ROAR Vol. 9, Resistance, Edited by Mary E. Lowd – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
ROAR Volume 9, Resistance, Edited by Mary E. Lowd.
Dallas, TX, Bad Dog Books, July 2018, trade paperback, $19.95 (297 pages), eBook $7.95.
ROAR volume 9, Bad Dog Books’ annual anthology of non-erotic furry adventure short fiction, is the fourth edited by Mary E. Lowd. It follows last year’s vol. 8 devoted to Paradise, and 2016’s vol. 7 devoted to Legends. This year’s theme is Resistance; “[…] the vision of resistance […] expressed through the voices of fifteen amazing authors.”
I suspect that Lowd accepted stories based on their quality rather than their relevance to the theme. The stories are all very good, and an excellent mix of types, although I don’t see what connection some of them have to “resistance”.
“Saguaros” by Watts Martin features Hanai, a coyote aristocrat, and Tamiisi, her shy rabbit maid, in a desert world of magic:
“Tamiisi stepped toward the wall. The neighborhood lanterns were first to meet her eyes, fixed lamps glittering from lawns and porches and thorn-trees, floating lamps trailing behind or in front of unseen travelers. As her eyes adjusted, she could trace the lines of sidewalks and carriageways, see the pennants atop the highest tents of the Great Market. Sky-fish flitted through the air, over and under the stone bridges, leaping to touch the rare flying sled. If she remained perfectly still, listened ever so closely, she could hear the clockwork birds twittering in faint harmonies as they returned to the park to roost for the night.” (p. 19)
But is the magic the coyotes’ or the rabbits’ – or someone else’s? The rabbits are unhappy with their lot, but what happens doesn’t seem to be due to anyone’s “resistance”.
In “Ghosts” by Searska GreyRaven, the resistance is that Cal, an Angora neko-form, is lesbian and rejects the straight heterosexual life her domineering father demands that she lead. Cal’s partner after he dies is Deanne, a black cat neko-form scientist trying to prove the existence of ghosts. When Cal’s father’s ghost continues to try to force her to “return to God”, the story becomes like a dramatic Ghostbusters:
“I squinted my eyes shut, and suddenly felt a burst of heat along the side of my face. My father snarled and let go, dropping me to the floor. I lay, gasping for air and opened one eye.
Deanne stood in the doorway, a heavy contraption slung over one shoulder. She held what looked like a gun from a game of laser tag in her paws.
‘What … the hell?’ I coughed. ‘Is that?’ I couldn’t think of the word.
‘Nope. It’s a spectral inverter. And it’ll scorch your retinas if you look at it!’
The ghost of my father roared and flew at Deanne, who roared right back and hit him again with a beam of red-black energy. My father dodged and laughed.” (p. 47)
Calling Cal and Denise “neko-forms” instead of just cats is necessary because there’s also a non-anthro pet cat in the story. Also a rat-form, corvine-forms, and a lupine-form for anthro animals, plus humans. The ROAR vol. 9 cover by Kadath illustrates “Ghosts”.
In “Froggy Stews” by Humphrey Lanham, Uri, a frog, and Clyde, a sea lion, are roommates despite the disparity in their sizes:
“The [drunken] frog nodded. Clyde offered up a flipper for Uri to climb onto. On a normal day, Uri would never allow himself to be carried about by a larger animal like that. Today, however, he didn’t think he could successfully move from the sink to the couch without looking more ridiculous than he would in the arms of a sea lion.” (p. 57)
After six months, one of the two decides that the Odd Couple relationship isn’t working out. I’m not sure where the “resistance” is here. In fact, I’m not sure why a normal-sized frog and sea lion would ever decide to become roommates in a normal human house in the first place. All anthro fiction requires some acceptance of fantasy, but “Peeling off his grey turtleneck and $100 jeans” (p. 53) – this is a normal-sized, normal-physique frog? And a normal-physique sea lion doesn’t have legs. “Froggy Stews” reads smoothly, but the constant description of the frog’s physical normality (a small, hopping, cold-blooded reptile) made it impossible for me to envision him dressing in clothes, getting drunk, and living in a house-sharing relationship (a two-story house, at that) with a much-larger mammal who doesn’t have legs.
