Five Fortunes review by Bill Kieffer

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CHOSEN PEOPLE by Phil Guesz

The first novella and the cover story.

I’ve had the advantage of enjoying Geusz’s stories for far longer than most of the Furry Fandom. As part of the TSA-Talk, he was one of the voices that helped shaped my own writing voice through example and conversation. His heroes have an an honesty and vulnerability that I have never been able to match. His worlds reflect the diversity of morality and pragmatism of humanity, and the Lapist story-verse is no exception.

Sheriff Juniper Rabbit is in many ways a typical Geusz hero; Transformed, a minority by choice, and with a specific set of skills, our new sheriff has a unique point of view of both the average Joe and the Privileged classes. Unlike the more moneyed Lapists, Juniper understands that just choosing to become a Rabbit, doesn’t make you a better person. Like most Geusz heroes, Juniper inspires by example and most of his success isn’t just in winning against impossible odds, but in stepping up and being the “better man” time and time again.

Juniper differs from the author’s other TFed heroes in that his transformation is by choice, without coercion or being born into this form. Not that it is without sacrifice, of course, but these changes seem worth it to our hero.

The story’s nice and flies by in Geusz’s light and tight style. The mystery of the arsonist is wrapped up rather too quickly and much of it off camera, but this is less a crime story than a story exploring the Haves’ willingness to dehumanize the Have-Nots. Overlooking the cause of conflicts is much too easy. It’s always been much too easy.

HUNTRESS by Renee Carter Hall

The second novella.

This is a very nice and sweeping tale set in an alternate Africa with anthropomorphic lions villages and somewhat nomadic hunters. This intelligently combines the human and realistic dynamics of human villages with the hunting schemes of lions in the natural world. In Huntress, all the big game hunters are females with their own way of life and traditions. Yet, they are also tied to the villages for trade… and recruiting.

This is a multi-layered coming of age story as Leya goes from child to adult, trying to find her place in the world. Yet, as no time is she an outright outcast. She finds her place several times in the course of the story, and often enjoys the sensation of fitting in. And, it’s not that she outgrows her place in the world so much as it becomes time to take another place.

Leya’s story was very refreshing in this way. Leya’s not a super-skilled Huntress; Leya is not rejected at every step. Leya grows and does not create a single enemy along the way. Everyone is supportive; but they also have their emotional needs. In this way, it reminds me of the best chick-lit novels: growing and exploring both your skills and emotional landscape… and yet there’s still action; it’s not all in Leya’s head.

GOING CONCERNS by Watts Martin

The third novella.

If I recall correctly, this is the second story I’ve read set in this universe. The first was Indigo Rain. I quite enjoyed both works even if I think the humans and the furred people get along just a bit to well.

The sparsity of commas was my only complaint I had in Indigo Rain. With Fred running the edits here, I have no complaints with the comma placement and grammar here.

The dialogue might have been way too witty for its own good, but it was played off as a character flaw with the feline detective. To my old eyes, I think the proper placement of “old school” pauses that a comma brings really made the dialogue pop. The plot was a shade tighter and more robust than I recall of Indigo Rain.

I hope I can find more stories with Swift and Scava in them.

WHEN A CAT LOVES A DOG by Mary Lowd

The fourth novella.

Lowd’s style and execution always fascinate me. She’s a superb craftsman and has a deft hand with a light style. I honestly don’t know how she explores the life changing issues and challenges that she does and keep it honest, yet light. There’s more than a suggestion of depth here, but it never gets too dark or too common. I keep watching her stuff, hoping to learn her tricks, but I oft-times have to just settle with being entertained and inspired.

We return to the universe of Otters In Space and join our lead characters, Lashonda (a cat) and Topher (a dog), getting married in a rare mixed species ceremony. It is a nice enough ceremony, marred only by the fact that Topher’s mother believes that this is a publicity stunt. Topher’s a comedian in the early stages of his career and it’s not a wholly unreasonable possibility. The dog is known for his cat jokes; jokes the uplifted felines understand are actually mocking the dogs who are largely in charge of the human free world. But the romance is there…

At first, both claim that they aren’t interested in children — cats and dogs cannot produce offspring in this universe — but when Lashanda sees Topher playing with children in the park, the flood gates open. At first, she wants a litter for Topher and then herself.

How they follow this new dream is an exploration of love and science that made me smile several times and turn green with envy once or twice.

PIECE OF MIND by Bernard Doove

The fifth novella.

I know I’ve been aware of Chakats and Doove’s universe for quite some time, I just don’t recall the stories readily, but I’m so very sure that I have read them. I certainly found his pictures on Usenet from my dial-up days. Finding his art on the web today made me feel wonderfully nostalgic.

Reading this story felt like slipping into comfortable old slippers.

In Piece of Mind, I can see that there’s a lot of world building and culture here, but sometimes the struts and framework are a little too exposed. A little too on the money, maybe. The craftsmanship needed to build a cohesive universe are obviously here.

How can I not attach myself to our story lead instantly? I’ve had to deal with anxiety and guilt… not to mention the judgement of others. This should be a cinch, but it’s not that easy. The author’s decision to hide the Caitian’s deep dark secret played well for story needs, but in keeping the reader (ok, this reader) in the dark, it created distance I had to overcome.

By the time I was invested in Arrak (who went by three or four names in the story — that didn’t help, either), I had very little energy to start getting to know the Chakat Windy as well. Honestly, she became likable quickly enough and was well used to foil Arrak while mentoring him, but given her role in the ending of the story… I didn’t see much of a sniff of the emotions that the conclusion should have been made of.

The end is much too pat, but be that as it may be, the cold cat on the skiing slopes created a few amused and touching moments that let me know that Doove’s capable of selling characters to the reader (or me, in this case).

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There’s an epilogue on the web version of the story (http://www.furry.org.au/chakat/Stories/PieceOfMind.html). I’m not sure if it fixes my issue of the “patness,” but it does seem a better and more natural display of intimacy than their earlier confession of love.