pleasure to read. How can one not enjoy reading a book where one chapter begins, "In the wake of the fight, Papa contrived to work all day Saturday, the day of the prom. In fairness, there was an unforeseen pileup on the freeway." I don't know whether it is the sheer understatement of the second sentence or the strange feeling that the narration is scolding the accident for not occurring on schedule, but this opening never fails to make me smile. And while I joke, the writing is addictive and an effortless read. Once I began, I found myself taking the book (or tablet, in this case) to bed so that I could read a bit more then waking up early to continue from where had I left off.Having come from a sprawling 600 page novel where the characters' actions determined the fate of kingdoms, In a Dog's World was a wonderful change of pace. The stakes are low, and the problems are easily solved, many existing only within the love-struck mind of our main character. Despite the simple story, there is a lot of depth in the world, which I am sure is explored further in Lowd's other novels within this universe, and it is compulsively readable. I can highly recommend it as a way to relax and go back to a simpler time or, if you're still young, as an opportunity to adopt Katasha's virtues and discard her vices.-
Categories: News

Otters in Space 3: Octopus Ascending, by Mary E. Lowd

Wed 13 Mar 2019 - 11:49
The third installment of the Otters in Space trilogy brings Kipper's quest to a satisfying end. Finally back on Earth, the tabby cat's return is dampened by the political situation between cats and dogs, the impending invasion of the terrifying aliens from Jupiter, and her own restlessness after living a life of adventure among the stars. Kipper's life among the otters might have been damp and uncomfortable, but it's definitely transformed her. So when the government refused to do anything productive about the rapidly approaching enemy, Kipper takes matters into her own paws. Meanwhile, her sister fights a battle against an unjust political system, and her otter friends back on the Jovian moon race to find a solution of their own. Octopus Ascending is a fine conclusion to the Otters in Space trilogy. My favorite of the three books by far, the conflict is well developed. The characters have really come into their own, and the plot answers all the questions posed in previous novels while introducing a few new surprises. Like the fact that the cats of Earth know far less about their own history than they believe. I recommend the entire series for any fan of a good, fun, romping space opera, and I have a feeling that we may be seeing more in this universe, if not from Kipper herself. I very much look forward to whatever the author has in store for us next.
Categories: News

Finding the Line, by Sylvain St-Pierre

Tue 5 Mar 2019 - 13:53
Denton Brislow is a pretty average cop - with an above average libido - in an anthropomorphic future Denver. He and his partner are called to investigate the horrific slaying of one of the city’s most influential families and one of their servants.This may sound like the start to your run-of-the-mill cop action novella, but I assure you, it is not. You see, it comes to be that Denton’s bloodline has ties to Society - an underground religion whose divination consists primarily of… homoerotic sex.Before reading this book (having been briefed on its content) I feared this plot device would amount to little more than a convenient excuse to introduce an orgy every few pages. The orgies were there, I assure you. But I am happy to report that St-Pierre managed to take the high road and craft a cohesive, believable religion with clearly defined rules, checks and balances. A lot of thought went into the way it manifests itself and how it folds into larger society.Fair warning. This book is not for the squeamish. It describes bodily fluids a plenty. Sex. Lots of Sex. And then some more sex. There is mention of incest. Denton is reminded of his initiation, which happened whilst he was still a minor. And twice in the novel, he has visions of him having intercourse with the ghost of his own father.As a counterpoint, he does not agree with all the traditions and rituals of his newfound brotherhood. At times, he is truly disgusted. (You will be too.)The great irony of this novel - where sex is such an important theme - it is not very sexy. It does not feel pornographic. St-Pierre does not spend a lot of time gushing over the characters’ sexual encounters. Sometimes it is as crude as “...and then we fucked for three hours.” I believe this was done to emphasize the doctrine of Society, that sex is about the transfer of life energy from one vessel to another. Enjoyment thereof being a convenient side-effect. So this is not a big loss to me.My main criticism of this book, aside from the dubious legality of some of its sexual encounters, is that the “furry” aspect of the book feels more like spice added, rather than a key ingredient to the recipe. This story could easily have worked with human characters. Apart from the occasional mauling, the only benefit of adding tail, paw and claw to the mix would be to soften the unpleasantries - to remind the reader that this is a different society and universe than the one we live in.Your mileage will vary with “Finding the Line”. You are likely to either love it or hate it. Though it falls flat as a pornographic piece, I will recommend this book based on strong characterization, solid narrative, good flow and the uniqueness of the concept. Recommended. * * * *
Categories: News

