ROAR Volume 7: Legendary – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
ROAR volume 7, Legendary, edited by Mary E. Lowd.
Dallas, TX, Bad Dog Books, June 2016, trade paperback $19.95 (377 pages), Kindle $9.95.
ROAR volume 7, Bad Dog Books’ annual anthology of non-erotic furry adventure short fiction, is the second edited by Mary E. Lowd following last year’s vol. 6 devoted to Scoundrels. It is slightly smaller – 17 stories rather than 28, and 377 pages rather than 394 – but is still larger than the volumes edited by Buck C. Turner. This year’s theme is Legends/Legendary; the legends that anthro animals listen to and live by – or not.
In “Crouching Tiger, Standing Crane” by Kyla Chapek, three Oriental students – a fox, a crane, and a snake – listen to a tigress fortuneteller as she relates the history of their tiger-crane school of martial arts. “The Manchurian government of the Qing dynasty had become corrupt beyond measure. At the same time the Shaolin style [of Kung Fu] had become popular, gaining great respect and power within the martial arts world.” (p. 14) This is the story of how the betrayed Shaolin monks went underground and continued to teach their style, told with anthro animals: The Bengal tiger, snow leopard, and clouded leopard clans, disguised as traveling performers; their meeting the fragile-appearing cranes; marriage resulting despite official disapproval (“‘The Manchu do not look kindly on cross breed relationships, let along cross clan.’” –p. 20); betrayal and death; and the children, foster brothers Hoong Man Ting (crane) and Wu Ah Phieu (tiger), despite their own families’ anthropomorphic disapproval (“‘A crane couldn’t use tiger style because they lack paws with strong digits and claws; conversely a tiger cannot use crane style because he lacks a beak and the stance would be completely unnatural.’” –pgs. 29-30), leading to the climax showing how the two styles were merged.
“The Frog Who Swallowed the Moon” by Renee Carter Hall, tells how Frog used to have the most beautiful voice in the swamp; until one night when he swallowed a bucketful of water that had the full moon shining in it, and everything went dark. He learns what he must do to replace the moon, but that is why his voice has never been the same.
Hall paints an unforgettable word-picture of the pond in the dark night, except when Frog opens his mouth to talk and blinding moonbeams shoot out. This legend is an ethereal example of poetic writing:
“It didn’t seem to be the pond he’d known as a tadpole. In the stark light of his moonbeam, the pale stones led him across an expanse of water larger than he’d ever seen before. Soon there were no more marsh-reeds or cattails at the edges of his sight. There was only darkness and the moonpath, and when Frog dared to look up, even the stars had disappeared. He didn’t look up again after that, keeping his light and his eyes focused on the stones just ahead.” (p. 53)
“The Torch” by Chris “Sparf” Williams tells the bittersweet story of Rob Cantor (Dalmatian), Captain Electron in an old TV series that’s been forgotten and become mega-popular again by a current spectacular VFX movie. Rob has been dragged out to appear at a comics convention where everyone wants the autograph of John Pierce, the new movie Captain Electron. Rob has gotten tired of being introduced as “the legendary, original Captain Electron” to animal kids rushing past him to line up for Pierce’s booth – even the kids’ parents are usually younger than he is. Until he learns from an unexpected fan what “legendary” really means.
In “A Rock Among Millions” by Skunkbomb, narrator Alec (cat) is the just-graduated-from-college friend of Leif, a collie who is starting a job selling tail insurance. “‘You try walking around without a tail and see how many times you fall flat on your ass.’” (p. 89) At least Leif has a job that is just offered to him. Alec’s applications seem to all disappear. A hike together in a mountainous park, looking for a legendary rock that brings good luck, puts Alec into a better perspective.
“The Pigeon Who Wished for Golden Feathers” by Corgi W. is Epoj, who lives in an avian society based upon gambling.
