“The Tails of The Apocalypse” (love the pun! love the book!)

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For every copy sold, $1 goes to the charity Pets For Vets – “It’s win and more win everywhere you turn. Be a winner and get your copy today” — John L. Monk – ow.ly/U4Vtv

What do other book buyers need to know, short of “BUY THIS!”–?

The need to explain why, to talk about these stories, compels me to expand on that.

Normally I am not drawn to tales of a post-apocalyptic earth, but “The Tails of The Apocalypse” (love the pun!) has a new twist: narrating from an animal’s point of view.

“When I thought about what the end of the world would bring,” Edward W. Robertson writes as a post-script to his story, “I had no problem squashing seven billion people. But I never liked to think about what would happen to all those dogs.”

That sounds kinda twisted, as I used to tell my daughter, who cried over the slaughter of horses in WWI movies but not the humans. She’d look at old photos of people long gone and zero in on the family dog. In fact, she just called not long after I first posted this review, and said “NEVER” would she read a book about animals that die, and that I should Just Say No if asked to review one again.

But it’s beautifully written, and maybe we need to read these things in order to toughen up a little. Do you know any pet owners who have not yet witnessed the gradual decline and death of their beloved cat or dog (or horse or bird or whatever)? At my age, I find all my friends have buried more than one beloved animal friend. Some of them never want to suffer that loss again, but others go through it repeatedly.

My ginger tom sat regally in a horse pen (note the hooves behind him) and died in my arms of old age, not an old warrior’s injuries.  R.I.P. Tommy!

This heart-wrenching aspect of our love affair with animals pervades the anthology. I’m one of those overly sensitive types (ssh, don’t tell the kids; I hide it so well), and it takes me days or weeks to decompress after a sad movie or book. Which is one reason I avoid them in the first place. Let me warn you up front: the majority of these wonderful Point of View characters in this wonderful anthology will not survive. Not a spoiler, I swear. Just a heads-up. My daughter could never read this book. Nor could her little sister, who came home sobbing yesterday, having witnessed a cat hit by a car.

Let me repeat: this is a wonderful book.

Chris Pourteau's photo.

 

The dedication sets the tone:

“For our four-legged, feathered, and winged friends Who often teach their human neighbors on this planet What it means to be humane”

The stories are marvelous. They’re not for the faint of heart. Beautifully and insightfully written by animal lovers, it just goes with the territory that we know too well: people outlive animals.

Edward W. Robertson, YOU RULE, because yours is one of the few stories that did not rip my heart out and squash it. (Just between you and me, I feel the same way about animal casualties.)

Nick Cole, your story is just the salve I needed. The prologue (a mother’s love!), the conclusion, and all that comes in between – beautiful! In spite of all the destruction and death that darken their world, hope prevails for a lonely man and a puppy doomed to die.

In fact, that daughter of mine LOVES the synopsis I gave her over the phone. This, she would read. (Will read.)

Michael Bunker, “Kristy’s Song” made my day. Readers, this is your go-to story when the other ones brutalize your animal-loving sensitivies.

David Bruns, you kill me with the dog who dies of old age (anyone who’s experienced  will appreciate the stunning accuracy and beauty of how the scene is written), but the story is only half over at that point. You atone for it with the most beautiful of resolutions – it literally gave me goose bumps.

Elena Giorgi, your fledgling falcon makes my heart ache, but it’s in a good way. Kael does not die. Phew! Your status as most-talked about, most-adored author on Carol’s list is secure.

More to come. First: Instead of reading these stories in order, I scanned the synopses. Which one leaped out at me? No contest: the voice of a dog named Demon.

“I’m Demon. I’m a good boy. I know because Emily told me so.”

David Adams, you have totally captured the voice of our dear, departed Blaise. You also capture the phobia of his sister Bailey, who went ballistic at the sound of thunder long before the weatherman even had a storm on his radar. Your excellent story, “Demon and Emily,” reminds me that two years is far too long to go dog-less.