The protagonist of “Post-Isolation” by Ellis Aen is Ben Forec, a raccoon lawyer. It’s set after humanity has disappeared and anthro animals have populated Earth, but a human cast would work just as well. ENGRAM, a powerful company, has become omnipresent in society. It offers a psychological process that supposedly makes people more mentally stable. Dr. Connor Able, a German Shepherd friend of Ben’s, thinks that it does the opposite. This story has the creepiest imagery:
“The younger raccoon’s pupils were wide. So very wide. She kept staring at Ben. She was crying, but her voice went unperturbed, as if she were unaware of the fact.
‘What’s going on?’ the girl asked Ben. It was a simple question, but he couldn’t think, much less process an answer. ‘Did something happen to Jamie?’
Then the bees came. Thousands of them. They came from the ground, the walls of his home, from the vacant holes that had become the raccoon girl’s eyes. They crawled free of her flesh and left her body, flipping up tiny little patches of fur like miniature trap doors. They swirled and swarmed until there were so many of them that they blotted out the sun and all Ben could see was screaming, buzzing darkness.” (p. 63)
“Resistance” by David M Sula is set in a world of anthros and humans that has become deadly to the humans:
“He [Theo] inhaled it [the outdoor air] through his nose. It was crisp and dry, no different from any of the twenty seven autumns he’d experienced before. It even bore the same taste as before, but if Chase stepped into this atmosphere, it was almost certain that the human would catch the Chill. The disease came out of nowhere, a mutated flu virus that had evolved beyond the inconvenience this illness used to be. Anthros were immune, so immune that the virus couldn’t even survive in their bodies, but humans were so much more susceptible to it. Every day the death toll rose, but the virus mutated too fast for vaccines to have any real impact.” (p. 92)
Theo (Lion) and Chase (human), a M/M couple, have built a quarantine booth over the front door of their apartment. Theo can come and go to his job, while Chase has been trapped in their apartment for months. He gets cabin fever, which makes him bitter and threatens their relationship. The resistance here is what Chase and Theo hope will be developed to the Chill.
“The Hard Way” by Val E Ford features Liam and Katy, human soulmates. When Liam is crippled, becomes despondent, and commits suicide, Katy aches for him. But when he is reincarnated as a series of animals – short-lived animals – Katy finally says, “Enough is enough!”
That doesn’t stop him from returning, though.
“Coyote Magic” by Ryan Campbell takes place in a world of magic. Everyone (almost) has an anthro animal spirit guide. 16-year-old Pel has his heart set on something powerful like a bear or lion, but when he gets a lowly coyote – sneaky and a thief – he tries to deny it. He would rather pretend that he didn’t get any magic than that he’s coyote kin. Talk about resistance!
“The Last Roundup” by Amy Fontaine is a bittersweet story. Russ Clifford, an old Australian cattle dog who has grown up on his family’s ranch, does not resist the changing times as much as he is bewildered and trampled by the passage of time; from the cowdogs riding the plains, to their replacement by modern factory-farm methods, then the government’s declaring his ranching itself to be ecologically destructive and his ranch turned into a National Park and tourist center.
“Safe Mode” by John Giezentanner is reminiscent of E. M. Forster’s 1909 “The Machine Stops”, with furries. All industrial work of the world has been turned over to AIs. Most people can relax and do and become anything they want. Jonah has had pangolin modifications until he looks like a giant anthro natural pangolin, while Nekoda, his roommate (currently a girl), has had red panda modifications with extra fur, with the red parts turned green, until she looks like a sexless puffball. When everything stops working, nobody is worried at first:
“‘What’s going on?’ Jonah muttered.
‘I don’t know. It happened right after I got to work – everything just died. We couldn’t have classes, obviously, we had to wait for all the parents to walk down and get their kid so I was just babysitting all day. It was crazy.’
‘So…no internet at all? No drones came and delivered a message or anything?’
Her jaw pressed against him as she spoke without raising her head. ‘Nope. It was really weird.’
