Review by Nathan Hopp
Change can be a scary thing in foresight. It can be unexpected and even unpredictable. For better or for worse, though, change happens to everybody out there, and transitions in life or livelihood can have pros that outweigh the cons. And honestly, there cannot be a better theme out there to celebrate the tenth volume of FANG.
Edited together by Sparf as well as Kyell Gold, each story of FANG VOLUME 10 is centered around the theme of transitions and how the main characters move from one stage of their life to the next. These transitions range between the ramifications of coming out of the closet to making a difficult choice in relationships, to changed lifestyles caused by the passage of time and even the complexities of rebuilding a shattered life. And many more.
“Waters” by Slip-Wolf
The first story is short and bittersweet, almost reminiscent of some of the stories in Slip-Wolf’s dystopian anthology DISSIDENT SIGNALs. “Waters” focuses on an unnamed shepherd dog and his muskrat lover as their coastal city begins to feel the effects of climate change. As the waters begin to rise and everyone begins to flee inland, the main character wants to start anew. His boyfriend, however, does not. Having simple yet identifiable protagonists while paralleling the risks that global warming will have on the coast, “Waters” fittingly leaves an impression on the mind afterward. It reminds readers that, while the world may change beyond our personal control, it is better to focus on the present and future than to dwell aimlessly on the past.
“Your Edge” by TJ Minde
Oddly enough, the plot to “Your Edge” sounds like the start of a visual gag but evolves into a wholesome slice-of-life drama. An athletic wolf named Mike is angry that his machismo father doesn’t approve of his boyfriend—a buck named Charlie—not because he is male, but because he is an herbivore who is also, ironically, a talented chef when it comes to meat. Can a well-cooked dinner by Charlie save the strained relationship between father and son? “Your Edge” is appropriately paced with likable characters, a sexy chemistry between Charlie and Mike, as well as a clever allegory on addressing toxic masculinity. By the end of the last paragraph, TJ Minde’s contribution to FANG will leave the reader satisfied yet hungry for more.
“Think of England” by Sasha P.G.
Sasha P.G.’s story honestly fits better into the anthology’s theme of transitions. “Think of England” follows a feline teacher named Micah after he slowly begins to understand his asexuality after finally discovering a name for it. However, this is lukewarm news for his coyote husband, as Kim understandably feels betrayed by these revelations. He feels like Micah’s asexuality means that his husband does feel attracted to him, let alone enjoy it when they have sex. As a rift starts to form between them and Micah becomes introspected of his newfound orientation, can he show his mate that sex was not only reason they got married? Sasha P.G.’s writing shines through in the turmoil Micah experiences as he finds a name to the way he feels during sex. The story itself provides a unique perspective to how asexuality plays a role in romantic and sexual relationships, to the point that the reader wholly understands the emotions of both Kim and Micah as they work their way through this revelation. By the end, “Think of England” is a wonderfully wholesome drama that finishes on an adorable note.
“Perfection” by James Hudson
“Perfection” is about an older, unnamed grizzly bear who works as a truck driver. While in the middle of a long haul, he notes that, contrary to belief in popular culture, a trucker can get into trouble at work for picking up hitchhikers on the side of the road and having sex with them. They can even get themselves fired from further work if caught in the act. However, after having pity on a college student buck he nicknamed ‘Perfection’, the grizzly bear finds himself tempted enough to solicit the handsome lad as they drive to their next destination. Granted, it does not fit as well into themes of transitions as other entries in FANG VOLUME 10, and it feels like “Perfection” might belong in another furry anthology, but it is still an erotically charged contribution that is worth a read. James Hudson deconstructs a cliched element in gay pornography involving truckers yet manages to write a gruff protagonist and his love interest as easygoing characters with stories of their own. Go check it out.
“25 Miles East of Fate” by Buck C. Turner
Buck C. Turner did an incredible job of capturing the divide between those who live in the city and the countryside. The protagonist of “25 Miles East of Fate” is a nerdy wolf in need of cash between semesters of college at Dallas, and reluctantly takes a job at a nearby ranch. There, he rekindles a high school crush on a grizzly bear named Chad, the owner’s outgoing, boisterous son who takes a liking to the scrawny, city-going wolf who is reluctant about the prospect of staying in their hometown after college. Overall, this is a densely packed story that asks important questions about life beyond university, the connections one forges while growing up as well as the ones who remain back home. In all honesty, the best aspect of “25 Miles East of Fate” is not just the sex scene to expect in a FANG story, but the build-up to it as well. It never felt rushed or forced. The romance between Chad and the main character is believable, sweet and their interactions build up to a lewdly satisfying third act.
