Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Cover by Jenn ‘Pac’ Rodriguez
Claw the Way to Victory, edited by AnthroAquatic
Capalaba, Queensland, Australia, Jaffa Books, January 2016, trade paperback $17.50 (285 pages), Kindle $5.00.
Claw the Way to Victory is an original-fiction anthology of eleven short stories by nine authors, “each showcasing a different sport and [showing] just how the instincts of an animal matched with the intelligence of a human can help or hurt a player. Scratching? Biting? Against the rules? Not this time.” (blurb) It is published by Jaffa Books in Australia, but printed and also sold by editor AnthroAquatic in the U.S., and was released by him at Anthro New England 2016 in Cambridge, MA on January 21-24; hence the price in U.S. dollars and the Amazon Kindle edition.
In “Descent” by TrianglePascal (gliding), Anthony, a mallard TV reporter, interviews Lacy Gallant, a golden eagle who is about to attempt the first unassisted thousand-foot descent off a cliff into a sheer gorge in history – without a parachute.
“With the camera off, Anthony let himself slouch back into his camp chair, then eyed Lacy again. The eagle was watching the bear and the squirrel [Anthony’s camera crew] with curiosity while she sipped her coffee. She looked impossibly relaxed considering what she was going to be attempting that day. She was dressed in a tank top and a tight pair of shorts, both of them specifically designed to reveal as much of her plumage as possible. It showed off the impressive musculature that stretched from her shoulders down to her powerful arms. Despite how dirty and ragtag the rest of her looked, the flight feathers hanging down from those arms were more immaculately cared for than the claws of most supermodels. There was a healthy sheen about them that bespoke hours of daily care.” (p. 11)
The mammals in the sports camera crew think she’s crazy. Anthony, as a bird but not a hunter-diver, can dimly appreciate what she feels when she’s gliding.
“Discus Dog” by James L. Steele (discus) features Greg Rett, a young wolf in his first Major League Discus game, like football but much more brutal. The two teams are The Force, a nine-animal mix of three canines, four felines, and two reptiles, and The Pack, all wolves.
“The equine switched off his mic and walked up and down the gap between the two teams.
‘All right, you animals, here are the rules. Blood happens, and claws and teeth are okay, but no intentional wounds above the shoulders. Do not use the coin as a weapon against another player. Do not use the stadium walls as a weapon against another player. Do not …’” (p.27)
Greg, in the excitement of the game, bites a rival player’s throat out.
The National Discus League officials question him. The press questions him. No police question him. Everybody agrees that these things happen in the passion of the game, and Greg is a rookie who hasn’t yet developed self-control, so it’s okay. Greg feels that he committed murder (or at least manslaughter), and he can’t believe that he’s getting off so easily. He researches the history of the organized Discus games …
“Bottom of the Ninth” by PJ Wolf (baseball) is narrated by “six-year-old me”, the batter at the bottom of the last inning of Game Three of the Super Series. As he faces the other team’s tanuki pitcher, his musings about the game fill in the reader about animal baseball.
“Felipe Infante is a bull, and he’s paid – handsomely – to hit home runs. Had a pretty good season, too, with thirty-eight of ‘em. He isn’t paid to run the bases, which is why the rabbit is pinch-running for him.” (p. 57)
We never do find out who or what “six-year-old me” is, but we find out so much else about animal baseball that it doesn’t matter.
“A Knight’s Tale” by Eric Lane (tournament swordsmanship) is narrated by Jacob Harper a.k.a. Sir Michael Hemsworth, a coyote knight dueling a boar for the lordship of a modern renaissance fair. When he is gored by one of the boar’s tusks – an accident outside of the dueling rules – he loses his nerve even after he heals. Marcus Wen, his otter best friend, helps him get it back again. This is a well-written story with the knight-reinactors taking advantage of their animal traits, although the dueling is hacking with blunt flat-edged swords which Lane constantly refers to as rapiers, which are later thin-pointed swords used for thrusting. I think that Sir Michael Hemsworth should have been Sir Michael rather than Sir Hemsworth, too.
“Ping Pong Diplomacy” by Huskyteer (ping pong) is, no surprise, about an internationally-prestigious table-tennis tournament between teams led by Tux, a U.S. cat, and a Communist Chinese team led by a tiger.
“‘I’m Jun,’ the tiger rumbled. “It means ‘army’.’
That worked. The guy was pretty much an army all by himself.” (p. 102)
Tux has always been a fan and player of table-tennis, which is why he is chosen for the U.S. team invited to China. But the Chinese have developed table-tennis into a cross between a science, an art form, and a religion; and they are helped here by their animal nature.
“Only then did Tux have time to work out what was off-kilter about the game.
