Review by Thurston Howl
People who know me as an editor know I really dig heavily-themed anthologies, especially those around species. I will forever tout Plowed, and I thoroughly enjoyed working on the SPECIES and BREEDS projects. Shark Week edited by Ian Madison Keller is the newest of such books, labeling itself “an anthro ocean anthology.” It’s definitely a fun idea, one we haven’t seen executed often enough in the furry writing community. So, it’s refreshing, and not just because of the cool water! So before I dive in (yes, you’re getting all the puns), I do want to say I’ll review each individual story first and then talk about my thoughts on the collection as a whole at the end. Without further ado, let’s get started!
“The Ballad of Lobster Island” by Louis Evans is, believe it or not, a ballad! The story speaks of relationships between lobsters, whelks, and a sole marine biologist, inspired by a real experiment in South Africa in 1983. This ballad excels with its visuals. The language of kinks, armor, and gods makes this an effective ballad. However, while some of the rhymes felt fun, others felt forced.
The first prose piece in the book is “The Bedazzling Dragon of Vanderlyst” by Allison Thai. As is characteristic of Thai’s work, the sensory details are incredibly vivid here, as she creates an alternate history about an Asian dragon deep under the sea. The plot will have you on the edge of your seat, due to both its early lightness and its later darkness. Definitely worth the read.
“Source and Sedition” by Koji A. Dae follows, showcasing the wonder of octopus magic! When the multi-tentacled creature Phearidus accidentally pulls Kayla under, mistaking her for Bonnie, Kayla is opened to a whole new world and discovers life really is better down where it’s wetter. It’s a short one, but it’s a pleasant read. Good for those interested in a magical time.
The next story, “Namug” by Gustavo Bondoni, is an aquatic sci fi piece. Colonel Ruth Khazak is a scientist working on an experiment for a colonizer’s project, adapting human life for the new world. However, things happen that weren’t exactly anticipated! It’s a fun sci fi story with deep meanings about humanity and colonialism.
James L. Steele’s “On the Surface” is a story about an aquatic orchestrating a dramatic show for land-dwellers to educate them about the civilization beneath the sea, but the land-dwellers unfortunately see this as mostly entertainment. This poignant story of environmentalism and capitalism is incredibly evocative with lush, rich descriptions. You as a viewer become just as entranced and bewitched by the performance, and you can’t help but wonder if you’d pay money to see the show, too. And personally, I’d love to see more of these characters in the future. There’s a potential novel here!
“Born to Die” by Nenekiri Bookwyrm deals with an aggressive anglerfish when faced against a reckless krill and nervous hermit crab. It’s an incredibly adorable story, even though it’s a bit minimalist with plot. Definitely a story to read to the whole family!
The next story gets interesting with its species: an anthro water lily going on a blind date with a pig. “Dry Skin” by Kary M. Jomb is a sweet story that will give you all the good feels, especially when we have that detestable dating show on Netflix about blind dates that I refuse to name. Just read “Dry Skin” instead. Much better written.
“The Net” by Kittara Foxworthy is about a dolphin who gets caught in a net, turning the story into a large-scale rescue mission. I always enjoy Kittara’s characters, and this is no exception, plus they really nail the pacing of this story.
Next is one of my favorite stories in the book, “Plenty of Fish in the Sky,” by Daniel Lowd. As an editor who often uses gimmicks in their work, I naturally roll my eyes when others do it. When I saw the first page of Lowd’s story, with its numbered list in plain sight, I thought to myself, “Oh boy, another writer who thinks they’re being clever…” And I quickly swallowed my own fin. This humorous story about a shark who is obsessed with lists is very cute. It’s very funny. Worth the read all on its own for sure. I want to see more of Murfkin.
Willow Croft’s “Lobster’s Lucky Day” shows a lobster witnessing a human death caused by lionfish spines...and the lobster now knows an effective weapon against the two-legged invaders. It’s a clever story with good pacing!
