ANTHRO's index of anthropomorphic literature

The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten

Note: This is a fraction of the entire listing. If you’re on broadband, you might want to try the high speed version instead.

   Welcome to the “Patten’s reviews” wing of the Anthro Library! Since this is a collection of columns from a dormant (if not dead) furzine called YARF!, a word of explanation might be helpful: In its day, YARF! (aka ‘The Journal of Applied Anthropomorphics’) was perhaps the best-known—and best in quality—of furry zines. Started in 1990 by Jeff Ferris, YARF!’s roster of contributors reads like a Who’s Who of furdom in the last decade of the 20th Century. In any issue, the zine’s readers could expect to enjoy work by the likes of Monika Livingstone, Watts Martin, Ken Pick, and Terrie Smith; furry comic strips such as Mark Stanley’s Freefall and Fred Patten’s reviews of furry books and comics.
   Unfortunately, YARF! has been thoroughly inactive since its 69th issue, which was released in September 2003. We can’t say whether YARF! will ever rise again… but at least we can prevent its reviews from falling into disremembered oblivion. And so, with the active cooperation of Mr. Patten, Anthro is proud to present Mr. Patten’s review columns—including the final one, which would have appeared in the never-printed YARF! #70.

Full disclosure: For each reviewed item, we’ve provided links you can use to check which of four different online booksellers—, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and Powell’s Bookstore—now has it in stock. Presuming the item in question is available, if you buy it Anthro gets a small percentage of the price.

by issue
by title

YARF! logo
#18-9 / Jan 1992

2007 note: #18-19 was the only combined issue of YARF!

Cover of K-9 CORPS, by Kenneth Von Gunden
Title: K-9 Corps
Author: Kenneth Von Gunden

Ace Books (New York, NY), Feb 1991

ISBN: 0-441-09128-8

229 pages, $3.95

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   They are the best freelance space scouts in the galaxy; genetically altered dogs with enhanced senses and the gift of speech. They are Beowulf, Grendel, Momma-san, Anson, Ozma, Littlejohn, Frodo, Sinbad and Pandora—and they will stand beside Ray Larkin, their human leader, against any danger. Anywhere. At any cost. They are the K-9 Corps. (back cover blurb)

   This first volume in a new series of galactic exploration-team adventure novels is enjoyable reading. Ray and his talking scout dogs (shown in Jim Thiesen’s cover painting as Great Danes or Mastiffs, although Von Gunden avoids describing them except to frequently refer to them as “huge” or “immense”) are intelligent and likeable. So is almost everyone else except for the villains. The story reeks with macho good fellowship, dramatic action against the ferocious wildlife of frontier planets, and trailblazer versus bureaucrat conflict. A reference to telepathic smaller and more independent scout cats that served with special teams (pg. 81) hints at other anthropomorphic characters who may be introduced in the sequels.
   The writing and the action are generally good, on a scene by scene basis. The overall story, unfortunately, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Ray and his nine dogs are one of a number of scout teams that hire their services to corporations or to the Federation’s Planetary Colonization Bureau, to check out newly-discovered worlds and to verify whether they are suitable for terraforming and human settlement. It is implied that humans (and their bioengineered dogs and cats) are the only intelligent life in the known galaxy. Ray and his pals, and several more scout teams—a total of 137 explorers and scientists—are disturbed at the beginning of their new assignment because their contract to investigate Chiron virtually orders them to ‘discover’ that the planet has no intelligent life, and to ignore all evidence to the contrary. (Saying Dances With Wolves should let you guess the rest of the story.) Okay, this assumes that the government would be naïve enough to expect scientists and explorers—notoriously anti-authoritarian types—to “not notice” intelligent natives just because they’ve been ordered not to, even when the natives are throwing spears at them and trying to burn their base camps. Actually, the government isn’t that naïve, because it’s posted a military commando team to liquidate any explorer who disobeys the orders and mentions natives in his reports. Presumably the other scouts won’t notice this, or will blame the natives who they aren’t supposed to have noticed. Hmmm, just what kind of place is this Federation? Well, despite being a single galactic government with no apparent enemies, it seems to be heavily armed. Why? The military has to defend itself against the judiciary, while the judiciary has secret agents licensed to kill who are spying on the military, and both are scared to death of the executive… It’s an interesting galaxy, as long as you don’t mind some big lapses in logic.
   There’s one that relates directly to the dogs. Although they are described as equal in intelligence to humans—and Von Gunden does a fine job of showing them to be that smart, yet still possessing canine personality traits which make them distinct from humans—they all talk in a mild Bizarro English. “If Ray say so, we work with them, sure enuff.” “What we do?” “Is fun to chase antelopes once more.” “No, I on way to see Ray when saw you here. Thought I tell you first.” This leads to a touching moment on the next-to-last page when the dogs ask Ray to teach them better English. That’s a nice bit of character development, except that if you think about it, there’s no reason why the dogs shouldn’t have spoken normal English from the beginning. Nobody taught them to talk funny; their dialogue is just written that way. But Beowulf and the other dogs are such appealing mutts that readers must forgive the flaws in the writing for the opportunity to meet them.