Rise of the Patcheé, by Eben Prentzler

Mon 11 Feb 2019 - 15:43
Rise of the Patcheé is a self-published collection of three short stories by Eben Prentzler. The three stories are "Part 1 - The Scavenger Wars," "Part 2 - The Scribe’s Crystal" and "Part 3 - Touch of the Firstborn." They are all set in a fantasy world established in his earlier novel, Chronicles of Solo - Moments Away, and revolve around Mother, the title given to the leader of a Patcheé (African wild dog) pack.When reviewing, or writing in general, it is good practice to keep your audience in mind. I see reviewing as generally having three potential audiences and functions: giving feedback to the author of a piece in order to help him improve, using a piece as an example to teach others what they should or should not do, and providing information to potential readers so that they can judge whether a piece is suitable for them. I feel that, in the furry fandom, all three of these functions overlap: authors are likely to read reviews by other furs, potential readers read the reviews and, with the fandom focused on creation, many of those readers are themselves aspiring authors. As such, I will talk about what does and does not work in this collection and why.The biggest problem with the Rise of the Patcheé is that, as a self-published book, it has not been looked over by an editor or a professional proofreader. The entire book is plagued by missing commas, incorrect words, mixed up pronouns, and other issues that a proofreader would catch. Perhaps most noticeably, there is a paragraph in Part 3 where the focal character's name is misspelled nine out of 12 times! Interestingly, the "correct" spelling is not even consistent; the first half of the story spells it using the character "é" while the second half uses "è."An editor might also push for many aspects of the story to be expanded. Part 1 is undoubtedly too short for everything that is supposed to happen. There are too many characters, too many locations and too much intrigue that there isn't space for characterisation or motivations. Throughout the book, we are constantly told what characters feel but never shown those feelings or allowed to discover them ourselves. For example, when one character sees another killed at the end of Part 2, we read that "She has grown to like the tough little apprentice, and now she had to see her die." This will be news to the reader as the two characters had essentially no one-on-one conversations and had never displayed any particular affection. A single scene earlier in the story could have established that affection and allowed an emotional connection.Eben is certainly capable of writing good characters. Part 3 was undoubtedly the best of the three stories and that's largely due to focusing on the interaction between just two characters. There are more things that happen but we start with just the two characters and space is given to develop them and their individual personalities. It is great! This is the first time that it doesn't feel like the characters are merely doing what the plot demands but that they are doing something because of who they are! When we get to know the characters, we care about them and it allows the scenes to have a far greater emotional impact.One of the biggest strengths of the book is that the world is interesting. In this world, we see three different societies – Patcheé (African wild dogs), Scavengers (hyenas) and Pridekeepers (lions) – all of are structured differently. The most unusual being those of the Patcheé, a species which also possess many magical abilities, including changing their appearance. Seeing these new societies and magics is fascinating and Part 2 and Part 3 go into the most detail on Patcheé magic.While mostly existing in a familiar fantasy world, the book has some cool new ideas that would be worth exploring but fails to give the characters and story time to fully develop. It's then further let down by constant language errors which are common enough to detract from the storytelling itself. While I cannot fully recommend the book, I will say that Part 3 deserves a read. It has some of the same flaws as the earlier parts but the characters come alive and drive the story forward. It has unexpected twists, genuine emotion and explores the unusual magic and society of the Patcheé.
Categories: News

Signal, by Renee Carter Hall

Mon 11 Feb 2019 - 15:36
If an apocalypse happens, what will our successors think of the things we leave behind? That is what Renee Carter Hall seeks to explore in Signal.Jak, an overly curious young adult “rakuun,” finds a strange shell-like object while foraging. It’s not an animal shell, not a rock, not alive, not dead, and after a couple days in his possession, it lights up, blinking. Jak’s clan recognizes it as an artifact of the “Before” and urges him to get rid of it, but he refuses. As Jak keeps the artifact, he starts to have dreams of its creators and becomes increasingly obsessed with it until the clan finally gives him the ultimatum. It goes, or he goes.Fortunately, one of the elders knows a “yotl” who’s knowledgeable of the artifacts of those who lived Before, and he gives Jak directions to find him. And thus, the young rakuun sets out on a journey across a dangerous landscape of post-apocalyptic ruins and hungry wildlife.The rakuun are fleshed out as a species derived from, but not quite the same as, raccoons. Their ritualized hand-washing provide a link to their ancestry. But I would have liked more detail on the other sapient species.The corrupted names of the sapient species was a novel means of indicating which modern day animals they evolved from, while using modern English names for the non-sapient species differentiated them from the sapient ones. Though I would appreciate more description, the writing relies heavily on the species names to give you a picture of the characters. “Rakuun” and “yotl” were clear enough, but “khoni” confused me until I remembered that “coney” was an old name for rabbits.At first, I thought that Jak’s extremely detailed dreams might be caused by a virtual reality app of some sort. We never get a real answer for the source of the visions, though Inkari speculates Shinto-esque animistic spirits provided the knowledge of such long-dead things as the Rolling Stones.In all, Signal is an inventive exploration of a modestly-developed post-apocalyptic world. I would recommend it as an example of the world after humanity.
Categories: News

