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«Issue 1 A foreword from the editor: Reader, Thank you for picking up our first issue! This is a journey that I hope will last quite awhile, but for ...»

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I admit that there are a few stories which gave me cause for pause, though. "Darwin's Future" tells of an alternate future that came about after Darwin proposed his Theory of Evolution.

Despite having good ideas on what could have been, it started off in a style all too similar to "V for Vendetta". Most of the story focused on backstory and read like a documentary, rather than the characters being instrumental to the plot. Aside from giving a brief glimpse to what fate befell those not within the ruler's definition of acceptable, the protagonists’ time in the sewers of Japan didn't seem necessary.

Although the turn of events in "Sleepwalking" are realistic enough, somehow, I knew they would be able to get out of their predicament. In "Piping", I wondered how the story related to the theme of an abandoned place. With "The World Within" and "Under the Mountain", I couldn't help but feel there are still a couple of loose ends that hadn't been tied up by the ending.

What caused the attacks on the base? What kept the vixen living on the abandoned ship? What fate befell the military base?

The feeling of abandonment can also reach the recesses of one's mind. In “Scratch”, a werewolf wonders at his newfound existence, unable to recall thoughts of his previous form. And what goes on in the mind of one who had been so thoroughly bullied by his peers that his only meaning left in life is vengeance? "One Shot of Happy" illustrates well what happens when we go too far, and though we may devise new ways and means to experiment with wildlife, with space orbit a possibility, such as in "Prospero", what happens when they find a way to turn the tables against their former tormentors?

The only story in which the setting plays an important part to the plot and backstory would be "Rainfall." What caused the collapse of the districts? What happened to the people who die? Had they been left for dead? With developed characters, along with interesting snippets of futuristic technology, this is a definite must-read for sci-fi fans.

If you're looking for setting-driven stories, Abandoned Places might not be the anthology for you. It does, however, have an interesting take on horror. There is enough variety to have something for everyone.

This title was published in December of 2014 by Furplanet and is available at www.furplanet.com. This anthology won “Best Anthology” in the 2014 Coyotl Awards.

–  –  –

In an alternate sub-Saharan Africa, prides of lions and packs of dogs prowl the savannah. Leya is a young lioness who dreams of a life beyond the confines of her pride. She longs to become karanja, a member of the bands of huntresses that provides the prides with meat. But is she able to make the sacrifices necessary to join that elite sisterhood?

Huntress contains the novella of the same name by Renee Carter Hall, supplemented by three short stories set in the same world. Though the novella first appeared in 2014 in the anthology Five Fortunes, this standalone version is a very welcome expansion. The supporting stories allow readers to experience Leya’s rich world even more intensely, as well as provide further insight into supporting characters from the main story. A connecting thread runs through each story: the struggle to find one’s own true place in the world, where one is not bound by society’s expectations of what one should be doing.

Leya’s story, as the longest, is also the richest. Her coming-of-age happens after only a long path of advances and setbacks. But the deeper we as readers are immersed into Leya’s world, the more we come to appreciate her individual choices.

We get to know the family she chooses to be hers, and fall in love with that chosen family. The supporting stories help us get to know that family more deeply.

Ms. Hall has created a truly unique world, rich with history, culture, and mythology. What delights me the most about the collection is that the stories she tells in this world are universal stories. If anything, the amount of distance created by her alternate world has the effect of allowing us to see our own faces, our own stories, more clearly. We have all been Leya, feeling like we don’t belong where we are, unsure if our dreams will ever come true. Unsure if we are worthy of them coming true. We have all been Mtoto, unable to express what is most important to ourselves and to those around us. We have all been Ndiri, not able to understand the path fate seems to have laid out for us to follow.

And so we join Leya in her quest to become a huntress.

We listen to her story, and the stories of her friends. And—if we are wise—we allow their stories to change how we tell our own stories, the stories we tell others, and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Perhaps, too, after reading about the struggles of Leya and her friends, we may have more empathy for those around us who are trying to come to grip with the stories of their own lives. We can choose to let our stories influence theirs without overwhelming their individuality, and we can choose to let them find their own way.

