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ROAR Vol. 8, Paradise, Edited by Mary E. Lowd – Book Review by Fred Patten


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Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Screen-Shot-2017-11-16-at-5.32.37-PM.pngROAR volume 8, Paradise, edited by Mary E. Lowd.
Dallas, TX, Bad Dog Books, June 2017, trade paperback $19.95 (284 pages), Kindle $9.95.

ROAR volume 8, Bad Dog Books’ annual anthology of non-erotic furry adventure short fiction, is the third edited by Mary E. Lowd. It follows last year’s vol. 7 devoted to Legends, and continues the reductions in page count (394 pages two years ago, 377 pages last year, and 284 pages this year) to return the volumes to the earlier size edited by Buck C. Turner. This year’s theme is Paradise; “eighteen different visions of paradise”. Lowd says in her Foreword that, “This volume of ROAR received fewer submissions than the last two, but the average quality of those submissions was extremely high.”

It certainly is. Get ready for a long review.

The protagonist of “Northern Delights” by Madison Keller is Rafael Ferreira, a Chihuahua detective from the Phoenix, Arizona police department who goes to the start of the Idatarod sled race in Anchorage, Alaska to warn a Chow informant participating in the race of a plot to kill him. He involuntarily takes part in the race as the partner of Mae, a husky.

“Other than the crunching of snow under Mae’s paws and the shushing of the surrounding pine trees in the wind the night was silent. He’d grown up in the big city, and night to him meant the pounding thunder of a gunning motorcycle, the conversing of passing dogs, and the rumbling base leaking from a passing car.

Even the sky was unfamiliar. When Rafael craned his head back, he could see hundreds of stars twinkling brightly overhead. The sight awed and humbled him. When he was a puppy, his father had taken him up to the mountains to star gaze, but even there the lights of the city had hidden all but the brightest stars. He began to pick out constellations he’d learned about in grade school. There was Orion, te Hunter. Usually depicted in mythological art as an English Setter. Mae turned a corner and his view shifted, revealing Leo, the roaring lion. Rafael bared his teeth menacingly at the sky.” (p. 23)

Rafael discovers that Alaska is his paradise – especially if Mae is there.

The heroine of “Flying Back to Paradise” by Jelliqal Belle is Princess Dee Anna of Paradise Archipelago, a very young wombat who comes to New York – a very unanthropomorphized New York – on her flying eagle, dressed as Wonder Wombat, to join all the famous superheroes that she reads about in the comic books and sees on TV. The jaded human New Yorkers ignore her, and an old street musician named Trevor gently breaks it to her that the superheroes are all make-believe.

“The dejected wombat looked down at the sidewalk as she wiggled her stubby toes in relief. ‘Cause I never get to do the adult stuff. Everyone is always protecting me cause I am a princess. I wanted to prove I could do something that matters. I saw all that stuff on TV so I hopped on my eagle and flew here. I wanted to help and to show I could do it too.’” (p. 42)

She does stop a street thief, and flies back to Paradise Archipelago after the old musician convinces her that –

“‘Anywhere can be paradise, you just have to have the right frame of mind.’” (p. 45)

“Personal History” by Tim Susman is divided into two parts. In Boston in 2012, a raccoon appraiser is trying to set a value on a Revolutionary War-era British crimson military jacket that a coyote has brought in. In 1777 the story behind that jacket is told, involving John Martingale, a British red fox soldier and Nathaniel Braxton, a Colonial coyote, who are gay lovers. The story is well-written, although I don’t see what it has to do with “paradise” except for Nathaniel’s comments that he “can’t get into paradise without” John. ROAR vol. 8’s cover illustrates this.

In “The Lion Sleeps” by Frances Pauli, Stanley (a lion) in the big city is exhausted by the daily commute, traffic jams, too much coffee, working all night on presentations, office politics, and never having time for his family. Paradise for him may not be what you’d expect.

The question for much of “Tucked Away” by E. S. Lapso is whether the young rabbit protagonist is Bella, a girl, or Baxter, a boy. She/he is going home to see his/her parents for a weekend, and has to keep up a disguise. His/her stern father has barely accepted that “he’s” gay; it would be too much to admit to being transgender and becoming a girl as well. Nikki, a younger sister, is much more supportive. I suppose the “paradise” here is leaving the warm relationship she/he is in now to become who she/he used to be to go back to visit what used to be home.