Meet the Judges!

Tue 29 Jan 2019 - 16:15
Patrick "Bahu" Rochefort is a technical writer, editor, novelist, and judge for the Best Anthropomorphic Artwork Awards. He lives in the prairies of Canada.His recent furry genre works include "The Years of Living Dangerously Happy" in Hot Dish #2, "Plow Mare" in Will of the Alpha #3, "After the Last Bell's Rung" and "Eight Seconds and the Grace of God" in Claw the Way to Victory, and "Prospero" in Abandoned Places.Look for his presentation "This Year in Furry Books", presented at Fur-Eh! and online at an avid reader, writer, and advocate of the furry genre since 1996, he's excited to join the ranks of furry book reviewers, to elevate the exceptional and champion the best of our genre.Donald Jacob Uitvlugt lives on neither coast of the United States, but mostly in a haunted memory palace of his own design. Over five dozen of his short stories have appeared in print and online, as well as microfiction, essays, reviews, and the occasional poem. Perhaps a quarter of his stories have also been produced in audio format. He has published furry stories in both fandom and non-fandom venues, including “Outliers” in 2017’s Bleak Horizons and “In the Sands of Rubal-Khali,” appearing in 2018 on the podcast StarShip Sofa.While he can often be found prowling the science fiction and fantasy section of bookstores and libraries, his reading tastes are voracious and eclectic—including biography, history, science, religion, poetry, and manga. He especially appreciates well-executed adaptations of folklore from around the world, as well as authorial voices that are perfectly matched to the stories they tell.This is his first time as a Leo Awards judge.Scott Hughes received a BA in English and Creative Writing from Mercer University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia College & State University. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in such publications as Crazyhorse, One Sentence Poems, Deep Magic, Redheaded Stepchild, Entropy, and Strange Horizons. He is the Division Head of English at Central Georgia Technical College, and his short story collection, The Last Book You’ll Ever Read, is forthcoming from Weasel Press in 2019. For more information, visit am excited to participate as a judge in the Leo Literary Awards because I have some knowledge of the furry community, mainly through documentaries (some made by furries themselves, some not), but I must confess I have never read any furry literature. Approaching this as a non-furry, I’m eager to delve into what must be fascinating stories and to be drawn into a new world that I have so far only viewed from the outside.Stanley Jenkins is the author of A City on a Hill: An Indirect Memoir (Outpost19, 2013) and Down the Plymouth Road: An Indirect Spiritual Autobiography (Thurston Howl Publications, 2018). His story “George” was published in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 2 (Norton, 2008).
Categories: News