I highly recommend Huntress for the way the author has used very specific stories to lead us to universal themes. I hope that Ms. Hall treats us to many more tales set in this world in the future.

This title was published in September of 2015 by Furplanet and is available at www.furplanet.com. This novella won “Best Novella” in the 2014 Coyotl Awards.

–  –  –

"Hey babe. Whatcha doing?" "Just pulled the sheets out of the dryer. About to make the bed."

"Want some help?" "Would love some."

"Didn't realize it was time to change the sheets already."

"Well, your summer coat is coming in, and you're shedding a little more than normal. I figured the sheets could use an early change."

"Makes sense. Hand me those pillows."

"Here you go. Did you decide if you want to go to Patti and Joel's next week for their litter's first birthday?" "I don't know, hun. Kittens aren't really my thing. I can't deal with their mewling and crying. I'd rather just stay at home and save my ears the trouble. You can go if you want."

"I was really hoping we could go together. It's something we could do as a couple. You're not there to spend time with the kittens; you're there to visit Patti, Joel, and the other guests."

"I know. I just don't think I'd have a good time. We can always do something else together."

"Like what?" "I don't know. Go to a movie?" "Can we do something that doesn't involve sitting and staring at a screen? Do you have enough sheet on your side to tuck it in?" "Yeah, I've got plenty."

"It seems all we ever do these days is just sit on the couch and watch TV."

"Well, what do you want to do?" "Explore. Go for walks. Take adventures. We've lived in this city for six years now and we still haven't checked out the museum or visited the lakefront or even taken a trip to the coast for a day at the beach. It's only an hour's drive away."

–  –  –

"Whenever. Just pick a day when we're both free and we'll go."

"Why does it always have to be me who plans these things?" "It's not always you."

"Oh really? When was the last time you planned something?" "We went to my brother's birthday party last month. I arranged that."

"You arranged that for your brother, not us."

"Okay, well, I don't remember past that."

"It's been so long you can't even remember."

"I don't know. I don't keep track of those things or think about that all the time. Why does it matter?" "Because... because I'm sick of all this. All this inactivity."

"Inactivity? What do you mean?" "Nothing. Just hand me the comforter, please."

"No really. What do you mean?" "Just give me the comforter so we can finish making the bed."

"Not until you tell me what you meant by, 'All this inactivity.'" "Fine. Every day, all you do is come home from work, pull out a beer, plant yourself in your easy chair, and waste the rest of the night away in front of the television."

"A nine to five job can be exhausting. Some days I just want to relax after a hard day's work."

"But that's all you do every day. You dump your work clothes in a pile and leave it for someone else to clean up. You expect dinner on the table at six, and then it's off to your recliner once you've eaten until the end of the night. Most of the time I have to wake you up and ask you to come to bed. You don't spend time with me anymore."

"That's not true. I help out around the house. I'm helping right now."

"No, you're not. You just seem to take me for granted.

You're happy with where things are. You're getting everything you need, so why would you need to change anything?" "What are you trying to say?" "I'm-I'm just not happy in this relationship anymore."

"What do you mean? Why?" "I'm not happy. I don't know what to do about it, but I'm not happy. I feel ignored. I feel helpless. I feel trapped. My feelings and needs aren't being met or considered. It's like I'm just being used."

"Well what do we need to do to fix this?" "I don't think anything can be done. There's too much that would need to change."

"Don't be like that. We can talk this out."

"We've tried before. Anything I bring up just makes you unhappy. Sometimes I just want to sit on the couch with you and watch our fur mesh together, but anytime I suggest it, you just grunt and look annoyed. I push down my feelings and try to be happy for you instead."

"I can take you out to the museum. I'll plan that weekend trip to the coast. We can go to Patti and Joel's kids' birthday. We can do those things!" "But you won't like doing them. You'll feel inconvenienced and resentful."

