Tailchaser’s Song; Digger, vol. 3; Yo Momma; White Crusade; The Pig Who Saved the World; Code Name: Hunter. File 0: the Breaking of the Seal; Petal Storm; Swordbird; and Transmutation NOW!

reviewed by Fred Patten
©2007 Fred Patten

Home -=- #14 -=- Reviews
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Tailchaser’s Song Digger, vol. 3 Yo Momma
White Crusade The Pig who Saved the World Code Name: Hunter (File 0)
Petal Storm Swordbird Transmutation NOW!

Cover of TAILCHASER'S SONG (1985 edition)
1985 DAW Book edition
Title: Tailchaser’s Song
Author: Tad Williams
Illustrator: Map by the author
Publisher: DAW Books (NYC), Nov 1985
ISBN: 0-8099-0002-5
Hardcover, xv + 333 pages, $15.95

   When Tailchaser’s Song was first published, about half its reviews called it “a Lord of the Rings with cats”, and the other half called it “a Watership Down with cats”. It does mix the realistic-animal-species fantasy featuring a detailed religion/folklore and language, with the adventure quest into a realm of supernatural evil. It has some aspects of an Orpheus and Eurydice with cats, although Tailchaser and Pouncequick do not realize when they set out that their search for Tailchaser’s fiancée Hushpad will take them to the feline Hell and back. (They might not have begun their quest if they had.)
   Tailchaser’s Song is notable for three firsts. It was fantasy author Tad Williams’ first novel; it was DAW Books’ first hardcover release; and it was arguably the first realistic-animal adventure fantasy to feature cats. Solo’s JourneyIn the Long DarkCat House—the Windrusher books—the Wild Roads trilogy—all the Warriors novels—these and all other dramas featuring ‘realistic’ taking cats with their own language and folklore may owe a debt to Watership Down, but they were also all published after Tailchaser’s Song proved the huge market that exists for feline adventure fantasies of that type.
   Fritti Tailchaser is a young orange tom just eight months old, of the Meeting Wall clan of about sixty cats, both feral and domestic, of the Folk of Behind-Edge-Copse. The reader is dropped into the midst of a detailed feline society dense with cat-language (nre’fa-o = hello; Unfolding Dark = beginning of night; Meerclar’s Eye = the Moon; fla-fa’az = birds) and mythology (Meerclar Allmother gave birth to Harar Goldeneye and Fela Skydancer, the First male and female, who gave birth to the Firstborn Brothers, Lords Viror Whitewind, Grizraz Hearteater, and Tangaloor Firefoot…). Fortunately, Williams deftly makes it easy for the reader to understand these terms and legends as they appear in the narrative.
   Tailchaser is enjoying the carefree life of a young hunter on the edges of this complacent clan, dominated by the lazy Elders at the monthly Meeting Nights where the cats gather to socialize and listen to the Master Old-singers tell ancient oral tales of cat-gods and tricksters:

   Over the top of the rise and past a stand of massive oak trees lay the entrance to the canyon. Tailchaser thought happily to himself of the songs and stories that would be shared by the crumbling Meeting Wall. He thought also of Hushpad, whose slim gray form and arching, slender tail had been on his mind almost constantly of late. It was fine to be alive and of the Folk on Meeting Night.
   Meerclar’s Eye cast a mother-of-pearl light on the clearing. Twenty-five or thirty cats were assembled at the base of the Wall—rubbing against each other in staticky greeting, sniffing the nose of a new acquaintance. There was much mock fighting among the younger Folk.
(pgs. 5-6)

   Tailchaser is excited because he has recently danced his first Dance of Acceptance with a young fela, the demure Hushpad. But she has disappeared—the M’an-dwelling where she lived is empty of life and furniture. When he frantically reports this at the next Meeting, others complain that an alarming number of the Folk have recently gone missing. The Elders decide to send a delegation to Firsthome, the legendary Courts of Harar, to inform the Queen of Cats and ask her help in stopping the disappearances. Tailchaser is too young to be picked as one of the delegation. Miffed and worrying that the delegation is not concerned about Hushpad individually, Tailchaser vows to set out on his own quest to find her—trailed by his friend, the eager kitten Pouncequick, who cannot be discouraged from accompanying him.
   Up to this point, Tailchaser’s Song is indeed reminiscent of Watership Down, although the cats are more anthropomorphized in their intelligence and their formal government. Once the quest begins, the similarities switch to Tolkien. During a grueling months-long trek through fields and woods, the two meet other animal folk like the rikchikchik (squirrels) and visl (foxes) who have also been experiencing losses, although these have been openly slaughtered by ominous creatures like giant snakelike cats with glowing yellow eyes and scarlet claws. An elderly, clearly mad cat all muddy with tangled fur and wild eyes, Eatbugs, joins them for awhile. Tailchaser and Pouncequick eventually arrive at the feline-Edenic forest Firsthome; it is almost impossible to avoid thinking of Frodo and the Fellowship’s arrival in the Elf-home of Lothlorien.
   From there, along with the new quester Roofshadow who is seeking the destroyers of her clan, the three track the monsters north to the Vastnir mound in Ratleaf Forest:

   As they walked, Fritti became aware of a slight feeling of irritation, something very unsettling at the very rim of his consciousness. He felt a faint buzzing, or humming—but it was as thin and insubstantial as the noise of a brzz-hive a hundred leagues away. But it was there—and very subtly, it was getting stronger.
   When they stopped to rest in the wind-dampening shelter of a standing stone, he asked his companions if they had sensed it, too.
   “Not yet,” said Roofshadow, “but I expected you would first. It’s a good thing you can.”
   “What do you mean?” asked Fritti, mystified.
   “You heard Squeakerbane. You heard Fencewalker. There’s something happening in these wilds, and that’s why we’re here. Better that we sense it before it senses us.”
   “What kind of something?” Pouncequick’s eyes were bright and curious.
   “I don’t know,” said Roofshadow, “but it is bad. It is
os in a way that I have not sensed before.” (pgs. 162-163)

   “Bad” is an understatement. They descend underground into a literal feline Hell, very similar to the horrific landscape of Mordor that Frodo and Sam experience:

   Before them sprawled a vast cavern, the roof as high above as the treetops of Rootwood. It was lit by the luminescent earth they had seen in the tunnel, and also by the faint blue glow of stones that protruded down through the ceiling rock. The phantom light rendered all in the cavern into spirits and vaulting shadows.
   Below, on the cavern floor, countless cats moved back and forth like termites in rotten wood. Most of them appeared to be normal Folk, although their faces were so full of despair and pain that they seemed almost a different race. Among them moved the Clawguard, lumpish and huge, directing the streaming, insectlike hordes as they crept to and fro.
It’s like some horrible dream of Firsthome, Fritti thought. (pg. 186)

   Tailchaser, Pouncequick, and later Roofshadow are enslaved as laborers digging tunnels underneath the whole world for Lord Hearteater, the bloated feline Satan who dares not go aboveground. Practically the last half of the novel takes place in the fascinatingly disgusting underground world, which includes many striking locales such as the cavern of the Scalding Flume, a ruddy-glowing river of boiling water. Lord Hearteater rules this world through three feuding, rival corps of demonic cats: the Clawguard, the brutal, reptilian-like red-clawed giants who have been kidnapping cats for slave labor; the Toothguard:

   What was wrong with its fur?
   The creature had none. Cat-shaped, it was as hairless as a newborn kitten. At first, wildly, Pouncequick thought it must be some kind of monstrous infant—its eyes were sealed shut, as were the eyes of the Folk when they emerged from the womb. The thing turned toward Pouncequick, huge nostrils dilating. Then, in a high, whispering voice, it spoke.
   “Ahhhhhhh. The little newcomer… how nicccce of you to join ussssss.” Its speech was sibilant, like the voice of a
hlizza. As it drew nearer Pouncequick could see that it had no eyes at all, just folds of skin below the brow. He pushed himself farther away, arching his back.
   “Wh-what do y-you want with us?” quavered the kitten.
   “Ohhh… it knowsss the Higher Sssinging..?” The thing gave a sinister giggle which turned to a yawn showing a mouthful of long, thin teeth, like ivory pine needles.
(pg. 200)

   … and the Boneguard, who seem to be little more than dry, dust-filled bags of skin over living skeletons. So much of the adventure is spent in these Hellish caverns that the brief climactic escape, the destruction of Lord Hearteater’s realm, and the happy ending seem like little more than afterthoughts.
   There are several small annoyances in Tailchaser’s Song, such as Williams’ switching back and forth between calling his hero Fritti or Tailchaser almost from page to page, and the disappearances and reappearances of Eatbugs who overly obviously has a Secret Waiting To Be Revealed. But on the whole the novel is a satisfying adventure quest that creates a whole world of ‘realistic’ talking cats. The book has remained popular; the standard edition available today is DAW Books’ 2000 “Fifteenth Anniversary Edition—With a special Introduction by the author”.

Tailchaser’s Song Digger, vol. 3 Yo Momma
White Crusade The Pig who Saved the World Code Name: Hunter (File 0)
Petal Storm Swordbird Transmutation NOW!

Cover of DIGGER, vol. 3
Title: Digger, Vol. 3
Creator: Ursula Vernon
Publisher: Sofawolf Press (St. Paul, MN), Jul 2007
ISBN: 0-9791496-3-0
Trade paperback, 156 [+ 2] pages, USD $18.95

   If you got Digger volumes One and Two (reviewed in Anthro #8), how can you resist Volume Three? If you did not, you really should begin with Vol. One. Vol. Three starts with a one-page summary of the first two volumes, but a single page cannot begin to express the delightfully enchanting madness of their combined 260 pages.
Sample page from DIGGER Vol. 3    Digger (Digger-Of-Unnecessarily-Convoluted-Tunnels, a 25-year-old wombat of the Quartzclaw Clan) still has the long-range goal of finding her way home to her mining-community Warren, but she has gotten sidetracked by the events in & around the village of Rath. These include the temple of the god Ganesh, ruled by a living statue of the elephant-headed god (friendly) but policed by theocratic guards, the Veiled (hostile); Rath’s fields of vampiric squash; the nearby hills and forests which are the home of the mysterious Shadowchild and the hunting grounds of a tribe of warrior hyenas; and, far underground, a Dead God being tortured by sinister beings enshrouded in metallic bird costumes.
   Volume Three (Chapters 5 and 6) begins with Digger’s recovery in Rath from her injuries suffered during her & Priestess Murai’s narrow escape from the Metal Birds. Since Captain Jhalm of the Veiled is still trying to have her arrested, Digger decides to spend some time with Ed, the exiled hyena artist, in his cave hidden in the mountains. This leads to her meeting with Lady Surka, the ex-pirate shrew/professional troll who owns the only suspension bridge over the mountain chasm, and new adventures with the Shadowchild and the warrior hyenas. Digger saves the life of the hyena war-party’s leader, Grim Eyes, which places them under a moral obligation to Digger that they honor by warning her when the Metal Birds (a.k.a. the Cold Servants) emerge from underground to hunt her. Digger escapes after a harrowing chase, but one of the hyenas helping her, Skull Ridges, is killed. This puts an obligation on Digger to attend the hyenas’ funeral ceremony for Skull Ridges, in the village of the tribe that is trying to eat her.
   As with the first two volumes, any synopsis of the plot is weak and superficial compared to how Ursula Vernon develops it, with brilliant dialogue and superb art. Vernon’s full-page art, in a pseudo pen-&-ink style reminiscent of linoleum-block etchings (actually composed in a computer; Vernon calls it her ‘megascribble’ style with blacks and whites drawn over each other), is almost unique today, and she imbues it with marvelously expressive shadowings. Digger has been an award winner or finalist since 2005 for the Eisner Awards, the Ursa Major Awards, and the Web Cartoonists Choice Awards, and has gotten favorable reviews since 2004 from the New York Times and Publishers Weekly, among others.
   Digger has been appearing on the Graphic Smash website every Tuesday and Thursday since September 2003. The pages in Volumes One and Two could be viewed for free in the strip’s online Archive, but Digger turns into a pay-per-view comic just before the end of Chapter 5 (the first half of Volume Three). You might as well pay for this bound volume from Sofawolf Press, which also contains a bonus three-page treatise on “Trolls At-A-Glance” by the temple’s venerable Librarian Vo. And wait for Volume Four next year.

Tailchaser’s Song Digger, vol. 3 Yo Momma
White Crusade The Pig who Saved the World Code Name: Hunter (File 0)
Petal Storm Swordbird Transmutation NOW!

Cover of YO MOMMA
Title: Yo Momma
Creator: Bill Holbrook
Publisher: Plan Nine Publishing (High Point, NC), Jul 2007
ISBN: 978-1-929462-79-7
Trade paperback, 162 [+1] pages, USD $13.95