“In avian society, gambling was a sacred affair. Games of chance were divine mediums, through which the gods declared their will. As some read signs in tea stains, and others looked for guidance in the stars, birds turned to gambling, whenever they wished for divinations.” (p. 97)
The pigeon Epoj, a student of Olanthun the dove, is a very successful gambler who is having his feathers set in gold as he can afford them. When Epoj gets an invitation to participate in a tournament of the gods, the peak of the faith (skill is not supposed to be a factor), he accepts despite Olanthun’s advice. Is what happens to them a result of Epoj’s hubris, or the gods’ will? The avian society and their games are fascinating.
“Unbalanced Scales” by Bill Kieffer is a chilling tale of rap music, Cold Blood, and family. Frosty Pine is a thin Bearded Dragon in the Reptile rap group The Knights of St. George, one of the groups of Large Scale Records’ tour The Large Scale Event (reptiles – scales – get it?); a roadie double for singer Dr. Ice and younger brother of giant Kudzu who has made himself into their flashy headliner, Saint George: nine feet tall, gold chains, mirrored coated sunglasses, gold capped lower teeth and upper teeth etched with the words ST. GEORGE and inlaid with gold. Others are Jonny Heartland, an Alligator; Mimic, a box Turtle; Bling Bling, an Anole, … Frosty has gone along at his parents’ urging to keep an eye on Kudzu, in a dangerous world of Mammal and Avi prejudice against the Cold Blooded Repts. But there is danger within the rap Repts themselves, and as the novelette progresses, the reader wonders if Frosty is looking after Kudzu or if Kudzu is looking after Frosty.
Insanity runs in our family.
“Reason: A Story of Aligare” by Heidi C. Vlach is an Aligare tale, the setting of three books by Vlach and a story in the Gods with Fur anthology. Linden, a back-shelled, green-skinned, antennaed aemet girl, is the young keeper of Castaway village’s sacred shrine tree. The shrine’s old tree is dying. Castaway village is at the edge of a large lake, and the soil is too watery for a plum tree; but the villagers don’t want excuses, they want a tree. Vrin, a weasellike ferrin, helps Linden to find a solution. Vlach’s tales of Aligare are always quiet little gems.
“Old-Dry-Snakeskin” by Ross Whitlock asks how the world broke? The bears, the doe, the foxes and the mice, all the animals have their stories, but everyone agrees that only Rattler knows the One Actual Story. Not any rattlesnake, either. Rattler. The outcast. The heretic. This is his story. But those he tells it to don’t want to hear it – understandably so.
“Kitsune Tea” by E. A. Lawrence features Rue, only ten months old and more fox than kitsune. She’s threatened by becoming roadkill in Manitou State Forest, or succumbing to any of the natural dangers that kill most foxes before their first birthday, before she learns how to use her magic kitsune powers. Does the enormous wooden dollhouse on an oak stump in the forest have any answers? What about her grandmamma who has shape-shifted into a human bag lady? Rue can change into a sparrow, but it’s easy to turn into something lesser; hard to turn into something larger. Yes, the dollhouse has answers.
The opening paragraph of “A Touch of Magic” by John D. Rosenman is:
“George Brewster hadn’t seen his Teddy bear in thirty-four years, so he was a bit surprised when he opened his office door and found it sitting on his desk. Or her, rather. As the door clicked shut, he remembered he had called her Susy Burkabine. He also recalled that his parents had disposed of her in the incinerator one day when he was six.” (p. 225)
Susy has returned because George needs help now. His 8-year-old daughter Sylvia has been possessed by a demon. The story is melodramatic, but unfortunately I never felt that George, Sylvia, or George’s other daughter, 12-year-old Tina, act like real people. Or that Susy acts like what I’d imagine a Teddy bear come to life would act like. I also felt that the story is vague as to whether Sylvia was possessed at birth, a couple of years ago, or whether it’s just recently happened.
“Long Time I Hunt” by Erin Lale is one of the best in ROAR vol. 7. It is narrated by a nameless large feline guardian spirit over countless generations, who begins in the prehistoric past and ends in the present. The spirit does not know what it sees, but the reader will recognize what is going on and what happens to its people. “Long Time I Hunt” is very different from “The Torch”, but they each have a bittersweet beauty in their own way.