Bleak Horizons, ed. Tarl Hoch

Wed 16 Jan 2019 - 14:29
Sci fi and horror is a match made in hell. And that's where all furries yiff, right? When Tarl Hoch created the call for submissions for this dark anthology, he knew he was playing with a cross of genres that was ripe for a furry lens, and he was totally right. Bleak Horizons is more than just a loose collection of sci fi horror stories, the anthology stands as a testament to both Tarl's eye for good stories and his ability to organize diverse material into a cohesive structure, built from blood and ink.The anthology opens with Kandrel's "Adrift," a story of the horrors of cryosleep. It is a deeply chilling story and offers a new twist on the often cliche narrative of people not being able to stay unconscious during cryosleep. The emotional evocation throughout this piece was rich, making it a strong start to the anthology. My only real critique of it is definitely that it's probably one of the least furry stories in the anthology. It begins with a furry line, and we're occasionally told the character is a cat every other page, but otherwise we forget.Next is Franklin Leo's "4/13/2060." What we have here plays out like a mystery, not so much a whodunnit as a whyhedunnit. Science experiments on a virtual reality drive a very smart man over the edge, and his assistant is in utter disbelief. This story excels in its fast and gripping pacing, its use of furry elements, and its metaphysical horror of a twist. A fun read for anyone who likes sci fi horror with a touch of Noir."Hardwire" by Ton Inktail begins with, "I love you, Master. Won't you fuck me?" Yes, a furry android built to be a sexual object starts gaining intelligence of its own. The objectification of androids is such a trope of sci fi, it is so refreshing seeing this taken to a sexual level, and, more interestingly, taken to the fetishization level that furries have to their cartoon characters. Such an innovative concept, and it exposes a lot of the ethical horrors in the potentials of our own wish fulfillment. What's interesting with this story, too, is how the perspective of the tale (being from the droid) serves to shame the average furry reader, rather than include them. Stellar writing here.The next story is "The Ouroboros Plate" by Slip Wolf. Agh, this is one of my favorite stories in this collection, and it's so fucked. This is one of the few stories I've read that does time travel right, and it's done to such horrific effect here that it made me queasy. I refuse to spoil any plot details, but definitely make sure you're not reading this on a full stomach. As Slip Wolf told me before I started reading, "Bon appetit.""The First Viewing" by Corgi W. is paws-down my favorite story in this collection and—naturally—the most fucked up of the book. Dark Mirror meets furries in this story of a scientist gone mad with sadism and vengeance. I feel like Corgi W. tried to think of ways to make the worst possible tortures for his characters here. My only critique might be that the final torture wasn't surprising enough by the time we get there. Otherwise, a fucking flawless story in terms of horror and pacing.Next is Ianus J. Wolf's "Clicking," one of a few stories in this collection following the narrative structure of let's-visit-a-planet-that-looks-cool-but-starts-killing-us-so-we-spread-it-to-other-planets. While this isn't the most innovative story in the collection, I loved this story from the way it was written. The sensory details are just so evocative, and even while I knew where it was going from the first page, I was creeped out throughout the piece. The auditory details work exceptionally well in this furry universe, and I wish more furry writers took advantage of senses the way Ianus does here.James Stone's "Blink," however, seems to show how furry can ruin a tried-and-true narrative structure. Don't get me wrong: the piece was beautifully and creepily written, with probably some of the eeriest and most sublime setting and world-building in the anthology. My rub is that the species distinction necessary for the plot spoils the ending super early. Trying not to spoil it as much as I can, imagine if in Prisoner of Azkaban, we had a clear visual of what the caster of the Patronus looked like across the lake. Even if Harry had been confused and thought it was his dad, we wouldn't have been confused. We would