   Yo Momma, the twelfth annual collection of Bill Holbrook’s Kevin & Kell Internet comic strip, debuted at Anthrocon 2007. For some reason, at the time of this review it has not yet been added to Plan Nine Publishing’s own website, but it can be bought through the MerchandiseMavenMart site.
   Kevin & Kell is famous as the first comic strip created specifically for publication on the Internet, on September 4, 1995. To quote from our review of Iron Rabbit, the eleventh collection, in Anthro #9: Kevin & Kell is arguably the ultimate Furry comic strip. It is set in a world without humans but where everything organic is intelligent. Kevin (rabbit) & Kell (wolf) Dewclaw are a happily married couple despite their natural prey-predator relationship. The whole city of Domain is inhabited by animals (and insects, and plants) who have worked out an integrated society despite their carnivore-herbivore diets. This is a light comedy strip, so it is easy to poke big holes in the logic and consistency of the animals’ relationships; but any critics who do are just showing how tiny a sense of humor they have.”
   Yo Momma includes all of the strips from December 27, 2004 to December 31, 2005; basically the whole year of 2005. The major event of this year (even if it is in the last couple of months), and the reason for the title, is the introduction of Kevin’s feisty mother, Dorothy Kindle, into the strip. Where she has been up to now, why she has appeared at this time, how she gets along with the other regular members, and so on are shown in the usual amusing detail. Other important events in the soap-opera life of the cast, running about two weeks per story-sequence, include Kevin’s Hare-Link I.S.P. company’s abortive attempt to provide a Wi-Fi network for the whole city of Domain; daughter Lindesfarne’s move from high school to Beige University and her adjustment to college life; Kell’s return from Aby’s Auto Repair to Herd Thinners, Inc.; baby Coney’s reaching toddler status (beginning to talk, etc.); the outing of Caliban Academy’s hunting Coach Sam Pardus (leopard) as a domestic cat in disguise; Kevin’s being offered a deal he can’t refuse to become the Easter Bunny; Aby Eyeshine’s moving next door to the Dewclaws; Rudy’s taking high-school Driver’s Ed; and much more.
   As before, the size of this reprint album allows for three daily strips per page; so the format is of two pages of daily strips (Monday–Wednesday and Thursday–Saturday), followed by a Sunday strip which fills 2/3 of a page. An excerpt from Lindisfarne’s Virtual Quill blog occupies the 1/3 page under that.
   I had said of the previous album, Iron Rabbit is unfortunately in black-&-white only, lacking the color of the Internet strip. (Plan Nine’s publication of previous collections in full-color did not sell.)” Bill Holbrook replied, “In regard to the color, you might want to mention that the strips are colored by the talented husband-and-wife team of Terrence and Isabel Marks, who also create their own excellent furry comic strips, You Say It First and Namir Deiter.
   “Just one small point: The previous Kevin & Kell collections with color did sell; it was just the high cost of color printing that forced us to go back to black and white. (A single color copy cost over twenty dollars to produce.) We're looking all over for companies that would do it for less so that we can again show the Marks’ wonderful contribution to the strip. If you know of any possibilities, please let me know. :)” Okay. The previous Kevin & Kell albums that did have full-color printing had to charge $49.95 for them. The only other comparable full-color comic strip collections of which I know, REHayes, Jr.’s Tales of the Questor volumes produced by Lulu.com, are also in the $40.00 range. 150+ pages in full color aren’t cheap to produce.
   The collection closes with a page of anthropomorphic ‘yo momma’ jokes sent in by readers. Yo Momma is the usual high-quality Kevin & Kell album that the strip’s pack of fans have come to expect every year. For newcomers who want to start reading Kevin & Kell from the beginning, Plan Nine Publishing has all eleven previous volumes; as well as collections of Holbrook’s two newspaper comic strips, On the Fastrack and Safe Havens, mostly non-anthropomorphic but equally humorous.

Kevin & Kell ©2005, Bill Holbrook Buy the books at www.plan9.org
KEVIN & KELL strip for 7 Dec 2005

Tailchaser’s Song Digger, vol. 3 Yo Momma
White Crusade The Pig who Saved the World Code Name: Hunter (File 0)
Petal Storm Swordbird Transmutation NOW!

Title: White Crusade
Author: Ben Goodridge
Publisher: Bad Dog Books (Amsterdam)/Lulu.com (Raleigh, NC), Jul 2007
ISBN: 978-90-79082-02-5
Trade paperback, 331 pages, USD $19.95

Editor’s note: In addition to being available from Amazon.com, you can also buy White Crusade directly from its publisher, Bad Dog Books; from Lulu.com; or from FurPlanet.

   Five hundred years after the downfall of the over-civilized Humans, the world is inhabited by scattered tribes of Animal-Peoples who have returned to living in close contact with the earth. The story starts by showing us one of these, in the Pacific Northwest close to the old Canadian border:

   Tay’s tribe boasted many different Clans, at least twenty or more. He served Deer Clan and Mouse Clan and Otter Clan as comfortably as he served Bear Clan and Fox Clan, and even Zack’s own Coyote Clan. Though Wolf Clan, Tay could minister Carnivores and Herbivores equally well. Zack knew that Tay must possess great magic to be wise enough to appreciate the needs of so many Clans outside his own. Polyglot Tribes like Tay’s weren’t common. (pg. 16)

   Tay of the Wolf-Clan is his Tribe’s Alpha, a combined Chief and Shaman:

   He was about six feet tall, average for the Tribe. His fur was black and woolly. A short deep scar split his eyebrow and continued on his cheek, and he wore his long black hair loose and wild. He wore a short buckskin loincloth and had a stainless steel hunting knife strapped to one arm. No one would know to look at him that he was the Tribe’s leader. (pg. 15)

   Because Tay, like most animal-peoples, lives so entuned with the Earth-Mother, he cannot believe at first in the White Crusade, a cruel messianic cult of animals that want to make themselves into imitation Humans and bring back technology:

    The Humans couldn’t feel the Mother—they had paved the world so they wouldn’t have to walk on her soil, ripped up her trees to build their homes, and dug her life’s blood from her flesh to power their machines. Had they a scrap of decency, they too could have felt the Mother, her life-beat under their feet. The world was a living thing, and dealt with those who didn’t believe and respect.
   The natural world flowed through the Clans, and made them a part of it. Humans had spent most of their history walling it off and hiding from it, pretending they had nothing to do with it, were independent of it, and didn’t need it. Look where they ended up.
   “All right,” said Tay slowly. “So they
[the Crusade] don’t necessarily believe in the Spirit of the Mother. People are entitled to their beliefs. Still, surely they feel the Mother’s life-beats, at least. They must know they’re part of a system, a mechanism that protects and nourishes…”
   “They don’t,” said India Grey, near tears. “They have no use for it. They believe they should be masters of it, like the humans, rather than a part of it. The Earth to them is just a big rock in space, and the life on it is theirs to exploit. They feel entitled. They want the world back, and if they keep spreading their poison, they’re going to get it!”
(pg. 27)

   Tay becomes involved in the conflict when a dying defector from the Crusade enters his village with its most priceless treasure, which he has stolen:

   It was a small box, three inches to a side, smooth, shining black. It hung in a rabbit-skin pouch dangling from the strip of hide that held up his ragged loincloth. His master—his former master—would go to any lengths to get it back. Kaim had led armies to wipe out tribes that stood between his master and the box. He’d fancied himself ruthless in the furtherance of his master’s ambitions.
   However, even Kaim, brutal, ferocious Kaim of the Tiger Clan, had his limits.
   When he’d discovered what the box was for, his Master’s great secret, his loyalty disappeared like smoke. He could no longer love the man who had made him the Beta of the entire Crusade. He was no longer one of the thousands who would have followed his Master into hell.
(pgs. 3-4)

   Kaim, delirious and dying, claims that the Alpha of the Crusade believes that the seemingly indestructible box will raise the Crusade to supreme power on Earth; but that instead it will destroy all life on Earth. It hardly matters if this is true since the Crusade follows a scorched-earth policy, savagely killing all Animal-Peoples it encounters and burning their villages, leaving only a wasteland behind. The Crusade is now following Kaim to Tay’s own people. The Crusade will never forgive Tay for having the box in his possession, even briefly and unwillingly. His only possibility for safety is to keep the box and flee with it eastward with two companions, the trader Zack of the Coyote Clan and the technological tinkerer Sonac of the Wolf Clan, across the transformed North America, until they reach the legendary Seers of Kaago who may know the box’s secret.
   The world they cross through is full of splendor and wonder, from the Cliffdwellers’ scientific community to the drowned city of Omaha within a giant lake, to the walled, ruined metropolis of Kaago at the Great Lakes. They meet Deer-People, Otter-People, Horse-People, and more; the tribes becoming (to Tay’s confusion) less in tune with nature and more technological the further east they travel.
   However, the more that is revealed, the more questions the reader may have. White Crusade shows an inconsistency of capitalization between master and Master; between box and Box; between animal-people and Animal-People; and others. These minor annoyances are symptomatic of other inconsistencies—or discontinuities—that are more serious.
   Goodridge uses ‘man’ to refer to any animal-person, reasonably enough, but it gradually becomes evident that there are indeed Humans still living in this world; some in degenerated and barely tolerated Clans of their own and some fully integrated into multispecies animal communities. The differences are not really explained. The worldwide animal-people civilization arose five hundred years before this story begins, but when was that? At one point the Crusade uses “a power capacitor from a Class Two interstellar starship, with unfamiliar modifications”:

   Where the hell had he gotten it? Those giant cargo ships never came to Earth. All Earth ever got were zippy little passenger crafts from the Saturn satellites, where they’d had the big spaceports for centuries. Even those only landed in Ecuador and Kenya. (pg. 194)

   Whether Earth still has interstellar travel or the capacitor is left over from the period of Human domination, it seems that ‘five hundred years ago’ is a lot farther into the future than 2500 A.D. More importantly, where did the intelligent animal-peoples (who apparently have normal human hair on their animal heads) come from? How did they take over civilization? There are no explanations of bioengineering, evolution, or any other origin; or of any conflict between the Humans and them. They presumably were just there when the Humans got tired of running the world five hundred years earlier. (There is a hint at the very end of the novel, but it does not really answer the questions.)
   Possibly most significant of all, be warned that White Crusade is not for the squeamish reader. There are numerous graphic descriptions of the tortures the White Crusade inflicts upon those whom it captures:

   The victim was someone who had volunteered to help divert the trail. His name was Creg, and he sat upright against the trunk of a tree, his hands over his head. A large iron railroad spike went through both paws and into the wood. The ground around him was littered with fingers. They’d taken all ten fingers and toes from him and scattered them. From the way they were bleeding, he’d clearly been alive when they’d done it. He’d also been alive when they’d cut off his ears and dug out his eyes. He looked like he’d been dipped in blood from the navel up. His mouth hung open. They’d cut out his tongue. (pg. 61)

   That is one of the milder scenes. If you do not mind several nauseatingly detailed depictions of what the sadistic White Crusade does to its captives, and a lack of background history about this Animal-Civilization, White Crusade is a tense, colorful Road Warrior-type adventure of two Wolves and a Coyote speeding across a futuristic ruined North America in a renovated motorized caravan, barely ahead of a huge, bloodthirsty army of animal religious fanatics.

Tailchaser’s Song Digger, vol. 3 Yo Momma
White Crusade The Pig who Saved the World Code Name: Hunter (File 0)
Petal Storm Swordbird Transmutation NOW!

Puffin Books edition
Title: The Pig Who Saved the World, by Gryllus the Pig [UK] [US]
Author: Paul Shipton

Publisher: Puffin Books (London), Jul 2006
ISBN: 0-141-31635-7
Paperback, 260 [+ 1] pages, UK £5.99

Publisher: Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), Sep 2007
ISBN: 0-7636-3446-8
Hardcover, 260 [+ 1] pages, USD $15.99

   As those who read The Pig Scrolls, by Gryllus the Pig (or the review of it in Anthro #6) will remember, Gryllus the Pig—well, not exactly a pig; he was one of Odysseus’ crew transformed into a pig by Circe, who did not get transformed back with the others—had just saved the world and all the Greek gods. Yeah, well, that and a bronze obol will get you a cup of bad wine, and what have you done for us lately, eh, mate?
   Gryllus has decided that the life of a carefree wild pig in the woods isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. And, as he described in the last scroll, being the only talking pig in ancient Greece isn’t any sure-fire stay-out-of-the-frying-pan-free card, either. So Gryllus sets out (while brooding on the ingratitude of everybody for not appreciating his saving the world) along with his human friends Sibyl (who hires a ship) and Homer, the spotty, gangly teenage wanna-be epic poet, who want to meet the demi-goddess Circe, back to the isle of Aeaea to turn him human again.

   As we trudged along, my mind grappled with weighty matters. This was hardly surprising. After all, had I not looked down on the Earth from the Chariot of the Sun itself? Not a lot of pigs can say that. OK, not a lot of pigs can say anything—but my point is, this sort of experience will get even a pig-of-action like me thinking about the meaning of it all. (pg. 7)

   Unfortunately, when they do get to Aeaea, it looks like the divine immortal isn’t home.

   When I had been here the last time, Circe’s palace looked pretty impressive. Admittedly, not as grand as the marble palaces of Mount Olympus (which I saw not long after I saved the entire Cosmos, in case you didn’t know), but definitely a nice starter home for the minor deity on the go.
   Not any more. Where once the adjectives ‘magnificent’ and ‘sumptuous’ had jumped to mind, they were now elbowed aside by rowdier words like ‘ruined’ and ‘dilapidated’. One whole wing had collapsed into rubble. The rest of the place looked in need of a lick of paint and several decades’ worth of tender loving care. No animals wandered across the unkempt lawn now. As we neared the building, we soon realized there was no Circe in residence either. (pg. 9)

   Sibyl tries to summon her patron goddess to learn what has happened to the animal-fancier, but without luck:

   “O grey-eyed Athena,” Sibyl called in invocation as she sprinkled a secret blend of herbs and spices (all from her trusty backpack) onto the flames, “we humbly ask your assistance.”
   Sibyl had been a priestess in the temple of Apollo, but recently she had formed a closer bond with his sister, the goddess Athena.
   However, the grey-eyed goddess did not appear now. Instead, a rasping, disembodied voice rose from the flames. “The deity you have invoked is not available to take your prayer at the present time,” it groaned. “At the sound of the moan, leave a brief message stating the purpose of your entreaty and giving details of the offering you intend to make.” This was followed by a ghastly moan, and then an expectant hiss. (pg. 10)

   Fortunately (or maybe not), Aeaea is not entirely depopulated. A grasshopper who used to be a handsome prince (“The name’s Tithonus, but most people call me Hoppy for some reason.”) informs them that Circe has been seized by evil King Sisyphus, who has escaped from the Underworld, captured all the gods, and taken them to Crete.

   The giant snowball of Sibyl’s anxiety crashed down on an innocent bystander’s head: mine.
   “It means that we’ve got more to do on Crete than just find Circe and get you changed back,” Sibyl replied. “If Sisyphus has somehow managed to capture the Olympian gods, it means the whole of the Cosmos is in danger.”
   My heart plummeted like a free-falling, heart-shaped object. I didn’t speak for a long time, until:
again?” (pg. 30)

   It’s like that odd foreign word that Gryllus can’t remember (he never claimed to be an expert in languages); deju vu. As with The Pig Scrolls, The Pig Who Saved the World is mostly populated with humans, or humanoid inhumans like the giant, one-eyed cyclops. But oinky, four-hooved Gryllus is prominent enough to make this adventure anthro all by himself. He is also accompanied by the chatterbox grasshopper, Hoppy (“Tithonus!”), plus the crew of their ship who have been turned into monkeys when Gryllus could not resist playing with Circe’s magic staff:

   On board, the baboon formerly known as Captain Simios was picking fleas off the first mate’s head. Other crew members scampered up the mast and leaped from yardarm to rigging and back again, howling and hooting. Do I have to spell it out in simple Greek? The. Crew. Were. Monkeys. (pg. 25)

