Bearly Fiction, Volume One, by Frances Pauli – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

Bearly Fiction, Volume One, by Frances Pauli.
Moses Lake, WA, Gastropod Press, May 2018, trade paperback, $5.99 ([2 +] 114 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $0.99.

The subtitle says “a collection of anthropomorphic stories by Frances Pauli”. The back-cover blurb begins, “Eleven animal stories from author Frances Pauli. From dogs to dinosaurs, from the courtroom to the coral reef, follow these critter characters through a wild variety of adventures across genres.”

In her Introduction, Pauli says that these are all reprints, so you may have read some of these before, in several anthologies of furry fiction. They’re still good, and it’s nice to have them all together. Also, this is a thin but tall book, 7.5” x 9.2” – that’s almost as large as a standard sheet of paper. Considering the low price, you certainly get your money’s worth.

Bad Dog – Hellhounds are born at the witching hour exactly. Hatach is born thirty-five seconds after the witching hour. How will this affect his being a hellhound?

Rats – “A rat walked into a bar.” But he says that he isn’t a rat. Or he wasn’t, anyway. The bartender tries to help him figure out why he turned into an anthro rat.

A Temper for Order – “Piper’s beak tipped the bottle with expert care. The liquid oozed through the narrow spout. Not a drop spilled. One of her feet clutched a smaller, hand-blown phial. She needed twenty drops more to get the mix just right. Twenty drops exactly. Balanced on one long leg, the little hen slicked her feathers closer to her body and counted while she poured,” (p. 14) Piper mixes herbal medicines in an avian beachfront community. Her friend Trudy, a weaver, is determined to play matchmaker for her. But Piper is obsessed with neatness, and the cock that Trudy seems determined to match her with is Dash, a seemingly-staggeringly-drunken stork. Is there more to Dash than is apparent?

El Emperador – Jessie is looking to buy a fast horse. The one the horse trader calls El Emperador looks like a broken-down fleabag. But Jessie is desperate, so she buys him and renames him Harry. How can she get the Emperor/Harry to run?

The Scent of Lantana – “Nando wiped a speck of blood from his nose and stepped over his unconscious opponent. He lifted his arms high, raised twin ruby red boxing gloves into the air, and turned to one side and then the other while lights flashed and a thousand female voices shouted, ‘Toro, Toro! Te Quiero.’” (p. 32) Nando, El Toro, is the top bull in Spain. But he’s a boxing champion, not a bullfighting bull. Can he keep winning? Does he want to? Jose, his rooster manager, tries to keep him trained to perfection. But Antonio, a burro sports reporter, knows what he really wants.

Live Cargo – “The spaceport lighting made a kiln of her radiation resistant suit. She flattened triangle Corgi ears against her skull and pulled the quilted fabric away from her neck, not that it helped in the least. The stoat manning the cargo counter blinked beady, unconcerned eyes back through the window at her.” (p. 50) Cici, a Corgi tramp space freighter captain, has one rule: no live cargo. But the only cargo on “the ugliest lump of gravel she’d ever made port on” is live. Poultry. Scrawny chickens infested with fleas. Cici and Barc, her bot, find the chickens both a curse and a blessing (though they can do without the fleas).

The Lion Sleeps – “Stanley flexed tawny knuckles and let the tips of his claws prick pinpoint holes in the leather-wrapped steering wheel. A horn blared somewhere inside the crowd of vehicles wedged together on the freeway. […] He stuffed a furred finger into his shirt collar and tugged the fabric away from his throat. Freed from the constriction of his work shirt, a yawn worked its way into his jaw, stretched his mouth wide. Stanley’s pink tongue curled around it. His eyelids drooped.” (p. 58) But falling asleep on the freeway is not recommended. Is his job worth it?

Domestic Violence – Anni and George are unhappily-married velociraptors. Don’t let the children watch.

Lessons on Chains – Stella is a cinnamon bear who crochets. On a rooftop. With a raccoon. She teaches him to crochet while they discuss their respective abusive relationships.

Seed of a Doubt – “‘Raise your right fin.’ The bailiff fluttered silver gills and rolled one eyeball the size of Ray’s head in the direction of the judge. ‘And state your name.’” (p. 79) Ray Blythe is a little, timid remora testifying in deep-sea court against the large, very toothy gray shark gangster who he was attached to at the time of the crime.

Last Man Standing – “The eggheads always said we’d never do it, but they never once said it wasn’t possible. Sitting on my knapsack in a mud-filled trench, this seems like a ridiculous thing to ponder, but the thought lodges in my brain as soon as our Captain gives the word the monsters are restless. They’d never said we couldn’t do it. They’d only trusted us not to be stupid.” (p. 103) Mack is one of the last Pinkies, the pure humans, left in a transgenic world where everyone is getting themselves turned into animal-men. Wolf-man. Lion-man. Horse-man. Aardvark-man. (Or –woman.) Then Mack is the Last Man Standing, and he’s captured and forced to choose what animal to get combined with. But then the animal-men get augmented further. Predator-men have to get a prey-animal augmentation, and vice versa. A wolf-man gets a ground squirrel augmentation. Where will it stop? What will Mack end up looking like?

Bearly Fiction, Volume One presents a wide variety of anthro-animal stories in a wide variety of settings; all well-written and enjoyable reading. The “Volume One” promises that when Pauli has written enough more stories for the furry-fiction anthologies and magazines, there will be a Volume Two. And, hopefully, more to come.

Fred Patten

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