“When Pigs Fly” by Amy Fontaine features Portia, a farm pig who wants to be able to sing and fly like the birds instead of to grunt and wallow in the mud like the other pigs. She reluctantly learns that she cannot, but her cheerful attitude makes the other animals happy.

“In Portia’s mind, she grew long, downy wings. The wings were a patchy white and chocolate-brown, just like her coat, with feathers soft enough to soothe her once-despairing heart. The other pigs in the pigpen all grew wings too. Together, the glorious flock of pigs soared over the fence on the other side of the barn and fluttered through the forest, singing exultantly as they did. The forest was full of rich new scents and vibrant new colors, as well as strange creatures Portia had never seen before: a horse with a glistening golden horn, a beast like a cross between a bird and a cat, and more. All of the creatures the pigs met were friendly and beautiful, and they shouted greetings to the pigs as the pigs passed overhead.” (p. 91)

Portia’s dreams and imagination are enough to put her into paradise.

“Funnel Dresses” by Priya Sridhar features spiders in a forest community. Camisole Topstitch is an insecure young seamstress asked to make an old-fashioned funnel dress. She is mocked by haughty Miss Chemise for being so old-fashioned when that was what she was asked for. Veteran seamstress Miss Raglan convinces Camisole to make what she’s asked to, and not try to force her customers to accept what is stylish:

“‘You find out who will want your best. But even if that fails, sewing is your paradise. That’s why we sew, for that happy feeling. Don’t let anyone ever take that away from you.’” (p. 102)

Sridhar does an exemplary job of making the cast feel like Victorian women at the same time she describes their curved fangs and eight legs.

roar8wraparound.jpg?resize=700%2C513

“A Christmas Tale for the Disenchanted” by Mark Blickley is barely in an anthropomorphic setting. Moira, a young blind woman in Jersey City, NJ, has a loyal guide dog, Joad, a Labrador Retriever. But Joad is 14 years old, and aware that he will soon no longer be able to help her. As Christmas Eve turns into Christmas, the Miracle of the Animals briefly allows Joad to speak to Moira. Paradise must be in there somewhere; in any case, this is a heartwarming Christmas fantasy.

“Bite the Apple” by Christopher Shaffer is set in a future Earth that has been totally modified. Kate Kipling has been Converted into an anthro cheetah; Nikolas has been only partly Converted into a half-goat satyr for his job at Las Vegas’ brand-new Arcadia Casino and Hotel, the latest and most advanced pleasure palace:

“Without another word she ducked into her room. A features and amenities flier on the desk told her to be ready to experience ‘paradise at the Arcadia,’ and that her environment would ‘automatically adjust’ to provide a ‘perfect stay.’ The room itself was dimly lit, at just about the right balance of visibility versus feline comfort. If she strained, she could pick up the hints of a scent-neutralizer often used to accommodate morphs’ senses, so she wouldn’t have to smell the previous occupants or the cleaning products used by housekeeping. The temperature, she had to admit, was just right for someone with both fur and the casual suit she wore. And all this with no preparation, as she’d deliberately showed up without a reservation just to test how fast the system worked.” (pgs. 119-120)

Kate is there officially as a travel writer to review the hotel for Modern Vistas magazine. Unofficially she is also a freelance tech writer whose suitcase contains hidden equipment “to figure out just how this technological paradise worked. More than a few people had tried to figure out how the hotel worked, and she planned to be the first to get the truth without being caught and thrown out first.” (p. 120) How can the building be perfectly adjusted to each of the thousands of human and Converted guests, staff, and walk-in casino players? Advanced AI? Alien technology? Special pheromones? Is the military involved? The more Kate investigates, the more sinister it gets …

“Lonesome Peak” by John Giezentanner asks if you could live in paradise, be anything you wanted to be, have any experience you wanted, how would you like it? Jeremy, currently an anthro white-tailed deer who snags his antlers too much, and Keros, currently an anthro gray fox, are bored.

“‘OK. That’s a good point. Those are all good points,’ Keros reached up to poke the tips of his antlers. Jeremy batted his hand away.

‘You don’t have to change your skin if that’s where you’re at. We’ve just got to do something so that you’re not all Mr. Sad Antlers anymore. What if we go somewhere?’

‘I don’t know, the Black Death was kind of a mistake.’