   As things turned out, the mere fact that they were monkeys didn’t stop the captain and his crew from sailing the ship. Admittedly, they weren’t too keen on the idea at first—at least that’s the conclusion I drew from all the explosive grunting and furious prancing around. But Sibyl carefully explained that they would have to take us to Crete if they ever hoped to be turned back into their human forms. This got them to ease off on all the shrieking. Then Sibyl promised she’d get them a sack of nuts and raisins at our next port of call, and that sealed the deal. The monkeys would take us to Crete!
   It was hard to tell what the crew themselves made of their new position in the great Chain of Being. Unlike yours truly, the effects of Circe’s magic had left them unable to speak, although they gave every impression of understanding what was said to them, more or less. (pg. 26)

   The first half of The Pig Who Saved the World is pretty much like a replay of The Odyssey. As Gryllus and his companion sail toward Crete, they land on the Island of the Cyclopes where they find Polyphemus still smarting for revenge after Odysseus’ visit (and gain a new companion, the disembodied head of the legendary bard Orpheus); they encounter the sirens who try to bewitch them into sailing to their doom, and other fun Mediterranean tourist attractions. In the second half, after they get to Crete, they find themselves caught in warfare between King Sisyphus and King Midas of Phrygia with his daughter Princess Aurelia (who has a heart of gold—‘all hard and cold’), from which they must escape through the Labyrinth into the Underworld (and not the nice parts of it, either) to save the Cosmos once more.
   All this is narrated by Gryllus in his familiar style of a British stand-up comedian:

   Soon the wind was howling louder than a boatful of noisy monkeys—this is an actual fact that I can vouch for. The rain began to fall, not bothering with the preliminary spitting and drizzling phases but going straight to torrential downpour. (No sense of dramatic build-up, the rain.) Far-off lightning flashed and flickered in a random way which confirmed that Zeus wasn’t at the controls. (pg. 40)

   Once again, it helps if you know the highlights of Greek mythology, but the adventure is basically self-explanatory. If there is any difference between this and the previous novel, it is that the number of poop and fart jokes is up considerably, indicating that the age rating should be changed from Young Adult to Pimply-faced Adolescent Male. If you liked The Pig Scrolls, you know what to expect. Read accordingly.

Tailchaser’s Song Digger, vol. 3 Yo Momma
White Crusade The Pig who Saved the World Code Name: Hunter (File 0)
Petal Storm Swordbird Transmutation NOW!

Title: Code Name: Hunter. File 0, The Breaking of the Seal
Creators: Darcy (Darc) Sowers & Matt (Gyrfalcon) Sowers
Publisher: RCSI Travel, Inc. (Plymouth, MA), Jun 2007
Trade paperback, [4] + 72 + [36] pages, USD $20.00

   Author’s note: Is this the rarest furry book? In June 2007, RCSI Travel, Inc. (cartoonists Darc & Gyrfalcon) announced that the first adventure of their Code Name: Hunter webstrip would premiere as a graphic album at Anthrocon 2007 on July 5-8, and would go on sale at the IndyPlanet webstore afterward. The graphic album sold out at Anthrocon, but Darc & Gyrfalcon had problems with their printer and IndyPlanet never received copies to sell. Darc & Gyrfalcon subsequently decided to remove the graphic album from sale. So unless they find a satisfactory new printer, the copies sold at Anthrocon may be the only book collection of Code Name: Hunter. File 0, The Breaking of the Seal that there will ever be.
   This review was written of an advance review copy sent out before the decision to cancel the album. Since the book does exist, it has been decided to publish this review after all, if only to alert those who purchased it at Anthrocon to what a rare collector’s item they have.

   Another top-notch Internet comic strip has made the transition to a book collection of its pages. Code Name: Hunter’s first completed adventure is now available as a full-color, graphic album of over 100 pages; 72 of the story and 36 of bonus material.
   This is not quite true. Code Name: Hunter, by the recently-married (May 2007) team of Darc (Darcy Klooster, now Sowers, artist) and Gyrfalcon (Matt Sowers, writer), started on the web on August 23, 2003. This funny-animal serio-comic secret-agent serial began with Max McConnor (mouse; Code Name: Hunter) already a top agent of Britain’s RCSI secret service, and feisty Ruby Pyrenees (dog; Code Name: Gypsy) as a new hire. He tends to emotionally freeze when working with women, and she tends to explode in RCSI’s patronizingly macho atmosphere; so naturally they are partnered with orders to work out their problems together—or else, while assigned to investigate a series of ritualistic murders of white-mouse women.
   Readers were perfectly happy with this story, which Darc and Gyrfalcon self-published the beginning of as a black-&-white comic book. But apparently they were dissatisfied with it because they withdrew it, closed down their website for a brief period, and started over in January 2005 with the present 72-page story (serialized through November 2006); a ‘File 0’ telling how the RCSI got started during World War II—but not our World War II.
   Actually, it is tricky trying to figure out how closely the world of RCSI parallels our own. The Breaking of the Seal begins with William of Normandy’s victory at Hastings in 1066 and his subjugation of England. Except for showing all the characters as funny animals (William is a fox), and making the suppression of magic part of that subjugation, it seems to be the same as our world. But several later events diverge markedly, such as showing that this England is close to two other nations, Astoria and Brumborg, which never banned magic. So the RCSI world isn’t so close to ours, after all.
   On with the story. King William gets rid of magic by ordering the clergy of Westminster Abbey to do so. After months of religious research, they devise a spell, the Seal of the Dawn, in the material form of a stained-glass window in the Abbey. This window lasts for almost 900 years, until it is shattered by German bombs during the Blitz in November 1940, and the creatures of Fey start reentering England.
   The protagonist of File 0 is Roderick, a young yellow hound and an agent of MI5 (the Military Intelligence agency charged with domestic national security). Roderick makes himself the personal champion of his fellow field agents who have recently encountered ogres, live gargoyles, and other hostile magical creatures, which are dismissed as hallucinations by MI5’s bureaucrats who never leave their offices. Roderick requests permission to investigate the reports, and soon returns with a winged fox-pixie named Merrybell. This gets him put in charge of a team of those agents who have experienced the Fey, to learn why they have suddenly begun reentering England, and how to recreate the Seal. Before this can be accomplished, Roderick is involved in a deadly magical attack inside Buckingham Palace against the royal family. Princess Moraine takes a personal interest in Roderick’s group, which she has removed from MI5 and reestablished as the independent RCSI under her direct control.

