Tofu Knights; Black Iron; Magic Tails and Twisted Cat Tails; the Pig Scrolls; New Coyote; and Transformations

reviewed by Fred Patten
©2006 Fred Patten

Home -=- #6 -=- ANTHRO #6 Reviews
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Tofu Knights: Ozy and Millie, 2004-5 Black Iron Magic Tails and Twisted Cat Tails The Pig Scrolls New Coyote Transformations


Title: Tofu Knights: Ozy and Millie, 2004-2005
Author: D. C. Simpson
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: The author (Washington), Jan 2006
ISBN: None
Trade paperback, 128 pages, USD $12.95

   After a two-year wait, the sixth collection of the online Ozy and Millie comic strip is finally out. It may not fit on your bookshelf with the first five, however, because author/artist David Simpson has switched publishers. He is now publishing it himself through, in that printer’s ‘workbook’ 8.5" x 11" format, rather than Plan Nine Publishing’s much smaller 7" x 5" format. The plus: The black-&-white printing is sharper, and the three-strips-per-page format with large margins (in contrast to Plan Nine’s two-tier format) is very easy to read. The minus: There is no bonus color section, as there was in most of the first five collections.
   For those who have not discovered Ozy and Millie yet, Ozy (Ozymandias J. Llewellyn) and Millie (Millicent Mehitabel Mudd) are two fox children about ten years old (he is a gray arctic kit; she a red kit) in a funny-animal Seattle residential neighborhood. (The city is not pertinent except to explain why the locale has lots of green spaces and snowy winters.) Ozy is a laid-back devotee of Zen philosophy, much more mature emotionally than his chronological age, while Millie is a hyperkinetic child with a freewheeling imagination. Superficially, Ozy is the voluntary straight man to Millie’s surrealistic games and schemes, although in actuality each plays off the other about equally.
   The two have a large supporting cast. Mrs. Mudd (fox) is a practical single-parent who works as a paralegal. Ozy and Millie attend the same elementary school, comprised of classmates Avery (raccoon) and Felicia (sheep) who are obsessed with being Cool (Avery frantically tries to attain Coolness, while Felicia smugly believes that she is always the ultimate in Coolness); Stephan (aardvark), a gamer and technonerd; Jeremy (rabbit), a jock/bully; and long-suffering adults Mrs. Sorkowitz (kangaroo), Millie’s teacher; Mr. Larnblatt (zebra), music teacher; and Dr. Wahnsinnig (lemur), the school psychiatrist. These examples of mundanity serve as foils for Ozy & Millie’s satirical observations (and Millie’s attacks) on conformity, social conventions such as school dress codes, the intellectual wasteland of TV programming, unresponsive governments, and similar annoyances of modern civilization which the average citizen is aware of but feels helpless to do anything about. They are contrasted with a freer-spirited fantasy world represented by Ozy’s adoptive father Llewellyn, a bright-red fire-breathing dragon with a rather twee personality; occasional other dragons including Ozy’s adoptive adolescent cousin, Isolde; and Timulty, Avery’s 5-year-old brother whose irrepressible innocence highlights Avery’s dogged efforts to appear grown-up.
   Simpson began Ozy and Millie as a Washington state college newspaper comic strip in 1997. It turned into an irregular Internet strip in early 1998 and became a Monday-Friday daily strip at the beginning of June 1998. (Simpson won a 1998 newspaper syndicate’s college cartoonist award.) However, real-life concerns have constantly interrupted the strip, from a few days here and there to a five-month hiatus from August 23, 2003 to January 22, 2004 (when this book begins), so this two-year collection is short of 520 strips. Tofu Knights contains all the strips from January 22, 2004 through December 23, 2005, plus a few space-filler drawings scattered throughout the book, for a total of 344 strips and single-panel cartoons. In addition,’s larger format has allowed Simpson to add short one- or two-line comments under many of the strips, explaining his inspirations, answering readers’ questions, or amplifying the gags. (For a strip in which Millie complains about playing outdoors amidst “slugs the size of my forearm”, Simpson says, “I’m not always sure people from other places believe me that we in the Northwest have slugs that size. But we do. I know, it’s disgusting. Ugh, when you step on one barefoot…” (pg. 96)
   In addition to the standalone strips, story sequences complete in this book include Millie’s encasing herself in a glued toilet-paper cocoon to metamorphose into a superior person; Llewellyn’s campaigning for president on the Zen Party ticket; Avery’s attempt to make himself Cool through Reverse Psychology; Millie’s quest to wipe out evil; Isolde’s enlisting Millie in her plot to hijack a truckload of mercury thermometers to turn her green scales silver and get a cable news internship; the latest variation in Ozy’s annual baldness curse (it strikes Millie this year); the revelation of who was Ozy’s biological mother and what happened to her; Avery’s and Felicia’s assumption that ‘carbs’ have something to do with making yourself Cool; and much more. The two-year compilation begins and ends with complete sequences; no stories are cut off in the middle. Special for this book is a one-page text Introduction by Millie.
   Ozy and Millie is one of the top anthropomorphic cartoon strips on the Internet. Having a book compilation of the last two years’ worth is a much easier way to read it than by clicking through its Archives on the Internet. If you have been waiting for the sixth collection to be announced on Plan Nine’s website, you will never find Tofu Knights. It is available directly from David Simpson or the website only. Get it there now.