Cover of K-9 CORPS: UNDER FIRE, by Kenneth Von Gunden
Title: K-9 Corps: Under Fire
Author: Kenneth Von Gunden

Ace Books (New York, NY), Aug 1991

ISBN: 0-441-42494-5

250 pages, $3.95

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   K-9 Corps II is more of the same. This time Ray Larkin, Beowulf, Grendel, Gawain, Tajil, and others—some of the same dogs as in the first novel, and some replacements for casualties, are sent to join the military compound on the planet Hephaestus in guarding the Federation prisoners sentenced to the ruby mines there. Simple—except for the riots of the miners, the attacks by the native predators, the treachery among the troops—and the very dangerous powers of the rubies themselves, rare gems capable of increasing the psi-powers of any sentient life… (back cover blurb)
   The dogs still talk funny. The independent scout cats make their appearance. They are more aloof and snotty, and their grammar is much more sophisticated, but otherwise they’re on a par with the dogs. The two teams get along like the Army and the Navy; there’s a lot of interservice rivalry during peacetime, but they work together smoothly once the action starts.
   One interesting change is that, as a result of the political fallout from the events in the first novel, it is revealed that the Federation government has been suppressing news of other intelligent species in the galaxy. So in the three years between the two novels, galactic civilization has evolved from humans-only to looking like the cantina scene from Star Wars.

YARF! logo
#20 / Apr 1992

Cover of THE ENCHANTED CAT, by John Richard Stephens
Title: The Enchanted Cat (illustrated)
Editor: John Richard Stephens