Low-resolution sample of CODE NAME: HUNTER's art
Click on the thumbnail to view the full 328K page in a new window

   These events, which cover most of the story, take place during 1941. There is a jump to a few pages in 1948 to show RCSI’s cover setup as a travel agency, and an equally brief finale in 1998 showing Max McConnor’s appointment to full agent status under cryptically demoralizing circumstances. One of the album’s extras is a 13-page story (serialized February-March 2007) flashing back to 1996 showing how ‘young Hunter’ gets recruited into RCSI. Others, entirely original in this album, explain some of the nature of how magic works in this world, and a bit of the relationship between RCSI and the more unfriendly Fey after fifty years, as hinted at in Max’s first encounter with the agency.
   This summary hopefully avoids any spoilers. What is best about The Breaking of the Seal is not the plot as much as how it is told. Gyrfalcon and Darc have a gift with British dialogue and the visual backgrounds which go far to making the setting so convincing. You have to see them for yourself.
   That said, there are some complaints. As a graphic novel, the story should be complete in itself. Yet there are some details that are only available (so far, at least) scattered about the online website. Is Roderick a first or a last name? The story does not say, but the catalogue blurb on the website refers to him as Jacob Roderick. (There is also a Code Name: Hunter entry on WikiFur that provides some background information not in this story.) What is the royal family’s dynastic name? According to the individual page titles, which do not appear in the book but are still in the Archives, it is Mousira. Presumably there is some relationship between Michael Pyrenees, the former RAF pilot who becomes one of Roderick’s agents in 1941, and agent Ruby Pyrenees today. There are also seeming background-logic discrepancies which may be errors or may be explained as deliberate in later adventures. How did the English come to believe that magic was mythical if it was still fully evident throughout the rest of the world? If magic was banned throughout England from the late 11th century until late 1940, did this include Scotland? If William the Conqueror was a fox, how did the present royal family come to be mice? What was the deadly apparition that attacked Princess Moraine in Buckingham Palace, and why? We are told that RCSI really stands for Royal Center of Special Investigations, but what does the public think it stands for in its ‘RCSI Travel’ cover identity as a mundane travel agency? (People are always asking what the Australian Qantas airline acronym stands for so they should be equally curious about RCSI, and ‘Royal Center for Special Investigations’ isn’t a name that seems natural for a travel agency.)
   At the moment, it does not seem that these questions are likely to be answered in File 1, A Political Spell, which is presently being serialized on the Code Name: Hunter website. But if the story is anything like File 0, it will contain lots of surprises. You can read it a page at a time in the website Archives, but it is so much more convenient to have it collected in this attractive, glossy-covered album format.

Tailchaser’s Song Digger, vol. 3 Yo Momma
White Crusade The Pig who Saved the World Code Name: Hunter (File 0)
Petal Storm Swordbird Transmutation NOW!

Title: Petal Storm
Author: Paul Kidd
Publisher: Kitsune Press (Perth)/Lulu.com (Raleigh, NC), Mar 2007
ISBN: 978-1-84753-840-6
Trade paperback, 319 pages, USD $22.50

   Petal Storm is set in an ancient eucalyptus forest, placing it in Australia; reasonably enough since Kidd is an Australian author. The equally ancient Hive is the last remaining Hymenopteran kingdom in the world:

    From a viewpoint high above the forest floor, a tiny sentinel stood watch over the titanic corridors of trees; a slim young figure, sleek and bright with all the colours of insect life. Mounted on a suave yellow hornet, her saddle made from the wings of a gorgeous pastel butterfly, the soldier sat and diligently surveyed her domain. Sharp, feminine features topped a supple torso sheathed in brilliant yellow chitin; from beneath a helmet made of lacquered beetle shell, long unbound hair spilled down between a pair of gauzy wings. From the rear of her breastplate soared a silken banner stenciled with sophisticated ideographs. At the bee’s side, there hung a slim, elegant hollow sword; her four arms rested quietly as they held sting-lance, reins and blade. Unmoving and alert, the bee scanned the skies for predators, while beneath her, the battle-hornet silkily preened its antennae and dozed beneath a beam of sun.
    High above, layered through the branches of a dozen ancient, massive trees, sprawled the majestic complex of The Hive. Addled and endearing, grown piece by piece, the teeming city had spread itself like a riotous geometric fungus. Palaces and barracks blocks, countless balconies, factories and halls—they ringed tree trunks, filled hundreds of branches and spread right down into the forest floor.
   Living wooden bridges linked the many trees—bridges teeming with soldiers, beetle-carts and worker bees. Seen from the far distance, the air streamed with the shapes of flying things as patrols, scouts and courtiers sped about their endless daily chores. (pgs. 5-6)

   Twenty years earlier, during the exhausting Termite Wars, the Hive was decimated and Queen Zaala was seemingly mortally wounded. Two larvae were fed royal jelly to prepare them as Princesses:

   The rulers of bees were born into unyielding struggle. Once the Hive Queen died, orders were given to the royal nurses. Two perfect, flawless female larvae were selected from the crèche; when fed upon royal jelly, each underwent a wrenching change to its metabolism. Upon ripping free from their pupal sheaths, the metamorphosed larvae were fully fertile Queens; two rivals for a single crown.
    A Hive could have but a single Queen. The scent, the mere presence of a rival sent the Princesses into a frenzy of hate. […] A Hive Queen was born of struggle—born into combat, conquest and the sword. The Hive must have the best, most powerful breeding stock; only through strength could the race survive. (pg. 12)

   But to everyone’s surprise, crippled Queen Zaala survived. Since then she has concentrated all her strength upon laying eggs to repopulate the Hive. She also ordered both the Princesses to be raised apart until, during their adolescence, the two could join in the ruling of the Hive.
   It is unprecedented for a Princess to grow to adulthood without becoming an undisputed Queen. Zaala had hoped that having two educated and experienced proto-Queens could strengthen the Hymenopterans; that the Princesses could settle their struggle in a non-fatal manner, and that the loser could lead a migration to start a colony Hive to expand the bee race. Instead, it looks like letting both Princesses live may doom the Hive to a fatal dynastic struggle:

   The two fertile females eyed each other in absolute dislike. Princess Niirsha’s pet spider rubbed itself affectionately against its owner’s legs, while high above Queen Zaala painfully shifted in her throne.
   “Niirsha, enough! Now sit—and do send that creature away! It sheds hairs on the floor.”
    “Oh mother! Talu just wants to be friendly!” Niirsha bent to stroke her spider, which arched itself, luxuriating in her caress. “He’s only a little baby.”
   “Disgusting.” Shariin flicked a sidewise glance at the spider. “Niirsha, you have found your perfect match at last!”
    Unperturbed, Niirsha ran her fingers through the spider’s fur.
    “I find Talu most refreshing, sister. He at least has the virtue of only building webs that I can see.”
    “Niirsha! Enough!”
   Queen Zaala’s command cracked through the hall like a lightning shaft. (pg. 11)

   This is as far as the plot can be synopsized without giving away spoilers. The blurbs compare the scheming and treachery that ensues between Princess Niirsha and Princess Shariin, and among certain high-ranking functionaries in the royal court and in the military who hope to take personal advantage amidst the maneuvering for power, to the intrigues of the Japanese shogunate courts or the Round Table at Camelot. There is also suspense over whether the nearby ant-nation of Queen K’xx (the air-children versus the ground-children) will be drawn into the conflict on one side or the other. The novel focuses upon four young bees who come together in friendship, and try to help each other survive in the treason and fighting that follows; three neuter females and a male drone: Sarzuu, a Royal Hive nurse entrusted with Queen Zaala’s eggs; Ii-koo, a dance-herald Immaculate in Princess Shariin’s entourage; M’zaana, a construction engineer among Princess Niirsha’s worker bees; and K’zeem, a ‘useless’ drone-poet.
   The anthropomorphization of the characters in Petal Storm seems erratic. They are usually described (and painted on the covers by TAB, Theresa Anne Baker) as tiny human four-armed handsome men and beautiful women with delicate antennae and large dragonfly wings; more like pixies or fairies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden than bees. Then a passage will mention chitin or spiracles, and they seem much more beelike:

   No bee could swim; the water skin formed a lethal glue that sucked a struggling insect down to drown. […] Rain strikes ploughed into the water; any one of them could stun a bee and send it sliding back into the lethal flood. (pg. 138)