“The Butterfly Effect” by Jay “Shirou” Coughlan, illustrated by Kadath’s wraparound cover for the book, shows Roi Longfang, the narrator, an anthro wolf in armor with Archimedes, his miniature gryphon spell-forme.
“All four of us [the others are Rahni, another wolf with Hermes, his miniature wolf-seeming spell-forme, and two humans] wore masks made of silver and stuffed with incense and herbs over our faces. Ours were made specifically to fit over our muzzles but they weren’t comfortable, especially for as long as we had been wearing them. No doubt the humans were feeling the same, despite their better fit. They were a constant reminder of what kind of war this was.” (p. 259)
What kind of war is it? The butterflies are ominous.
“‘What’s going on with the butterflies?’
‘Not a lot,’ Erin [another wolf] sighed, idly stroking my side. ‘The butterflies are too dangerous to get close enough to research them, and anyone who is possessed by them is out of our control. All we know is it has something to do with the air, and that they are more than normal butterflies.’” (p. 268)
It’s complex but colorful. There are other animals such as Fehri, a stoat bureaucrat, and an otter nurse. The reader has to figure it out since Roi can’t. He’s getting weaker and weaker, and the humans are getting more and more worried. Are the butterflies responsible?
“The Roar” by John Giezentanner, set in the primeval past, is the first story or movie I’ve seen anywhere that features the latest knowledge about the legendary dinosaurs having feathers! A family of smaller carnosaurs – TraawkCnara the narrator, Djuxhaawtig, smaller Ikherrja and Thrutsee-e.
“We stay alive a few more days, catching some fish. The boys chase bugs and furry things; Ikherrja even manages to snag a bird. But we need bigger prey, especially Djuxhaawtig, who is more irritable than ever, and thin. So we keep our noses to the wind and wait. When the moment comes, we ford the river at a better place than the armored one knew of. The boys and I swim; my claws occasionally scrape cobble; Djuxhaawtig slowly walks across.” (p. 298)
They are desperate for enough food to stay alive. They try to take it from the monsters, the larger carnosaurs – but the smaller carnosaurs would be considered feathery monsters today, too.
In “Trust” by TJ, Will (coyote) and Allen (gray fox) are middle-aged homosexual lovers who have been going together for five years. Now that gay marriage is legal, Allen wants to marry Will before he dies of cancer. But Will has a secret … will Allen trust him enough? This is one of the few stories that I’d call genuinely “legendary”. It’s also a funny-animal story; with no need for any of its characters to be animals instead of humans.
In “The Golden Flowers” by Priya Sridhar, Sushil is an aged rhinoceros, the Guardian of the grove of the golden flowers. Emery Brittle (goat), grandson of Sushil’s old friend Sundar, comes to him for medical aid and the real story of why Sundar took Sushil’s horn. Sundar and Emery are cool. Everyone else in Emery’s family sucks. What does “The Golden Flowers” have to do with legends?
“A Thousand Dreams” by Amy Fontaine has a beautiful opening line:
“Tarascus was a wolf made of stars.” (p. 337)
Tarascus becomes a legend to the wolves for many generations, then is forgotten. What happens to a legend who is forgotten? Tarascus wanders the universe, meeting another star-legend, Ranslei the owl. But not forever.
In “Puppets” by Ellis Aen, Sook Callowain, Commander Stargrave, is a legend of the Interstellar Security Federation’s Havari War Academy. He died fighting. Or he died of old age. Or he doesn’t ever die. He is a wolf. Or she is a jaguar. Plug in, and you are both the puppet and the puppeteer.
ROAR volume 7 contains 17 stories. Most are well worth reading, even if their connections to “legends” may be tenuous. Some are true anthro stories; others feature very thinly disguised humans. But it’s an extensive mixture, from the dim past to the far future. Magic to technology. Feathered dinosaurs to wolves in silvery armor or spacesuits. It’s a good addition to the series.