Jonathan Livingston Seagull; Closer to the Void; A Marriage of Insects; New Technicolor Dreams; Kockroach; Shift Happens; The Hero and The Cat Master

reviewed by Fred Patten
©2008 Fred Patten

Home -=- #16 -=- Reviews
-= ANTHRO =-

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Closer to the Void: Ozy and Millie A Marriage of Insects New Technicolor Dreams
Kockroach A Doemain of Our Own: Shift Happens The Hero The Cat Master

Title: Jonathan Livingston Seagull—A Story
Author: Richard Bach
Photographs: Russell Munson
Publisher: The Macmillan Company (NYC), Aug 1970
ISBN: 0-02504540-7
Hardcover, 93 pages, USD $12.95

   It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea.
   A mile from shore a fishing boat chummed the water, and the word for Breakfast Flock flashed through the air, till a crowd of a thousand seagulls came to dodge and fight for bits of food. It was another busy day beginning.
   But way off alone, out by himself beyond boat and shore, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was practicing. A hundred feet in the sky he lowered his webbed feet, lifted his beak, and strained to hold a painful hard twisting curve through his wings. The curve meant that he would fly slowly, and now he slowed until the wind was a whisper in his face, until the ocean stood still beneath him. He narrowed his eyes in fierce concentration, held his breath, forced one … single … more … inch … of … curve … Then his feathers ruffled, he stalled and fell.
   Seagulls, as you know, never falter, never stall. To stall in the air is for them disgrace and it is dishonor.
   But Jonathan Livingston Seagull, unashamed, stretching his wings again in that trembling hard curve—slowing, slowing, and stalling once more—was no ordinary bird.
(pg. 13)

   So begins Jonathan Livingston Seagull, one of the seminal works of the Flower Power, do-your-own-thing era of the late 1960s & early ‘70s. Richard Bach, a pilot from before he entered college, had already written three books about the joy of flying aircraft before he penned this paean to the philosophy of abstract flight as a metaphor for existence itself.
   Jonathan is a seagull who lives for flying, unlike the other gulls who consider it as just the means to get to where food is. This makes him Different, and to be Different is to be unpopular, ignored by the gang. Unlike most loners who secretly yearn to be accepted, however, Jonathan’s desire to become a better flyer really is all that he is interested in:

   It wasn’t long before Jonathan Gull was off by himself again, far out at sea, hungry, happy, learning.
   The subject was speed, and in a week’s practice he learned more about speed than the fastest gull alive.
   From a thousand feet, flapping his wings as hard as he could, he pushed over into a blazing steep dive toward the waves, and learned why seagulls don’t make blazing steep power-dives. In just six seconds he was moving seventy miles per hour, the speed at which one’s wing goes unstable on the upstroke.
(pg. 15)

   After numerous failures, Jonathan works out the aerodynamics to get past this age-old barrier:

   The wind was a monster roar at his head. Seventy miles per hour, ninety, a hundred and twenty and faster still. The wing-strain now at a hundred and forty miles per hour wasn’t nearly as hard as it had been before at seventy, and with the faintest twist of his wingtips he eased out of the dive and shot above the waves, a gray cannonball under the moon.
   He closed his eyes to slits against the wind and rejoiced. A hundred forty miles per hour! And under control! If I dive from five thousand feet instead of two thousand, I wonder how fast …
(pg. 25)

   Jonathan is sure that his faster and more maneuverable flying techniques will be welcomed by his fellow gulls. Instead, he is outlawed by the Breakfast Flock for reckless irresponsibility without even being allowed to demonstrate his discovery:

   “Irresponsibility? My brothers!” he cried. “Who is more responsible than a gull who finds and follows a meaning, a higher purpose for life? For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads, but now we have a reason to live—to learn, to discover, to be free! Give me one chance, let me show you what I’ve found …” (pg. 35)

   Instead of being shattered by his ostracism, Jonathan takes advantage of his solitude to relentlessly learn to fly even faster and better. One day two ethereal gulls appear at his wingtips to take him to the next level of learning:

   “We’re from your Flock, Jonathan. We are your brothers.” The words were strong and calm. “We’ve come to take you higher, to take you home.” (pg. 46)

   “So this is heaven,” Jonathan assumes, reasonably enough. He gains an aerodynamically improved body with glowing white feathers:

   In the days that followed, Jonathan saw that there was as much to learn about flight in this place as there had been in the life behind him. But with a difference. Here were gulls who thought as he thought. For each of them, the most important thing in living was to reach out and touch perfection in that which they most loved to do, and that was to fly. They were magnificent birds, all of them, and they spent hour after hour every day practicing flight, testing advanced aeronautics. (pg. 53)

   But the truth is more complex, as he eventually learns from this Flock’s Elder Gull:

   “Chiang…” he said, a little nervously.
   The old seagull looked at him kindly. “Yes, my son?” Instead of being enfeebled by age, the Elder had been empowered by it; he could outfly any gull in the Flock, and he had learned skills that the others were only gradually coming to know.
   “Chiang, this world isn’t heaven at all, is it?”
   The Elder smiled in the moonlight. “You are learning again, Jonathan Seagull,” he said.
(pg. 55)

   Chiang teaches Jonathan that heaven is not a place, it is a state of perfection. When he has learned all about flying that there is to be learned—when he can instantly transport himself across the galaxy; when he can fly through solid mountains—then he will be nearer heaven:

   “We can start working with time if you wish,” Chiang said, “till you can fly the past and the future. And then you will be ready to begin the most difficult, the most powerful, the most fun of all. You will be ready to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and of love.” (pg. 60)

   When Chiang transmigrates to a higher plane, Jonathan takes his place as instructor to the newer arrivals in this place. But he becomes dissatisfied:

   As the days went past, Jonathan found himself thinking time and again of the Earth from which he had come. If he had known there just a tenth, just a hundredth, of what he knew here, how much more life would have meant! He stood on the sand and fell to wondering if there was a gull back there who might be struggling to break out of his limits, to see the meaning of flight beyond a way of travel to get a breadcrumb from a rowboat. Perhaps there might even have been one made Outcast for speaking his truth in the face of the Flock. (pg. 61)

