While I'm guessing that many of the people who read this community have followed the publicity avidly, or at least know the concept, I'll give some background. X is an anthology, edited by Kyell Gold, of ten stories inspired by the ten commandments. Each story is accompanied by an illustration. The story features the creme-de-la-creme of the furry creative world, with Stories from Kyell, K.M. Hirosaki, Whyte Yote, Renee Carter Hall, and art from Heather Bruton, Blotch, Adam Wan, Shinigamigirl and others. I may be well read by furry standards, but I recognized 9 out of 10 authors, and knew 7 out of 9 artists (Heather Bruton is represented twice).
Name recognition is all well and good, but the real proof is in the writing. I must say that each contributor is in top form for this outing. There really is no weak link, which is quite a feat given the number of authors and the constraints of the premise. While it is only natural that readers will gravitate toward a few favorites among the ten, all the stories are of high enough quality that it will be personal taste rather than writing skill that will determine your favorite. While the art for each story is good, there is a single frontispiece illustration for each story, and it is printed in black and white. It added some to the story, but for the most part I felt the faded more into the background. As much as I enjoyed the art, I think only Nylak's illustration of Renee Carter Hall's story and Jonas' illustration of his own work really added much of anything for me. Since the stories and styles are quite varied, I thought I'd devote a few setences to each author and story, going down the list according to table of contents:
I am the lord thy god, though shalt have no other gods before me - Alex F. Vance
Alex stays true to his form here, giving us a dense story of inscrutable characters whose motivations are never quite clear. The story is set in a monestary, told from the point of view of the prior. It concerns a young charge, a boy on the cusp of adulthood and the cusp of the law. He is ostensibly sent to the monestary to avoid prison and hopefully straigten him out. The setup gives a delicious tension as the story proceeds. The language is quite evocative, and while not much happens in terms of action (to the possible dismay of those who know Vance's work from Maranathra and Heathen City) the characters quite ably carry the story through their interplay. It is fairly clear that neither of the main characters are quite who they seem, the task for the characters, and ultimately the readers, is to decipher what lies beneath. It's got a lovely ending, not qute M. Night Sham-wow, but fairly surprising nonetheless.
Thou shalt not make for thyself and idol - Renee Carter Hall
Renee Carter Hall, aka poetigress, provides a provocative tale of two archeologists working on a temple dig in a jungle. One archeologist is a native, a jaguar-morph who's people are known as Onca, the female is a human. Of all the stories, I think I found this one the hottest, and that's quite a feat given how gay I am. Something about the intensity of feeling between the two characters really clicked for me. I think this sex in this piece is the most purely passionate in the book, though it's probably helped by the fact that it's fueled by dueling sex gods... This is actually a fairly straightforward story driven by plot and action, mostly in contrast to the more character driven stories from most of the other authors.
Thou shalt not make wrongful use of the name of thy god - Whyte Yote
Wyte Yote's entry into X is a bit of science fiction, and probably the second most literal exporation of it's commandment. In fact, it delves farther into traditional theology farther than any other story in the anthology. Whyte Yote asks probing questions about how artificial life fits (or doesn't fit) into a more traditional religious society. The stregnth of this story lies in the interplay between the creator who hasn't gotten over the loss of his lover and the creation who has innocently embodied that lover and questions the nature of soul. They're two wounded characters who follow different arcs through the story, but ultimately wind up ok.
Remember the sabbath and keep it holy - Kyell Gold
This is actually one of the few stories in the book I haven't read multiple times. Although I'm in rather different circumstances, I still felt a strong emotional connection with the protagonanist, a gay rat in a small town. He's torn between the prospect of a new lover and the community he's been a part of his whole life. Typical of Kyell, it's a well written romance with a hopeful end, but the character(s) do suffer to achieve that hopeful resolution. In a way this one struck me because I wonder if there could have been this hopeful ending without the suffering part, or if that was the only way for the characters to come to the necessary realizations.
