Review by Sofox
This ROAR anthology, edited by Ian Madison Keller, is made up of fifteen stories, all on the theme of innovation. Before reviewing the stories, I must point out I'm not super keen on the cover art by Dante. It's simplistic, doesn't stimulate the curiosity, it's a little unclear on what's going on and I don't think it conveys the theme of the anthology very well. When I think of good furry anthology covers I think of the "Dogs of War" and "Dogs of War II: Aftermath" cover art by Teagan Gavet. Not only is it detailed and expressive, but if you place the two books beside each other, you can clearly see how the theme of the two anthologies are similar, yet evolve drastically from one book to the next. It's practically telling a story. It's a lot harder to see what the theme of ROAR 11 is from the cover aside from "cute otter and octopus."
Draught Horse by Huskyteer
Taking home the trophy for "I came up with a pun and turned it into a story" we see a horse, Magnus, whose job is to draw technical drawings while his father works at a canal. There's a very nice "early 1900s" vibe to this story with changing technology meaning some jobs (like that of the father) are less relevant, while others (like that of the son) are on the increase. The story is themed around Magnus trying to close this technological gap and help his father, and in trying to do so it really reminds me that while technology can be a great force that we must contend with, it's the heart and connection we have with others that gives things meaning.
Boiler Room Beasties by Gustavo Bondoni
This is a haunting tale set on a space station seemingly abandoned by its human operators. We've got a group of genetically engineered cats who've been given orders to protect the ship against these enhanced insects. It sounds cute, but it's lethal and brutal. Even more haunting is how the story is generational, the new kittens who have been born and reached maturity have never even seen the humans that they're meant to be continuing the orders of. Through no fault of their own, they just can't grasp some of the orders they're expected to follow and why the orders even exist. So can this new generation's fresh perspective help solve the problems in a way that the older generation can't? Or does their relative naievity mean they don't fully recognise that the ways of their parents had wisdom in it even if it can't be properly described? Either way, as time goes on, it'll always be the new generation making the decisions.
Hanging By a Thread by Nenekiri Bookwyrm
Before reading this story I never considered that a spider might have a burning passion towards being a film maker. This cute story helped rectify that.
The Maneless by David M. Sula
A pride of lions where everyone is trans male, hence the moniker of the Maneless. It's setting is feral enough that they still need to hunt and maintain territories, but anthro enough that they have markets and still have conversations with other species and prides. It's a pretty heavy story as the protagonist, Marrow, and his tribe have to fight for bare survival while essentially being treated as outcasts or weirdos by pretty much everyone else. Even worse, most in the pride have a tragic backstory of rejection from their former pride, often with people they cared about simply not understanding or refusing to accept them in any new role. There's hardship piling in from every direction in this story, but that's the theme. Trying to take step forwards when everything is against you, even when you're not even sure what the next step is, and finding things to help keep you going.
Computer Literacy for Deities by Linnea Capps
This is a super fun story. Basically a literal "god" is trying to figure out how to use a computer with the help of an IT "Guy". Lots of cute interactions and neat tech humour. Must be hard to learn new stuff when you're older than the universe!
Blind by Frances Pauli
I'm not the biggest fan of "dating" genre stories, but I empathise with someone like Marley who, being a vulture, isn't exactly getting a lot of positive feedback over her appearance. This isn't helped by her active dating efforts which means she's often at the mercy of first impressions. She understandably buys a feathered full-hood wig to make her first impressions more favourable, and we dive right into the theme of covering up who you are to make yourself more accepted by those around you.
Sharks and Dolphins by Priya Sridhar
With modern culture perceiving Sharks as "evil" and Dolphins as "good", this story challenges this view by showing things from the shark perspective. I honestly thought the story ended too abruptly, long before the conflict before the two species had been resolved, but maybe that's the point.
Poyekhali! by Cedric G! Bacon
Man, this is an epic. A full on Soviet space mission that feels like it delivers far more than a short story is ever meant to be able to convey. Drama, ambition, government intrigue, and the minor detail of several tonnes of rocket fuel ready to blast someone into space! I was almost afraid it would be one of those short stories that cut off mid-story, but thankfully, it's a full saga I was happy to read!
