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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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Mary E. Lowd brings us the best-written story in the book, nailing absolutely everything from tone to characters. A story reminiscent of Sepulveda, we’re back to the light tone following Shreddy the cat as he tries to trick a bird into giving him her egg, and finds himself with an unexpected problem as what hatches from it isn’t the simple snack he expected.

“Melody of a Street Corner comes last”, by Sean Rivercritic. It’s a much more somber and sad tone, which again clashes with the previous atmosphere. Its story spans several years, following the ermine Roland as he lives a really disillusioned version of the street musician’s life. It’s captivating, and a great way to end on a high note.

This is a solid anthology. I definitely think it’s worth the asking price, though I personally recommend avoiding reading the entire book in one go, due to the sudden shifts in tone and genre. Pick it up when you have a few minutes to spare, plug in your earphones, and drift into each of these fantastic worlds individually. You won’t regret it.

This title was published in September of 2014 by Rabbit Valley and is available at www.rabbitvalley.com. This anthology was nominated in the 2014 Coyotl Awards for “Best Anthology”.

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The true value of the novella as a storytelling format is its length. It offers the wholesome and rounded experience that short stories often must sacrifice in the name of brevity, without the full commitment a novel can require. The perfect length for a single-sitting reading experience that somehow ends at one in the morning because you got hooked and the end was within sight and your class in the morning won’t require you to be fully awake.

Such is my experience with Kyell Gold’s new novella, Losing My Religion. The plot follows Jackson Alley, the twentysomething lead guitarist in a mildly successful cover band, during what seems to be their final tour. He shares his road life with bandmates Matt, Lars, and the new bassist Zeb, with whom Jackson hits it off. The four canids share a van, and this forced proximity is a major propellant in several aspects of the plot.

Jackson and Zeb develop a complicated relationship, despite the former being a carefree bisexual in an open marriage, and the latter a Mormon doubting his faith. As their tour progresses, conflicts arise both inside and outside the band.

The novella is presented in traditional Gold style: inner monologues of the protagonist and external action are smoothly woven together. The dialogue is witty, sharp, and realistic. Set in Kyell’s quasi-U.S. universe, the various locales are depicted with care and regional charm. For the traveling in between, the use of a single van is a clever plot device. The small space demands interaction between the characters, and it heavily develops the characters of Matt and Lars through conversation and amusing situations.

I approached this book with the expectation of a musically-themed gay romance, and was not disappointed.

However, the story lives a quiet double-life. Interspersed between the adult scenes (and occasionally during them) are passages where the snappy dialogue and thoughtful monologues turn more philosophical. Hidden among the romance is a journey of self-discovery and identity. These threads form a symbiotic relationship over the course of the novella. Slowly and deliberately, they intertwine and blend, eventually reaching an emotionally powerful conclusion. Only a few passages in the story suffered from this dichotomy, where it felt that either the combination of themes made the flow clunky, or that they were fighting for room to develop on the page. Still, it was an unexpected and pleasant surprise for a romance.

I won’t lie, I’m a sucker for books with nice covers. I bought Carsten Jensen’s We, the Drowned based solely on its dashing looks. Losing My Religion has almost nothing in common with the historical Danish maritime epic, except for a stunning cover design. BlackTeagan’s colorful and energetic art sits under a clean white font. Within the story, the scene breaks are marked with little guitars. It’s a thematically unified and elegant look. Keep it up, FurPlanet.

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It was a dark and stormy night.

Actually, it was mid-day on the African savannah. Not a cloud in the sky. But it felt like a dark and stormy night.

Sometimes, you have to trust your gut. When your gut says it’s dark and stormy, you know that something is up.

Jim Canon slouched against an Acacia tree and poured himself a glass of scotch. Actually, Jim had neither scotch, nor a glass, nor hands. No matter, it was the thought that counted. Jim did a lot of thinking, especially for a rhinoceros.