However, it took three days for me to build up the fortitude to face the next story. (Thanks, David.)

Jennifer Ellis: you killed me right after I’d resurrected myself from Demon’s story. “The Poetry of Santiago” is a jewel. As with “Demon,” I love it, love it, hate it, hate it, love it.

The ginger tom who’d “learned the economy of the street” and outlived his contemporaries sounds so much like my dear, departed Tommy. My tom also started his long life “with brilliant orange fur, pronounced stripes, and a certain loft” to his tails. (Ah, his bushy, beautiful, striped tail!) In so many, many ways, the “old man” of a cat on page one is the very incarnation of my Tommy.

The cat named Santiago is already old, and the synopsis gives fair warning: “despite his failing eyesight and sense of smell, Santiago knows that something very bad is about to befall Pompeii. How can a cat that can’t speak get his beloved adopted owner out of the city in time?”

He does, of course. You knew he would. What you cannot possibly anticipate is the incredible image at the end. Think “Shroud of Turin.” Or not. How many people know the theory behind one of the oldest photographs on earth? (Regardless of its age or how the image was produced– see www.shroud.com — I’m convinced the Shroud is indeed a “photo.”)

The story of Santiago is pure poetry. It’s one of the best stories I’ve ever read anywhere, in any genre. From me, this is high praise, indeed.

Still: it took me a week to recover.

Fortunately, my next selection was “When You Open the Cages for Those Who Can’t” by Edward W. Robertson. Young Raina is the kind of heroine I love most. She puts others before herself. She doesn’t wallow in self-pity or beg others to save her. She does what must be done.  I’d love to quote some of the most memorable lines. Suffice it  to say, the image of dogs running free is one I won’t forget. I’d love to read more about Raina and the dog who refuses to leave her.

“Protector” by Stefan Bolz is an absolute classic. An orphaned wolf cub is injured, and a boy named Jack does that fabled Androcles and the Lion thing. But the stakes are even higher. The boy must rise through Kohlberg’s moral stages to the highest level, breaking rules to do what he knows is right, no matter that he’d be exiled for his defiance. Of course, his judgment is ultimately rewarded.

Even so, several days had to pass before I could tackle the next story in this book.

Elena Giorgi. I’m already such a fan, it borders on embarrassing, almost like a school-girl crush. Women scientists (a PhD, a full-time career in a laboratory) who are also gifted photographers and authors can be hard on the self-esteem of lesser mortals, unless we wise up and just enjoy the gifts they share, rather than doing the Salieri vs Mozart thing.

At this point I really did not have high hopes for any story by Elena, in terms of the impact on my fragile emotional ecosystem. I had only just finished reading “Athel,” Book Two of the Mayake Chronicles, and was still in “recovery” from the shock of seeing a beloved character die. You know, you just KNOW, someone will die even in “Kael Takes Wing,” but I knew from the Chronicles that Kael cannot die in this story. I wasn’t prepared to see the father of Athel and Akaela, in those happier days before Book One of the Chronicles. Somehow, meeting a character this way has a surprisingly profound impact. As always, beautiful descriptions add to the richness of any E.E. Giorgi story.

In all, “Kael” was an uplifting story (he takes flight, after all – the title tells us so!). Thus, I was deluded into thinking I could handle Chris Pourteau’s “Unconditional.” I did not save the last story for last. On the bright side, the dog does not die. On the dark side, the dog suffers in a way that, for dogs, might be worse than dying. Considering that I don’t even like reading about zombies, it’s a testament to the author’s skill that I found this story riveting and moving in spite of the voracious meat-eating “living dead” stalking all over the place.

“Keena’s Lament”  by Hank Garner is is beautiful. Mysterious. Mythical. I love the twist with the narrator who is human… sort of. Definitely not a dog, but this more-than-human person becomes very attached to one. The Noah’s Ark theme also gets a fresh twist here. The rain, the cave, the mountain top: what vivid scenes! In a good way, the ending reminds me one of my favorite Jack London stories. I hardly dare say which one.

