Review: Running with the Pack

By Pamela K. Kinney

running_with_packSedia, Ekaterina, ed. Running with the Pack. Prime Books ( May 2010). USD $14.95. ISBN: 978-1-60701-219-1.

With a special love of werewolves and shapeshifters, I really wanted to review this anthology. I read most of the short stories in the book at night, a proper time for all things horror.

But contrary to what you might expect, not all of the 22 tales are straight horror. Some are more fantasy. Many are like art – abstract – and some are even plain odd. A collection of not your normal werewolf-terrorizing-the-locals-during-the-full-moon.

Carrie Vaughn is the author of “Wild Ride”. Vaughn is best known as the author of several novels about a werewolf named ‘Kitty’, who works as the host of a talk radio advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged. The main character in this story is from that series. Like Vaughn’s other tales, this one is urban fantasy.

“Wild Ride” concerns a young gay Englishman, TJ, who learns he has contracted HIV. He works as a mechanic, fixing racing motorcycles. He loves these machines because “bikes made sense. Machines could be fixed, their problems could be solved, and they didn’t judge.” Unlike a human body. Then he meets Alex Price. Alex races motorcycles and has a nasty accident, one that should have hurt him badly. Except he walks away from it. TJ learns that Alex is a werewolf, the alpha of a pack. He offers TJ the chance to be bitten and become “invincible.” He takes it and the HIV is gone. He runs with the pack, but struggles with many things that go with that.

“Side Effects May Include”, by Steve Duffy, tells the tale of a business man in Hong Kong who has a bad toothache and visits a Chinese dentist for a remedy he was told would work miracles. But the prescription does more than take away the pain; it changes him in an unexpected way. And he craves more of it, until he uses what he has become to tear and rip his way for it, an addict to his beastly self.

“Comparison of Efficacy Rates For Seven Antipathetics as Employed Against Lycanthropes”, by Marie Brennan, is written like a study done by a scientist. Experiments are performed to see what methods of killing a werewolf might actually work. Or not work. It was a refreshing way to structure a story.

Another favourite of mine is “Locked Doors” by Stephanie Burgis. A young boy, Tyler, has a father who shifts into a beast a certain time each month. He must learn to live with this situation, since his mother left them, knowing that the boy would take care of the father and keep him safe. Tyler pretends his mother will return, until the day he realizes it may be a futile dream and he may share his father’s affliction.

“In Sheep’s Clothing”, by Molly Tanzer, takes that old adage, ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, and twists it into an end-of-the-world story of humans mutating into animals. Something is causing people to grow ill and even mutate. The heroine of the tale and her daughter are vegetarians and learn that it may be corn that is the cause of the mutations. Nevertheless, they also avoid meat. But when they run out of canned beans in the middle of winter and there are no fresh vegetables, they begin to eat meat. A neighbour comes to them and offers to give them some sheepskins from his sheep for their own use, as long as they knit him some clothing.

But there’s something peculiar about these sheep: they stand upright on their hind legs. The mother knits long underwear for the neighbour and a sweater for her daughter. When a wolf walking on its hind legs attacks them and is killed, the mother makes a belt out of wolf fur to hold up her pants. Just like in old medieval manuscripts, detailing how a belt made of wolf fur can change a person into a werewolf, the heroine slowly develops into a wolf, with a predator’s craving for meat. Meanwhile, her daughter becomes a lamb, due to wearing the sweater. One becomes the hunter, the other, the prey.

“Mongrel”, by Maria V. Snyder, is another story that I enjoyed reading. Mongrel is a homeless woman who escaped from her home as a teenager after her stepfather forced himself on her. Living with stray dogs she has saved, she learns to find lost dogs to turn in for the reward to buy dog food for her canines. She reeks of dog and is not ashamed to be called ‘Mongrel’, feeling she is a mutt like her dogs and proud of it. One night, she finds a large black dog with silver at the tips of his fur, a knife buried in his flesh. She pulls out the knife, staunches the wound, and cares for the animal. She soon understands that her dog is more than a dog, and others are after it.

Whether for a good beach read, or saved for the cool nights laced with burning pumpkin for the fall, or even when the snow lies on the frozen ground, Running with the Pack is a good anthology with a bit of everything. This book has earned from me five stars.

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