OZY AND MILLIE strip for 6 May 2004
Ozy & Millie strip for 6 May, 2004

Tofu Knights: Ozy and Millie, 2004-5 Black Iron Magic Tails and Twisted Cat Tails The Pig Scrolls New Coyote Transformations

Title: Black Iron: An Ironclaw Novel
Author: Ted MacKinnon
Illustrator: Christopher Goodwin
Publisher: Sofawolf Press (St. Paul, MN), Jul 2005
ISBN: 0-9769212-1-9
Trade paperback, 203 pages, USD $13.95

   Slaves were slaves, peasants were peasants, nobles were nobles, and whether it was chains of black iron or gold, all were similarly bound by station and blood. (pg. 156)

   ‘Black iron’ refers to the shackles that slavers use to bind their ‘merchandise’. MacKinnon’s second novel set in the Ironclaw gaming universe examines both the physical and social chains that set the anthropomorphic peoples of the island continent of Calabria apart, far more rigidly than do their various animal species.
   The Ironclaw anthropomorphic fantasy role-playing game, created by Sanguine Productions, Ltd. in 1999 by Jason Holmgren and others, features a complex pseudo-16th/17th Century European society dominated by four Noble Houses: the Rinaldi (foxes; Renaissance Italian aristocracy), the Bisclavret (wolves; Scottish clans), the Avoirdupois (horses; a pseudo-Templar theocratic military order), and the Doloreaux (boars; scholar-wizards). There are around two dozen other sentient ‘races’, including otters, bears, coyotes, tigers, raccoons, bats, cougars, armadillos, porcupines and more. (For a society based upon Renaissance Europe, the animals are notably North America-centric.) A series of authorized novels by Ted MacKinnon began with Scars (2002), focusing upon the deadly political scheming following the assassination of the Rinaldi fox ruler of Calabria’s leading city of Triskellion. Black Iron is not a sequel as much as a parallel story set at the same time. It focuses upon events among the Bisclavret wolves, with only occasional references to the hunt for the murderer of Triskellion’s ruler.
   Ian MacAllastair, heir to the minor and out-of-favor border Clan MacLeith of Greathouse Bisclavret, is introduced as an unwittingly-suicidal mix of youthful idealism, pride and naiveté. Educated by an Avoirdupois priest-scholar, he is an enthusiastic convert to their philosophy/faith of S’Allumer which, among other tenets, preaches the equality of all sentient creatures. Ian extends this to opposing slavery. Slavery is officially illegal in Triskellion but still considered a natural part of society throughout most of Calabria, particularly among the Bisclavret lords who employ slaves on their western border estates; and especially with MacLeith’s hostile neighbor, Lord Douglass Rancourt, who is a slave trader himself. To make matters worse, Ian is engaged in a Romeo-&-Juliet romance with Rancourt’s beautiful daughter Venora, who claims to support his ideals but cannot be disloyal to her father. But Venora is revealed in Chapter One to actually be trying to manipulate Ian into destroying her father’s slaving business, so she can replace him as head of their Clan. Thus when Ian charges off to Triskellion alone, imaging himself as the heroic leader of a movement to help the oppressed slaves free themselves from their cruel masters, he seems to be little more than a completely unrealistic hothead.
   Matters look no better in Chapter Two. Ian is exasperated by Triskellion’s middle- to upper-class Eleutherian anti-slavery movement which seems like little more than an intellectual debating society, long on passing empty resolutions but doing nothing. But among the Eleutherians are Caleb and Tamah Mevasser (otters), a brother and sister who are actually escaped slaves planning a slave revolt. The slaves approve of Ian’s demands for action, but they cannot imagine a Bisclavret noble who really means well. They plan to invite Ian into their group to take advantage of his upper-class access to weapons, and then abandon him before he can betray them.
   Their plan is for Ian to pose as a typically haughty Bisclavret with his attendants, shopping in the bootleg slave market, to lure out one of the most notoriously brutal slave merchants and free his slaves. The slaver is Salamin, a huge tiger who scorns both weapons and armor; his claws and natural strength are all that he needs. This seems to be true in one of MacKinnon’s excellently-written action scenes:

   The remainder of Ian’s bodyguard spun and fell upon the two men guarding the slaves, attacking them with desperate ferocity. At the same instant Ian jerked a brace of pistols from the back of his belt, behind his cloak, and took aim. Salamin was an orange and black blur, rolling away from the danger and behind his slack-jawed second with remarkable prescience and speed; Ian, with two foes before him, pulled both triggers with the barrels pointed into the shocked face of the Bear. Sparks flew as the flint wheels spun; one pistol ‘hung’, the powder not catching fully. The second thundered, briefly obscuring his vision with a cloud of smoke in front of the mammoth man’s head. The young noble dropped the aim on the first pistol as the wheel continued to turn. With a flare it caught, burning cleanly and blasting a lead ball into the staggering Bear’s belly. Armor proved no protection at that range; shot through the face and gut, the slaver fell. (pg. 38)

   But wheel-locks are impossibly slow to reload in battle. Reduced to his claymore, Ian is almost slaughtered by the tiger whose magically-enhanced claws shred his armor before the slaver escapes. Ian’s loyalty to the slaves during the battle impresses Tamah enough that she insists they take him along with their wounded to be healed at their headquarters, instead of abandoning him as originally planned.
   The remainder of the novel may be predictable but it is well-told. Ian, gradually healing amidst the escaped slaves, gets to know them as individuals. He is intelligent enough to recognize the inconsistency between his intellectual belief in them as his equals, and his ingrained expectation that ex-slaves should gratefully accept an aristocrat like him as their natural leader. They already have a leader, old Sebastian (boar), who has set up a farm and school where rescued slaves can support themselves and learn trades to reenter society as free men and women. He persuades the educated Ian to become one of their teachers while he is healing. But Sebastian is adamantly opposed to violence, preferring to purchase slaves and free them. This sets him in opposition to Caleb and other more militant slaves who consider this both too slow and too pacifistic, considering that slavers are still raiding villages and seizing commoners as fresh stock throughout the rest of Calabria.
   Ian and Tamah find themselves reluctantly agreeing with Caleb, as well as fearing that their haven for ex-slaves has gotten a dangerously high profile. In addition, Tamah feels obliged to accompany her brother to control his recklessness, while Ian has his own feud with the slaver Lord Rancourt. Their natural alliance while working to unmask traitors among Triskellion’s upper-class abolitionist supporters, and to defend the farm against slaver retaliation, grows into an unintended romance that becomes conscious when Venora reappears. Ian is finally forced to realize that his choice is not just between Tamah and Venora, but between his ideals of equality and his own class—him versus the entire Bisclavret nobility.
   Black Iron is a good read for all Furry fans, not just Ironclaw gamers. Frequent mention of the characters’ species, plus Christopher Goodwin’s full-page illustrations, keep the reader aware of their ’morphic nature. A skunk’s spray is used as a natural weapon, and Ian ponders on his growing affection for Tamah despite the Otter’s fishy smell. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take another three years for the third Ironclaw novel to be published.

Tofu Knights: Ozy and Millie, 2004-5 Black Iron Magic Tails and Twisted Cat Tails The Pig Scrolls New Coyote Transformations

Title: Magic Tails
Editors: Martin H. Greenberg & Janet Pack
Publisher: DAW Books (NYC), Sep 2005
ISBN: 0-7564-0288-3
Paperback, viii + 306 pages, USD $7.50
Title: Twisted Cat Tails
Editor: Esther Schrader
Publisher: Coscom Entertainment (Winnipeg), Feb 2006
ISBN: 1-897217-44-7
Trade Paperback, 322 pages, USD $12.99