Prima Publishing & Communications (Rocklin, CA), Oct 1990

ISBN: 1-55958-045-3

246 pages, $12.95

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   This trade paperback has the look of a lavish literary/art anthology for cat lovers. But in addition to the poems about cats, and the writings by Hemingway and Poe and Twain and Kipling and Montaigne about cats, and the reproductions on almost every page of paintings of cats by such artists as Goya and Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir, there is an extensive coverage of the relationship of cats to fantasy. This includes cats in religion (cats as gods in various cultures), cats in folk tales, and cats in contemporary fantasy literature. This is a superb reference book for all who are interested in cats in mythology and folk culture through the ages, although it stops short of modern anthropomorphics.
   The typography and design of The Enchanted Cat suggest the gift books of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although there are selections up through the 1980s, the emphasis is upon the works of Victorian and Edwardian authors and artists such as Arthur Rackham, Lewis Carroll, John Greenleaf Whitttier, Beatrix Potter, and their contemporaries. The editor seems to have an aristocratic disdain for modern popular culture. There are a few 19th century cat cartoons by A. B. Frost and Theophile Steinlen, but the only 20th century cat cartoons are book or magazine illustrations by George Herriman, Charles Addams, and Edward Gorey—with the exception of a single panel with a cat from Winsor McCay’s intellectually-acclaimed Little Nemo in Slumberland. You won’t find Krazy Kat, Felix the Cat, Sylvester P. Pussycat, or Garfield here.
   Here are some of the items which I found interesting: many photographs of Egyptian drawings and sculpture of divine cats or gods posing as cats; a 1799 star chart of the constellation Felis, part of an attempt by French astronomers J. E. Bodé and Joseph de Lalande to arrange stars they had discovered into new constellations (there was no public interest in the new constellations of stars invisible to the naked eye); an Italian version of Puss in Boots that predates Perrault’s more famous version by about 150 years; testimony from the July 1556 mass trial of “certain Wytches at Chensford in the Countie of Essex” that describe how witches receive cats from Satan to be their familiars; a spell cited at a 1665 witch trial to turn a witch into a cat and back again; the famous compilation of cat paintings of 19th century artist Louis Wain, which grow increasingly abstract as Wain became progressively insane; and tidbits of folklore scattered throughout the book, such as that, for about twenty-five years in the mid-19th century, the native guards at the Government House in Poona, India, saluted and addressed any cat seen near the front door after dark as “your Excellency” on the off-chance that it might be the reincarnation of Governor Sir Robert Grant, who died there in 1838. The Enchanted Cat contains plenty of material that will intrigue the readers of YARF!

Article: The History of the Olympic Mascot
Author: Andy Wodka

The Olympian, Feb 1991 (vol. 17, no. 6), pp. 50-52

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   The modern international Olympic Games have become world-famous since 1896. But suddenly, since the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, it seems that every Games has to have its own anthropomorphic mascot. Wodka’s brief article in the official magazine of the United States Olympic Committee tells how this tradition developed over the past twenty years. The first mascot was actually adopted by the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich (Waldi the Dachshund), but the mascots did not capture the public’s attention until the 1980 and 1984 Games were so heavily promoted by Misha the Bear and Sam the Eagle.
   The article lists and describes all eleven of the Summer and Winter Games mascots from Waldi to Cobi, the avant-garde dog mascot of the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. In most cases the designers are credited and some production history is given. For example, the Soviet government put a committee of artists to work to design its mascot, and created a whole biography for him that was generally considered unnecessary and ignored. (Misha the Bear’s full name is Mikhail Patapych Toptygin.)
   The Olympic mascots have become omnipresent every four years on posters and enameled pins, but it’s difficult to find much background information about them, or about how the characters’ designers and names are selected. This article should answer most questions. Unfortunately, there are only a few illustrations, and they are of some of the best-known, recent mascots. A look at the earlier and more obscure characters would have been more interesting.

Click on any of the images to view it in high resolution (800x1000) in a new window

2007 note: The review of this article on Olympics Games mascots was intended as a service to early Fursuiters, since most Games included full-body costumes of their mascots, and information on the mascots other than the most current ones was almost impossible to find in 1992. Today, thanks to the global Internet, it is easy to find. An illustrated list of all Summer and Winter Games mascots from the Winter Games in Grenoble in 1968 to the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002 is here. An illustrated list of the Summer Games mascots from 1972 in Munich to 2004 in Athens is here. The official website of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing shows its five mascots here. The comprehensive Wikipedia article on “Olympic symbols” has details not included elsewhere, but is largely unillustrated.

