Review by Togo
For those not in the know, the Cóyotl Awards is an annual award run by the Furry Writer's Guild since 2011 to recognize "excellence in anthropomorphic literature". These works can only be nominated and voted upon by members of the FWG (even if the authors are not part of the guild themselves) instead of the general public, kinda making them like the Oscars but for furry literature.
This anthology, edited by the late Fred Pattern, collects both winners and nominees for the Best Short Story category from the first seven years of the Cóyotl Awards and represents pretty much the whole spectrum of furry literature. Do you want stories with feral characters? You have them. Do you prefer anthros? You have them. How about comedy, horror, sci-fi, or fantasy? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
The anthology starts with "The Canoe Race" by Daniel and Mary E. Lowd, winner of Best General Short Story for 2011 (only year when this and Best Mature Short Story were separate categories). First published in Stories of Camp Rainfurrest, this is a typical camping story with handicrafts, fire pits, and, yes, canoe races but with the twist being that the campers themselves are animals, and by that I don't mean anthropomorphic animals like in some television shows, but instead real, feral animals. So, you get to see birds doing macramé, bears singing, and even raccoons trying to bribe bobcats with shiny objects. The descriptions of the animals-imitating-humans are short and sweet, with the story as a whole having a lighthearted and wholesome tone--a rare sight in this collection.
Next comes "Best of Breed" by Renee Carter Hall, winner of Best Mature Short Story for 2011. First published in Allaso volume 1: Shame, this is a coming-of-age story about the competitive world of Animal Shows but with the almost opposite twist of the previous story as Mina, the main character of this story, is an anthro cat and therefore a sentient creature. At first, everything goes fine for our protagonist, but her world starts crumbling apart once she starts getting into bigger and fancier shows, not in small part by the way Shawn, her human handler, treats her and her sister. The only story in this anthology with any sort of sexual content, though tame and non-explicit, Hall's way of handling Mia's journey into adulthood was gripping and did not let go until the final parts of it.
Closing this section is "Dragonman and Lonesome Woman" by Vixxy Fox, nominee for Best General Short Story 2011. In this self-published story, Dan, a truck driver and veteran soldier, encounters three quirky characters in the middle of the desert and embarks with them in a spiritual journey to help their sister, the eponymous Lonesome Woman. A journey which is as much about healing her as it is to heal himself. Introspective at times and comedic at others, Dan's journey is an interesting one, though, all things considered, this could be considered one of the least "furry" of all stories in this anthology.
Next we have "Chasing the Spotlight" by Tim Susman, winner of Best Short Story for 2012. First published in ROAR volume 4, this story stars Alex, a news feed podcaster who tries to score an interview with Lon, a mysterious man who underwent a cosmetic surgery to turn into an anthropomorphic animal. Controlled at first, this story slowly spirals into a more gritty one about regret and conspiracy theories as it goes along. Personally, one of my favorite stories in this collection, even if only because of all the possible setups it presents that I'd hope to see expanded upon eventually.
Accompanying the previous story is "Rearview" by Sean Silva, nominee for Best Short Story 2012. First published in Allaso volume 2: Shame, this is also the first horror piece in the anthology. Ben, a troubled pig on the run, meets an aggressive wolf on the road after his car breaks down in this short story about the dangers of hitchhiking. From the onset, we can tell that something's not right in all of this, and Silva's handle of the suspense carries the story perfectly until its inevitable outcome.
"Fox in the Hen House" by Mary E. Lowd is the winner of Best Short Story for 2013. First published in Dancing in the Moonlight: RainFurrest 2013 Charity Anthology, this nature vs nurture story focuses on Henry, a feral fox kit who gets adopted by several chickens, neither being aware of what the other’s species is. Just like "The Canoe Race", this is more of a sweet and lighthearted story that progressively gets darker as Henry grows older and it becomes more readily apparent to everyone that there might be something different about him.
Closing this section is "Son of the Blood Moon" by Bill 'Hafoc' Rogers, nominee for Best Shot Story 2013. First published in Rabbit Valley's Trick or Treat, this story follows River, an aggressive, dominant, and charming alpha man who goes to a party in spite of his mother's warnings to never go out during a full moon. One of the "Trick" stories in that anthology, River will need to decide what to do after being invited to be part of a ritual by the mysterious Rhiannon, a ritual which involves a hefty price to pay. While a bit formulaic at times, the end was surely able to catch me by surprise.
"Jackalope Wives" by Ursula Vernon, aka T. Kingfisher, is the winner of Best Short Story for 2014. First published in Apex Magazine issue 56, this is the story of a boy, his grandma, and a jackalope girl that was caught by the former, or did he? In the end, it's up to Grandma Harken to fix the boy's mistakes and free the jackalope from the pain brought upon by her own blood. Another story that does not feel as "furry" as it could be, but that also makes it up by its modern take on an age old myth.