I will say that London, a century before us, was one of the first writers to tell a great tale from a dog’s point of view. “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang” should be as familiar to school children as Homer’s Odyssey. (For that matter, so should the German “Illiad,” the grossly neglected “Nibelungenlied.”)

Speaking of literary classics, “Tomorrow Found” by Nick Cole is a book lover’s dream.  The hero’s quest is fulfilled in a way that is both poignant and inspiring. The prologue is magnificent, and I normally skip prologues. The man/dog bond is fantastic. I almost said “extraordinary” but millions of dog owners know that this bond is actually a frequent occurrence, and the fossil record attests to it.

In fact, scientists recently realized the significance of Neanderthal burial sites never including dog remains, while their human contemporaries were often interred with dogs. How does this relate to Robertson’s story? What does the fossil record and the Shroud of Turin have to do with “The Tails of the Apocalpyse?” Well, that’s the beauty of rich, layered fiction. It calls to mind other truths, other human stories that reinforce the authenticity of stories in this anthology.

Speaking of poetry, Stefan Bolz is a native German who loves the poetry of his Heimat.

David Bruns brings to mind a poem all dog lovers will now save for a rainy day (or read and weep):

The House Dog’s Grave ( Haig , an English bulldog )

I’ve changed my ways a little : I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream : and you, if you dream a moment,
You see me there.

So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you’d soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking-pan.

I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot of your bed; no, all the night through
I lie alone.

But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read — and I fear often grieving for me —
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.

You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope then when you are lying

Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.
No, dear, that’s too much hope : you are not so well cared for
As I have been.

And never have know the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided….
But to me you were true.

You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely, I am not afraid, I am still yours.

Robinson Jeffers, 1941.

 

“Pet Shop by Deirdre Gould surprises us with a grouchy old bird in a pet store. Another absolute classic: who would imagine surly Shirley’s capacity for heroism, altruism and extraordinary deeds? I’m always a fan of stories about the underdog leading the way to surviving a catastrophe.

You guessed it: the ending left me waiting a few more days to tackle the next story.

“The Bear’s Child” by Harlow Cyan Fallon is beautiful. Anya the outcast reminds me of the “Unfit” in Giorig’s novels, not just the Mayake Chronicles, but “Gene Cards” (a science thriller). In the domed city of Icarus, the human elite live disease-free in a “bubble” of safety and peace, but only because they can hunt down and kill “ferals,” the most vulnerable humans. Survival of the fittest – at what cost? While the Icarites seek to exterminate the outcasts, a mother bear appears just in time to let Anya live another day. Warm fuzzies, yes. A painless read? God, no.

“Wings of Paradise” by Todd Barselow was next on my list. The other story with “wings” in the title was uplifting, after all. I have to say, this story does end well, for the protagonists. The humans may not fare well, but we don’t care so much about them. This story has animals taking on human roles, organizing their own little bureaucracies and defending their territory the way humans would. The youngling members of each council, “chosen for their flight skills, bravery, and willingness to learn,” rise to the occasion. Who knew a league of little night-flying bats and day-flying Budgies could be so epic and memorable? Barselow knew, and so will you, after reading this clever tale.

“Ghost Light” by Steven Savile is intriguing, mysterious, and, of course, haunting. He taps into another of my favorite themes: the afterlife. This story reminds me in a good way of Libby McGugan’s novel “The Eidolon.” (Note to self: tell Libby she *must* read this.) This is one of those stories where almost anything I say about it would be a spoiler, but the ending is ultimately happy, no matter how you look at it. The people who walk away from the airplane are fantastic. The detail about Scotland’s roads being built to double as emergency runways is just waaay too cool.