Honor thy father and mother - pyrostinger
This story is one of the few that didn't resonate particularly strong with me. It is well written, about two orphans struggling to survive in a had world without their parents. The elder brother (still quite young) finds work in brothel, though not as a sex worker. It's endearing as the young badger Sasha attempts to serve as parent to his younger sister while the mistress of the brothel somewhat slides into the role of mother. While the story is well written and charming, I never quite managed to truly connect with the characters or overcome my cynicysim about the fate of two orphans traveling to a big city.
Thou shalt not kill - Fuzzwolf
This was one of the biggest surprises to me. I've read a number of stories from Fuzzwolf, and they have a tendency to be much more straightforward and purely yiffy. While this one doesn't skip on the yiff, it's also a deftly handled non-conventional love story. I do hope it's not too much of a spoiler to say that a story titled 'Thou shall not kill' has a heartbreaking ending. Knowing the title of the story and Fuzz's tendency to be rather unsubtle, much of the book was waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it finally came, it was in a different form than I initally expected, and it was very moving.
Thou shalt not commit adultery - Jonas
Jonas presents the story of a military dog torn between his small town past and the girl he loved but never had and the present day sophistication and complication of his city life and feline wife. This story is one of the more straightforward explorations of it's title commandment in this collection. The dog is married, loves his wife, or at least thinks he does, yet winds up with the hometown girl. The interesting part of this story is the lack of passion and lust. The emotions seem muted, the women seen through rose colored glasses. The main character Scott's relationship with his former commanding officer seemed more intense than with either of the women. Even as the protagonist recounts his misadventures from the morning after, he goes out of his way to deemphisize the sexual aspects of the encounter. I suppose in a way, that makes for a much more thorough adulterous episode.
Thou shalt not steal - Not Tube
Thou shalt not steal reads much like a classic myth or fairy tale. It has the elements: a prince locked in a tower, a charming rogue, impossible challenges to overcome. This makes sweet and charming, but to me this also makes it suffer a bit. While it takes a lot of skill to strike a good tone and balance for a classic fairy tale, it tends to stick out for me when placed amongst the more subtle, darker works amongst which it has been placed and not in a good way. I am generally drawn to the darker, cynical stories with more twists, turns and subtle tensions. This story, while competent and nicely written just doesn't really draw me in. I don't quite care enough about the archetypal characters to be really emotionally invested in their success or failure.
Thou shalt not bear false witness - K.M. Hirosaki
K.M. Hirosaki's entry into X is perhaps the one that disturbed me the most. I trust that he will be proud of that, particularly as it is set amongst nine other tales of deliberate twisting, streching, bending and breaking morality. Lest he let his ego run away with that, I will say that the only typo I noticed in the book was here, p. 229 "Party?" he repeated. "No, I didn't." I suspect the line was originally different, and the pronoun was not updated in the editing. At any rate, this story is the most comparable to the everyday lives of furries, as they interact, hang out, drink, and pair off. It's the most blatant breaking of any commandment in the book, lacking the subtlety, machiavellian manipulations, or justifications of the other stories. I think the bald-faced transgression, coupled with the familiar and realistic setting, is what really gave this story the impact that it had.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's property - B.C. Currier
B.C. Currier has the final word in the anthology, and is the only author I wasn't already familiar with. I strongly suspect that it is a pen name for someone else, as neither google or I could find any prior postings, and one does not get to this level of writing on one's first go around. I must confess that this is my favorite of the stories in the book. It follows a fundamentalist radio minister as he attempts to reach his son who has falled under the sway of the cult-like furries. The action plays out through a far-fetched physical and psychological journey as the Reverend must confront his own past in order to reach his son. While headlines of the past few years suggest that the character of the Reverend may be more common than previously supposed, the ultimate decisions reached by the Reverend on his journey do seem a bit extreme, out of character and somewhat unlikely. Nevertheless, the story and characters really sucked me in and had me rooting for them. I can't really blame Currier for giving us the ending I want instead of the cynical ending I would expect in the real world.
Overall the book is an excellent read, with something for just about everyone. It is an interesting take on a lot of classic themes. It is also nice to see an anthology with a theme beyond setting or style, without resorting to porn. While this book is certainly adult and frequently deals with sex, it never feels as if the purpose of the book is titilation. It's a great collection, and would make an excellent introduction to the top writers of the furry fandom. Everyone should be very proud of how this turned out.