   Jonathan flies through time and space back to Earth. He meets Fletcher Lynd Seagull, a gull like himself who had devoted himself to better flying and had been Outcast for it. Instead of just becoming Fletcher’s personal guru, however, Jonathan assembles a new flock of similar Outcasts and brings them back to practice on the outskirts of the Breakfast Flock where they cannot be ignored:

   “Well, sure, O.K., they’re Outcast,” said some of the younger gulls, “but hey, man, where did they learn to fly like that?” (pg. 78)

   The Elders may disapprove, but soon Jonathan has all of the younger gulls as his awed students:

   He spoke of very simple things—that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form.
   “Set aside,” came a voice from the multitude, “even if it be the Law of the Flock?”
   “The only true law is that which leads to freedom,” Jonathan said. “There is no other.”
(pg. 83)

   Bach’s metaphysical parable of self-improvement, love, and a pop-Oriental mysticism is so short—barely 9,800 words—that the book alternates double-page spreads of text with spreads of Russell Munson’s photographs of seagulls in flight. In some places there are four, six, or more pages of photographs between the text. It is a thin book, easily read and easy to read for its feel-good exuberance.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Closer to the Void: Ozy and Millie A Marriage of Insects New Technicolor Dreams
Kockroach A Doemain of Our Own: Shift Happens The Hero The Cat Master

Title: Closer to the Void: Ozy and Millie, 2006-2007
Creator: D. C. Simpson
Publisher: (Auburn, WA)/ (Raleigh, NC), Jul 2007
ISBN: 1-4303-2116-4
Trade paperback, 127 pages, USD $12.45

   This sixth collection of Simpson’s award-winning Internet Ozy and Millie comic strip, now ten years old, covers the two fox cubs’ adventures from January 2, 2006 to May 18, 2007. Reviews of the previous volumes can be read in Anthro #6 and #12, though I would be surprised if any of Anthro’s readers are not knowledgeable O&M fans already.
   If you are not, you should start with earlier volumes; say with Zen Again: Ozy and Millie, 2001-2002. That is the one in which Ozy’s dragon father, Mr. Llewellyn, declares the secession of their house in Seattle from the U.S. as the independent nation of Greater Llewellynland. Closer to the Void begins with President Bush sending Greater Llewellynland the most annoying ambassador he can find; a walrus who refuses to recognize Llewellyn because he does not believe in dragons, and who squats in Llewellyn’s moat and seems impervious to Millie’s best efforts to annoy him into leaving. Simpson identifies the walrus in his commentaries as a lampoon of walrus-mustached John Bolton, President Bush’s abrasive appointee as the U.S.’ representative to the United Nations who had made the confrontational statement that, “There is no such thing as the United Nations.” This was probably so obvious as to need no commentary in early 2006, but by late 2007 after over a year out of the headlines, it has become a visual gag that needs an explanation for future readers. Ah, the perils of topical humor! “Blame it on Wilbur!” (A now-forgotten Rube Goldbergism.)
   After finally getting rid of the walrus, and a brief contest between Ozy and Millie of insults in iambic pentameter, Llewellyn sends his ambassador to the U.S. (teen dragon Isolde) to Washington, D.C. with the two cubs as tagalong tourists, to get them out of the way while he battles with his local neighborhood association about building a geosynchronous orbital windmill. The most noteworthy storyline of this volume is the decision of Millie’s longstanding antagonist, sheep Felicia Laine, to turn Goth, as spectacularly as possible. When this is ruled to be against North Harbordale Elementary School’s regulations, Millie finds herself as a iconoclast forced to support her rival. Other new stories include Isolde’s making a documentary film about Ozy, Gray-Butt in Dragonland, for her college project; and Ozy & Millie’s class field trip to a strangely hands-on museum. Older continuing story sequences display new variations on raccoon Avery’s obsessive quest to achieve Coolness, Millie’s ongoing feud with Felicia, rabbit jock Jeremy Studley’s bullying of Ozy, Llewellyn’s tales of dragon history (dragons in the Wild West; Chinese dragon Ped Xing), and Isolde babysitting Ozy and Millie while their dragon and fox single-parents go out on a date.
   As before, Closer to the Void’s ‘workbook’ page size allows three newspaper-format daily comic strips per page, with brief one- to three-line commentaries per strip when Simpson feels like giving them. Actually, there are a lot of pages with only two strips plus a single-panel cartoon or appropriate image in the middle, such as Ozy and Millie sitting on a photograph of the Lincoln Memorial during their visit to Washington. Bonus new material for this volume includes a seven-page The ABCs of Ozy and Millie, a one-page A Zen Introduction, by Ozymandias J. Llewellyn (it’s blank), and a double-page spread in the middle of the book of full-figure portraits of the fifteen main characters in the strip. If you know Ozy and Millie (and who doesn’t?), you know that Closer to the Void is worth the $12.45 even if you already read these as they were published daily online.

Ozy and Millie strip for 2 Feb 2007

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Closer to the Void: Ozy and Millie A Marriage of Insects New Technicolor Dreams
Kockroach A Doemain of Our Own: Shift Happens The Hero The Cat Master

Title: A Marriage of Insects; a novel of the World Tree
Author: Bard Bloom
Publisher: Padwolf Publishing Inc. (Yulan, NY), Jul 2007
ISBN: 0-890096-36-9
Trade paperback, 193 pages, USD $15.00

   Nethry Chrestilium was not her name. She had put her real name aside when she started working among the monsters and wild folk. She knew that she would be doing things which most primes would call foolhardy or wicked, and she did not want her real name attached to them. So she had, in essence, folded it up and packed it away in a box at her parents’ house, wrapped in cheap silk, to pick up again when she retired.
    But her retirement was a long ways off—if it ever came. She knew quite well that for every colleague of hers who retired, three died at work. She worked in the most dangerous territory on the upper branches of the World Tree, outside the heavy walls of magic around the cities
[…] (pg. 5)

   The World Tree Role Playing Game was co-created by Bard Bloom (with Victoria Borah Bloom) in January 2001; it was a finalist in the Best Anthropomorphic Game category of the Ursa Major Awards that year. The World Tree’s branches are fifty miles wide and thousands long, and their flat upper sides are the home of civilization. (adv’t copy) Characters/players are divided among eight prime species; five mammalian, one of small dragons, one of floating cephalopods, and one insectile: The Herethroy (cricketfolk), peaceful and agrarian. The Herethroy are the main characters in this novel:

   Three hundred people strolled or sat, nibbled a dozen varieties of stuffed vegetables or conversed in the fashion of farmers everywhere about weather and crops and spells for storing vegetables or evicting pests. Their chitin shone like matte emeralds and sapphires in the dismal sunlight, and those that could afford it showed off inlay-work of copper or yulexion or gold. Everyone wore their best, for they were wealthy by farmers’ standards: tight-fitting silk embraced arms, legs, and the middle limbs that can serve as either. The co-lovers and some males wore confectionary painted leather hats rising between their many-jointed antennae, or short capes of painted lace, or tied glittering ribbons between each pair of knobs on their tails. The women dressed less flamboyantly but no less elegantly. (pg. 10)

   The wedding—a triad, uniting three members of the three-sexed crickets—is actually an arranged affair among the minor nobility between three infants. Boragette Norrow is at the age where the only thing of importance is stripping off all of zie’s clothing as fast as zie can. (‘Zie’ = a pronoun for neuters among creatures of more than two sexes.) Casamint Imbarr dashes about the wedding party crashing into the guests until his exasperated father levitates him above the crowd. Marjoram Rowns isn’t sure what marriage is, but is sure that she wants no part of one; she throws a temper tantrum until she exhausts herself.
   Thirty years pass.
   The newlyweds have grown up separated. Marjoram has become a warrior under the name Rajel, partnered with Arrhwy the Sleeth (a not-very-anthropomorphized intelligent panther) and Oostmarine the Orren (otter), until the latter is killed fighting a monster during one of their adventures. Rajel’s meeting with Oostmarine’s family at his melancholy funeral makes her dwell upon her own mostly-forgotten familial obligations:

   “Well, perhaps we could go back to Comblefree and let me try to track my mari and husband down? I’d rather like to meet them before some awful monster kills me. I can’t imagine that they’d be as sad as Oostmarine’s wives, but it might be nice if they’d at least noticed,” said Rajel. (pg. 19)

   Boragette is a successful farmer in nearby Dorly with a new lover, Chicory, while Casamint is an aspiring scholar of drama with a lover, Skirret, among his fellow students. They are not at all happy to receive notes from Rajel calling them home to honor their all-but-forgotten married state. After several days spent awkwardly in Comblefree, where the clannish farmers treat them as ‘foreigners’ more than as minor nobility, an offer of employment for Rajel and Arrhwy seems a solution to their problems:

   “[…] I wish to engage your services as travel guards,” writes the Rassimel (raccoon) enchanter Ilzatheinen, “from Lenkasia to a small village named Soohoon under the control of Byronny Meme, and, perhaps, to some of the cities of the Transwynt. This is not to be a dangerous trip; indeed, I am bringing my daughter […]” (pg. 47)
   Arrhwy shrugged. “Ilzatheinen brings his daughter. You bring your husband and mari.”
    Rajel raised her antennae. “Now there’s a thought. Not one of the three of us is having a good time in Comblefree … and I don’t think we’d do much better in anyone else’s town. Spending a bit of time together, without other Herethroy around to bully Boragette, doing something halfway intellectual to interest Casamint. Let me see if I can talk them into it.”

   So she can, and so they do. Naturally the nice, safe job turns out to be anything but, with surprises pleasant and unpleasant, betrayals, and deaths (but nothing permanent). Above all, this is a comedy of manners with exceedingly polite monsters, temples of hideous demon-gods that could rent themselves out as Hallowe’en amusement parks, and the most unbelievably exotic restaurants they could imagine in the most cosmopolitan city on the World Tree. Somehow everything relates to the travellers’ romantic entanglements: Rajel, Boragette, and Casamint fall into and out of love with each other in varying combinations; Arrhwy is cheerfully insulting to all; Chicory joins the party; and Nethry Chrestilium (remember her?), a Rassimel, gets unexpectedly involved with Ilzatheinen’s daughter Zallarilla. There are more bedroom histrionics than battles, and with all the combinations of sexes and species, it is hard to keep track of who’s on top:

   “I am reading about a disease called the thewks. It renders the victim’s bones flexible and elongated, and causes convulsions. Usually the victims tie themselves in knots and strangle.”
    “Oh. That doesn’t sound at all nice.”
    “No. It fits my mood of the day, at least.” He flattened his antennae. “Unfortunately, Rassimel are immune to it, and nearly everything else.” He glanced at Chicory. “Herethroy can’t get it either, or I might take you up on your offer. At least, if you sampled it first.”
    Chicory took a step back. “Um, no. I wasn’t talking about anything like that, Casamint.”
    He shrugged. “Perhaps you should have been. I’m sure it would please me better than whatever you are going to talk about.”
    She peered at him closely. “I’m proposing marriage to you. Not talking about diseases.”
    “I can’t say which one I prefer to talk about with you. For that matter, I can’t say which one I’d prefer to have.”
(pg. 148)

   A Marriage of Insects is full of witty turns of phrases…

   In ancient times, the goddess Lenhirrik might have claimed it as her personal territory, never to be civilized. The goddess had been a motionless wooden statue for decades for unknown reasons, but no sensible prime would gamble that she would stay that way. (pg. 5)

   …and beautiful descriptions of magical landscapes:

   A Flattering Wind was an elegant airship: a circular house of white wood, three stories tall, with four gleaming cupolas on top. She flew gracefully, pouring through the dawn air, just as though the gods had intended all houses to fly and only by laziness did most of them stay on the ground. She stopped, floating thirty feet over the middle of Comblefree. (pg. 50)

   At first its frequent usage of World Tree terminology (A nycathath can do much more with one cley than any prime can…) will continuously send the reader to the Glossary at the back of the book, but one quickly picks up the needed vocabulary; and this does make the whole setting much more original and exotic than the usual anthropomorphic novel which merely features a furry cast in a mundane setting.
   At the end, as in all the best comedies of manners, true love prevails—whatever that may turn out to be in this world. See Maggie Hogarth’s delightful cover painting for portraits of Rajel, the tall, silvery warrior-wife; Boragette, the rose mari; and Casamint, the golden husband.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Closer to the Void: Ozy and Millie A Marriage of Insects New Technicolor Dreams
Kockroach A Doemain of Our Own: Shift Happens The Hero The Cat Master