   “Highness! Highness, don’t move! It’s abrasive powder!” Something heavy crashed into M’zaana’s shell, and the girl frantically fought to keep her ground. “Highness—don’t move! You’ll lose your limbs!”
   Fine mineral powder could work its way between chitin plates and cause irreparable damage. Niirsha held herself rigid with horror, her mouthparts dropping as she stared blankly with alarm.
(pg. 140)

   She broke free from the smoke and frantically pumped her thorax, clearing smoke fumes from her breathing pores. (pg. 262)

   Petal Storm’s merits, in addition to telling a brisk adventure of palace intrigue and civil war, include many colorful scenes of the bees’ social life; including the manner in which they have domesticated other insects to be their livestock and pets:

   The pair moved on, and found themselves walking beside the ragged walls of the outcasts’ commune. Here dwelled all those drones who had turned aside from harem life; educated in the courtly graces, eccentric and proud, they formed a strange and vital satellite to the Hive. Here lived the poets, the philosophers and artists; and their strange, breathtaking works became much sought-after prizes. They traded services for the staples of their lives—bee bread, honey, nectar and wine. A strange, proud existence that kept them hidden far away from other lives. (pg. 61)

   A backswimmer came nosing up to the raft, its great black eyes mournfully hoping for food. Sitting happily with K’zeem, Ii-koo leaned down to reach beneath the water and tickle at the water-beetle’s nose. The creature held station with quiet sweeps of its two long, elegant oar-tipped legs; Ii-koo slipped the creature a chunk of bread, and it stared up at her in gratitude as it drifted quietly away to quaff its meal. (pg. 80)

   With a blinding flash of speed, Sarzuu whirled up into a crouch, holding the black beetle with its backside pointing straight towards the soldiers’ eyes. The two guards flicked amused glances at the Nurse’s desperate, frightened face, then marched forwards with a savage smile.
   A brutal crash of force blasted both assassins from their feet. Sarzuu rocked as the beetle stuttered explosions from its rear, hammering the soldiers with scalding jets of chemicals.
[…] Sarzuu stood crouching, panting as the bombardier beetle smoked and steamed in her grasp. (pg. 241)

   Not many anthropomorphic novels have featured bees. If you feel that furry fandom has been hymenopterically challenged, then Petal Storm is for you.

Tailchaser’s Song Digger, vol. 3 Yo Momma
White Crusade The Pig who Saved the World Code Name: Hunter (File 0)
Petal Storm Swordbird Transmutation NOW!

Title: Swordbird
Author: Nancy Yi Fan
Illustrator: Mark Zug
Publisher: HarperCollins (NYC), Jan 2007
ISBN: 0-06-113099-0
Hardcover, xvi + 219 pages, USD $15.99

   Twelve-year-old author Nancy Yi Fan has woven a captivating tale about the birds of Stone-Run Forest and the heroism, courage, and resourcefulness in their quest for peace. (blurb on the front-jacket flap)

   Virtually all the publicity for Swordbird emphasizes that Fan, born in China in 1993 and a resident in the U.S. since she was seven years old, was only twelve when she wrote and sold this novel. With that in mind—it was impossible to avoid having it in mind—I read Swordbird also thinking of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s famous epigram about “…a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
   Swordbird bears this out. I cannot imagine that this novel would not have been rejected if an older person had written it. Only curiosity to see what a novel by a twelve-year-old author is like gives it its sales appeal. It is not bad, just terribly mediocre and derivative. It is a straight rehash of the most standard high-fantasy plot stereotypes, especially those in Jacques’ Redwall novels, with no depth and little originality. It is almost certainly a better novel than any of us could have written at twelve years old, and it marks Fan as a promising author to look forward to in another ten or fifteen years. But the only real value that Swordbird has is for Mark Zug’s superlative cover and interior illustrations.
   The Sunrise tribe (cardinals) and the Bluewingle tribe (blue jays) have been friendly neighbors in Stone-Run Forest for generations. But when the eggs of each tribe begin disappearing, each assumes the other is to blame and they immediately go to war. The real villain is the evil hawk Turnatt who has assembled an army of crows and ravens at Fortress Glooming. He has ordered this aerial army, led by Captain Slime-beak, to secretly steal the cardinals’ and blue jays’ eggs to turn them against each other. When they have weakened themselves by fighting, Turnatt expects to have his army enslave all the survivors to complete the construction of Fortress Glooming and make himself the Tyrant of the whole forest.

   Slime-beak, Turnatt’s captain, was hopping about, glancing at the trees bordering the half-built fortress. He dreaded Turnatt, for he worried about being made into a scapegoat.
   Displeased, Turnatt stared down his beak at his nervous captain. His bright eye burning a hole into the bothersome crow’s face.
   “Stop hopping, Slimey—you’re getting on my nerves. I’ll demote you if you keep on doing that.” A fish scale hung from the edge of Turnatt’s beak.
   Slime-beak shivered like a leaf, partly because of fear and partly because of the hawk’s bad breath.
(pg. xv)

   Slime-beak leads a slavecatching attack by the crows and ravens against all the woodbirds while they are gathered together being entertained by the comical Willowleaf Theater troupe (Alexandra the hummingbird, Kastin the titmouse, Mayflower the junco, Dilby the loon, Parrale the wood duck, and Lorpil the gannett) at the Bright Moon Festival to celebrate the birth of mystical Swordbird (sort of like Christmas combined with May Day). Despite being taken completely by surprise, the woodbirds rally and defeat the bad birds with ridiculous ease.

   Kastin and Mayflower glanced at a gigantic container of hot soup and slowly exchanged mischievous glances. They had an idea, too.
   “Here’s a way to help the cardinals and the blue jays, eh, Kassie?”
   “Fine by me, May. Let’s tip that bean soup!”
   The junco and the titmouse rushed to the steaming pot. They each grasped a handle and flew up, straining to lift the heavy container to a branch of a nearby tree. When a crowd of crows and ravens flew underneath, they tipped the hot liquid on the unsuspecting black birds. Now covered in the sticky bean soup, they plummeted and crashed to the ground.
(pg. 85)

   Despite monumental incompetence by Turnatt and his army, the good birds led by Skylion the blue jay and Flame-back the cardinal must still send brave Miltin the robin and Aska the blue jay on an epic quest (“Our quest is to find and enliven all seven Leasorn gems across the world and to find a sword with the eighth Leasorn on its hilt.”) and solve an ancient riddle. This is necessary to summon mighty Swordbird (who looks like a dove on steroids) to finally defeat Turnatt—but really just to incorporate these basic stereotypes of high fantasy into the story.
   To be fair, Swordbird is recommended for readers aged 8 to 12, so it does not pretend to be a book for adults. If you have any juvenile children or nephews and nieces around the younger end of this age group, who are too young for mature anthropomorphic novels but old enough for a ‘real book’, this might be an appropriate gift for them.
   But if you don’t read the story, do take the trouble to look through Swordbird to see Mark Zug’s excellent artwork. Zug has a magnificent talent for drawing highly realistic birds and making them look like they could really swordfight or shoot bows & arrows, or play a piano or hold a cup of tea. The only slight problem, which is not Zug’s fault, is that some of the pictures turn out to be generic, repeated two or three times in the book. The first time you encounter the picture of Turnatt eating an egg, it is with text describing him eating a greasy roasted fish. A description of the cardinals’ leader Flame-back brandishing a sword is illustrated with a picture of him nocking an arrow into his bow. Until the reader realizes that these pictures are not specific illustrations, it gives the false impression that Zug carelessly misread the description of the scene. This will not happen if you just look at the art without reading the story. It is worth the effort of going to a bookshop or library and seeking out Swordbird just to look at its artwork.