Just then, a sultry figure lumbered by. She was young and gray, but her horn meant business. The dress she didn’t have and couldn’t wear was scarlet, and her eyes flashed with fire. Jim couldn’t tell if she was in trouble or if she was trouble. Probably a little of both.

“Nice grass here,” she said. “Mind if I have some? I mean, if you’re just lounging there.” She was clearly in trouble, so much trouble she dared not speak its name. “Look, dame, I think I can help you, but you have to trust me.” “What?” “Who is he? Your brother? Your boyfriend? Your accomplice in a crime?” “My... brother? What?” Jim put the glass aside. Scotch would have to wait. “Let’s go. I just hope it’s not too late.” He got up from the Acacia tree, put on his non-existent overcoat, and led the dame out the door.





Jim escorted Scarlet to the local watering hole. He assumed her name was Scarlet. She looked like a Scarlet, anyway.

The local watering hole was just that, a hole with water in it, but it was still the best place for catching up on local gossip and getting leads. Rhinos gathered there twice a day, to drink, socialize, and forget about their problems.

As they approached the oasis, Jim could tell something was wrong. The birds were silent. So were the insects. And all the rhinos were gone. Except one.

Worse than wrong—very wrong.

Every rhino should have a horn. It’s a pretty fundamental thing about being a rhino. So when Jim saw a hornless rhino, it was a bad omen. The hornless rhino was also dead. That was another bad omen.

“You stay back,” he told Scarlet.

Scarlet weighed her options and decided the grass was greener in Jim’s imaginary office.

Jim approached the bloody mess. “So they got to you, Hank.” The corpse looked like a Hank, as much as a butchered rhino can look like any name in particular.

“You’d seen too much. You knew too much. They couldn’t take that risk." Jim took off his imaginary hat out of respect for the dead and clutched it against his chest. "And you paid for it with your life.” Hank’s mangled face said nothing in response.

“Well, I’m in this mess now too, Hank. And if I don’t get to the bottom of this, I won’t be lookin’ any better than you.” Jim surveyed the crime scene. Tire tracks. Jim had never seen a tire, but he could instinctively tell that these tracks were important. They looked funny and they smelled funny, the kind of funny that signified a real clue. Being a private eye meant knowing which clues were meaningful and which ones were red herrings. Jim had never seen a herring, either.

Jim followed the tracks for miles. The light was dim, with just a sliver of sun on the horizon. Either the dark and stormy night had turned to dawn, or the African day had turned to dusk.

It was hard to see the tracks. It was hard to see anything.

But he smelled something. In fact, he smelled a lot of things:

pungent odors that stung his nose, the musk of an alien creature, and the blood of an unlucky rhino.

Then he heard the voices. First, the quiet murmurs of tired men, then loud exclamations, then confused yelling.

In an instant, Jim’s mind flashed back to the last time he had heard voices like this, the last time he had smelled smells like these. He remembered the dart in his side, the calm, sleepy feeling, the blindfold, and the feel of naked ape hands on his tough hide. Afterward, there had been two plastic tags—one on his ear and one near his spine. Since then, he had been seeing offices and alleyways, dames and thugs, streetlights and gutters.

Since then, he had been more than a rhinoceros; he had been a PI.

“So, it’s come to this,” Jim said in breathy snort, too low for the camp of naked apes to hear. “You thought you were above the law. You didn’t think I’d figure it out. But I’m the best damn detective on the savannah." He paused a beat, drawing out the climactic moment before concluding. “And if the law won’t take care of you, then I will.” Jim reached for the revolver he had never had, but it wasn’t there. “We’ll have to do this the old fashioned way then.” Jim lowered his head, bellowed, and charged. He couldn’t see what he was about to smash, but he knew it needed smashing. Jim’s three-foot horn ripped through cloth, shattered wood, and mangled metal. His two-and-a-half ton body of armored muscle obliterated everything in his path. His feet finished the job with a good trample.

The rhino vigilante turned away and lumbered into the twilight. “Justice doesn’t come cheap. You found that out the hard way, Hank. It’s too late for you, but at least Scarlet is safe.