Title: New Technicolor Dreams
Author: Will A. Sanborn
Illustrators: S. M. Bittler (‘Synnabar’), Heather Bruton, Bernard Doove, Scott Fabianek, Tim Johnson (‘Ravenwolf’), ‘Melskunk’, Cara Mitten, Kacey Miyagami, Sara ‘Caribou’ Palmer
Publisher: WAS1 Productions (Amherst, NH)/ (Raleigh, NC), Nov 2007
ISBN: 978-1434821836
Trade paperback, 317 pages, USD $19.95

   Will A. Sanborn has been one of the most prolific writers in furry fandom since he discovered it in 1992. He has made a habit of writing stories for furry convention souvenir books during the past decade, and was author guest of honor at Midwest FurFest in 2007. His two stories for the MFF 2007 Program Book are the last two stories in New Technicolor Dreams.
   The back cover blurb refers to “This updated and expanded collection”. This trade paperback contains all of the stories and poems in Sanborn’s first two collections, Technicolor Dreams (Sofawolf Press, January 2000) and Further Dreams (Sofawolf Press, June 2000), plus over a dozen written since then. Those were Sofawolf’s first ‘books’, published in a fanzine format, so New Technicolor Dreams can be considered Sanborn’s first ‘real book’ collection of his (non-erotic) short works; fifty stories and ten poems. Many appeared first in such printed fanzines as FurryPhile; South Fur Lands; FurVision; Fang, Claw, & Steel; and Historimorphs, or on various websites; and have been revised since.
   Calling the prose pieces ‘stories’ is an exaggeration in many cases. Some are only two or three pages long; more mood scenes than real stories. Sanborn refers to them in introductions as ‘vignettes’ or as writing experiments. Even the actual stories, seven to fifteen pages, often read more like short excerpts from longer works. However, each is thematically a complete work, ending with an emotionally satisfactory resolution.
   The sixty stories and poems are about 2/3 furry, starring anthropomorphized animals alone or with humans. The remaining 1/3 are mostly fantasies with vampires or human ghosts. Seven stories, influenced by the s-f of Australian fan author Bernard Doove, feature Doove’s feline centauroid alien Chakats or Sanborn’s non-centauroid version of them, the Rrakith. These s-f vignettes focus upon the first friendly meetings of the humans and feline aliens, and their getting to know each other, especially exploring (through clinical discussions) the differences between the humans’ bisexual and the aliens’ hermaphroditic biologies. A representative example is Comparisons and Common Ground (six pages), in which human interstellar explorer Susan and her new Rrakith friend Vashi discuss their respective faiths; Judaism and the Rrakiths’ planetwide matriarchal religion. The story is a pleasant exercise in Talking Heads; a nice interstellar First Contact mood piece with no drama or action.
   Sanborn’s introduction to The Tailor and the Princess: A Fairy Tale, one of the longer stories which begins with the traditional ‘Once upon a time’, explains that, This story was an experiment with writing in the fairy-tale form, with some 90’s sensibilities (p. 57). In a sense all of Sanborn’s fiction can be described as fairy-tale-like. Those that are not outright fairy tales are based on the most popularized versions of fantasy lore, such as the vampire stories which follow movie stereotypes. A typical science-fiction story is Learning to Fly, narrated by Will, a recent human immigrant to the planet of the Somani, feline humanoids with large batlike wings. After enviously watching the Somani soar through their skies for several weeks, Will asks a friendly Somani scientist to graft wings upon him so he may fully fit into his adopted homeworld with his new Somani girlfriend. Aside from being a piece of blatant wish-fulfillment, the story makes no attempt to rationalize the square-cube impossibility of a human (or human-sized cat-people) being able to fly with bat wings, or to describe the differences in architecture, furniture, clothing, etc. that a civilization with a large wingspread would necessitate beyond a superficial, Every seat, table, doorway, couch and bed, was larger than its terran counterpart to accommodate their expansive wings. (p. 28)
   The contents are arranged chronologically, which means that the writing gets better the farther into the book one reads. Most of the space opera stories, such as Send Lawyers, Guns and Money which begins with a rat policeman locking up a drunken coyote playboy on a planet in a galactic civilization, have no more scientific basis than any furry interstellar adventures. One of the better, more poignant s-f stories is The Satisfied Mind, in which Dale, a human computer researcher, falls in love with Jessica, the raccoon girl in the virtual furry world that he has developed, or at least feels an obligation toward such a complex and aware artificial intelligence that he cannot just shut her down when he advances beyond the project. My own favorite tale is the sardonic modern Aesopian fable Mice Election, about mice voting for which of two cat politicians to lead them. “Don’t you see this is madness?!” came the voice from a lone mouse amongst the crowd. “We’ll always be under their control and on their dinner plates, until we stop electing cats. We mice need to rule ourselves!” (p. 305) He is laughed at by the other mice for asking them to waste their votes on some independent with no hope of winning, rather than on one of the two major established predators who are bound to win.
   Most of the sixty stories and poems are illustrated, either with the drawings with which they were first published or with new cartoons from one of Sanborn’s numerous artist friends. Readers who have been in furry fandom for any amount of time will recognize some of these from various fanzines and convention program books during the past fifteen years. Sanborn has been a familiar name among furry fandom’s writers, and New Technicolor Dreams gathers all of his best stories into one handy volume.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Closer to the Void: Ozy and Millie A Marriage of Insects New Technicolor Dreams
Kockroach A Doemain of Our Own: Shift Happens The Hero The Cat Master

Title: Kockroach
Author: Tyler Knox
Publisher: William Morrow (NYC), Jan 2007
ISBN: 0-06-114333-2
Hardcover, 356 pages, USD $23.95

   As Kockroach, an arthropod of the genus Blatella and of the species germanica, awakens one morning from a typically dreamless sleep, he finds himself transformed into some large, vile creature. (pg. 3)

