Abandoned Places – Book Review by Fred Patten

by kiwiztiger


Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer – with pawesome assistance from Kiwi Tiger.

abandonedplaces_webThis anthology of 16 original furry horror stories was published to debut at Midwest FurFest 2014 on December 5-7. Each story has a full-page frontispiece by Silent Ravyn. To quote FurPlanet’s blurb:

“From stories about being abandoned in the heart of civilization to stories about forced abandonment for the sake of science to how abandoned places affect the mind; the stories in this anthology cover a large range of genres and types of abandoned places.
Each one with their own little piece of personal horror laying among the ruins, ready to strike when you least expect it.”

“Empathy” by Rechan doesn’t say so, but it is obviously inspired by the Kitty Genovese incident in 1964. Morty, an old man, falls on an icy sidewalk during winter and breaks his hip. He calls for help, but everyone who passes just ignores him – except the hungry rats in the garbage. The talking rat that taunts the dying Morty is what makes this a furry story. Nice but too slight.

In “Belief” by Bill Rogers, Fosse (badger) is hired by Alexander (bear) and Nicky (doe) to take them into a “spooky” abandoned mine to get video footage that can be sold to the Haunted Places TV show. There is a cave-in and Fosse is trapped alone in the black tunnel. Does he see real ghosts of miners killed long ago, or is it just his imagination? “They can’t hurt you if you don’t believe in them…”

In “Stared Too Deeply” by Tyler David Coltraine, four college students – Rick (wolf), Rodney (Rottweiler), Bella (rabbit), and Dave (raccoon) – explore an abandoned long, dark, underground service tunnel. At least one of them is not what it appears. This story should not have been placed so closely to the one before it.

In “The World Within” by John Lynne, Macy (vixen) and Hunter (badger) are backpacking on a wilderness-covered island when they find a huge late-19th-century steamship abandoned in the forest. They climb aboard to explore …

In “Sleepwalking” by Adam “Nicodemus” Riggs, the unnamed marten narrator and his cougar employer enter an apparently abandoned old mansion inhabited for years by a missing fruit bat Mad Scientist. The setting appears to be early 20th-century England, although the anthro animals’ non-English species (there are martens in about every European country except England) don’t help the illusion.

In “All That Glitters” by Ianus J. Wolf, five young friends – Zeke (opossum), Richard (raccoon), Jacob and Ben (otter brothers), and David (crane) – are diving in the post-Civil War lower Mississippi River for saleable items aboard sunken riverboat wrecks. They find an intact still-afloat abandoned palatial side-wheeler steamboat, and board her.

‘Take it easy, Ben,’ the raccoon said, ‘What’s wrong?’
‘I feel terrible. My gut’s in knots and it’s this place. There’s something …wrong here. We have to leave.’” (p. 114)

David flies about scouting, which is the first time in Abandoned Places since “Empathy” that any of the animal characters do anything to establish themselves as other than humans in costumes.

“One Shot of Happy” by Roland Jovaik begins with a suicide note by Jonas, a mouse drug addict. But before he dies, he wants to get revenge on Sean, his lion enemy.

“Who’s To Say” by David Ramirez is about a wolf mad killer who arranges the body of his fox victim as a centerpiece on his table. As he gloats over it during the next few days, the fox’s body subtly shifts …

“Prospero” by Patrick “Bahumat” Rochefort is a pygmy marmoset – or an experimental animal based upon a pygmy marmoset — in orbit around Proxima Centauri, who explains why he intends to kill the scientists that made him, and everything else on Earth. This is the first s-f story in Abandoned Places.

“Darwin’s Future” by Taylor Stark is also s-f, set on an alternate Earth where the nations during World Wars I and II developed biological evolution instead of poison gases. More and more ferocious animal weapons are bred and turned loose, until the fate of humanity is in doubt.

