ROAR vol. 6 – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer, submits this review:
ROAR volume 6, Scoundrels, edited by Mary E. Lowd.
Dallas, TX, Bad Dog Books, July 2015, trade paperback $19.95 (394 pages), Kindle $9.95.
ROAR, Bad Dog Books’ about-annual anthology of non-erotic furry adventure short fiction, enters a new phase with volume 6. Volumes 2 through 5 were edited by Buck C. Turner. Mary E. Lowd takes over with #6, and she’s announced as the editor for 2016’s #7. What are the differences?
ROAR has grown considerably larger. #1, edited by Ben Goodridge in 2007, has 12 stories in 277 pages. #2 through #5, edited by Buck Turner, expanded slowly and erratically — #2 in 2010 is 6 stories in 320 pages, #3 is 10 stories in 260 pages, #4 is 12 stories in 297 pages, and #5 is 14 stories in 325 pages. (All previous volumes are still available.) ROAR #6 is 28 stories in 394 pages; a large jump forward.
ROAR #1 through #5 contain furry dramatic adventures and serious mood pieces. #6 adds humor to the mixture. Here are the first half-dozen stories:
“Squonk the Dragon” by Pete Butler. A dragon’s egg is hatched by Mrs. Tweedle-Chirp, a small blue bird. Squonk builds a nest for himself at the top of a giant tree. Wendel the wizard assumes that all dragons live in caves, so Squonk must be a scoundrel and tries to get rid of him. The story is enjoyably amusing, but it feels more like a case of mistaken identity, not a real scoundrel.
“Brush and Sniff” by mwalimu. Berek, an adolescent in a small village of anthro wolves, is given Itchit, a captured wild squirrel as a pet. He gradually trains Itchit (who he calls Brush) through kindness to accept him. The story is developed through both viewpoints; Berek’s and Itchit’s. This is a gentle, well-written mood piece, though there is no real reason for Berek and his family and neighbors to be anthro wolves rather than humans. This could be any story about a frontier boy coaxing a wild squirrel to accept him.
“Faithful” by Marshall L. Moseley. Okay, this is a drama with justifiable anthro characters and a real scoundrel.
“Gerbil 07” by Huskeyteer. James, a gerbil, wants out of her (yes, her) ball and to be recognized as a suave Secret Agent. With a License to Kill. Plenty of scoundrels here, and a fun read although not what’s expected in a ROAR story.
“CSI: Transylvania” by Kevin L. Glover. A mashup of TV police dramas, werewolf stereotypes, and fairy tales, especially Little Red Riding Hood. An amusing anthro parody of TV’s CSI dramas, but the whole story is too silly (in a good way) to take the scoundrels seriously.
“Hard Scratching in Kittytown” by Blake Hutchins. Crime noir with cats, as told by Shadowpaw Jones, private eye. If you like Maltese Falcon-style, everybody-is-no-damn-good mysteries with a clever plot, this is a good one; suspenseful yet humorous.
So of the first 6 of 28 stories, only one is typical of the first five ROAR volumes. You get plenty of what’s expected from ROAR in the others, though. Dramas of good guys exposing scoundrels. Good guys accused of being scoundrels. “At What Cost” by James the Roo (illustrated by Teagan Gavet’s wraparound cover) is both. Lowd presents a more varied mixture than before. She also seems less interested in hewing to a theme than in presenting high-class stories, whether they fit the theme or not.
There are more anthros than just the usual wolves, foxes, and large felines. Roosters. Stoats. Crows. Lemurs. Alien animals like the Quarnates; “fuzzy velociraptors with feathery tails and crests.” “Perch” by Sarah Doebereiner features a world of pairs, like a birdman with a catwoman lover:
“His eyes followed the path of a dogwoman walking hand in hand with a lizard. The woman held a puppy in her arms. A crest of very fine scales ran over its face and down its back. Matthew tried not to stare.” (p. 198)
“A kitten with wings could be movie star [sic.], but a bird with fur who couldn’t fly, or a kitten with backward knees would get stuck in menial labor somewhere far out of sight of the public.” (ibid.)
There are good detective and crime stories. “Perch” is one. There are well-told but inconsequential ones. “Food, Feuds, and Fake Flora” by Ocean Tigrox is about lunchroom thefts among a group of anthro office workers. There are frustrating human-interest pieces; in “I Hold My Father’s Paws” by David D. Levine, an estranged son tries to understand why his father is having himself transformed surgically into a dog. “Puppy Love” by George S. Walker begins with the best grabber: “In the Ninth Ward of New New Orleans, the CEO of Atomitronics unleashed a flock of flamingobots. John LeChien, walking to work in the morning, heard them before he turned and saw them: a stiff-gaited pink horde clacking across the street and sidewalks.” (p. 245) The flamingobots are programmed to kill him. “Skinned” by Kyell Gold is the most fast-paced and mysterious of all; what is Abner the slim grey fox – or the entity who begins as Abner – running from?
All 28 stories in ROAR volume 6 are good, but Lowd saves the best (well, my favorite) for last: “Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk” by Ken Scholes. Edward Bear, a sentient child’s toy made in Winnie-the-Pooh’s image, is the only survivor on “a starship, the first of five to hastily leave a dying home. Earth.” (p. 376) The ship’s Artificial Intelligence has solved what killed its humans, but it needs the robot bear to contact the four following starships and pass on the information to save the remaining humans:
“‘You must help me save them.’
‘Me?’ Edward’s voice was more a squeak than anything else and having been somewhat unsure of it, he repeated himself. ‘Me?’
‘You’re all that’s left.’ She changed again, shrinking into a boy in short-pants that immediately filled his heart with hope. ‘You are going to go on a very long walk to climb a very tall mountain.’
‘Yes. I need you to be a Very Brave Bear. Can you do that?’
Edward thought for a moment. ‘Y-yes.’” (p. 377)
ROAR volume 6 is, if not better than the five preceding anthologies, still at least equal to the best in the furry fiction field. Read it, by all means.