have known what was up. Because of furry species, this story is spoiled for us in a lot of ways.In Ross Whitlock's "Pentangle," we get this lovely of Barkerian body horror in which a five-person body is fighting for survival, trying to pretend to be just four bodies—the max socially acceptable bodies in one. This story is grotesque and so action-packed. I think there's a lot of potential for Whitlock's world here, and I would love to see this setting in their future works.We get our second iteration of the let's-visit-a-planet-that-looks-cool-but-starts-killing-us-so-we-spread-it-to-other-planets motif in Searska GreyRaven's "Starless." This story is fun in its in-depth characterization. There are not many avians in this anthology, but this story is one of the rare exceptions. And it's one of the few stories where I actually wanted specific people to survive. Searska does a great job making you care for their characters, even if the plot itself is fairly generic. One of the "furrier" stories in the collection, and the author shows mastery of that kind of distinction here.Frances Pauli's "This Way" is all about intelligent spiders. Plotwise, it's very similar to the let's-visit-a-planet-that-looks-cool-but-starts-killing-us-so-we-spread-it-to-other-planets motif on a smaller scale, so...basically the parasite narrative. BUT I love this story because it's such a creative use of spiders in a sci fi horror furry context. Pauli puts so much attention to detail with their spiders, and it makes such a difference in the reading. The spiders become real, and that can be what makes this story terrifying all on its own. It forces readers into the heads of what they likely fear already.Donald Jacob Uitvlugt continues the let's-visit-a-planet-that-looks-cool-but-starts-killing-us-so-we-spread-it-to-other-planets with his steady mystery, "Outlier." Here, the survivors are telling inaccurate accounts, so you have to solve the mystery of who's telling the truth...and who could possibly still be infected... *cue dramatic music* Great pacing with this story, and, again, despite being a cliche plotline, the author makes it very fresh through this mystery tone.KC Alpinus takes us in a rather unique direction, toward The Twilight Zone, with "Not Like Us." Here, she tackles xenophobia in a small town when all power goes out...even for battery-operated devices. The creepiness of the situation escalates into the social justice/violence of "The Lottery," and even an involved reader will be pointing fingers. Alpinus excels with characterization throughout, and the pacing leaves you on the edge of your seat.Bill Kieffer is largely a TF writer, and he does not disappoint with his story, "Clear and Cruel," in which a cataclysm has deformed a hefty percent of the population, leaving the protagonist with shattered memories and a shattered form. But this isn't just a tale of futuristic transformations and body horror; it's about loss, dealing with that trauma, and facing the real horrors that dwell within us. The pacing for this piece is a bit slow and clunky, but the emotional payoff by the end makes it worth it.Rechan's "Blessed are the Meek" is unfortunately a counterexample in world-building, in which nine proper nouns are introduced in the first two pages, not counting world-specific lingo, too. After getting through the first five or six pages of infodump, the story really does pick up and has a captivating plot similar to The Secret of Nimh. It does not deviate from it too much, just making it with rabbits instead of mice. The ending is sadly also fairly anticlimactic.Chris "Sparf" Williams finishes the anthology out with his piece, "Hollow." This is also the last of the parasite/possession stories. However, what makes this story gripping is the gory detail of it. By this point, the suspense of this potential narrative had worn off for me, but the gore really stood out, making this easily one of the darker stories in the collection. There are images, particularly of the "hollowness," that will stick with me long after this anthology.While this anthology had its fair number of typos, I can see Hoch's clear love of and dedication to this project, and the finished book is a wonderful addition to any furry book reader's collection. Just be careful as the sun starts setting. The more you read, the bleaker and bleaker the horizon becomes...
Categories: News