YARF! logo
#21 / Jul 1992

Cover of HORSE FANTASTIC, edited by Greenberg and Greenberg
Title: Horse Fantastic
Editors: Martin H. Greenberg & Rosalind M. Greenberg

DAW Books (New York), Dec 1991

ISBN: 0-88677-504-3

314 pages, $4.50

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   DAW Books’ two Catfantastic anthologies must be successful, because now we have Horse Fantastic to the same formula. These are seventeen brand-new stories about fantastic horses: ghostly horses, demonic horses, talking horses, horses of the gods, extraterrestrial horses, horses that turn into people and people that turn into horses, horse statues that come to life, Biblical horses, and more, including one tale each of a unicorn and a pegasus. There are horses in urban New York City, horses on the racetrack, horses on the rodeo circuit, horses in primitive cultures, and horses in a variety of mythical lands. Mercedes Lackey has a new short story in her Kingdom of Valdemar setting, Stolen Silver; and Mary Stanton’s The Horse Boy brings her Courts of The One Hundred and Five to ancient Baghdad.
   However, Horse Fantastic is more tenuously related to anthropomorphic literature than is Catfantastic. That series features more stories in which the cat is the protagonist or the motivator, or is characterized with human intelligence. Most of these Horse Fantastic stories feature humans as their main characters, who have some personal problem created or solved by an encounter with a benevolent or a malevolent magical horse. The horse may be the catalyst but most of the reacting is done by the human. Nancy Springer’s The Most Magical Thing About Rachel is the only story among the seventeen in which anthropomorphized horses play more than a bit role. Unless you choose to shelve Horse Fantastic along with Catfantastic as a set, you will have a hard time justifying keeping this in your anthropomorphic library. It is enjoyable reading, but it’s mostly not morph fiction.

Cover of CATS IN SPACE, AND OTHER PLACES, edited by Bill Fawcett
Title: Cats in Space, and Other Places
Editor: Bill Fawcett

Baen Books (Riverdale, NY), May 1992

ISBN: 0-671-72118-6

407 pages, $4.99

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   If anyone doubts that felinoids are the preferred animals of most s-f writers, just consider how many anthologies of cat s-f & fantasy stories there are compared to those which feature any other animal. Cats in Space contains sixteen stories and one poem, written from 1939 (A. E. van Vogt’s Black Destroyer) to the present. A couple appear to be published here for the first time, but most are reprints.
   Three (Fritz Leiber’s Space-Time for Springers, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Schrödinger’s Cat, and Cordwainer Smith’s The Game of Rat and Dragon) have already been included in Jack Dann’s & Gardner Dozois’s 1984 anthology Magicats!, but the other fourteen are new to an animal-theme s-f anthology.
   The book is divided into two sections. ‘Cats’ contains ten stories and the poem, about normal housecats or derivatives of them, such as the bioengineered, talking, space-going Kim in Fritz Leiber’s Ship of Shadows. ‘Alien Cats’ contains six stories about interstellar felinoids such as C. J. Cherryh’s hani, Anne McCaffrey’s Hrrubans, and Larry Niven’s kzin (in a story by Greg Bear & S. M. Stirling, The Man Who Would Be Kzin).
   The stories are mostly science-fiction, although there are a few magical fantasies. The second part cheats a bit in that Cherryh’s Chanur’s Homecoming is not really a story. It’s Chapter 12 from her novel of the same title. It’s dramatic, but if you haven’t already read the novel, you won’t have any idea as to what’s going on except that two factions of cat-people are shooting it out for control of a space station. It starts and ends on cliffhangers. It’s understandable that Fawcett would want to include something about the hani in this book, since they are one of the most charismatic felinoid alien species in all s-f, but this fragment is merely confusing by itself.
   A couple of other stories are also cheats in that the cats are very minor characters. David Drake’s Bullhead is a fantasy about an early 19th-century frontiersman warlock who happens to have a talking-cat familiar in his cabin. The cat, who talks with a hillbilly accent, appears in only two brief scenes in the forty-page story. (The warlock’s talking mule has a much larger role.) Robert A. Heinlein’s Ordeal in Space uses a kitten trapped on a 35th-floor window ledge to force the ex-spaceman protagonist to reminisce about the space trauma that wrecked his career, and force him to overcome his fear of heights. The cat itself is barely in the story. As usual, this criticism is not aimed at the quality of the stories; they are fine. They are just not really cat stories.
   But since they are good reading, and since the book does contain many good short stories about anthropomorphized cats (and a few other animals), it is definitely recommended. Other highlights besides those named are Cordwainer Smith’s The Ballad of Lost C’mell and Fredric Brown’s Mouse. Morph fans will also appreciate Dean Morrissey’s humorous cover painting of two alley cats about to blast off in a rocket ship constructed out of junk. If this ever becomes available as an art print, it will be on most morph fans’ walls within weeks.