   Anthologies of cat-themed SF/fantasy stories go back at least as far as Magicats!, edited by Jack Dann & Gardner R. Dozois (Ace Books) in 1984. Starting in 1989 with Catfantasic, Martin H. Greenberg has made an industry out of producing cat anthologies with all-original stories, in acknowledged or unacknowledged collaboration with co-editors, in both SF/fantasy (Catfantastic I through V, co-edited with Andre Norton; A Constellation of Cats, with Denise Little’s name alone on the title page but Greenberg’s sharing the copyright; etc) and mysteries (the Cat Crimes series, co-edited with Ed Gorman; Murder Most Feline, co-edited with Gorman & Larry Segriff; etc). Greenberg may dominate the feline short-story field, but he does not have a monopoly on it. One example of independent cat-themed anthologies is the 1992 Cats in Space, and Other Places, edited by Bill Fawcett.
   The stories in these books are never all anthropomorphic. There may be ghost cats, cats on other planets, cats involved in bank robberies, and so forth, but they are not all intelligent or talking. Often even when the cats do talk, they are only minor supporting characters to human main characters. Sometimes there may be only two or three stories out of a dozen or more which feature anthropomorphized cats. You take your chances. Of course, some of the non-’morphic stories may be better written than the ’morphic ones, so they are still worth reading.
   Two recent anthologies are Magic Tails and Twisted Cat Tales. The former is edited by Greenberg (with Janet Pack this time) and is published by DAW Books, the usual producers of these fantastic-cat books. It contains 14 original fairy tales with cats. The authors have interpreted these guidelines in different ways. Some have written modernizations of famous fairy tales, while others have created sequels to them. Some have written new stories in the style of classic fairy tales, and some have produced modern dramas that do not seem fairy-tale-like at all.
   Three stories are outstanding for anthropomorphism, originality with imaginative surprises, and high-quality writing. In Bargains, by Richard Lee Byers, two Victorian London cats, Waspwatcher and Bronze, must find and eliminate a deadly killer (unnamed, but his identity should be obvious to all readers) of both humans and cats. Suede This Time, by Jean Rabe, is a humorously witty sequel to Puss in Boots (narrated by Puss) in which the smarter brother of the ogre who Puss outwitted in the original tale comes looking for revenge. All the Pigs’ Houses, by Mickey Zucker Reichert, is ironically one of the few in Magic Tales where the cat is just a dumb animal; but the pigs—Elijah gave both brothers an encouraging look. “If the wolf could do the same damage to Ezra’s house as yours, he would have.” He finished the last bite of pastry, then scratched at his snout with his now-free hoof. “At least we know he can’t handle blowing down two houses in the same evening, and I doubt he’ll act in broad daylight, law or no law. You’re safe tonight.” (pg. 245)—and the wolf make this a memorably ’morphic tale. Three lesser stories are still worth reading. Pharoah’s Cat, by Lisanne Norman, is about an Egyptian princess who is turned into a cat by Sekmet to save her from enemies; a good story, but more Transformational than ’morphic. Ali Babette, by Alan Dean Foster, wherein a homeless woman accidentally summons a cat djinn, may have the best ’morphic image in the book—What was extraordinary was the cat’s attire. In fact, she mused as she forgot all about the telephone, calling 911, and anything else, any cat attire was extraordinary. Cats came clad in fur; long or short. They did not dress in diaphanous silk pantaloons, jewel-encrusted turbans, miniature vests of gold-and-silver thread, and small boots of crimson silk boasting upturned toes. (pg. 6)—but Razar the Magnificent can only grant wishes for cats, so he unfortunately never does much interesting. Sleeping Beauties, by Jody Lynn Nye, shoehorns three ’morphic pets (Briar Rose’s cat Marco, dog Bruno and mouse Humberto) into a competent but uninspired padded retelling of the standard fairy tale. The remaining eight stories range from well-written but barely ’morphic to satisfactorily ’morphic but quickly forgettable.
   Twisted Cat Tales is a cat anthology by someone other than Martin Greenberg; edited by Esther Schrader with a delightful cover by husband Jack Schrader (a feline parody of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream), from a Winnipeg publisher. It similarly features “37 chilling and disturbing stories from horror to fantasy, dark humor and science fiction” (cover blurb); but while most are enjoyable, only 13 feature anthropomorphized cats—or felinized humans. Again, this is not to disparage the others. The first and last stories in the anthology are probably the best and most memorable, and neither are anthropomorphic: Fine Flying Things, by C. A. Gardner, a laid-back comedy in which all cats lose their gravity and slowly float up into the sky; and The Last Lion, by Fox Cutter, a bittersweet tale of the fate of the last lion in the world. The stories are all short; ten or eleven pages at most.
   Stories in which the cats talk, either to other cats or to humans, include Killer Kitty, by Harding Young; The Butler Did It, by William D. Hicks; Eight Lives for Tau, by Kim Richards; The Cat Named Karma, She Was Bad, by Shelley Lesher; First Cat, by Larry Hodges; and Saturday Night at the Cattail Bar, by Diane Arrelle. Killer Kitty is the most creepily original; a murderous cross-Canada road trip whose human narrator picks up a psychotic feline hitchhiker who leaves bodies behind at almost every rest stop:

   I sat there wondering how exactly he would manage to use the facilities in the men’s room. It seemed, though, that he would have figured it out long ago, his being so proud. He’s not one for a litter box.
The car was starting to warm up when he hopped in. I could see his face was covered with blood, and his eyes were on fire. “Drive!” he said, “Just drive.”
   It was real blood, by the way. Not ketchup.
(pg. 63)

   First Cat is the opposite; a slapstick s-f farce in which Fluff, the President’s super-intelligent cat (with an IQ of 2520), effortlessly saves the Earth from an alien invasion while the clueless chief executive gapes bewilderedly. In Saturday Night at the Cattail Bar, Hank’s cat Roger gives him a glimpse of the felines’ secret social life:

   I waded through a room jammed full of cats. Cats milling around, cats having conversations, cats tomcatting around on the make, cats dancing to the music I was just now hearing through the din.
   Roger led the way to a bar. A bar! He jumped up and yowled, “A milk straight up, Fuzzy, and a light for my human.”
(pg. 298)