Purrfect Tails, ed. Tarl Hoch

Mon 7 Jan 2019 - 22:23
What do you get when you enter a world full of nekomimis--a mixture of human and feline, usually indicated by cat ears and a tail? A bunch of empty bottles of lube and tissues strewn about as you watch their escapades go wild.Purrfect Tails, edited by Tarl Hoch, goes through a cast of feline-human hybrids trying to find their way into a myriad of others’ pants. From a workhouse escapee sneaking into a noble swan lady’s garden, to a cybernetically modified hedonist testing shady attachments, there is no shortage of sexual activities to be had throughout these nine stories.Unfortunately, I found the proofreading of this anthology lacking. It was difficult to read through most of these stories. Misspellings, missing words, the wrong word; it felt like the stories were just picked and slapped into the book without a second thought or look. That being said, the stories that were well-written kept my attention well enough, the characters within feeling alive and vibrant.“Milk and Brass” by Madison Keller takes the reader to the streets of London where a neko named Carla has just escaped a workhouse with miserable conditions and is on the run from the police. She winds up within the garden of Nellie, a swan lady who offers shelter to the feline-human hybrid and, despite being betrothed to someone she despises, experiences her first time—and love—with a woman behind closed doors. Now, while I do enjoy a good story about two hopeless romantics who try to find happiness no matter where they came from, it does irk me that there is mention that the hybrids were created with no further backstory to it, just that the swan was created for her master’s purpose. It adds a completely different element to the story that’s left in the dust to further the goal of carnal delights, especially considering it seems that mostly the nekos are the ones who end up caught and forced into a kind of slave labor in this universe. Also, the sex was written out in a tantalizing way that showed how much the two were enjoying themselves romantically.“Following the Trail” by Dark End follows Jacqyl, a girl bored of her everyday life and stuck in a dead-end job until a chance encounter with Martin, a splicer—a human whose DNA has been spliced with another animal—changes her perspective on life. This story ended up piquing my curiosity, placing me in a world where having your DNA spliced to become part-animal was considered bad and treated like a kind of racism. The story flowed smoothly, and the sexual interactions were short but poignant, going so far as to explore how a human would explore a splicer’s body.Next, we have “Cat Toy” by Royce Day. This time, we’re looking through the eyes of a crewman on a freighter working a shift on Felicia, a town filled with feline-analogs described as a kind of cat-like alien. One particular Felician who simply goes by Princess stumbles upon him, leading him back to a hotel and claiming to have made him hers. This story was a delight to read. The writing gripped me, particularly in regards to Princess’s personality displayed throughout, and was a fair bit descriptive, too; it moved along into the sex, detailing how it felt to have a feline’s tongue inside the crewman’s mouth. Everything felt so smooth with how the scenes transitioned from one to the next.In “Schematic for a Purrfect Artifact,” Akiko, a destitute and jobless neko, is salvaged by Yuka. The fox woman decides to employ the cat boy in her machinist company Naked Creations. The name wasn’t just for fun, though: all employees are required to be nude while they work, whether it is on machines or on Yuka as per their contract. This one was a bit of a hurdle for me to get through. While I put this more on the editor for not correcting, there were far too many misspellings and grammatical errors that tripped me up as I read. The writing seemed plain and uninteresting. Even the sex felt dull and methodical, just the participants going through the motions. Also, all the characters just seemed simple and childish. While I admit one can get flustered with their first time as Akiko did, the character seemed completely inept at first, as if he had never researched or heard of sex in the slightest. And this character also had the sex appeal to attract every woman and even cause them to change their goals.In “Enter the Garden” by James Pyke, a goddess has recreated the Garden of Eden, bringing in two human-feline hybrids, Cryo and Priscille, in the hopes of spreading the goddess’s glory across the desolate land outside the garden. This one was an interesting read. The writing took a flourishing outtake on Genesis where sex is spread out as a gospel. Also, it portrays a lover’s first time mating beautifully, depicting the emotions and even the bit of pain following with it.“Leather Boots” by Thurston Howl centers around Jonas, a Canadian visiting Japan on a business trip. On the news, there’s talk about a neko—nude aside from a pair of leather boots—who’s committed three murders in the area. Treating the strange murders as just a typical day in Japan, he starts flipping the channels, soon actively enjoying himself as he watches a game involving swimmers. When Jonas hears a knock on the door, however, his world is flipped upside down. The only horror erotica in the collection, this story was quite the thrilling sexcapade. The creepiness factor was up there with the writing, and the ending was a hell of a turnaround. The pacing was fluid as well, leading into the sex scene—which itself was fantastic, leading from hesitation and fear to pleasured moans and then confusion—exactly when the protagonist was at his most vulnerable.“The Good Girl” by E. S. Lapso revolves around the neko Sora and the man that bought him, Samson. The neko loses a bet and has to dress as a maid for the day while serving his master’s whims. The writing was short and sweet, and the sex scene was definitely enticing with how the characters expressed themselves. However, the entire story was just one single sex scene, more of a “smut” story than erotica, and, considering this is a collection of erotica, “The Good Girl” shouldn’t belong in this anthology.Delving into “Lacuna Vice” by Searska GreyRaven, Ganymede the hedonistic cyber-neko makes his entrance into the nightclub Purgatory. The place is alive with spliced and cybernetically-modified people, with some of the spliced beings going through the full process of becoming two-legged, sentient animals. Gan is soon greeted by Mr. Goodfellow, a representative of a shady company known for scandals such as the illegal splicing of a tentacled creature known as the Protheopi and attempting to steal the plans for a set of implants. What Mr. Goodfellow doesn’t know, though, is that the offer he has to give may actually bite him in the ass. “Lacuna Vice” was wonderful to read through. I was enthralled with the writing, particularly with how Gan was fleshed out and how Mr. Goodfellow doesn’t live up to his name. Even the transitions from place to place impressed me: the switch didn’t leave me jarred and wondering how everyone got from the club to the testing facility. It was intriguing to see how a tentacled machine works to invade and pleasure a living being, while the crafty neko was battling against the machine’s true objective.The last story, “Pussy Perfect” by Kandrel, starts with a group of four friends, Lee, Kim, Charles, and Judy, making their way into an exotic brothel in China Town. With Kim hesitant about this particular cathouse, Lee takes the time to enjoy a gene-modded neko courtesan in the back room. It’s not until after that, after listening to Kim’s protests, that Lee learns a deep secret about his friend. While I enjoyed the writing and content, there were a couple of red flags. The word “Asian” was overused far too much to my tastes in describing Kim’s appearance, and how the author described her laugh as “the typical ‘Asian’ habit of covering her mouth” was just appalling. While it was pleasing to see how a neko acts and lives once out of a subservient position like a brothel, the blatant use of “asian [sic]” to describe Kim’s actions just left a bad taste in my mouth to where I couldn’t truly appreciate the story. Barring that, though, the story paced nicely and kept my attention, and the sex scenes were expressive with how the emotions and even the features of the nekos were detailed.Overall, Purrfect Tails was an arousing anthology to read. If not for the lack of editing, most of these stories would be provocative. Many of the stories gave such unique and ravishing tales that left me wanting more. I’m excited, if the editor can improve with future projects, to see what other stories may make their way to Armoured Fox Press.
Categories: News