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The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten

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   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
#32 / Sep 1994

Title: Adventures of the Rat Family; A Fairy Tale
Author: Jules Verne
Translator: Evelyn Copeland
Illustrator: Felician Myrbach-Rheinfeld
Introd. by Iona Opie; Afterword by Brian Taves. Part of The Iona and Peter Opie Library of Children’s Literature

Oxford University Press (New York, NY), Dec 1993

ISBN: 0-19-508114-5

71 pages, $14.95

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   This curiosity is the first English publication of Jules Verne’s only children’s fairy tale, and (presumably) his only story featuring talking animals. It originally appeared in the Christmas holiday (January 1891) issue of Le Figaro illustré, with illustrations by Felician Myrbach-Rheinfeld which are reprinted here in sepia. Thematically, Verne’s tale resembles those of Perrault or Madame de Beaumont, although Verne’s is brisker and wittier. Verne obviously had fun packing the story with as many puns as he could think of, which are enumerated at length in an academic nine-page Afterword by Verne expert Brian Taves.
   The tale demonstrates Verne’s passions for intellectual concepts and for the theater. It mixes magic with the scientific theory of evolution and with Oriental philosophies of reincarnation, which were then in vogue; and it is constructed like a traditional stage extravaganza. The members of the Rat family are the familiar exaggerated character stereotypes of Commedia dell’ arte; the exotic locales (such as “Ratopolis, a very pretty city… [its] boulevards, squares, and streets, are lined with magnificent cheeses in the form of houses”, seem suspiciously like stage sets; and at the climax, when the wicked magician Gardafour loses and vanishes toward the Nether Regions, the illustrator literally shows him dropping through a trap door which has opened beneath his feet.

   Once upon a time there was a family of rats: the father, Raton; the mother, Ratonne; their daughter, Ratine; and her cousin, Raté. Their servants were the cook, Rata, and the maid, Ratane.
   Now, my dear children, these worthy, esteemed rodents had such extraordinary adventures that I cannot resist the desire to narrate them to you.
   These adventures took place in the age of fairies and magicians, and also during the time that animals talked. Still, they didn’t talk any more nonsense than did people of that epoch, nor any more than do people of today, for that matter. Listen, then, my dear children. I begin
! (pg. 7)

   In this ‘age of fairies and magicians’, evolution has been simplified into five broad categories: mollusks, fish, birds, quadrupeds, and humanity. Theoretically, one moves up or down this ‘ladder of creation’ depending upon whether one has been good or evil. This transmigration of souls is carried out by the various good fairies who monitor our deeds. Unfortunately, there are also wicked fairies and greedy magicians who do not hesitate to manipulate this evolution for their own profit.
   The Rat family is a household of pleasant and industrious rodents who have earned their right to humanity; as has daughter Ratine’s loyal fiancé, Ratin. However, Ratine’s beauty has been noticed by haughty, spoiled Prince Kissador, who demands that she submit to his pleasures. When she refuses, Kissador orders his unscrupulous hired magician, Gardafour, to regress her and her family back to mollusks. Meanwhile, Ratin has achieved his transformation into a man, and he hurries to the good fairy Firmenta to plead for justice. Firmenta is an old rival of Gardafour, and she speedily recommences the Rats’ advancement towards manhood. But Gardafour and Kissador are too spiteful to accept defeat gracefully. They keep sneaking up every time Firmenta’s back is turned, and trying anew to capture Ratine.
   I’m not sure how Adventures of the Rat Family looked to late 19th-century readers, but it seems marvelously quaint and dated today. Despite much talk about how kind and sympathetic and devoted to aiding the deserving needy Firmenta is, it seems clear that she is really delighted at the opportunity to thwart her old enemy Gardafour. The Rat family are little more than pawns in the struggle between these two spellcasters, while Ratin hides behind Firmenta’s skirts, wringing his hands, and Prince Kissador scowls and makes ugly faces. (Firmenta is most definitely the type of fairy who would enchant the Beast’s entire household because she feels he needs to be punished.) Verne’s writing style here was floridly archaic even in his own day, and some of the scenes may have been deliberately burlesque, such as Ratin’s histrionic pledge (as a handsome, impeccably-dressed young man) of undying love to the oyster that Ratine has become. The story continues only because Firmenta blithely assumes that she has decisively won each time she defeats Gardafour, leaving him to creep back for another try. But she is, after all, only a woman; and as Verne says on the final page, “Ah! Women! Women! Beautiful heads often, but brains, none at all!”
Oxford University Press’ publicity says that this rediscovered tale “is certain to become a children’s classic.” With lines like the above? I don’t think so. But Verne clearly intended this story to be an old-fashioned comedy for adults as much as a thrilling adventure for the little ones. While we may not laugh at quite the same things that the 19th century Parisian public did, there are still enough chuckles in the tale (and in our observation of what the last century’s intelligentsia passed as P.C.) that it is worth reading today.