   The cats in Tyko Says Goodbye, by Joseph D’Lacey; Cat Discipline, by Rosalind Barden; and Bad Day at Black Cat, by Brett Hudgins, do not talk but exhibit human intelligence. Tyko (okay, he does talk to the reader) says goodbye after getting more cute ‘sweetie-pie’ talk from his human than he can stand. Black cats bring bad luck, and while Inky never talks, he is smart enough to direct his bad luck at those who deserve it.
   Cat Love You, by Bridget Coila; Adoption Process, by Phil Geusz; No Dogs Allowed, by Michael Stone; and Catmint Tea, by Greer Woodward, are a varied quartet of transformation stories: humans into semi-animal humans (pig, dog, cat) by genetic injections (Cat Love You); human into cat by surgery (Adoption Process); a British bar for were-canids and were-felines of various species (No Dogs Allowed, narrated by Sophie, the were-snow leopard bartender); and cats into humans (Catmint Tea).
   Six anthropomorphic stories out of fourteen in the first anthology, and thirteen out of thirty-seven in the second. And, as I said, many of the others are excellent fantasies even if their cats are normal—well, as normal as cats ever get. How much do you like cats?

Tofu Knights: Ozy and Millie, 2004-5 Black Iron Magic Tails and Twisted Cat Tails The Pig Scrolls New Coyote Transformations

Cover of THE PIG SCROLLS (UK edition)
Cover of Puffin (UK) edition
Title: The Pig Scrolls, by Gryllus the Pig
(UK edition and US edition)
Author: Paul Shipton

Publisher: Puffin Books (London), Mar 2004
ISBN: 0-14-138021-7
Hardcover, 274 [+ 2] pages, UK £9.99

Publisher: Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), Sep 2005
ISBN: 0-7636-2702-X
Hardcover, 274 [+ 2] pages, USD $15.99

   This Young Adult novel is for Furry fans—and Transformation fans—who are also fond of British humor in the style of Spike Milligan, The Goon Show, and Monty Python. Gryllus (one of Odysseus’ crew who was transformed by Circe into a pig, and who decided to remain one—who needs the dangers and responsibilities of being a human?) may live in ancient Attica, but he narrates his adventures like a modern stand-up comedian:

   He [a farmboy] stepped forward and called, ‘Soooo-ey!’ It was the sort of call they do out on the old farmstead to herd the pigs. A bit rude, you reckon? Well, yes, but technically he was on the right track. I am something of a pig. It’s not just that I stink to high Olympus or that when I eat I make noises such as might be heard in the general vicinity of an ox’s rear end. No, I would say the snout, hooves, and little pink curly tail also have something to do with my overall porcine quality.
   I am a pig, okay? A wallow-in-the-mud, stick-your-snout-in-the-trough, real-life, big fat pig.
(pg. 2)

   Gryllus is living an easy life in the forest, foraging for tasty roots and acorns (or stealing the acorns from squirrels) when he is captured by peasants. He is forced to reveal that he can talk to avoid being turned into bacon. But instead of being released as a fellow intelligent being, Gryllus ends up pressed into service at a rural inn as an Unnatural Wonder to draw in customers. He discovers the hard way that a pig needs to do more than just talk to make a hit in Show Biz:

   “So… is there anyone here from Thrace?”
   A couple of travelers near the back raised their hands tentatively.
   “Great, great,” I continued. “I went to Thrace for the weekend once… it was closed.”
   The silence that followed gave me a chance to consider what to say next.
   “Hey, who’s your favorite god?” I asked a woman near the front.
   “Er… Demeter.”
   “Great, great, nice choice. I mean… her followers sacrifice pigs to her—but, hey, no one’s perfect. Am I right, or am I right?”
   A cough from the back of the house echoed around the room. Pigs don’t sweat, so I wondered why I felt a sheen on my brow. Remembering the commotion back at the market-town temple, I made a mental note to steer clear of religion for the rest of the act.
(pgs. 50-51)

   But religion will not steer clear of Gryllus. There have already been signs (at the aforementioned temple) that something ominous is going on in Olympus. Panic is growing that the gods may have abandoned humanity. Gryllus’ next attempted escape puts him into the clutches of a new captor, a young pythia-in-training named Sibyl from the temple at Delphi:

   “So what do you want me to do?” I grimaced. “Something about saving the world, wasn’t it?”
   Sibyl’s smile bloomed into a grin, but not a very jolly one—more your grimly-determined-in-the-face-of-impossible-odds kind of grin. “Like I told you, Apollo stopped talking to us at the temple. And the problem wasn’t just at Delphi. The whole pantheon of gods just stopped showing up at temples all over the country. We were all going crazy with worry. And then, one night I had the dream. I was standing in Olympus itself, but the home of the gods was deserted.
[…] One god alone ran through the great courtyard. It was Apollo and he was… he was scared.”
   She drew a breath, as if about to jump in at the deep end. “This is what Apollo told me in my dream. He said, ‘Find the pig that talks and go to Mount Ouranos. There you must find a simple goatherd on whose shoulders rests the fate of the Cosmos.’ And then he ran off, and I woke up.”
(pgs. 61-62)

