Roar, vol. 3; Kitty Goes to War;
and Monster Hunter Alpha

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Roar, Vol. 3 Kitty Goes to War Monster Hunter Alpha

Cover of ROAR, Volume 3
Title: Roar, Volume 3
Editor: Buck C. Turner
Publisher: Bad Dog Books (Dallas, TX), 2011
ISBN: 9789079082254
260 pp., USD $19.95
reviewed by Dronon
©2011 Dronon

   Fred Patten and I sometimes inadvertently review the same things. He beat me to this one on Flayrah—so I’ve avoided reading his review to minimize bias. Any similarities are purely coincidental, and where they differ, I’m right, so there! (tongue-in-cheek grin)
   Roar is Bad Dog Books’ anthology series for non-erotic short fiction, currently edited by Buck C. Turner. Although this is the only volume I’ve read so far, I think he’s managed to bring together a good selection of authors. None of the ten stories in this book are duds, but most are marginally furry at best; the characters could easily be replaced with human analogues, and this probably wouldn’t interest anyone outside the fandom. It’s a common problem in furry fiction, so if the relevance of anthropomorphics to the plot is really important for you, don’t read this; but if you’re interested in fiction in general and want to see what people in the fandom have to offer, it’s a good collection for that.
   Now comes the hard part, giving ten short reviews while keeping your attention span and avoiding too many spoilers. Here goes! This issue of Roar was based around the theme of moments, how one event can change things. As a result, some stories have a vignette feel to them, and most of the protagonists are undergoing a transition in their lives.
   1. Drawn from Memory, by Renee Carter Hall. This contribution is the most furry of the bunch, taking place in a kind of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? universe, where cartoon characters physically exist alongside everyone else. Lauren is a blogger and amateur journalist who interviews cartoon character Terrence Tiger, whose television career has long since passed, and feels he will fade out of existence in the near future, the eventual fate of all cartoons. Lauren and Terrence manage to brighten each other’s lives a little, and while mature content is hinted at, it isn’t explored in detail, and doesn’t affect the tone of the rest of the book. There’s a very delicate melancholy feel to this story, crafted alongside uplifting hopefulness, and the combination is pulled off extremely well.
   2. Shadows of Novoprypiatsk, by Kevin Frane, and 5. Unfit, by Kandrel, are similar so I’m reviewing them together. Both stories feature a female protagonist on a mission of vengeance, alternating between the present and the past using a series of flashbacks.
   Shadows takes place in the same world as Frane’s other works, Thousand Leaves and The Seventh Chakra. In this story, two old friends meet in a wintery Russian town, one with a private agenda linked to their past involvement with the Iolite League. In Unfit, a woman prepares to assassinate a popular politician who seems to be the best hope for the locals’ dystopian existence. From her personal encounters with him, however, he comes across as an untrustworthy, self-serving hypocrite.
   Frane’s story is the weaker of the two. His character’s need for vengeance is given almost no backstory or framework, making the reader unable to really understand her emotions and motivations, although we get a vague feeling for what she’s going through. What the Iolite League represents is left completely unexplained, and even if you’ve read Frane’s other stories, there’s still not enough context. Where the story succeeds is how it shows the protagonist finally achieving a measure of peace, and her quiet contemplation of the city she grew up in, along with her ability to finally move on. Unfit, meanwhile, gives a complete, useful backstory, carefully pacing and building it up, resulting in a much stronger emotional impact, although its ending offers somewhat less closure. A powerful read, in any case! It’s definitely my top pick in the book.
   3. Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night, by John ‘The Gneesh’ Robey. This is a cartoony hard-boiled detective story. So when a beautiful dame comes in the door, cue the saxophone music… from a saxophone-playing rat that’s been following her for days. This kind of light-hearted absurdity makes me extremely happy, so I’m really glad that Roar is willing to include lighter fare like this. Included in this whimsical investigation of murder and blackmail are several nerdy references that may pass the reader by, from Edgar Allan Poe to San Angeles to Squash and Stretch, Private Investigators. All good fun.
   4. Al Coda, by Marcus Reeve. This story resonated with me. I used to collect coins, and had made it my goal to collect a particular large set. The quest felt great, until I actually completed it and felt bored and empty. Similarly in this short story, a pianist gives the performance of his lifetime after years of anticipation and practice, then struggles to find purpose and direction in his music afterwards, aided by a close friend who comes to his rescue.
   6. Touchdown, by Teiran, follows the action unfolding in the mission control room for the first manned spaceflight to Mars. While light on conflict, a serious emergency develops that requires risky decisions be made, with a growing amount of anxiety. This is essentially a vignette story, and it feels very believable and realistic.
   7. Johnny R., by Ben Goodridge. A mixed human-and-anthro world, where the anthros are the equivalent of blacks, experiencing heavy racism and discrimination. In a backwater town, a family of rats barely ekes out an existance making whiskey, while the son of the family consoles himself playing rhythm and blues on his guitar, until a lucky break comes his way and he gets discovered by a recording studio. While the story itself was fairly predictable, the way the last few pages explored the relationship between the son and his father made it work well.
   8. Still Life in Ice and Snow, by NightEyes DaySpring. A group of friends go on a skiing trip. Two of them have announced their engagement, which makes Kai, a young German shepherd, feel all the more lonely, finding it difficult to gain confidence and trust in himself after being stung by a bad relationship in his past. A weekend encounter—with a touch of something troubling and supernatural—gives him the determination he needs to move on. A gentle, introspective story.
   9. Pori, by James Steele. A tiger and a coyote stumble away from a battle against strange creatures attacking their jungle home. Tending their injuries, they compare their experiences as Pori, the warrior caste of each tribe. While they’re trained from childhood to be proud of their Pori-hood, over time it’s become obvious that much of this is propaganda, and that their tribes actually view them as having little social status or worth except as soldier fodder. A story about overcoming jadedness and anger.
   10. Escape from New Dansmouth, by Jacob Staley. An ongoing war is being waged between rival nations, one using magic, the other using new scientific techniques. The story concerns a small group of magic-using spies on a delicate mission, infiltrating the foreign government’s offices while avoiding their cruel leader. One spy is calm and cautious, while another has been taking increasingly dangerous risks in order to gather intelligence, but his luck has started to run out. Although I felt the march of scientific discovery in this story was progressing a little too fast, it was a good read with lots of tension, and I enjoyed how scent came into play at one point—a nice furry touch. This was a good work to end the anthology with, and I’d love to read more about this story universe.
   So that’s the selection! A wide range of settings and styles, good editing that put them together, and I’ll definitely be checking out the next volume of Roar when it comes out.