Our next sci fi story is a space opera presented by Mary E. Lowd called “The Unshelled.” A Collie captain named Wiler is on a solo mission on the serene planet of Kallendria 7. The crab-like Sydo becomes their main contact here. But oh, does the plot go places from there. Surprisingly (I say “surprisingly” as I am generally not one to enjoy sci fi), I found myself heavily invested in these characters. Many might tell you Lowd excels at world-building, but I say Lowd’s real strength is in these characters who feel super real, like people you would know, and their stories don’t feel authored. It feels like natural dialogue, natural actions, and you’re just along for the ride. Always a joy!
“The Ocean is Not Wide Enough” by K.C. Shaw is about a narwhal who has lost her son. This is a story about dealing with and processing grief. While it’s not a very action-y piece or a very sweet piece, it is incredibly somber, and it makes for one of the more beautiful stories in the collection.
Huskyteer’s “The Clamshell Baby” features an elephant seal, a fur seal, and two sea lions riding a squid! I was really concerned when the story started. It would have to be hard to distinguish those characters, but Huskyteer excels at this! The characters each have their own distinctive voice and personality, and it’s impossible to mix them up. But I don’t want to undersell the gang-politics-ridden plot either; it’s a fun story!
“The Singer of the Seas” by Su Haddrell has one of the more captivating plots in the book. Two diplomat Shirras see the Wresh Magistrate for a truce to fight the shark known as the Old Shadow. If that sentence wasn’t a good indicator, this story suffers from a lot of Proper-Noun-Dump syndrome. The first half-page alone mentions Navin, Shirras, the Vanguard, and Wresh, and only explaining one of those in that time. It definitely could have used some editing to slow down that pace and introduce these terms in meaningful ways to the reader. But otherwise, a great story! I loved the ending; didn’t see it coming!
Next is Daniel R. Robichaud’s “Courage under Pressure.” I don’t want to say too much about this short piece without spoiling it. But I will say it takes a popular underwater story and flips it on its fins! I love the original story, so I figured it out about halfway through. Was really fun, and I’d recommend the read just for those references.
Martin the sardine resents life as a sardine. In Frances Pauli’s “The Promise and the Price,” fish have a motto: Small is bad; big is good. Martin is excited to prove himself and find his place in the natural world. While the story is a bit predictable, it’s charming, and you can’t help but root for Martin as the story progresses.
Oh my Satan. Jude-Marie Green’s story “Luigi’s Song” almost made me tear up. And I’m tough to do that to. Daisy is fascinated by marine mammals and learns she can speak to whales as a child. So she channels that energy as she ages and eventually gets to bond with the titular Luigi. And yes, it’s worth it. Read this one.
Mark Slauter’s “How Manta Ray Was Created” feels like it might be one of the more out-of-place stories in the book. As the title suggests, it’s a two-page creation myth. It’s fairly straight-forward and by-the-book in terms of your standard creation myth. Given that this comes from a fictional culture, I almost would have rather had an actual creation myth from a real culture in history as that could have been both educational and entertaining.
The final story is “Colored in Sepia” by S. Park. This is a gorgeous trans narrative (coming from a trans reviewer). It speaks to some of the differences in experience between born-male trans people and born-female trans people. The use of biology here is incredible, reminding me a lot of Amy Fontaine’s work. I appreciated Park’s presentation of that level of research without it ever feeling pedantic. An absolutely beautiful and touching story to end the book on.
The anthology as a whole was a beautiful collection. Keller definitely excelled at choosing quality stories to make up a cohesive range of ways to represent anthro oceanic characters. He really organized the stories well too, putting short ones after long ones for a break, varying up the themes, and keeping the pacing exciting. You never get two slow pieces back to back. I think there was a lot to be wanted when it comes to proofreading and formatting. There are still a number of straight quote marks and apostrophes, some inconsistencies (like the numbers in the list story change fonts), etc. A few typos snuck in, like “it’s” instead of “its” at the end of “Born to Die.” But generally, this is well-edited, and nothing is too “fishy” (“sea” what I did there?). The cover by Beleoci is gorgeous too; it captures the beauty and horror of many of the stories in the book, though the printer did print it a bit too dark, I’d say.
On the whole, I will definitely be recommending Shark Week to people. Especially for furries interested in general audience stories and for writers wanting to learn more about how to write often difficult species, Shark Week excels as a furry anthology. This is a book to wrap your jaws around!