   Forced to help to avoid having an Erinys (a spirit of vengeance) turned loose on him, Gryllus’ adventures with Sibyl and the simple goatherd (a cheerfully dirty, naked boy whose total vocabulary seems to be a mindless, “Bek! Bek! Bekos! Bekos! Bek!”—but he grows fast) include encountering many fantastic spirits, mythic monsters, the primordial mad scientist, and much more. There is only one other talking animal; the briefly-met goddess Athena hiding out in her owl incarnation, and not happy about it. (Having to eat mice and cough up pellets… ugh!) But while Gryllus is the only main anthropomorphic animal in The Pig Scrolls, his overwhelming porcine nature is omnipresent; as in this scene where he must operate a pedal-powered electromagnet to save their lives:

   I hopped up onto the seat and began to turn the contraption’s pedals, just as the priestess had done. Or at least, I tried to. The anatomy of the pig, though wonderful in many ways, is not designed to perch on a narrow seat while turning pedals with its back feet. I promptly fell off. (pg. 130)

   The novel sparkles with a steady barrage of improbable imagery—The rest of the day went by so slowly, I couldn’t help wondering if Apollo hadn’t parked the Chariot of the Sun and slunk off for a bag of chips. (pg. 47)—blatant anachronisms—“Do you know We All Live in a Yellow Trireme? I can hum it for you.” (pg. 33)—bad puns, and similar examples of particularly British humor. A knowledge of Greek mythology may help you recognize some of the more obscure gods and monsters, but Shipton makes everything clear enough for full appreciation of Gryllus’ misadventures. And at the end—well, read it. Recommended. Oink, oink!

Tofu Knights: Ozy and Millie, 2004-5 Black Iron Magic Tails and Twisted Cat Tails The Pig Scrolls New Coyote Transformations

Title: New Coyote
Author: Michael Bergey
Publisher: Five Star / Thomson Gale (Waterville, ME ), Aug 2005
ISBN: 1-59414-322-6
Hardcover, 376 pages, USD $25.95

   Congratulations to Bergey for his smooth blend of technology and Native American mysticism. New Coyote, narrated by Coyote himself, covers two years in his modern life among humans in the Pacific Northwest. A normal coyote’s lifespan is not comparable to a human’s, but thanks to Coyote’s supernatural nature, his is close enough. The story is that of his growth from little more than a talking puppy on a commune/farm to his awakening of his magical nature and his discovery of Sex.

   I was not a normal pup. Mooney’s friends told each other it was something done to me in the research lab where I was born. I was healthy enough, certainly. I’ve always been healthy and full of energy. It’s just that I didn’t grow very fast, and I didn’t stop growing when I should have, and I wasn’t… normal. […] When I was nine years old, I was almost a hundred pounds and still growing—still long-legged and gangling like a puppy, but no longer clumsy like one. My puppy teeth had worn out years before, and no new ones had come in. I lived with Mooney and her goats and chickens and raspberry fields and pot plants in a commune called Sunbow Farms. […] Mostly it was just Mooney and me. And the goats. I herded Mooney’s goats for her, which is also not a natural sort of thing for a coyote to do. (pg. 9)

   ‘Mooney’ is Monica Sklarsen, an aging ex-hippie who owns a large land tract on the Olympic Peninsula inherited from her grandfather, bordered by Weyerhaeuser’s large commercial timber farms. Coyote, alias Sin-Ka-Lip (‘The Imitator’), alias Stinkylips, is the only holdover besides Mooney on the former commune. Mooney is the only person who knows that he can talk, more or less—“I have troupffle with the pffes and pffes,” I answered irritably. “Those sounds don’t fit into a pffropffpffer mouth. They were invented pffy creatures with tight, round little lipffs, like I have under my tail.” (pg. 116)—although their friend John Cultee suspects it. Dr. John is a bit of a deus ex machina: He is a modern shaman who teaches Mooney and Coyote Native American folklore; he was the Research Director who took advantage of a project to bioengineer more intelligent dogs to inject human DNA into a coyote pup and give it to Mooney; and he is now a respected member of the local community who helps train/disguise Coyote as a Seeing Eye dog for Mouse, a blind girl, to enable her to attend sixth-grade at Central Park School, and not coincidentally so Coyote himself can start getting a basic education into ‘Science’, the humans’ new magic.
   That is getting ahead of the story, however, which begins dramatically as Mooney’s marijuana farm is raided by the law. Coyote’s sharp nose enables Mooney to avoid getting personally caught, but the pot patch is lost. Their attempts over the next couple of years to keep Sunbow Farms and its adjoining Mooney’s Wood (which she is determined to keep in its wild state as a private nature preserve) from being seized for unpaid property taxes, coincide with Coyote’s maturing from an ignorant pup to an intelligent yet feral animal who is at home among both humans and the wild coyotes and semi-domesticated wolves in the area. More and more humans have to be let into the secret of Coyote’s talking to protect both Mooney and Mouse, who becomes the target of do-gooders determined to protect her classmates from her ‘vicious’ guide dog.
   Coyote soon learns that he is more than just a scientific experiment. As one of the supernatural Animal People, Coyote-Sprit voluntarily allowed himself to be ‘reborn without memories so that he can grow up within our contemporary culture, and fully understand our way of thinking.’ (dust-jacket blurb). Mooney and Dr. John are the trusted Human Guides who were selected by Coyote-Spirit (aka Old-Coyote) and his Brother, Fox, to accomplish this. This has mixed results at first, thanks to Coyote’s initial exposure to more popular culture than education:

   The concept of DNA detection at crime sites was confusing to me, but I had watched enough cartoons to know all about super heroes with altered DNA structures. If that wasn’t magic, it was just as good. The exact meaning of John’s words had escaped me, but the reference to ‘greater intelligence’ seemed relevant enough. I already knew I was the smartest thing on four legs. I thought John was saying I didn’t have Medicine Powers, but did have Cartoon Super Hero Powers. Would I begin to develop other special capabilities? Invisible would be nice, for starters. (pgs. 41-42)

   Coyote needs all the powers he can get. Not only are there continued troubles with humans and nature (Mooney’s back taxes, a school board order banning him as a Guide Dog, sharpshooting farmers protecting their livestock, a major flood), but unexpected supernatural menaces materialize. A European werewolf invades the scene (to the indignation of Fox, Wolf and the other Animal Spirits who consider it a dangerous interloper), and Coyote accidentally lets loose a deadly Native American monster among his human friends. The more Coyote learns about both human ‘Science’ and his own Medicine Powers, the more reckless he becomes (especially after he learns how to release his five exuberant Spirit Pups to ‘help’); until Fox exasperatedly decides that the experiment is not working and Coyote should be killed so they can start over—a decision he frantically opposes when it may be too late.
   Bergey is identified as a veterinarian living in Washington’s Wynoochee Valley, the location of the tale. His vivid, lyrical descriptions of both the land and wild animal behavior are scattered through the book:

   Right away I led us back into Mooney’s Wood. There are no roads there, and it’s supposed to be a no trespassing area. […] There had been no rain that morning, but the huge trees were still dripping slowly from the night’s rain and the moss we lay on was saturated, along with who knows how many feet of rotten logs beneath it. Thousands of years’ worth, maybe. […] A raven peered at us from close above, not trying to hide. I returned its gaze idly and upside down, showing a full expanse of muddy belly fur as I writhed luxuriously on the moss and hemlock needles. (pgs. 288-289)

   New Coyote is sometimes humorous, sometimes dramatic, often beautifully pastoral, and always highly imaginative. There is solid education here, for those who are interested in the natural life of coyotes (including a graphic description of canid mating behavior). Coyote comes across as a genuine blend of human intelligence and animal instincts, participating fully in human conversations at one moment and asking for a belly rub or an ear scratch the next:

   My night life was less affected by all the changes. Mouse didn’t like me to go out so much, and she worried that I might be in danger from cougars or whatever. Mooney tried to reassure her that it was my nature to do these things, and I couldn’t help myself, and I would be careful, wouldn’t I?
   I really couldn’t help myself. Mooney was right about that. I lived for the woods at night, with no friendly humans stumbling along to hold me back, and no unfriendly humans to get in my way. There was so much to keep track of, and not everything was an enemy.
(pg. 82)

This is a different anthropomorphic novel, in the best sense of the term. Read it.

Tofu Knights: Ozy and Millie, 2004-5 Black Iron Magic Tails and Twisted Cat Tails The Pig Scrolls New Coyote Transformations

Title: Transformations: A Forest Tales Story
Author: Bernard Doove
Illustrators: Stephie Stone, Mayra Boyle, Brenda DiAntonis, Bernard Doove, Steve Gallacci, Megan Giles, Terry Knight, Kelly Lambert, Kacey Miyagami, Roy D. Pounds II, Opal Weasel, and Julie Wondra
Publisher: Fauxpaw Publications (Milpitas, CA), Jul 2005
ISBN: None
Plastic comb bound, 75 pages, USD $12.00