Roar, Vol. 3 Kitty Goes to War Monster Hunter Alpha

Title: Kitty Goes to War
(#8 in the Kitty Norville series)
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Tor Books (New York City, NY), Jun 2010
ISBN: 0765365618
352 pp., USD $7.99
reviewed by Xodiac
©2011 Xodiac

   First, fair warning: In this book, Kitty Norville, famed werewolf and host of the hit radio program The Midnight Hour, does not actually go to war. She doesn’t ship off to Iraq or Afghanistan or anyplace else, not even as part of a celebrity USO-type campaign to hearten the troops; nor does she ‘go to war’ against Roman, the extremely elder vampire who seems to have his sights on Denver, her home territory. Or, really, anyone else.
   What she does do is get called in to a nearby Army base as a consultant. It seems that Dr. Flemming wasn’t the only one who thought werewolves would make great soldiers. One Captain Gordan, himself a werewolf, took it upon himself to make his own extremely special force, in the form of a squad of werewolves. It all went surprisingly well—until Gordon got himself killed. Now there’s a small pack on the loose in the Colorado mountains, a pack with the best training the Army has to offer. They want Kiity’s help finding them, capturing them, and keeping them under control. (Well, technically, they want her help finding them so they can kill them. But if you think Kitty will stand for that idea, you’ve got another think coming.)
   Add in a lawsuit from a millionaire who thinks she defamed him on the air and the boogeyman-hunting Cormac’s imminent release from prison, and Kitty’s schedule is suddenly very full indeed.
   This is a decent story, but remarkably straightforward. The twists Vaughn introduces were not entirely forseen, to be true, but on the other hand they were hardly a surprise, either. The major enjoyment came from watching it unfold. That certainly can be enough to make a story readable, but it rarely makes it stand out.
   Kitty Goes to War does contain one significant flaw, however. Much the same as in Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand, I never really felt Kitty was actually in danger. Yes, there are some confrontations with a mini-pack of werewolves more dangerous than any others on Earth, but the most tense of them occur early in the book. I didn’t expect anything to happen then that would have major consequences even over the course of just this book, and I was right. By the time the climactic confrontation with the baddest of the troops comes around, on the other hand, she had enough of an idea what she faced that it wasn’t too hard to figure she’d come out on top again, even though there may be hell to pay for it.
   Meanwhile, the subplot about the millionaire’s actions against her were interesting, but even as it grew increasingly obvious he had more at his disposal than lawyers, it never seemed like a threat to Kitty. To Denver, sure, but even then it’s hard to become too concerned thanks to the nature of the threat (which I can’t get into here, as it’d be too much of a spoiler). Yeah, bad things would happen; yeah, lots of people would likely die. But not thousands, much less the entire city. It would be historic and tragic, but not apocalyptic. It wouldn’t even be catastrophic.
   This is yet another of those books that isn’t bad to read, but is really nothing special, either. It doesn’t really forward the overall plot of the series much, except to reveal a few things about Cormac. I don’t think the book is worth skipping over, though, especially for fans of the series. But it’s impossible for me to claim this is one of Vaughn’s better efforts.