The feeling in Jonah’s stomach escalated to something like nausea. ‘So it’s like this everywhere, then.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘The school’s a pretty important place. Don’t you think someone would send word if they could, so you could tell the kids everything is going to be okay?’” (p. 150)
Again, it’s a good story, but I don’t see the resistance in it.
”Laotian Rhapsody” by Al Song features Duncan, the young Laotian-American Dhole lead singer of Southeast Ambrosia, a struggling rock band. He’s frustrated because he can’t make a success of either math or music, his two loves. The “resistance” is that Duncan doesn’t want to give up on his dreams. This story is steeped in Southeast Asian immigrant adjustment to American culture. The story is pleasant, but very much a funny-animal story. There’s no real need for the Laotian-American, Thai-American, Philippine-American, and Vietnamese-American youths to be Elephants, Deer, Tigers, and so on rather than humans.
“Qibla” by Bill Kieffer is set in the same world as Kieffer’s stories in his Cold Blood: Fatal Fables, but with new characters. Cecil Kanëhtaikhö, an older Rept (alligator) and Jinx Tonka, a young Warm (cat), are recent gay lovers despite very different ages and not knowing much about each other. When Cecil is called by a police station on the other side of the country to provide “expert translation” for a Fennec wearing a turban, Jinx goes along. The police captain, Captain Fisher, is an Avi (crane). The differences in “Qibla” are definitely important, from the physical differences between reptiles, mammals, and birds; the species prejudices between them; the religious prejudices; warm-blooded vs. cold-blooded, furry vs. not, and so on:
“Jinx typically slept in three or four hour shifts, whereas the Alligator usually slept like a log. The Tonk would catch a ‘cat nap’ just before dinner. His Darwinist heritage meant that he’d come from a long line of Cats that had been bred to be especially Feline. Human husbandry didn’t sit well with Cecil, but he felt he shouldn’t judge. It was no worse than their poly-cannibalism.
One shower and a good oiling later, Cecil walked down the stairs as gracefully as his short legs allowed him to. The tip of his tail tapped every other step clumsily.
Jinx wasn’t downstairs, but there was evidence that he’d been there. Half the kitchen floor had been swept clean of the fur that the Cat seemed to constantly leave behind, and the little pillowcase lined barrel that Jinx kept his excess fur in was smack dab between the kitchen and the dining room. Once a week, a ‘shed woman’ came to collect his silver-blue offerings, for reasons that were both about recycling and Darwinistic, but also thrifty. His pedigree coloring netted a few extra dollars a month.” (pgs. 184-185)
“Qibla” is powerful as a genuine furry novelette, and as a chilling suspense story as Cecil is targeted by a Warm Suprematist police officer.
“Dear Sis” by Matt Doyle is told as a six-page letter from an anonymous Trans college student to his sister. The resistance is the letter-writer’s determination to be Trans despite the social pressure against him. This is a pure funny-animal story; what species he is isn’t important.
“Every Last Paw” by Blake Hutchins is a fairy tale. Mittens the kitten gets out on Halloween Night and witnesses the battle between the Yondercat and the Greed Rat. Cute.
“Mixed Blessings” by Kittara Foxworthy is s-f. Tony, a young raccoon spaceman picking up supplies on a distant planet, is stranded there when his spaceship has to make an emergency departure. Tony sinks into the planet’s underworld and joins the resistance against the planetary government. It’s okay space opera, again with no real reason for the characters to be cougars, weasels, otters, and so on instead of humans.
“No Dogs” by KC Alpinus is a Civil Rights parable with dogs. Dominique and her daughter Taissa, terriers, are stand-ins for African-Americans in the South in the 1960s. The whole Civil Rights movement was about resistance to prejudice and inequality. I don’t see a reason for Alpinus to cast some dog breeds as the bigots and some as the fighters for equality, but maybe that’s the point. Beneath the type of fur and the shape of our muzzles, we’re all equal.
15 stories. I enjoyed them all, even “Froggy Stews” with its bizarre imagery of a talking but otherwise realistic frog and sea lion (no legs) living together in a two-story human house. Different readers will have different favorites; mine is definitely “Qibla” with its clear-cut species differences and its slowly growing threat against the protagonist. Bring on next year’s volume 10!
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