   Bernard Doove created his SF series about chakats, bioengineered hermaphroditic centauroid felines in a 24th Century interstellar society, over ten years ago. So far, he and numerous guest writers have written over a hundred stories set in the Chakat Universe. Most of these have been published on the Internet, and in the Fur Plus fanzine. Transformations, one of the longest and most self-contained stories, has now been published as a stand-alone book. It is a fine introduction to the series in general.
   A matter transporter accident (actually sabotage; read the story for details) destroys the transporter while a human, Dale Perkins, is being beamed down to Chakona, the chakats’ main planet. His body pattern is lost, and the only way to save his mind/identity is to embody it in a duplicate of the previous lifeform beamed down, whose body pattern is still in the transporter. This is Star Corps technician Chakat Goldfur, returning to hir homeworld. Forestwalker, Goldfur’s sister, arrives at the spaceport to find two Goldfurs waiting, physically identical but one inhabited by the mind of a very confused human male. The chakats agree to take care of Dale at their home while the technicians experiment to get his human body out of the transmitter.
   Compared to most science fiction, there is little action or drama in Transformations. It is designed as a ‘slice-of-life’ introduction to the physiology and culture of the chakats by throwing an outsider into their midst, in the most intimate way possible. It is ‘bad’ writing in that the author and/or characters regularly start scenes by describing their background in excessive detail. However, for a story that is meant to be an introduction to the Chakat Universe, this may be forgivable; and it does demonstrate the depth of the background that the writers have created.
   The second paragraph begins, “I had come here to pick up Goldfur from the spaceport. Hir foxtaur lifemate, Garrek, was away at his home village and I had volunteered to drive hir back and forth. Shi was currently working on the Corps’ geosynchronous space station and was beaming there and back from the transporter facilities at the spaceport. Shi had taken on the long overdue work of major maintenance and upgrades because…” (etc., at considerably more length; pgs. 1-2) On page 5, when the chakat sisters are ready to drive Dale home from the spaceport, “Dale seemed fascinated by the taur-adapted vehicle. These Personal Transport Vehicles had only a single large door on either side, as well as a hatchback. These allowed us to easily step inside and settle ourselves on the moulded couches in front and beside the doors. Swing-away backrests…” again etc. The explanation of how the matter transporter works—“After the creation of the body pattern, a matrix of the subject’s mind is made, preserving their personality and experiences, and is transmitted to the destination. Only then…” (pg. 9)—goes on and on. The descriptions work much better, fortunately, once they are put into dialogue form after the characters arrive at the sisters’ home, and Forestwalker, Goldfur, and Dale start talking to each other.
   Doove, with the help of his guest writers, has developed an intriguing non-human, quadripedal civilization. The above spelling of ‘hir’, which occurs in the first paragraph, is a good example. Since chakats are hermaphroditic, both male and female, human gender pronouns such as ‘him’ and ‘her’ do not apply to them. Dale (and the reader) must get used to ‘hir’, ‘shi’, ‘shir’ and other terms in a gender-neutral vocabulary. Dale is bombarded with culture-shock situations from both outside and inside his new body. These including learning to walk on four legs instead of two; dealing with a body with both male and female equipment and emotions (Goldfur has been breast-feeding babies, so Dale also has lactating breasts); going about in a society without human modesty taboos (nobody has designed practical pants for a quadrupedal body yet, so chakats are nude below the waist with their genitalia exposed); and living in extended, free-loving families.
   The chakats’ pre-Transformations history goes back to the Gene Wars of the mid-21st Century, and a spate of bioengineering in the 22nd Century. So in addition to the centauroid felines which are Chakona’s main population, Dale meets more immigrant wolftaurs, foxtaurs, and skunktaurs, besides lots of anthropomorphized two-legged wolves and foxes, than other humans. Thus, it is unsurprising that some critics of the series have accused Doove of being overly fixated on intelligent furry mammals in both two-legged and four-legged forms. Another criticism is that some writers have concentrated on the more sexual aspects of this society in their stories. Doove has downplayed the sexuality in Transformations, and tried to keep what there is in good taste to make it an introduction suitable for as many readers as possible. Nevertheless, the book still carries an Adults Only rating.
   Transformations was originally published in three Internet installments during 2000 to 2002, as episodes 16 through 18 of the Forest Tales subseries within the Chakat Universe. One nice aspect of the serial that has wisely been retained is the shifting point of view, from Forestwalker in Part 1 to a third-person author/narrator in Part 2 to Dale Perkins in Part 3. Readers who want more information about the Chakat Universe, or who want to read more of the stories, can find them all online on Doove’s Chakat’s Den website.
   Format purists may argue over whether this is a book or a fanzine. Transformations is attractively printed on 8.5" x 11" paper, and has a spiral-ring/plastic comb binding. There are twenty-two illustrations by twelve artists, ten of which are in full color. The front cover, by Stephanie ‘Cybercat’ Stone, won the 2005 Ursa Major Award in the Best Published Illustration category.

Tofu Knights: Ozy and Millie, 2004-5 Black Iron Magic Tails and Twisted Cat Tails The Pig Scrolls New Coyote Transformations

Anthropomorphic books for review should be sent to Fred Patten, at:
Golden State Colonial Convalescent Hospital, 10830 Oxnard Street, North Hollywood, CA, 91606

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