‘It was a terrible mistake. Never again. I meant, what if we go somewhere offline? Physically go to a place on earth. A vacation!’” (p. 139)

They go with two pals who are a red panda and a theriopod dinosaur to Lonesome Peak; a well-marked 8-mile trail for beginning hikers. It’s easy. What could go wrong?

“When the Milk Men Come” by Searska Greyraven is a parable that we should all be familiar with, with anthropomorphic animals. The Milk Men, salt-white bulls, say that they will enforce equality to make a paradise. Who isn’t for equality?

“First, the [sic.] came for the birds, because they said it was unfair that they could fly while many good mammals could not. Birds had no place in a city, where all were on equal footing! (I wondered, what did being a mammal have to do with it? Many things flew that were not birds.) But I stayed quiet. I watched them take away my bat neighbors, who insisted they were really mammals all the way to the big white van.” (p. 154)

What species is the narrator? Does it matter?

“Nor’Killik” by Matt Doyle is set unimaginably far in the future. In the 26th century mankind discovered the ancient Glaxiarch bioengineering technology, and went on an orgy of combining lifeforms and creating new lifeforms, which eventually replaced mankind. Corvin is something that is mostly a reptilian bearded dragon, hardwired into a spaceship to answer emergency calls. He finds a lost research vessel of the Glaxiarch, the Nor’Killick, that is apparently inhabited by one of them named Dahl Mód:

“It was a quadruped, and built a little like the historical animal [a greyhound] in his memories, but the front legs were over long and a bit thicker. Its head was curved on top and angled down into a rounded muzzle of sorts. Even looking as disproportionate as it did, the lifeform was clearly built to move quickly. Its colouring was pitch black, and it appeared to be covered in smooth scales, a little like an Earth snake. It had no visible eyes, but a purple strip that glowed with an eerie phosphorescence ran up either side of its head, starting where it’s [sic.] eyes should be and stopping at the tips of its ears. Around its neck, it wore a metallic collar that shone under the ship’s lighting, and on its back it carried another of its kind. This one, Corvin noted, had no purple strips on its head, and did not appear to be breathing.” (pgs. 163-164)

Corvin is asked a puzzling but enormously meaningful question:

“‘Tell me, Corvin, what is paradise to you?’” (p. 168)

“We Are One” by Thurston Howl is “a piece of classic science-fiction horror.” (Lowd’s introduction, p. 172) Three space pirates, CervoSap Captain Neas of flame-red fur and eyes, LupoSap first mate Tipp (or Tripp), a scrawny female with a thick tail, and ReptoSap gunner Drag, huge with artificial wings, search for Olym-Pass, the fabled paradise planet. You know from the first page that any s-f story about discovering an apparent paradise planet will have something deadly about it.

This is also a fitting place to talk about ROAR vol. 8’s lack of proofreading. The LupoSap is called Tipp 4 times before being called Tripp 17 times. “[…] get them out of the area before the other ship, the Whitefeather, could sneak on board.” (p. 173) Since it’s silly to imagine one spaceship sneaking aboard another, this must mean someone from the Whitefeather sneaking on board the pirates’ ship. “The water was trickled past […]” (p. 177) The “was” is out of place. There are errors like this throughout ROAR vol. 8, although my favorite is in “Nor’Killik”: “Corvin dropped his rifle to his sighed […]” (p. 163)

In “Lucid” by Nicholas Hardin, Erica Lancaster takes part in a group test of FluxTech’s Halcyon device, an improved virtual reality world. She becomes Lyric, an anthro otter:

“Lyric could not remember living anywhere else her entire life, yet every day there was always something new to explore here.

A slender form darted through sunbeams piercing the ocean’s surface. Far below, Lyric could barely make out the constantly-shifting webs of light that the beams cast on the colorful reefs. She dove deeper and twisted her body to bask in daylight’s glow. Her light brown, otter-like body shimmered under the waves, delicately curved and completely unclad, leaving only bare fur to be caressed by the surrounding water as she swam.” (p. 181)

Aquatica is paradise to Erica. But it’s only a virtual world. As she becomes more addicted and tries to spend more time in it, she withdraws more and more from reality:

“She made her way over teeming sidewalks, past numerous people sporting ear buds or virtual interface spectacles, and silently wondered if she might be able to afford a set of her own someday after the Halcyon experiment ended. She dreaded the inevitable day when FluxTech would announce the servers shutting down and recall all active units.” (p. 186)

How far will she go to live full-time in Aquatica?