YARF! logo
#22 / Jan 1993

Cover of THE ANCIENT SOLITARY REIGN, by Martin Hocke
Title: The Ancient Solitary Reign
Author: Martin Hocke
Graphics: Illustrations by Shirley Barker; map by Ursula Sieger

Trafalgar Square (North Pomfret, VT), Jul 1990

ISBN: 0-246-13469-0

358 pages, $21.95

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   This British anthropomorphized nature novel features owls. Young Hunter is hatched into a woodland Barn owl community where a peaceful adolescence gives him the feeling that he is living in a settled, serene world—the “ancient, solitary reign” of Barn owl society from time immemorial. Alas, his world is just about to become engulfed by every disaster known to British owldom.
   Man’s spreading urban development destroys the forest. The Barn owls are squeezed into the same territory as the Tawny owls and the Little owls, forcing the species into conflict for living space. Reckless hunters render the remaining woods unsafe. Dangerous pesticides make eggs infertile. The Barn owls dissent among themselves over how to react to these threats. Winger, a fanatically socialistic owl, stirs up enough discontent against the conservative council to replace them as the leader. But are his revolutionary ideas really solutions, or will they lead the owls into greater peril? Hunter is a reluctant hero whose sense of duty leads him into one adventure after another against his community’s enemies. But the greater his successes are, the harder he is pressured to support one faction or the other. It begins to seem inevitable that Hunter’s greatest danger will come from the Barn owls’ own politicians.
   Barn owls are by nature more solitary than most British mammal or bird species. This has made it a challenge to bring them together in a community that is anthropomorphic enough for interesting character interaction, yet still depicts their particular attributes with realism. Hocke’s society of the ancient solitary reign is imaginative enough that it is intriguing even if not entirely convincing. The story keeps introducing new surprises every few pages, which are individually dramatically justified but eventually prime the reader to feel, “It’s about time for the plot to swing in another unexpected direction,” and it does.
   The Barn owl’s normal dialogue is good, but an unfortunate attempt to distinguish between the other owl species and classes by assigning them different accents is much too artificial. They read like parodies of upper- and lower-class British accents and American accents. And while the dialogue is usually clever, it is not always convincing. Hunter is introduced with his brother and sister as fledglings in the nest. They take for granted being fed by their parents, until the day that their mother tells them that they must start to learn the way that Barn owls live “by a process we call education.” Hunter’s sister asks whether this education will consist of only theory or actual practice. That’s a pretty sophisticated question for an infant.
   Still, considering how many novels are populated by characters who act unbelievably stupidly, it’s a change to find one where the characters seem to be more intelligent than they should be.
   Hocke also tends to lapse into florid prose, especially when concluding a chapter. “But [Hunter] did not want to disturb Steeple or his mother and knew that he must gather all his strength to face yet another journey fraught with the danger and excitement that had so quickly become the essence of his hitherto sheltered and innocent young life.” This is ironic considering that one of the more ridiculous owls is the pompous and posturing Bardic, whose sonorous epics of Barn owl history put everyone to sleep.
   Despite these small flaws, The Ancient Solitary Reign is a suspenseful and often brutal drama which incorporates most of the instincts and attributes of Barn owl life. This Trafalgar Square imprint is not so much an American edition as an American marketing of the original May 1989 British edition by Grafton Books.

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