Savile’s story was so “safe,” emotionally, I went straight to the next one. No three-day decompression needed.  Michael Bunker’s title, “Kristy’s Song,” sounded safe enough. This is a fast-paced, action-packed thriller of a tale. The hero has dared to remove his ID chip, but the doctors so eager to take his money for that procedure neglected to tell him the downside. Now our hero is forced into contraband runs in and out of post-apocalyptic Detroit (no, I won’t ask if “post-apocalyptic Detroit”  isn’t an oxymoron).

Kristy is such a great dog. She’s performed her life-saving trick once again (and you’ve got to read this to see what it is she can do), but her usual reward, a cheese sandwich, just doesn’t exist at the moment, nor even a bit of kibble. In true dog style, she wags her tail and happily accepts a surrogate reward, her owner singing a song. Only a dog could rejoice with nothing but a reward like that.

Did I mention that this story has a HAPPY ending? Woot!! I love it!

The great thing about anthologies is getting to know new authors. If all Michael Bunker’s fiction is as hopeful and endearing as “Kristy,” I’ll definintely be looking for more where that came from.

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Every story in “Tails of the Apocalypse” is well written and moving. It’s reassuring to know others have loved and lost their beloved furry or feathered friends, and glorious to see them immortalized in fiction.  For me, having recently lost two Collies and my ginger tom to old age, it may be too soon to revisit that pain and loss so familiar to other animal lovers. (My parents, farmers, will never get it.)

Of all the anthologies out there (and they are legion), this one stands out from the rest. You can’t help but love the characters. Better yet, every book sold is an automatic donation to Pets for Vets, one of the most worthy causes I can think of. Buy this one with confidence, but if you’re in no mood to grieve for a lost pet, stick to the happy endings at first. I’ve delivered the spoilers on which ones those are. All the stories are great. Meanwhile, I’m off to stare at old photos of Blaise as a puppy and Tommy the cat in his prime… {sob!} …

I’ll leave you with John Galsworthy’s essay “Memories:

“Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they arry away with them so many years of our lives. Yet, if they find warmth therein, who would begrudge them those years that they have so guarded? And whatever they take, be sure they have deserved.”

“No, no! If a man does not soon pass beyond the thought ‘By what shall this dog profit me?’ into the large state of simple gladness to be with dog, he shall never know the very essence of that companion ship which depends not on the points of dog, but on some strange and subtle mingling of mute spirits. For it is by muteness that a dog becomes for one so utterly beyond value; with him one is at peace, where words play no torturing tricks. When he just sits, loving, and knows that he is being loved, those are the moments that I think are precious to a dog; when, with his adoring soul coming through his eyes, he feels that you are really thinking of him.”from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-dogs-go-heaven/201206/three-poems-in-memory-ody,

 

Follow the authors on Twitter, Facebook, wherever you can find them:

David Adams http://eepurl.com/toBf9
Todd Barselow @PutiPato
Stefan Bolz 
David Bruns 
Michael Bunker
Nick Cole 
Harlow C. Fallon 
Hank Garner @hankthewriter
E.E. Giorgi @eegiorgi
Deirdre Gould 
Chris Pourtreau – chrispourteau.thirdscribe.com
Edward J. Robertson
Steven Savile @StevenSavile
@PetsforVets  a 501c3 dedicated to providing a second chance to shelter dogs by rescuing, training and matching them with American Veterans who can benefit from a companion

For every copy sold, $1 goes to the charity Pets For Vetscsqji5bwwaamol2

Four Feet by Rudyard Kipling

I have done mostly what men do,

And pushed it out of my mind;

But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,

Four-Feet trotting behind.

 

Day after day, the whole day through–

Wherever my road inclined–

Four-Feet said, ‘I am coming with you!’

And trotted along behind.

 

Now I must go by some other round–

Which I shall never find–

Some where that does not carry the sound

Of Four-Feet trotting behind.

 

 

 

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About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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