For now.” Jim wished for a scotch, anything to calm his nerves. A mouthful of grass would have to do.

As he grazed, one mystery remained: where had these thoughts of scotch and justice come from, and why? Were his visions an accident, an unintended side effect of the dart, the tags, and, perhaps, a mislabeled flash drive of noir movies? Or was it all part of a greater plan?

The savannah keeps her secrets.

The Dog Who Spoke With Gods A novel by Diane Jessup Reviewed by Fred Patten Diane Jessup was (and still is) a veteran dog behavior consultant and author of The Working Pit Bull, who had just lost her personal pit bull companion after ten years when she began this fantasy as a private, cathartic tribute to her companion (as she explains in a long introductory acknowledgement). Doglovers saw it and brought it to the attention of an editor at a major publisher, who helped Jessup revise it into publishable form. Jessup’s passionate devotion to both her canine friend and to all dogs, especially pit bulls, makes reading The Dog Who Spoke With Gods almost a religious experience. It is not a cute talking-dog fantasy, or a “happy” book of any kind, but it is one that you will remember.

Viktor Hoffman is a sixty-two-year-old biologist studying feral dogs—dogs that have escaped or been born into the wild–to determine whether dogs have become too domesticated, too evolutionarily dependent upon humans to survive as wild animals for long without them. One of his wilderness field-study subjects is a young pit bull whom he names Damien. Damien’s cropped ears mark him as a pet who escaped or was released into the wild, but who had some knowledge of humans before he became feral.

Damien quickly notices that he is being studied by a human, and is conflicted between returning to humans or remaining wild. He proves to be semi-domesticated and unusually intelligent, so much so that when he is caught in what would be a fatal accident, Hoffman decides to bring him back to his university and have him nursed back to health. Damien is turned over to the Animal Research Department and Dr. Joseph Seville, a behavioral researcher and veterinarian, and his lab assistants including Elizabeth Fletcher, a student and part-time assistant.

Seville considers himself primarily a scientist and resents being assigned as “only” a veterinarian. Most of his lab assistants follow his lead and consider Damien as just a dog to be cured and then used as one of the university’s animal experimental subjects. Only Elizabeth notices Damien’s unusual intelligence and really pays attention to him.

For over a hundred pages, the novel concentrates on the Animal Research Department’s office politics. Elizabeth slowly becomes emotionally attached to Damien as the pet she was never allowed to have, while Damien gradually bonds to her as The One in a domesticated dog’s instinctual attachment to their human. The university generally treats its animals with responsible care, but some of their experiments are admittedly painful or dangerous to the animal. Pit bulls have a bad reputation, and Dr. Hoffman saves Damien more than once from being euthanized “just to play safe”, but he doesn’t remove Damien from the department’s animal experiments. Elizabeth comes more and more to consider Damien as her pet, though she knows that this is all unofficial. He legally belongs to the university.

About halfway through the novel, Damien learns to talk from watching Elizabeth closely. This provokes a sharp turn in the story’s direction. Damien’s ability makes him Seville’s secret study project, to be experimented on more closely to discover how intelligent he really is. At first Seville keeps Elizabeth on the studies since Damien has clearly bonded with her, but when his experiments become more impersonal and injurious to Damien and she protests, Seville dismisses her. By now, Elizabeth considers Damien her friend and equal, not just a pet, and that she has no alternative but to steal the dog and disappear.

The last half of the novel is about their flight, becoming increasingly suspenseful to Elizabeth and to the pursuing Seville, who sees his scientific triumph and glory disappearing. Damien is confused because, although he’s intelligent for a dog, he’s still only a dog. His vocabulary increases, but it is still limited to simple words like “yes” and ‘no”, “good” and “bad”, “hello” and “out” and “White Pain”, his name for Seville, who performs painful tests on him while wearing his lab smock. All that Damien really knows is what The One wants him to do. And he tries to do it.

This title was originally published by St. Martin’s Press (NYC) in June of 2001, and is now available on Amazon.

For more information, visit her website:

www.workingpitbull.com

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