“Rainfall” by Kandrel is a third s-f story but with anthro animals, in a post-apocalyptic world reminiscent of Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald (1959), in which a global nuclear war kills everyone on Earth, and the government officers and military leaders who think they are safe in underground shelters slowly die as surface radioactivity spreads lower and lower. Matt (tiger), Tegi (vixen), and narrator Jay (weasel), the only survivors of district 243, clamber into district after district looking for other survivors as their nonpoisoned water slowly runs out.

In “Piping” by Tarl “Voice” Hoch, Chelsea (cat) and Morgan (collie) are two lovers who have become construction workers on the second crew building an Arctic oil pipeline. They find out why the first crew disappeared.

In “World’s Biggest Dragons” by Ryan Campbell, Aaron (lizard), his sister Terri, Julia (wolf), and Blake (mouse) pull off the highway because Aaron wants to look at the “World’s Biggest Dragons” in a sleazy desert roadside tourist trap.

“Terri pulled the car to the left, into the visitor’s lot. There was nobody in the parking lot, either. There were several parked cars, beat-up old pickup trucks, and a minivan, but no people that they could see. ‘Is it even open?’ Terri said, leaning over to peer out the passenger window as they drove by the visitor’s center.” (p. 254)

They find out why nobody is around. Campbell’s anthro animals are slightly more convincing, although the lizards’ talking while flicking their tongues … well, maybe they flick their tongues just before or after speaking. And the wolf girl’s thick pelt doesn’t sound comfortable for the hot desert climate.

“Scratch” by Ben Goodridge is a newly-made werewolf who tries to convince a group of armed humans that he won’t harm them. But he can no longer talk; just growl.

“The Cable” by James L. Steele is affixed to the back of an anthro rat that wakes up strapped to a table in a blood-smeared, shot-up laboratory or operating room. It chews through its straps and goes exploring. Among its finds are the remains of partial anthro animals:

“The rat resisted the gravity of the cable and walked deeper into the chamber. Scattered on the floor were various other animals with hideous deformities. Rabbits with human lips in place of their normal mouths. Dogs with human fingers where their claws should be. Cats with human noses. Mountain lions with human torsos, arms, or legs.” (p. 311)

“Under the Mountain” by Tonin is illustrated on Kappy’s wraparound cover. Neil (wolf), Ritter (raccoon), and Archie (packrat) are exploring for loot in a rediscovered lunar base after an almost-fatal war. Is the base really dead?

16 stories. These aren’t reviews, just plot summaries. 16 reviews would be too depressing. There are some good stories, but for reasons known only to the editor, they are almost all concentrated at the back of the anthology. “World’s Biggest Dragons”, “Scratch”, and “The Cable” are the best stories here. “The World Within” is imaginative. “All that Glitters” is colorful, with its haunted (or demonic) Mississippi riverboat setting. “Prospero” is bitter but excellent s-f that doesn’t really belong in a horror anthology.

I couldn’t read this without thinking of the scene in Metropolis (1927) where Rotwang (the Mad Scientist) chases Maria (the heroine) through the dark catacombs. It’s superficially scary, but Maria (Brigitte Helm) overemotes too much, which keeps her terror from being convincing. This is partly the fault of the short-story format. A literary genius like Stephen King or Robert Bloch can craft an effective horror story in only a few pages, but for most authors, novel-length is needed to build up a mood of real horror. Even Dean Koontz, a masterful horror author, writes novels almost exclusively. If a writer has just a short story, there’s not room for much more than telling the reader right away to be scared, or to set the story in a stereotypical creepy setting like an old haunted house or an abandoned, crumbling mine shaft. Doubtlessly the Abandoned Places title influenced most of the writers to make their settings such old buildings or inexplicably empty buildings. Some like “One Shot of Happy” and “Rainfall” are really suspense rather than horror stories.

Summary: about half of Abandoned Places is well worth reading. The other half is technically well-written, but are horror stories that don’t horrify, only superficially scary. Too many have totally unnecessary furry characters that could easily be replaced with humans.

– Fred Patten

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