   This opening sentence is an obvious parody of the beginning of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” Kockroach is a reversal of that story. If the novel has a point other than presenting a reversal of Kafka’s man-into-insect transformation scenario, it is to show that a cockroach—an evolutionary survivor for hundreds of millions of years—will survive much better as a human than a human can as a cockroach*.
   Kockroach awakens in a human body in a sleazy hotel near Manhattan’s rundown Times Square of the 1950s. He does not know what happened to him, but he is determined not to let it change his basic nature:

   He won’t let this strange molt ruin him. He will stay true to the purity of the instincts that have guided him safely through the earlier stages of his life. Whatever has happened, whatever will happen in the future, he will forever remain a cockroach. (pgs. 6-7)

   He will adapt, he is a cockroach. (pg. 7)

   Scrabbling into the streets, clothing himself to mimic the pale, soft creatures around him, he scrounges for food in garbage cans until he is discovered by a self-professed pathetic loser named Mickey Pimelia, disparagingly called the Mighty Mite for his short stature. Mite senses something in the strange man, as he tells a news reporter twenty years later:

   “He wasn’t the Boss then, just a Joe on the street, but there was something about him that caught my eye from the start. […] His voice was strangely high, almost twittering, but with a deep rumbling undertone. To hear him speak was to hear two men who disliked each other talking at once, one munchkin, one gargantuan, two separate voices harmonizing badly. I looked at him as he continued to stare upward and realized, quite suddenly, that he was either a total nutjob or maybe the coolest, hippest cat on the Square, dropping on me a boatload of jazzman jive I hadn’t yet cottoned to.” (pgs. 42-43)

   Mite decides that the unique man is his ticket to success in the cutthroat world of New York’s underworld syndicates. Cleaning him up and giving him the name Jerry Blatta, Mite introduces Blatta to the Abagados crime family as his partner, a ruthless enforcer. Blatta is, because cockroaches know no mercy. He accepts Mite as the only human he can trust, because Mite needs him, understands his needs, will do anything to help him satisfy those needs:

   Rams butt heads over ewes, mustangs rear at one another for the right to mount mares. All animals fight over territory, battle over mating rights, struggle claw and breath for sheer superiority. It is the natural order of things for the strongest of a colony to impose his strength upon the others. Kockroach looks around himself, sees the little man, the injured predator human, remembers all those he has passed in the street. Maybe he is stronger than other humans. Delicious possibilities begin to open to him. (pg. 54)

   Kockroach is arguably not an anthropomorphic novel, is its opposite because it features only humans. It is about what it means to be human. But it shows that to be human is little different than to be a cockroach, and that one who is already a cockroach at heart is the natural winner of that game:

   Greed is the second strongest of all cockroach emotions. His incessant hunger is merely a manifestation of his boundless greed, for a cockroach always hungers, always, even with its belly full and its uric acid spent. To see something is to want it, a speck of starch, a drop of water, a shed plate of chitin, a cozy hiding place, a female rising on her hind legs, to see something is to want it, need it, got to have it. But a cockroach’s greed has boundaries, a cockroach’s view is necessarily limited by its height and size, the narrowness of its territory. How much more can a human desire with its better viewpoint, its stronger eyes, its ability to traverse great breadths of territory. (pg. 168)

   The first chapter describes Kockroach’s awakening in a human body in the 1950s. The second chapter introduces the Mite twenty years later as Kockroach’s fixer, when Kockroach is a top political behind-the-scenes manipulator. Most of the novel is Mite’s flashback tale of how Kockroach and he got there, or rather of how Kockroach got there dragging Mite along. The reader can connect scenes to see how Kockroach has subtly influenced American politics, from his retaining cockroach characteristics while learning to walk as a human in the early ‘50s:

   He leans back, his weight to the right as he steps forward with his left leg, his right arm rising reflexively with the step, two digits of his right claw pointing up in the shape of a V, like the pincers of the cockroach claw. Then his weight shifts to the left as his right leg steps, left arm rising, two digits of his left claw shaping the V. (pgs. 8-9)

   to 1972:

   “In fact, you know that thing he does, the president I mean, his two arms raised, two fingers of each hand in the air, that thing? He got that from the Boss, from the queer way the Boss walks. ‘I like that,’ he says when he spied the Boss in the back of some hotel ballroom. ‘That’s good.’ Next thing we knows the president, he’s up on the stage, shoulders hunched, arms raised, doing his imitation of the Boss.” (pg. 25)

   Kockroach is a darkly satirical novel about humans being human, dominated by one human who never forgets what it is like to be a cockroach:

   In the crevice beneath the stove he sees two more softly waving strands, and then two more and then twelve more. One by one the cockroaches emerge, one by one, one by one by one, from under the stove, from a crevice in the corner, through the holes in the wooden floorboards of the dining room, dropping like a battalion of airborne from the ceiling, they stream forward in a great army, scurrying madly now to the feast. The floor itself is alive with their frantic race.
   “There is plenty, my brothers,” he whispers.
(pg. 182)

   *It should be remembered that Gregor Samsa had the insurmountable handicap of becoming not a normal insect, but a human-sized one. Franz Kafka objected vehemently during his lifetime to identifying Gregor Samsa as a cockroach or any other specific insect. He was meant to represent a generic insect; any and all hard-shelled arthropods.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Closer to the Void: Ozy and Millie A Marriage of Insects New Technicolor Dreams
Kockroach A Doemain of Our Own: Shift Happens The Hero The Cat Master

Title: A Doemain of Our Own. Vol. 2, Shift Happens
Creator: Susan Rankin
Publisher: Spit-Take Studios (Santa Clara, CA), Jul 2007
ISBN: 978-0-9748915-1-4
Trade paperback, 124 pages, USD $12.95