Tailchaser’s Song Digger, vol. 3 Yo Momma
White Crusade The Pig who Saved the World Code Name: Hunter (File 0)
Petal Storm Swordbird Transmutation NOW!

Title: Transmutation NOW!
Author: Phil Geusz
Publisher: The Raccoon’s Bookshelf (Ridgecrest, CA), Aug 2007
ISBN: 0-9771867-6-8
Trade paperback, 344 pages, USD $14.99

Editor’s note: In addition to being available from Amazon.com, you can also buy Transmutation NOW! directly from the publisher.

   Transmutation NOW! is one of the earliest anthro specialty-press novels. Phil Geusz wrote the original draft during 1997-8. It was first published by Starfire Publishing around 2001 and then by Infinite Imagination about a year later, each time as a downloadable electronic book with minor revisions. The last eBook edition went out of print in 2005. This trade paperback from The Raccoon’s Bookshelf, which debuted at Mephit Furmeet 2007, is its first ‘hard’ edition with more touch-ups.
   Unlike most anthro novels which feature a large society of anthropomorphic animal-people, Transmutation NOW! is about (at first) only two animal-people in the human world. When transmutation becomes possible (but fantastically expensive), a movie studio wants to turn aging actor Jack Strafford into a genuine humanoid white rabbit for a megaspectacular remake of Alice in Wonderland. Jack agrees because the studio promises to regress his human body to its mid-twenties prime when he is restored at the end of the production. Unfortunately, he has barely begun the months-long transmutation process when terrorists nuke Tokyo and a couple of brief Short Wars ruin the American economy. When revived, Jack finds that his movie studio is bankrupt and out of business, and that, due to lack of funding, the scientists at Trans-Tech Genetics had to leave him much more lapine than had been planned:

   It took a terribly long time to wean me off of all the drugs, as my new body initiated a rabbit’s panic reaction whenever I became frightened. A lot of things frightened me at first, like fire, smoke, predator scent and loud noises. Eventually I developed some control over the reflex, but the process took time and I never really mastered it entirely. All rabbits are naturally of a rather high-strung nature compared to normal humans, and it seemed that I was to be no exception. Learning to walk again was a major psychological step forward for me, as well. Until this art was re-mastered, I had been forced to hop about my suite on all fours. It took days of physical therapy to get me back upright. Even more time passed while I became accustomed to having thumbless forepaws. My movie role required carrying and manipulating things, but Dr. Franken told me not to worry, that my part had been rewritten. Hands had simply gotten too expensive, he explained. I was ’way over budget. (pgs. 16-17)

   Strafford finds that the rabbit’s instinctual panic reaction to anything frightening (such as large dogs) is now hardwired into his brain, which makes living in normal human society impossible. Dr. Jacob Franken teams him up with Rupert, a scientist who turned chimpanzee to study chimps in the wild and could not be turned back after Trans-Tech shuts down. The two move to an isolated house built to their needs near a small Alabama town of sympathetic people, where they expect to live for the rest of their lives.
   But the world will not let them withdraw. First they are attacked by a cult, the Holy Congregation, Sword and Army of the Lord, that brands them AN ABOMINATION BEFORE GOD. Jack and Rupert escape in a commando battle—and add to their household another transmutee (Jocko, a capuchin monkey), whom they rescue from the cult—but the publicity, plus the expenses of adding anti-terrorist security to their hideaway, forces Jack back into show business. He quickly becomes very popular making celebrity endorsements:

   I was wearing one of my new hats, a shared invention of Mary Allen (my groomer/makeup specialist) and I. It was very similar to a baseball cap made of shiny soft satin. The headgear was designed to be worn backwards, and had two large ear holes cut in the top that allowed my aural appendages free play. On what should have been the front, over the bill, was a stylized carrot on a green background. Above the carrot was printed, ‘This Rabbit Powered By Fresh Vegetables.’ Below was the logo of the North American Produce Grower’s Association. Every department store in the country was selling a commercial version with fake adjustable ears and it seemed that they simply couldn’t get enough of the things. This hadn’t surprised me too terribly much, as even I thought it was a pretty good idea. What frankly shocked me, however, was that the adult sizes were outselling the kids’ version! Mary and I, not to mention the produce growers, were making a mint on the things. I figured that the least I could do was to actually wear one from time to time. And, to be frank, it did kind of look neat on me, in a silly sort of way. (pgs. 85-86)

   Then Jack is attacked by a pair of transmutated 35-foot-long intelligent poisonous snakes. This raises the threats to an unknown new level:

   My friend had spoken very frankly to me, even more so than to Jocko and Rupert, about the consternation that the snakes were causing in Washington. In fact he spoke perhaps even more freely than he really should have, but he understood my personal interest in the filthy things. The more that was learned about them, the more new questions were raised. For example, the technique used was only passingly similar to known technology. This meant that somewhere a huge investment had been made to build the transmutation technique independently from scratch, and almost certainly there had to have been earlier simpler transmutations done by these same people so as to learn their craft. Yet there were no clues, no leaks anywhere! How could a program so large and all-encompassing be hidden away so completely?
   Also, why was someone with such incredible resources behind them interested in small potatoes like Jocko, Rupert and me? We were of no conceivable threat to an organization possessed of such massive power. For that matter, what was the role of the Congregation, Sword and Army of the Lord in all of this? There was no doubt that they had been behind the first attack on the Island, even if we couldn’t prove it in a court of law. But how could they get their hands on the kind of technology that it took to make the second attempt? Things weren’t fitting together at all. (pgs. 88-90)

   Transmutation NOW! alternates between scenes of Jack’s growing prominence as America’s most beloved bunny rabbit—magazine and TV stardom, and naturally he is featured in a live-action Bugs Bunny movie—and his escapes from increasingly impossible-to-survive deathtraps by his known and unknown enemies, which soon take on international political dimensions. Then things get really metaphysical…
   The action sequences are well-plotted and very suspenseful, and Jack’s successes as an incredibly popular rabbit-man in a human world will vicariously satisfy ’morph-fan readers. If you have not read this before, do so now!
   It seems almost churlish to point out how dated Transmutation NOW! has become in ten years, thanks to the advances of other technology. If a movie studio today wants to make a live-action Alice in Wonderland—or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or any other film featuring seemingly live animal people—it can easily (if expensively) do so via computer graphic imagery. The transmutation of humans for this purpose has become as unnecessary as, say, Lewis Padgett’s 1943 s-f story The Proud Robot which revolves around the invention of a futuristic improved can opener for soft-drink and beer cans—obsolete since 1959 when pop-top cans replaced any need for separate openers.
   To close, let’s give The Raccoon’s Bookshelf a slap on the wrist for publishing Transmutation NOW! with no date in the book except the ©2001 copyright notice. This will give future book collectors a headache trying to find out when it was actually published. How much trouble would it have been to add a ‘This edition published August 2007’ line under the copyright notice?

Tailchaser’s Song Digger, vol. 3 Yo Momma
White Crusade The Pig who Saved the World Code Name: Hunter (File 0)
Petal Storm Swordbird Transmutation NOW!

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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