Awoo, Who's This?, compiled by Thurston Howl
"Awoo, Who’s This?" is an intriguing anthology that takes a unique approach to the way anthologies are usually organized. The stories within are focused around a centered theme, but the theme itself is a trick. Essentially, this anthology is a group of authors trying to imitate each other. We, as readers, are simply along for the ride.
That’s about where the common theme stops. Since each author likes to write in their preferred genre, each story is completely different. The remaining product is a grab-bag of stories, starting with “Callie’s Luck,” allegedly by Rose LaCroix. An important note about each story is that the author listed on the table of contents is not the actual author of that particular story. (I like to mention the authors’ names in my reviews to make sure they get the credit they deserve, so I’ll be using the actual authors’ names going forward.) SPOILERS AHEAD.
“Callie’s Luck,” by Kuroko, is a tale of desire. It’s not too long, has two main characters, and is a pleasant start to the anthology. John, a coyote pilot, works as a cargo delivery dog in the deep recesses of space. The story starts off with him recalling the time he spent with Callie, a cat that stole his heart--and his old ship. When the two meet up again, Callie says she needs John’s help to retire. As they discuss what’s happened in their lives since Callie ran off, John has to decide if helping this cold cat is worth his time. The main thing I want to mention is the narrative style of this story. It’s set up to make John the protagonist which isn’t really a surprise until the end when a ‘You in?’ gets thrown in to make us, as readers, characters in the story as well. It’s subtle, but the story reads as an almost noir-style retelling of this cat that got away. You feel sorry for John, the same type of sorrow that you’d feel for a close friend going through a break-up. I really like how Kuroko worked this style into her piece, and I think it was absolutely perfect for a short tale like this.
Continuing along the sort-of noir-style theme, Bill Kieffer writes about a newspaperman named Clark Kenmore in his story, “Stay Dead.” Clark, a wolf, starts recollecting about a particular case involving a serial killer named Sweet Butcher. A series of murders has left the city scared. Everyone wants the killer to be caught, including the killer himself. Clark just so happens to be the one with the most verbal contact to him. Phone call after phone call leaves Clark more tired and more confused about the killer than before, and the police can’t seem to do anything about it. After a close-call with an imposter, Clark thinks he knows who the killer is, and he decides to take action into his own paws. I enjoyed this story for the most part. It was exciting, suspenseful, and well-written. I really liked that the killer was more complex than I originally thought. It had all the tension needed to bring a mystery to its long-awaited conclusion. However, it was the conclusion that I had a bit of a problem with. When I first approached the ending--when I started figuring out who the killer was--I felt like the cords of tension were being cut nicely. One after the other. But the knife didn’t seem to go all the way through, so I was left with feeling a bit confused. Things added up, stuff made sense, but I don’t think there was enough falling action to make it as satisfying as it could have been. The story definitely had the dark, solemn mood it needed, but it didn’t really follow through with all the problems and questions it introduced. I wanted to know about how the other characters felt about what happened, but I never got that.
“Caged Beasts” by Thurston Howl introduces us to a story about lust, passion, and desire. It’s Friday night at the Satin Menagerie--a mansion that fills itself with moans and grunts over the entire weekend--and Carmilla, a vixen, prides herself on entertaining her guests. Her pets, Damien and Nikki, are there to pleasure and entertain her. After their romp, however, Carmilla has to decide whether they did a good enough job to earn their freedom. This story was interesting, to say the least. I liked the beginning, but as the story went on I found it hard to enjoy. The intimate moments were written really well. Personally, I’m not a fan of dark sex, which wasn’t the majority of this story, but it did play a part towards the end. And that’s what killed the mood for me. I did enjoy the concept of a sex-filled mansion, however.
Vincenzo Pasquarella brings us a tale of horror in his piece, “Horror.” Not a very creative title, but I liked the story. Joshua, a fox, wakes up to see the house he’s in basically destroyed. With a looming fear that he was the one that caused the destruction, he searches the burned rooms for his friends, only to find their corpses lying on the ground with blood everywhere. A voice breaks through his terrified mind, but it doesn’t belong to anyone he knows… As short as this story was, I really enjoyed it. There isn’t much of a plot, but the hints we get from the voice talking to Joshua give us a haunting nightmare of what could have happened to him in the past few hours. I like that it’s all aftermath; we never get told what actually happened, only what might have happened. Joshua’s solemn self-doubt, as well as the horrifying descriptions of his surroundings when he wakes up, give this story a wild start that immediately captivated me. The ending is just as scary, leaving me with all sorts of possibilities as to how Joshua will live his new life, if he even has a say in it.