Next is "Pavlov's House" by Malcolm Cross, nominee for Best Short Story 2014. First published in the online magazine Strange Horizons, this story follows the narration of Sokolai, one of several bio-engineered anthropomorphic dog soldiers who, along with his brothers and a human family, is trapped with no food or water sources nearby. Unable to leave because of the revolutionaries patrolling the streets, Sokolai and his brothers must struggle with the programming they received even before they were born. Our unreliable protagonist’s account of the events that happened and their aftermaths can be hard to read at times, but it's this crudeness that makes the story what it is.
Changing the formula a little is "The Analogue Cat" by Alice 'Huskyteer' Dryden, winner of Best Short Story for 2015. First published in The Furry Future, this story chronicles the whole life of Tozer, a second-generation Bengal Pet all the way from his birth as a Pet (the bio-engineered organisms created to replace another set of creatures known as Bots) to the drastic changes in his life once the newer generations succeed in getting Pets equal rights. However, what really makes this story stand out is that it uses a second person POV for its narration, making the journey of you, the reader, as The Analog Cat feel more personal.
Accompanying the previous story is "Muskrat Blues" by Ianus Wolf, nominee for Best Short Story 2015. First published in Inhuman Acts, this noir story follows Mike Harrison, a pig and private investigator whose old friend Alex Richards was recently murdered. Set in a world where predation is a thing, even if not common; the police dismiss the case and it's up to Mike to sniff out the true culprit. A story that might be a little more familiar to those who are more in the known with the genre, but that kept me guessing with every twist as it unfolded.
Next is "400 rabbits" by Alice 'Huskyteer' Dryden, winner of Best Short Story for 2016. First published in Gods With Fur, this is the story of Eighty-Six, one of four hundred Aztec rabbit gods in charge of drinking, drunken revelry, and its effects. However, as we all know, there's more to life than drinking as Eighty-Six, patron god of "attempting to chat up your best friend's betrothed", finds out when he's forced to go sober for the first time in his life, getting a new perspective on the human world and life as a whole. As can be easily glanced by our main character's title, this a comedy through and through, and one that gives an interesting insight of the role alcohol has on our lives, all from the perspective of what could be considered an under-represented culture in the fandom.
Closing this section is "The Torch" by Chris 'Sparf' Williams, nominee for Best Short Story 2016. First published in ROAR volume 7, this is the story of Rob Cantor, former star of an old campy television show about a police-affiliated superhero which is soon to get rebooted, though in a darker and edgier fashion (any similarities with real life are purely coincidental). Rob, a dalmatian, is attending the same convention as his replacement and has to come to terms with his life and what all these new changes mean for him. With an air of nostalgia, and I don't mean just when our main character remembers his golden days, this story does a good job going through the nitty-gritty details of what is it that makes a fandom, and how it affects the lives of those involved in it.
Finally, the last winner in the anthology is "Behesht" by Dwale, winner of Best Short Story for 2017. First published in ROAR volume 8, this is a post-apocalyptic story of the Dying Earth variety. Farad, a bio-engineered jerboa, chronicles the events and interviews that he experiences alongside a caravan that’s heading towards the eponymous hidden garden—Heaven itself. So, yes, this means that it's an anthology within an anthology! As expected of a story of this genre, the tone can be pretty bleak at times as we see our protagonists continue on their endless journey, which may or may not have the results they're looking for. Another story for which I wish to be expanded upon, whatever its outcome may be.
The first 2017 nominee is "The Moon Fox" by Amy Fontaine. First published in the online magazine Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, this modern fairy tale follows the adventures of the titular Moon Fox after he crashes on Earth as he tries to find his place in our world. Somewhere where he can be himself. Be it at a farm, at a circus, or at an audition, Moon Fox’s always trying his best. One of the most light-hearted and wholesome stories in the whole anthology, with an ending that befits its genre.
Last but not least is "The Ouroboros Plate" by Slip Wolf, also nominated for Best Short Story 2017. First published in Bleak Horizons, this story follows Imperial Agent Hallord, a weasel on a mission to check up on a project by the Emperor, but whose plans get a wrench thrown in the works when the scientist he was meant to encounter, Doctor Liskar, is found dead in her office. Complicating matters further is that the space station where they're located is set to destruct in a couple hours. A whydunit where all the pieces fit when you understand its true premise, but that keeps you on your toes until you do.
As mentioned near the beginning of this review, pretty much everything you may want to see is here in one way or another with some very few exceptions, and the fact that these were curated by writers and editors themselves means that you can be sure of the overall quality of every story represented. If you're new to furry literature as a whole, this is definitely the book for you. If you're not, even if you've already read all of these, you should try getting a copy too. The quality is there, the variety is there, and you can see how the storytelling styles and the fandom evolved throughout the decade.