   Internet comic strips tend to start out with great promise, but many find it difficult to keep publishing. The Belfry WebComics Index lists over a thousand strips in its Inactive and Lost categories.
   Susan Rankin’s A Doemain of Our Own is notable for its perseverance through hardships that would have sent many other strips to the graveyard. It began as a humorous strip intended by the newlywed Rankin to portray herself and her computer-programmer husband as deer, Sue and Eric Buckland, in gags or light fantasy adventures roughly based on their real-life situations; featuring jokes themed around their anthropomorphized nature such as Eric’s growing antlers or Sue’s winter fur growing so thick she could trim it into a poodle cut. The first situation that could not be turned into humor were Sue’s medical problems that made having children impossible. These were covered in the first volume (reviewed in Anthro #7) that collected the strip from its beginning in April 1999 to the end of July 2002.
   Shift Happens, volume 2, is in the same two strips per page, 7" x 5" format as volume 1. It contains A Doemain of Our Own from August 2, 2002 to November 22, 2005. If that sounds like a broad time-range to pack into one book, it is because the strip was progressing slowly and sporadically. There were more health problems, and a major ‘shift’ after a three-month gap in mid-2004 that ended the previous storyline. As Rankin says in her Introduction, “… I apologize if, at a certain point, something that occurs is not to your liking. But real life is real life, and when one has based a comic on same-said, things can sometimes take a turn that one didn’t expect and one must find a way to deal with it without stepping in two.” Basically, a little over halfway through this volume, Susan and Eric were divorced. This forced her to remove him and the characters based on his personal friends from the story continuity. Fortunately, Sue had plenty of friends of her own (plus two of her pet cats, who appeared as background characters in vol. 1) to carry on with.
   Vol. 1 ended with Sue’s discovery that, as the child of a deer father and a cougar mother, she was developing some feline instincts including a taste for meat as well as vegetation. Eric is supportive of her exploring her new urges including entering an online feline chat room. Shift Happens begins with Sue’s first real life meeting with her new online friends, notably Bennie, a tiger. Things go well although Eric, as a prey animal, is nervous around so many pure carnivores. The medication Sue takes for her gynecological problems that “MAY [cause] SOME minor, but certainly reversible, side effects like a SLIGHT deepening of the voice, a little bit of facial hair, etc.”, has the anthropomorphic effect of causing her to grow antler buds. Sue and her cat pal Roxi (a guest appearance of John Barrett’s character) go to an anime convention; an excuse for both anime con and airplane travel gags. The computer company where Eric works has serious financial problems, forcing the layoff of all his friends (who disappear from the strip) and his decision to change jobs, leading to job interview gags. New neighbors move across the street, the male couple Vinci (raccoon) and Arty (leopard-like fictional feline), at first just guest appearances from the new (February 2003) Vinci & Arty webcomic by Candy & Ryan Dewalt, but soon becoming regulars with lots of gags built around Vinci’s horrible culinary non-skills. (The Foreword to Shift Happens is by Vinci.) Sue’s annual winter cold turns into a Yuletide glowing-nose/Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sequence.
   After the continuity break and Eric’s disappearance, Sue (with two of her cats, Gwynn and Ginger, who appear more prominently in active roles) moves back in with her parents and takes back her maiden name of Hartland. Sue goes to a flower show with Bennie, where they run into Vinci and Arty. Vinci comes on to the hunky Bennie, sending strong vibes that he is also gay; despite this, an action sequence with Sue and Bennie ends the flower show and the collection with the implication that Bennie will become the new main male in Sue’s life.
   As with the first collection, not everything from the website between August 2002 and November 2005 is here. Rankin has dropped the many out-of-continuity guest cartoons and sketches by herself, friends and fans that were printed as filler during her illnesses and other breaks. The result is that Shift Happens is much more tightly-plotted and coherent than the same range of postings on the strip’s website during this period. If you liked volume 1, you have to get Shift Happens! (If you have not read volume 1 yet, start with it.) Rankin announced in late 2007 that she will change to a comic book format soon, so there may be only one further collection of A Doemain of Our Own in its comic strip format.

A DOEMAIN OF OUR OWN strip for 9 Aug 2K2
A Doemain of Our Own strip for 9 Aug 2002

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Closer to the Void: Ozy and Millie A Marriage of Insects New Technicolor Dreams
Kockroach A Doemain of Our Own: Shift Happens The Hero The Cat Master

Cover of THE HERO
Title: The Hero
Author: Teiran
Illustrators: Ayame Emaya, Kamui, and Satinka
Publisher: Bad Dog Books (Amsterdam)/ (Raleigh, NC), Jul 2007
ISBN: 978-90-79082-03-2
Trade paperback, 264 pages, USD $19.95

   The Hero is on sale at the FurNation website with a NC-17 rating. Author Teiran (named Teiran Dragon on the Bad Dog Books website) says in his Foreword that it was first submitted in shorter form for Bad Dog’s FANG series of anthologies of modern gay erotic furry fiction. It was rejected for being too long to fit with FANG’s short stories, but Bad Dog publisher Alex Vance recommended that Teiran expand the story to novel length. Here it is, as a standalone book.
   The Hero takes place in a furry Dungeons & Dragons world; Teiran dedicates the story to Gary Gygax, and all the others who made Dungeons & Dragons possible. They sparked my imagination many years ago … (p. 3) A party of five adventurers, Aldain the wolf knight, Father Tully the otter cleric, Lord Trenton the fox wizard, Will the jackal thief, and Tigh the bear barbarian, stop for dinner at the small forest village inn where Flint, a naïve adolescent hyena, is the kitchen and stable boy.
   Flint has always hero-worshipped the Knights of the Cross from the stories told about them:

   The wolf was a Knight of the Cross; he had to be. He was wearing a suit of silvery chain mail that seemed to glimmer even in the fading light, and it was the most intricate armor Flint had ever seen on a traveler. The Prophet’s Cross, the symbol of the land’s largest religion, had even been worked into the armor with gold-colored chain links. No man would wear armor like that unless he were a true Knight of the Cross.”
   The Knights of the Cross were the land’s most fearsome warriors, holy men who swept evil from the dark places of the world and defended the innocent. Flint had heard all the stories about the Knights from the village boys. It had been a knight who foiled the plot to assassinate King Lawrence. A knight had slain the great dragon that had threatened the city of Feydowns with destruction. A knight had uncovered the murderous thieves’ guild in the Port of Dawn and destroyed their leader, the High Priest of Shin-do, god of thieves. Whenever some danger faced the kingdom, it was a Prophet’s greatest servants who rode to the rescue. (pgs. 14-15)

   The ‘adventurers’ are returning after having wiped out a den of foul necromancers and zombies. Unfortunately, they had not been as thorough as they thought, and the last necromancer has followed them. He attacks the whole village of East Haven with an army of rotting zombies which the adventurers interrupt their dinner to annihilate. Flint is thrilled to have been personally rescued by such a handsome knight:

   The wolf looked down at Flint for only a moment, and his dark eyes met Flint’s. The hyena stared up into those concerned eyes and felt a swell of heat in his face as he blushed. He couldn’t explain it, but the way the wolf looked at him, the way he stood there protecting him, his presence made Flint feel so very small and yet so very safe. The wolf moved away from Flint as he jogged out into the main street, his tail waving in the air as he shouted for his friends to join him in battle. (p. 34)

   Aldain knows that he should not take advantage of his hero-worshipper, but he cannot help himself:

   It had been a long while since Aldain had last done anything about it, but the wolf’s feelings for males never truly went away. The wolf had tried hard to follow the teachings of his faith, and view the things he felt as the whispers of demons in his ears. The church was quite clear about how wrong and vile lying with another male was, but right now Flint was making Aldain’s loins stir in a way he had not felt in a long time.
   The boy was being so obvious about his attraction to the wolf, but so shy at the same time. It was sweet in a way and very cute, and the hyena’s bright green eyes looked up at him with such admiration and desire it made the older wolf forget about everything else.
(p. 51)

   This leads directly to an eighteen-page concentrated steamy homosexual tryst between the wolf knight and the hyena kitchen boy. The next morning, Flint wants to follow Aldain forever, but the knight does not want to lead the callow lad into danger. He persuades Flint to remain in the safety of East Haven. However, the two were not as discreet in their tryst as they had imagined, and within hours of the adventurers’ departure, Flint is run out of his lifelong home as a damned pervert. He does not really mind because this means that he can join Aldain.
   It is when Flint catches up with the band of adventurers in a meeting so enthusiastic that Aldain is publicly ‘outed’ that the real story starts. One of the five is an intolerant zealot who demands that the Knights of the Cross enforce their strict rules against homosexuals: Death to both Aldain and Flint. Two others of the five try to protect Flint (and have sex with him themselves) while Aldain defends himself in what is soon revealed as a plot within the Prophet’s church to destroy the whole order of the Knights.
   As an adventure story built around a theme of gay eroticism, The Hero is adequate, although the action is interrupted by several overly-lengthy sex scenes. However, the word ‘naïve’ seems applicable to both Flint and Teiran. The blurb on the Bad Dog website says, “Teiran doesn’t feel the need to prove himself by being clever or unique; he earns his spurs by treading along the road well-trodden, and doing a proud and confident job of it.” Better writing would have helped make this something more than a collection of Dungeons & Dragons stereotypes. ‘A knight in shining armor’ usually refers to a suit of well-polished plate armor. When the shining armor is described as glowing chain mail, that could be very imaginative—but it reads more like a misunderstanding of the phrase. I have not read that much D&D fiction, but I do not recall even the proud Knights of Solamnia as wearing their armor at all times except when bathing or in similar personal moments. Teiran describes the Knights of the Cross both as spending their lives fighting evil as required by their oaths to the Prophet, and as joining with other D&D stereotypes—a priest, a wizard, a thief, etc—to form a band of ‘adventurers’. The standard definition of adventurers is a group that bands together for mutual profit, yet all the adventurers in The Hero seem to wander throughout the land battling evil just for the fun of it. There is no mention of their ever looking for treasure or being rewarded by any authorities for their good deeds. Flint, for a nineteen-year-old farmboy, seems incredibly naïve about sex of any kind. In fact, most of the characters comment on his unusual innocence. But if there is something supernatural about this, it is not revealed in the story; Flint appears to be more simple-minded than anything else.
   Naïvété might also describe the highly annoying surplus of spelling errors or missing words throughout the book. Some examples are “the hideously carvings” (pg. 8), “had preformed the divination ceremony” (pg. 10), “They could all just [be] friends” (pg. 24), “the movement [had] torn open” (pg. 45), and “performed last rights” [should be ‘rites’] (pg. 224). The word ‘adventurers’ is misspelled as ‘adventures’ about 50% of the time. The Hero is a nice piece of book packaging, enhanced by many full-page illustrations including a couple of double-page spreads. But it looks as though both Teiran and Bad Dog Books, as well as Flint, need to get a lot more experience.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Closer to the Void: Ozy and Millie A Marriage of Insects New Technicolor Dreams
Kockroach A Doemain of Our Own: Shift Happens The Hero The Cat Master

Title: The Cat Master
Author: Bonnie Pemberton
Illustrator: Lisa Falkenstern
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish (Tarrytown, NY), Apr 2007
ISBN: 0-7614-5340-7
Hardcover, 259 pages, USD $16.99

   If you just can’t get enough adventure quests featuring feral cats, you may enjoy The Cat Master. It reads like a simplified version of Williams’ Tailchaser’s Song, King’s The Wild Road, Hunter’s Warriors series, Said’s Varjak Paw series, or DiGenti’s Windrusher books, among others, but it makes a pleasant if comparatively bland addition to their ranks.
   The tale begins with the scene-setting death by old age of The Cat Master, in an alley in a Texas city eventually identified as Fort Worth. As spiritual leader of his species, he had given thousands of felines hope and courage in their times of need. […] As a simple Feral, he’d been frightened by his anointed role as the great leader and unsure if he was truly qualified to serve. But the natural world had hummed with animal telepathy, and Mother Wind, who watched over all creatures, had led his mind through the noise, teaching him to decipher only felines’ cries for help and insight. (pgs. 1-2) He is troubled, not by his approaching death, but by the hostility that has been recently growing between the Ferals and the Indoors, the cats who live easy lives with human protectors. At least his lineage had produced a worthy successor. He thought of the last litter he’d sired only three years before. Two of the males had impressed him. Both were strong, fearless, and intelligent, but only one had shown compassion and humility as well. (pg. 2) The dying Cat Master tries to telepathically notify the good son that he is his chosen successor, but suddenly, another mind slithered between him and his heir; one so evil and full of rage that it wrenched them apart. (pgs. 2-3) Not only does the good Buddy not know that he is the rightful new Cat Master, but his evil brother, Jett, plans to eliminate him before he can find out.
   Buddy, a marmalade Feral who had been rescued and befriended by a human child, has become a pampered Indoor in the home of The Boy, along with two spoiled young cats; Pris, a female calico and Zekki, a white male. Buddy has been a patient single parent to them:

   The white cat turned in frustration. “I don’t care if I get declawed. I’m an Indoor, remember? We don’t get to do anything, anyway.”
   Buddy sighed. All indoor cats went through a period of longing for the outdoors, or Outs, as they called it, but usually it passed. For Zekki it hadn’t
   “We don’t choose our destiny,” Buddy said softly, “All animals have instinctual knowledge of humans and their world, but Indoors are much more informed than Ferals. We have television, radio, food, protection—”
(pg. 6)

   But not for long, if Jett has anything to do about it. The scarred giant gray tabby’s position should be secure, since nobody knows that the old Cat Master had named his successor. Also, The Law plainly said that only a Feral could be named as Cat Master, and Buddy was definitely no longer feral. […] In three days the Cat Master’s coronation would take place at The Gathering. If Buddy didn’t appear, Jett would automatically ascend as the last surviving male in the old Master’s final litter. (pgs. 10-11) But Jett plans to make sure his coronation is unquestioned by luring Buddy to The Gathering and publicly ridiculing him in front of all the other cats. Jett tricks Pris and Zekki into following him away from the house while Buddy is at the vet’s, knowing that Buddy will come to rescue them.
   Other talking characters encountered by either Buddy on his quest for the missing feline teens, or by Pris and Zekki during their adventure in the Outs—which does not remain fun-filled for long—include Orie, a boastful yet cowardly lizard who lives in the crawl space under their house; Soot, a timid black alley cat and his mother Ahn-ya, a feral tortoiseshell who had been the mate of Buddy; Tenba, the half-blind motherly German shepherd next door; Shan Dara the Siamese cat and Frank the miniature Dachshund, pets who live a few blocks away; a nameless possum; two feisty mockingbirds; and a psychotic stray chow mix that is a serial killer of smaller cats and dogs. Some appear in brief scenes scattered throughout the story, while others join Buddy or one of the missing adolescents (Pris and Zekki become separated and have individual adventures) to become full participants in the quest. Human menaces are Curt and Judy, two trigger-happy Animal Control officers assigned to look for Buddy and Shan Dara who plan to kill them on sight rather than capture them.
   The Cat Master is recommended for readers aged 9 to 12, but Pemberton says on her website that she considers it “a young adult/adult crossover book” for all ages. I disagree; it is strictly for juveniles. Tailchaser’s Song, The Wild Road, Windrusher, etc. all involve truly dramatic quests of hundreds of miles or into realms of horrific supernatural evil, while The Cat Master takes place within a few blocks of Fort Worth. Compared to the Tolkienesque villains of the aforementioned novels, Jett comes across as a nasty but pathetic loser. The menaces faced by the sympathetic Buddy and his supporting cast are more like brief inconveniences, or turn out to be of a comedy relief nature (such as the “let’s kill ’em instead of rescuing ’em” bumbling Animal Control officers, who seem to have studied under the Three Stooges). The novel never explains why The Cat Master, who apparently rules all the cats in the world, should be chosen by just the feral cats of Fort Worth, Texas, assembled on a golf course; and the constant supernatural assistance given by the divine Mother Wind to Buddy and his friends makes it clear that none of them will ever succumb to any of the menaces that threaten them. The animal language and religion shown here are among the weakest of Watership Down-imitations.
   The novel’s strong points are some of its more memorably humorous supporting characters. There are Orie, the self-centered alligator lizard who is in a constant state of mordant panic:

   The lizard frowned, reached one clawed foot behind his body as if searching for something, then froze. Swiveling his neck, he stared at his back. “It’s gone!” he screamed. “It’s gone, gone --!”
   “Calm down! Stop!” Buddy interrupted. “It’s okay, everything’s all right. Your tail sort of got … broken off, remember? I think you put it under the cap.”
   Orie gaped, sides heaving with emotion. “Right, right, I knew that.”
(pg. 58)

   The anonymous possum who plays dead at the most inconvenient times, and will eat anything:

   Zekki shrank as far from the long pointed snout as possible. “What—what are you?”
   “Possum,” the animal answered amiably. Backing into the open, he shambled to the remains of the hamburger and looked up. “So, are you gonna eat that?”
   “What? No.” Zekki said.
   Gobbling the meat, the creature focused on the bread. “How about this? You gonna eat this?”
   The possum nudged a pickle. “How about this?”
   “No! No! Eat the whole thing!” Zekki shouted, scrunching further into the shadows.
   The visitor happily obliged, scarfing french fries, lettuce, and finally a portion of the paper bag. Belching with satisfaction, he squatted by the dumpster, waiting.
(pg. 101)

   And Frank, the horny (“Hang on, Fräulein, here comes Daddy!”) weiner dog:

   The hair on the little dog’s back bristled, and his tail was straight and still. “A female,” he mumbled.
   “Frank,” Shan Dara said, “you know what happened last time. The stitches? The blood?”
   “I love German shepherds.”
   “But they’re too big!” she wailed.
   “I love them big,” Frank said, beginning to pant. “And more importantly—” he pawed the floor like a bull—“they love me!” With a lusty yelp, he shot into the kitchen, stubby legs scrambling on the linoleum, and hurled toward the screen door like a rocket. His compact body hit the panel with a thump, and the wires pushed outward. Eyes glittering, he prepared for a second try. “I can’t help myself. Those big, Teutonic types just kill me!”
(pgs. 67-68)

   Another plus is the attractive illustrations by Lisa Falkenstern, full-color portraits of the cast. Instead of being scattered throughout the story, they are all upon the front and rear endpapers of the book.
   The Cat Master seems best designed, like Erin Hunter’s Warriors series, to introduce Young Adult readers to feral-cat fantasy-adventure novels before they advance to the more seriously dramatic adult titles. Older readers may enjoy it despite its lightweight-by-comparison nature.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Closer to the Void: Ozy and Millie A Marriage of Insects New Technicolor Dreams
Kockroach A Doemain of Our Own: Shift Happens The Hero The Cat Master

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

Home -=- #16 -=- ANTHRO #16 Reviews
-= ANTHRO =-