Roar, Vol. 3 Kitty Goes to War Monster Hunter Alpha

Title: Monster Hunter Alpha
(#3 in the Monster Hunter series)
Author: Larry Correia
Publisher: Baen Books (Wake Forest, NC), Jul 2011
ISBN: 1439134588
560 pp., USD $7.99
reviewed by Xodiac
©2011 Xodiac

   Earl Harbinger is the lead hunter of Monster Hunter International, the private organization that, well, hunts monsters. But Earl doesn’t just find and kill things like werewolves; he is a werewolf, which makes him not only very, very badass indeed, but has let him live for a century—and counting. And when he gets word that an old enemy, a Russian werewolf who used to work for the KGB, has shown his face in America, Earl drops everything to hunt him down. Alone, without the rest of MHI there; this is personal, and there’s no need to complicate things.
   But that doesn’t mean things won’t get complicated…
   In a lot of ways, Monster Hunter Alpha is different from its predecessors. For one thing, it doesn’t star Owen Pitt. The change in focus is, quite frankly, welcome. Pitt is important to MHI and the series, but surely the others there have some adventures of their own? Thankfully, the author seems to agree with me.
   Another difference is that Monster Hunter Alpha is in third person, not first. It’s a minor change, but an important one, because it allows Correia to implement the most significant difference of all. Previous books were, really, fairly linear. They were good stories, mind, and there were some twists in there that tended to shift the story’s direction, sometimes dramatically so, but things followed a simple this-leads-to-that-leads-to-the-other-thing pathway. Not so, here. By shifting to third person, Correia can follow more than one character, showing things from various points of view. And he does, with gusto.
   This isn’t a braided novel, with several separate stories woven together. But each character does have their own path through the events unfolding in Copper Lake, Michigan. And each one is gripping in their own way. There’s Earl, of course, but there’s also Earl’s nemesis, Nikolai. There’s the corrupt Fed out and about, there to see if the reports of paranatural activity are real or just rumors and quickly finding himself involved with far more than he bargained for. There’s the cop, a stubborn big city girl gone local, who just got infected and is fighting to remain on the side of good. There’s a group of amateur Hunters who will either provide comic relief or be a major threat to Earl. And there’s even the Alpha himself, on occasion.
   The other thing I really appreciated about this book is that it reveals most of the important bits of Earl’s past. Some of it comes in the form of snippets from an account of his life he’s begun to write, and others are revealed as part of the plot. Along the way, we learn a great deal werewolves in general and Earl in particular. In other words, most of the questions regarding him that people might have been asking are answered.
   As usual, Correia writes smacking good action scenes, and the book is pretty full of them. But for the first time, the plot doesn’t really serve just as a vehicle to get from one to the other. Which is why I consider this the best book of the series to date. I really enjoyed this volume, and I’m quickly growing even fonder of the series as a whole. It’s not deep fiction, to be sure, but it immensely entertaining.

Roar, Vol. 3 Kitty Goes to War Monster Hunter Alpha

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