“The Prince with Obsidian Eyes” by Rose LaCroix is a longer story about a wolf named Preston that has the power to see into one’s past through physical contact. After he retells a story from his college days, he gets a hit on a gay messaging app from a so-called ‘Black Prince.’ Wasting no time, he sets up a date with the Black Prince and finds out what it means to be dominated...but not in the way he’s used to. Things turn dark when the Black Prince orders him to put someone in mortal danger. Preston has to decide whether being a sub in this instance is worth the danger, but he might not even have a choice. I felt that this story was going one way in the beginning, and then takes a completely different turn halfway through. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the way it’s written makes it feel contrived and unnecessary. The introductory story about Preston’s aunt serves as foreshadowing, which is okay. But then it goes into Preston’s story about how he lost his virginity, which doesn’t really need to be there in my opinion as it only serves as a long-winded explanation as to how his power works. I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed it because I thought that’s where the story was going. Halfway through, the Black Prince is introduced and the whole mood of the story switches from hopeful to creepy. I really liked the concept of Preston’s power, but felt the story didn’t really make use of it as much as it could have. Overall, I didn’t really like it because it felt too much like a mash-up of concepts that never had enough time to flesh themselves out.
Alison Cybe writes about a rabbit captain named Aeyon in their short story “Nine Shots.” In a deep space battle against pirates, Aeyon comes to learn that each hit on her ship kills another member of her crew. When the key jobs are no longer functioning, she has to take the initiative to try and save the ship and the remaining crew. But the situation is looking bleaker and bleaker as the battle continues. Soon, the pirates manage to dock with her ship. Aeyon is doubtful she’ll get out of this alive, but she’ll be damned if she doesn’t try. There isn’t much plot to this story either. It feels more like it’s written to be a scene, but it’s definitely an exciting one! I’m a sucker for tragedy--those moments when it feels like there’s no hope or things are crashing down all around the protagonist probably capture my interest the most. That’s what this story does very well in only a few pages. There’s an immediate threat that’s met with an immediate hope, which in turn creates immediate tension that I can latch onto. Granted, there’s no real resolution and no real climax, but the sad descriptions Cybe gives us through Aeyon’s eyes really add to the bleak mood of the piece. Wish there was more to read!
The last story in this anthology is “Rewrite” by Nathan Hopp. It’s a short story about two young adults, Matt and Leaf, that meet in secret at a Hatsukoi Motel--a motel that manages its rooms with a rather nosey A.I. The year is 2056 and AniGens--a hybrid species of humans and anthropomorphic canines or felines--live with humans as the dominant species on Earth. Matt, a human, meets up with his boyfriend Leaf, an AniGen, for the first time since they’ve gotten together. Shortly after the two embrace, Matt orders the A.I. to shut down its projection, leaving it to simply observe the intimate moments that follow. The next morning, however, leaves Matt with doubts. In a world where discrimination against AniGens exists, how will his future turn out if he decides to be with Leaf forever? He confronts Leaf with his doubts when Leaf returns with breakfast, only to have the moment soured in an emotional argument. Now, Matt has to refer to the A.I. for help in addressing this situation, a solution he never would have considered if he hadn’t reserved a room at the Hatsukoi Motel. I greatly enjoyed this story! The main thing I liked about it was the creative use of the A.I. perspective. It felt intrusive when it needed to be, and it backed off at specific points that allowed me to be more of an active consumer of the story. I also liked that the A.I. had a personality and wasn’t a completely neutral figure. Leaf and Matt weren’t the most interesting characters, but they didn’t really need to be. I felt they were used more as vessels to convey the conflict, which was fine for a short story such as this. It was nice to see a different use of ‘furry’ as well. Making them hybrids and giving them their own history spruced up the worldbuilding which I always appreciate in a story.
Frankly, I don’t really understand the appeal of the ‘imitation’ theme of this anthology. I’ve had the opportunity to read only one of these authors prior to this book, so the game of guessing who wrote which story didn’t really entertain me. The idea actually confuses me a bit because I’m not sure which author of a certain story to look up if I liked their work. Do I look up the author who actually wrote it? Or do I look up the author they tried to mimic? It just left me tilting my head to be honest. That being said, I don’t think this anthology was meant to be super serious. It felt more like a group of authors just having fun. Nothing wrong with that. But that leaves me questioning why this particular anthology was set up to be a fundraiser for the Furry Writers Guild (especially since ‘Guild’ is misspelled on the front cover--not a good look). I couldn’t get a good taste of any author’s writing style. Having read "From Paw to Print" just last month, I felt that "Awoo, Who’s This?" paled in comparison. The personal strengths and interests of each author in "From Paw to Print" were way more captivating and would have definitely gotten me more interested in the guild than this anthology. "Awoo, Who’s This?" has a few typos here and there, though none of them are too distracting. My main gripe with this anthology as a whole is the lack of consistency with the length of the pieces. Some of them are complete short stories whereas others feel more like scenes. Neither of these are inherently bad, but I think the anthology would have been better if it stuck to one style or the other.
I think this book would only really appeal to fans of the authors involved. There’s no real overarching theme that’s easy to latch onto, and the lack of consistency in the length of the pieces really threw me off as a reader. I would suggest that anyone under eighteen not pick up this anthology since it does contain sexual and violent content.