"So what then? What do we do?" "I…think we need a break."

"Hey! Woah now! Don't jump to things like that so quickly. We can work on this. We're talking about this, aren't we?" "No, we're not."

"Of course we are! We just made this bed together while having a conversation."

"No, we didn't. You're not here. This whole conversation is just happening in my head. Just like it does every day when I'm preparing dinner or doing the laundry or lying in bed, waiting for you to turn off the TV and join me. All the words I want to say, but never come out."

"Why can't we have this conversation? That's me in the living room. You could walk out there and tell me how you feel."

"I could. I should. But I don't and I won't."

"Why not? The one thing holding back your happiness is sitting in that recliner in the living room barking at the television. You could stop this now."

"Because I'm a coward. Because I'm too afraid to let go of something I care about, even if it's for my own happiness."

"You're just going to stand there and suffer?" "It's what I've been doing for months already."

"Hey, hun! Can you get me another beer from the fridge?"

–  –  –

Can music change someone's life? The question that plagued the lives of thousands of hippies across the years seems to be at the base of Tales from the Guild: Music to your Ears, a collection of eight stories from members of the Furry Writers’ Guild.

The book opens with “Echoes from the Consort Box”, by M. Neely, setting a fable-like atmosphere right from the start. A fiddler mouse named Remi stumbles across a Consort Box, a weird, stringed instrument resembling a psalterium that seems to have some effect on bats. But as one of them tells him, the box is incomplete. What's missing? Why’s it called a Consort Box? And why do bats keep disappearing without explanation?

Neely crafts a finely-tuned world, with its own structures and language, that combines to create what is the most imaginative story of the bunch.

The strong fable feeling continues in “Deep Down Among the Dagger Dancers”, by M. H. Payne. Besker is a squirrel with possibly a few screws loose, who one morning meets Pelorus, an accordion-playing cat. Mistaking him for a Dagger Dancer and then employing him as a music teacher, there’s a delightful feeling of fun and wonder, reminiscent at times of a classic Grimm tale. The ending makes or breaks the story depending on your tastes. I won’t spoil it, suffice it to say that I didn't expect it to take such a sharp and unexpected turn.

These two stories coupled together create a beautiful fairytale atmosphere. There is a dramatic shift in tone with “Sugar Pill”, by Mars, and I wouldn't necessarily say it's a good thing. The anthology switches from a light and fun tone to realism, sweaty clubs and swearing. It's a jarring shift at first, but its short length and competent writing make it a compelling read. The titular sugar pill is swallowed fast, and the intensity adds to its value. It feels like the main character’s arc could’ve used more space, but it’s a satisfying read nevertheless.

The fable-like atmosphere returns in full swing with Nathanael Gass’s story, “Nocturne”. This story pushes all of my Gothic buttons, creating an extremely solid mixture of Chopin, vampire bats, and shadows. Is the main character actually a monster? The story oozes ambiguity, the atmosphere is so thick you can cut it with a knife, and it might be my favorite of the bunch. Add to it that this is the one which shows the largest use of technical aspects of music, and it’s instant love for me.

Jess E. Owen brings us “Night of a Thousand Songs”, and the fable atmosphere takes a turn toward fantasy. A draconian (read: dragon) has been terrorizing the town with his nightly howls, and Nara, Bard of Ronne, has been summoned to help.

The world-building is heavy and excellent, though I wished I could see the rest of the world outside this story. It’s a wellcrafted experience, and Jess is still one of the best at writing fantastic creatures.

We forego fables once more with “urn On, Tune in, Drop Out”, by Huskyteer. The story draws parallels to real-life hippie movements, with its “music can change the world” message, people singing against ‘The Man’ and, well, hippie characters. It’s a nice read and the most straightforward of the bunch, with a lovely atmosphere. It could’ve used a longer ending, but the ride is definitely enjoyable.

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