“The Mountain’s Heart” by Miriam ‘Camio’ Curzon
The author of this somehow accomplished writing a story about a tribal lynx named Rye having sex with a mountain. Or rather, the mountain god of Mount Einko, whose wrath must be quelled by a sacrifice in order to save Rye’s village from total destruction. The narrative, while sounding ridiculous at first on paper, slowly entrances the reader in a mystical prose that displays the devotion Rye has for not just his people, but the mountain itself. As his journey inside the mountain progresses, for Rye, the line between the formation and its deity becomes blurred to the point of Einko himself having a cryptic, ethereal personality. The way Rye even describes his presence within and near the mountain feels ghostly, almost like the lynx is having a sexy fever dream, which is almost appropriate when having intercourse with a god. Overall, “The Mountain’s Heart” feels like an otherworldly journey not just across a landscape and inside the mountain, but even through a new transitional period. Without giving too much away, the plot twist is a surprising but not unexpected conclusion for what Rye believed to be his end. It almost makes me wish Camio would write a sequel story.
“Thresholds” by G.M. Rader
Once again, this is another great example of combining the anthology’s theme with a seemingly overused plot element. The newly promoted Sergeant Wendell Jones is a leopard recently returned from active duty and, thanks to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell being recently repealed, can be more open about the gay relationship he has with a coyote named Micah. After a celebratory BBQ and even during the throes of celebratory sex later that same night, Micah begins to suspect that his army boyfriend is dealing with PTSD from his military tour. And after an incident during training with his comrades, even Wendell begins to suspect he needs help. As a reader with a younger brother in the Marines, it is refreshing to have a story that takes these issues seriously. Not only are Micah’s concerns as well as that of Wendell’s squad mates believable, but the subtle hints of Wendell’s stress are paced well. What really holds “Thresholds” together is the ending, which shows how it is not wrong to go out and tell somebody you need help.
“A Friend in Winter” by MikasiWolf
Tsang Hai Jun is a Taiwanese leopard cat attending Twotown University as a foreign exchange student. After being pestered by his parents to find a girlfriend and marry, Hai Jun finally finds the courage to come out…only for it to backfire immensely, to the point he even cancels his flight back to Taipei. Now, left alone on campus with his thoughts and uncertainty about the future during the Christmas season, Hai Jun celebrates Dongzhi—or the Winter Solstice Festival—alone while a marten classmate of his tries to console him. Unpredictably, it does not result in the kind of coming out romance story one would expect. Despite some events of the second act feeling unnecessary, even if the events are as sexy as they are a harsh reminder of hookup culture, MikasiWolf did a wonderful job of crafting a unique story about understanding one’s sexuality. The friendship between Hai Jun and Mike, though tumultuous at first, is very likable. Overall, it is a pleasant and welcome addition to FANG that will leave the reader interested in tasting some of the traditional foods to try during Dongzhi.
“Night’s Dawn” by Jaden Drackus
Set within a fantasy world, Shadow is a jaguar assassin for the Empire who finds himself on a well-earned vacation with his lover, a fox named Kor. Unfortunately, the cabin they journey to is the same one which Shadow shared with his deceased lover, Raj’arr, who had been fatally tortured by enemies a year prior. The longer that Shadow and Kor are together, both begin to wonder if Shadow is capable of honoring Raj’s final request of moving on with his life. As a medieval fantasy, the focus is less on tropes such as battles, political intrigue or monstrous creatures, but on how hard it can be for somebody to be in a relationship after having lost a loved one. Jaden Drackus cleverly integrated it into the plot without stating the obvious, such as Shadow’s senses making him think that Kor is Raj’arr as they are having sex or waking up and expecting the fox to be his dead lover. Kor’s frustration is as equally understandable as Shadow’s anguish, to the point the latter constantly thinks back to him. It forces them both to acknowledge how important Raj was to the jaguar, that it isn’t shameful to miss a loved one while also being in love with someone else. By the end of the story, the reader will need a box of tissues, and not for the reason they would expect.
“Ghosts of Cinnamon and Lavender” by Thurston Howl
Full warning: once more, have some tissues ready before reading “Ghosts of Cinnamon and Lavender”, where Thurston Howl once again knows how to be erotically charged as well as heartwarming and bittersweet. Utilizing flashbacks in a cinematic manner, an older fox named Galan reminisces about life between the 1980s and the present day, when he went clubbing amidst a growing epidemic called ‘tracker dog disease’, or TDD. There is not much to say without going into spoiler territory, but what Howl has written is a melancholy journey about nostalgia, relationships forged in camaraderie and how they deal with strife. The way it is written and how real the emotions feel in each sentence makes one feel if it is autobiographical in a sense. Overall, if the reader can handle implications of self-harm or depression, then “Ghosts of Cinnamon and Lavender” will leave an emotional impact by the final page.