“Castle Phoenix” by Bill Kieffer could be an anthro fantasy; it could be a dying woman’s hallucination; it could be magic realism. Mrs. Terri Winkle, an elderly widow dying of brain cancer, visits with her daughter Michele’s help the places of her past. At a vacant lot that was the site of the Club Phoenix in the 1970s (they called it Club Paradise), she finds a children’s picture book of animal stories. In the evenings she reads the stories to her granddaughter Amitola, seven years old. Terri is a bisexual who had a full life with Gary, her husband, and Diane, her best friend, both of whom she outlived, in a joyous love triangle relationship. Gary and Diane come alive again as picture-book animal characters; Gary as Barry the Bear and Diane as the Hyena Warrior. They gently guide her to join them, as Princess Puss-Puss in Castle Phoenix, with the necessary help of Amitola’s innocence:

“‘This was a place I could bring you to {says Gary/Barry]. This was a place that Diane could meet you again. Most importantly, it was a place Amitola the Unicorn could understand and believe in,’ The bear took her hand and pulled her towards the red metal drawbridge that crossed the moat. ‘To a child, Paradise is an adventure land where the best of all impossible things happen. It’s that simple. It’s that complicated.’” (p. 234)

Kieffer writes really good schmaltz.

“Kypris’ Kiss” by Slip Wolf is narrated by a nameless cat:

“I’m in a small part of heaven. My delicate nose picks apart what my eyes already feast on; the glinting glass hull of the French press, coiled filter carrying grounds from the toasted gold above, descends. A caramel head of froth crowns the results. I pick up the press by its warm stem, pour with care so no drops escape the bone-white mug with its silver-leaf logo reading Kypris on its flank. Steam rises as I set the press down and stir the cream upward. I delay the moment with baited breath, then another. In heaven there’s no need but I do this because savoring is no less wondrous than having. Then a Moroccan kiss touches my lips and passes. I love this place. I savor my solitude amidst kindred but separate souls and feel the sands of time settle as they always do here. This is a small part of heaven.” (p. 237)

“I love this place,” the cat says. Of course you do, says the coyote, and Kypris loves you back. You are married. The cat is incredulous. Can you love a building as you would a woman? Why not? Everything has its Kami, its soul, and the coffee shop is soulmate to the cat. Over the course of “Kypris’ Kiss”, the coyote proves it. A cute story.

“Behesht” by Dwale is the surrealistic tale of a caravan:

“I ran into the caravan mere hours after my journey started, a handful [of] individuals whose appearance reflected an assortment of cultures and phenotypes. Their leader, a short man of vole genetic stock, offered that I should join them before he even asked my name.

‘Peace, my brother,’ he said. ‘Come with us, and leave these wretched places behind. Where we are going is far better.’

When I inquired as to where that might be, he smiled and sais a single word: ‘Behesht.’ Their destination was nothing less than Heaven itself, the hidden garden which is the reward of believers.” (p. 252)

The caravan is a landbound Ship of Fools. There are The Clergyman, Shapur, their vole leader; The Newlyweds, two rabbits “draped head to toe in bright clothes”; The Beekeeper, “a chimera with a reptilian phenotype. We shall assume his gender as male for the purposes of this story, but I couldn’t be certain.” (p. 255); The Djinn; The Nomad; The Executioner; and more. A truly wondrous tale.

“Hope for the Harbingers” by Allison Thai is also a surrealistic tale. The Lamb of God summons the Four Horsemen (without their riders) – Death, War, Famine, and Pestilence – from Hell to end the world, because it is time for the Last Judgment. All on Earth meet the Apocalypse with fear and despair, until Death encounters Viktor, a young Russian rabbit. Paradise can come in unexpected ways and places.

ROAR volume 8 (cover by Teagan Gavet) consists of 18 very different stories. There are none that I did not enjoy (except for having to wade through poor proofreading, and my usual kvech that several are funny-animal stories whose characters could just as easily have been humans). They are all so good and so different that it is hard to name favorites. For diversity, I will pick “The Lion Sleeps” by Frances Pauli, “Lonesome Peak” by John Giezentanner, “Castle Phoenix” by Bill Kieffer, “Behesht” by Dwale, and “Hope for the Harbingers” by Allison Thai.

ROAR volume 8 is not an anthology to be read at one sitting, but relax with a few stories at a time. It should entertain you for a week or more.

Fred Patten

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