Jun wasn’t using a paddle. He was simply hitting the ball with the enormous pad of his paw, easily as broad as a competition paddle, and, Tux thought, remembering the pawshake, with just the right combination of firmness and flexibility, like a layer of rubber.
Was that even legal? And how was he supposed to counter it?’ (p. 104)
Tux takes advantage of his own feline instincts to stay glued to the bouncing ball. Huskyteer mixes the game competition with low-grade diplomatic espionage.
In “After the Last Bell’s Rung” by Patrick Rochefort (boxing), Balus Bubalis is an Asian water-buffalo by species but a Texas native. He was the Texas Pro-Am Heavyweight Champion in his youth twenty-five years earlier, but he never went professional, retiring instead to help his dirt-poor family. He later became a physiotherapist specializing in treating sports injuries. The unnamed narrator interviewing him and his old coaches for his life’s story focuses upon how having thick horns affects boxing. There’s no drama in this story, but a lot of heart. Balus is the sort of quiet man who was featured in lots of “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Ever Met” stories.
“A Leap Forward” by MikasiWolf (running) isn’t about a formal sport as much as using running training to stay ahead of the police. Lesaut (civet) and Liam (angora cat) are parentless street youths who have their own society, The Movement, on the rooftops of the city of Intersection. They practice the Art of Displacement, both a physical exercise and a philosophy to hone their speed and agility.
“Each day, the disciples of The Movement, known as ‘Traceurs’, would meet on their own mutually-agreed roof for dinner and socializing. And once a week, there would be a get-together known as the Gathering, in which everyone would share their own thoughts and encouragement they may have for the rest of the immediate community. Lessons learnt, job offers, and personal philosophies; everything went as long as it was constructive to one’s well-being.” (p. 142)
The older Liam asks Lesaut to mentor a newcomer, the 16-year-old horse Snoss, to The Movement. He doesn’t tell Lesaut that the police in the streets and subways below are looking for Snoss. Lesaut needs all that he has learned of the Art of Displacement to keep himself and Snoss out of the hands of the authorities.
“A Gentleman of Strength” by Dwale (sumo wrestling) is a polite translation of rikishi, a sumo wrestler, usually translated just as “strong man”. This is the story of the final tournament of Ame, an aging honey bear sumo wrestler, who is wondering whether he should keep wrestling until he attains the title of komusubi or retire before fading strength forces his retirement. The story describes sumo wrestling in depth, adding such animal traits as whether a plantigrade or a digitigrade stance is better for a sumo wrestler, the disadvantages of having a long tail, and so on.
“Nightball” by TrianglePascal (basketball) contrasts the playing of day animals and night animals. Never the twain shall meet – until a day animal, a cat, goes out for a nocturnal team. The attributes of the nocs (a skunk, an owl, a deer, etc.) are illustrated. The story is why the cat wants to play with them. None of the characters are named except for their species. They don’t need names here. This is the second story here by TrianglePascal.
“Eight Seconds and the Grace of God” by Patrick Rochefort (rodeo) is set in the macho world of cowboy poker players and rodeo contestants (of both sexes) in Alberta, where both the stallion and steer riders and the stallions and steers are sentient. This is Rochefort’s secod story here.
“The big, brown steer had a coat like cheap milk chocolate, and he stared down at Dawson in a way that mutt didn’t like, as if he was just measuring him up for how hard he’d have to stomp the dog flat.” (p. 226)
Barroom fights and fights in the rodeo ring. American and Canadian rivalry. Bradley Shoulders and Cameron McKenzie are both steers, but they sure aren’t friends. Cameron is friends with Dawson Chinook, the mutt. Dawson is hot to ride Bradley in the rodeo and win, to square up for his pal getting sucker-punched. But the hulking steer is three times Dawson’s size. Who the fuck cares!
“Marge the Barge” by Mary E. Lowd (ice skating) is a large Newfoundland dog with five rambunctious puppies. She’s a hockey mom in a figure-skating rink where all the skaters are little cats, small dogs like Chihuahuas, and squirrels. Marge suffered an injury that ended her hockey-playing days. Her only hope for staying on the ice is to learn to become a figure skater. But a huge Newfie amidst all those dainty animals performing graceful ballerina twirls and the like? Will Marge’s determination be enough?
Claw the Way to Victory (cover by Jenn ‘Pac’ Rodriguez) may be the best anthology that I’ve ever read, in terms of all of its stories being so well-written that they deeply held my interest even though I don’t have any interest in their sports (in ten cases; “A Leap Forward” is well-written but isn’t really about a sport). Ten different sports. Stories ranging from dramas of whether the protagonist will win, to a quiet human-interest piece. In a couple of cases, notably “A Gentleman of Strength”, it has taught me a lot about its sport while recounting a deep human-interest story. I feel safe in guaranteeing that you’ll really like Claw the Way to Victory even if you’re not interested at all in sports. And if you are …