“The Honest Thing” by Ethan Burrow
Not long after getting broken up with by his affably rambunctious girlfriend Audrey, a mixed collie graduate named Charlie happens to meet a new guy in town named Olive, who begins to grow close to our mix-tape-obsessed protagonist until sparks form between the two. As a standard slice-of-life, it is serviceable as an introspective on relationships and how it is strange to transition from being assuredly straight to not knowing anymore, which parallels well with Olive’s backstory. Even though Ethan Burrow starts off very vague on what the species or even appearance of his characters are, which is difficult when reading furry fiction, the descriptions perfectly capture the laid-back tone, atmosphere and difficulties of life during and after college, a transitioning period for many as they turn from teenagers, then young adults to eventually adults.
“Ambrose’s Duty” by Skunkbomb
Brother Ambrose is a knowledgeable mouse who works as a monk for St. Andrena, an abbey that worships a fantasy religion that is not only accepting of homosexuality but does not require celibacy to worship their deity, ‘Lord Asger’. As fall begins to transition into winter, Ambrose is excited to hear his long-distance boyfriend, a travelling bard rat named Silas, is returning to St. Andrena in time for a celebratory festival, plus to be with the mouse he loves. As the snowfall begins to descend though, the couple begin to wonder who should sacrifice what to continue being together. Should Silas give up his travelling, musical adventures for three-fourths of the year to be with his mouse, or should Ambrose give up his duty as a monk and see the world with Silas? Besides the original fantasy setting reminiscent of REDWALL, “Ambrose’s Duty” will pull in the reader with its charming characters and a discussion on finding a compromise between love and duty, all while having a colorful, sweet writing style that brings the abbey and the main couple’s passion for each other to life. It would be wonderful to read a sequel about Ambrose and Silas.
“Unknown Stains” by NightEyes DaySpring
The plot of “Unknown Stains” explores similar themes to the previous story, except in a modern-day setting. Wanting time off from work to be together, a hyena office named Muri and his painted dog boyfriend, Leister, rent a Transit van to go on a road trip. While having fun on their ride, Muri can’t help but wonder if it is the perfect time to ask Leister to move in with him when they return home. Unfortunately, all it does in result in opening a can of worms about Leister’s lack of settling down to think of the future, believing that Muri could do better for a boyfriend overall. NightEyes DaySpring certainly knows how to suck a reader into the understandable drama a couple faces when taking the next step. While “Ambrose’s Duty” does explore a similar theme, “Unknown Stains” feels more…honest. Leister and Muri each hold different approaches to life, with the former being free-spirited and living life to the fullest each day while Muri is more pragmatic, wanting to be prepared for tomorrow rather than enjoying today. The questions they ask each other and themselves are the same kind of questions any couple out there would eventually need to ask, but the conclusion the couple come to is one that feels right for their characters.
“Electrochemistry” by Faora Meridian
The final contribution to FANG VOLUME 10 is “Electrochemistry”, a science fiction psychological drama set in a future where a ‘class three simulant’ android can be owned. Tasked with watching his parents’ home for the next two weeks, an otter named Luke is also told to set up the simulant for his folks when it’s delivered, unaware that the simulant is technologically advanced enough to model itself after the subject of an owner’s happiest memory. Said memory causes the simulant, who is later named ‘Christopher’, to unintentionally take the adult form of a ferret from Luke’s childhood (who died in a tragic rocket accident). This causes the otter to begin unpacking repressed emotions he’d long kept silenced, the only companion he has to talk to and even work through being Christopher, the simulant who resembles his dead crush. As a final story to the anthology, “Electrochemistry” somehow accomplishes balancing humor and drama with sci-fi robotics, erotic sensuality and exploring the effects that trauma can have years later. Although it does feel like there is another story attached to it, the ending itself almost feeling abrupt, Faora Meridian’s story has a sympathetic protagonist and an android whose caring, thoughtful yet witty personality appropriately allows Luke to recollect himself feeling love again.
Basically, it would be a crime for any devoted fan of furry erotica not to read FANG VOLUME 10. It is true that some of the stories don’t strongly utilize the arching theme compared to others, but each author brings their own sensual, erotic, and unique contribution to the table. There is no such thing as the perfect short story, but each contribution entertained enough to keep me reading until the very end. Both Scarf and Kyell Gold did an immensely terrific job editing the stories together into a nice collective. Add on a well-drawn and sexy art cover by Donryu, and this is the perfect edition for such an anthology like FANG to celebrate its tenth volume. Here is to ten more volumes from a pleased reader.