Virtual Sight by Sofox and Gabi
Disclosure: I wrote this with Gabi helping me formulate the idea.
It's about teens playing around with "Vizors", augmented reality goggles that overlay virtual graphics on your view of the real world. This includes real time avatars on you and those around you, meaning you can look down at yourself and see yourself in an antho-cheetah body, as will everyone else around you who's also wearing Vizors. I tried to keep the story light and fun, playing around with the concept and some of the inevitable arbitrary gaming conventions that would make the leap to this new medium. Hopefully you'll enjoy it.
Not All Mysteries by Frank Lerenard
Okay, this is a super good story that sticks in your mind in spite of (or because of?) the simple premise. A hole appears outside of town. That's it.
Why is the hole there, what is its purpose? Those are questions the raven townsfolk get increasingly focused on as they note the hole's mysterious properties, that it's perfectly round, goes straight down, doesn't have a visible bottom, and definitely wasn't there before. They talk, they discuss, they come up with experiments, they recruit outsider help. It's all really engaging. One of the really neat parts of the story was that you really get a sense that this is a town that exists in its own right, not just for the sake of the story. It's citizens have their own lives to go about, and events to attend, but over the months and changing seasons their attention keeps coming back to that hole and finding new ways to figure out what it's about.
In some ways, this story pins what innovation is about more than any other story in this anthology. Innovation isn't just cool tech, or a single instantaneous breakthrough, it's a constant process of trying to come up with new ways of dealing with a problem and figure things out. There are dead ends, plans, setbacks, cross pollination of ideas with others, frustrating results, and all the while our lives continue on whether a breakthrough is around the corner or not. Still, it always seems worth trying.
Steelsworn by Juniper V. Stokes
Large scale magic powered war involving battles with huge beasts and a smattering of war politics and regret. I enjoyed while reading and had some nice actions sequences and war strategy, but didn't make a massive impression.
Sugar Magnolia by K.C. Shaw
Teens starting a band, a classic premise. In this case the "innovation" comes from mixing genres with them trying to start a bluegrass rock band (they're based in Tennessee). The story feels very believable. How some big band helped inspire their formation in the first place, how they take risks to get started, how they don't really know what they're doing but figure things out, how they make unusual alliances to fill out the band. More than the set of actions, you really feel the motivations of all the people involved. The band exists because people's motivations get wrapped up in something that temporarily unifies them. The story recognises this, but also shows how powerful and affecting the band can be while it still exists. With so many "band" stories, it feels that either they have to make it to the "big time" or they're failures. This story feels so much better presenting the band their own merits and the effect it has on it's members.
Unity On the Divide by Juan Carlos Moreno
It's one of those days. You're flying a massive airship over hostile terrain, you crash, and you have to team up with the human war prisoners you were transporting to fight against deadly robots, am I right?
This story, which honestly feels like it was at one time pitched to The Reclamation Project (which the author has a story in), is pretty good. There's definitely this feeling of a wider conflict between the anthros and the humans, which now has to take a back seat to the more pressing problem. There's efforts at survival, bloody fights, bonding, bodging things together, and even a discussion on the nature of innovation and how the different species approach it especially with their history in mind. I found the whole story super satisfying and a bit like I'd been through part of the ordeal myself.
Otters Can't Rig. Badgers Can't Pull by Mephitis
A really interesting labour conflict story set in a construction yard for airships. While I can't be sure the methods employed here would work for real life workplaces, you really feel for Royce, who just wants the workers to do their job while two separate groups of specialised workers can't stop being in a feud with each other. I liked this steampunk-esque world, and thoughts on the innovations with regard to skilled professions.
Octopus Ex Machina by Mary E. Lowd
A group of people who've had their bodies changed into various animal forms have to brave a hate crowd just to get to a swimming pool. Once there, the real fun begins.
Another cute story involving an otter and octopus with techy devices (yes, from the book cover) and their meeting at a swimming pool after an unexpected event. Its interesting to have a backdrop of hate with a foreground of fun shenanigans and making connections, but I think it works and is a nice story.
There's a really good selection of really enjoyable stories here, all with vastly different genres and takes on the theme. There wasn't a single story that dragged the collection down, and generally a lot of energy.