Cover of MAJYK BY ACCIDENT, by Esther Friesner
Title: Majyk by Accident
Author: Esther Friesner

Ace Books (New York, NY), Aug 1993

ISBN: 0-441-51376-X

282 pages, $4.99

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Cover of MAJYK BY HOOK OR CROOK, by Esther Friesner

Title: Majyk by Hook or Crook
Author: Esther Friesner

Ace Books (New York, NY), May 1994

ISBN: 0-441-00054-1
262 pages, $4.99
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   Esther Friesner’s “sensationally silly series”, to quote the blurb on the second novel, starts out only marginally anthropomorphic but it grows more so. If you can imagine Disney’s Aladdin with a Furry Genie, you’ve got the general idea. Friesner has been doing this plot much longer than Disney has—her first novel, Mustapha and His Wise Dog, in 1985, featured a sarcastic talking dog with an otherwise human cast in an Arabian Nights locale. Her new Magyk series has a setting that’s more Grimm Brothers’ European than Middle Eastern, but the main fantasy character—Scandal, the cat—is very close to the Robin Williams Genie in his personality.
   Orbix is a comically stereotypical fantasy world, with wizards, barbarian warriors, dragons, and the whole lot. But no cats. Until one wanders there from our world, emerging through a rathole in the kitchen of the Academy of High Wizardry run by Master Thengor, the greatest magician on this world. Thengor is dying of old age, and his control over Orbix’s raw Majyk is starting to slip. The cat is discovered by Kendar Ratwhacker (the narrator), the clumsiest student at the Academy. He is so incompetent that he has been assigned to the humiliating, unMajykal duty of roaming the castle with a club and whacking any rats that he finds. Since nobody on Orbix has ever seen a cat, Kendar assumes that this is just a funny-looking rat. He is chasing it through the Academy when they blunder into the cloud of now-highly-unstable Majyk. The resulting explosion demolishes the Academy, leaves most of the Majyk stuck onto Kendar (making him the new most-powerful wizard on Orbix, except that he hasn’t the slightest idea of how to control it), and bestows intelligence and speech upon the cat, who appoints himself Kendar’s fast-talking guardian since the nerd obviously needs a keeper.

   “Cats—cats kill rats?” I asked, distracting him.
   “Rats, mice, voles, Boston ferns, cockroaches, shoes, Chihuahuas, all kinds of pests,” the beast replied cheerfully. “Listen, swifty, I’m no M.I.T. grad, but I get the feeling that was no ordinary rat hole I stuck my nose into. Do all the animals around here talk?”
   “No. None of them do; not normally. Well, sometimes frogs and toads, but only the enchanted ones, and sometimes familiars, but the others don’t, as a rule.” A memory struck me. “Neither did you, when you first came out of that hole. Unless ‘meow’ is another one of those weird words you’ve been using that I don’t understand.”
(Magyk by Accident, p. 49)

   Most of the ‘weird words’ are actually pop cultural references, such as the one above about an M.I.T. grad. Scandal’s running patter is full of “He’s dead, Jim!” and “Hasta la vista, bay-bee!” one-liners, which Kendar just shakes his head over and doesn’t even bother to try to understand after the first few minutes. This series’ ‘silly’ humor is based primarily on incongruities such as Nixon jokes and Jackie Gleason/Honeymooners lines in dragon-haunted forests or troll-filled sleazy taverns. How are you supposed to react to a barbarian warrior maid who combines the body of Marvel Comics’ chain-mail-bikini-clad Red Sonja with the personality of Elmyra in Tiny Toon Adventures?
   Despite Kendar’s comment about animals not normally talking on Orbix, it turns out that plenty of them do on the other side of the planet. They only meet one of these, for a couple of brief paragraphs, in Magyk by Accident:

   A brightly painted caravan with yellow wheels and a red top rumbled by, driven by a sullen-looking bear swaddled in gaudy silks and drawn by a matched team of eight golden-haired little girls.
   “Undersiders,” Basehart whispered. Like him, I’d heard the stories about how life was… different once you traveled around the Big Bend in our world, but I’d never seen the proof of it until now.
   The bear saw us staring and immediately slapped on a toothy grin as fake as any human merchant’s. “Grrreetings, gentlefurs! Interrrrest you in some nice, frrrresh porridge today?” When we politely declined, he lapsed back into his original grumpy expression and drove on.
(pg. 222)

   In Magyk by Hook or Crook, circumstances take Kendar, Scandal, and a new set of companions around this Big Bend on a magical mission of mercy. It seems that the other side of Orbix is not entirely anthropomorphized. Humans and talking animals in the kingdom of Wingdingo (capital city: Loupgarou) have been coexisting in an uneasy proximity. Now evil human King Wulfdeth has usurped the throne and is oppressing the citizens, especially the talking-animal peoples, and our two heroes have to restore the peace.
   For the setting, just imagine any deliberately hokey movie swashbuckler such as The Crimson Pirate or The Black Falcon with ’morphs as the oppressed peasantry and humans as the haughty nobility. The majority of the gags are ovine, since the locals whom Kendar and Scandal first meet are sheep. There are crews of wooly pirates snarling, “Arrrh, matey!”, in ships with names like the Bawdy Bellwether and the Golden Fleece, or taverns like the Frisky Ewe. Their dialogue is topheavy with lines like (just before a sword-fight), “D’ye fancy we’re lambs fer the slaughter?”
   Loupgarou has plenty of other inhabitants, such as wolf merchantmen and some furry female courtesans of mixed species. Unfortunately, these are only seen briefly in passing. Every time that Kendar and Scandal are about to meet some of these others, they get whisked into a confrontation with the human villains. Our heroes spend most of the novel bouncing between the evil humans in the castle, and the rebel sheep in the countryside. Majyk by Hook or Crook contains a few delightful scenes and double entendres, but readers will also be frustrated by the number of near-misses with other interesting-sounding characters and places whom Kendar and Scandal do not see (such as a reference to one of the main seaports, Port O’ Morph). Readers will also have to decide for themselves what their appetite for bad puns, movie-&-TV trivia references, and similar sheer silliness is.

YARF! logo
#33 / Dec 1994

Cover of A NIGHT IN THE LONESOME OCTOBER, by Roger Zelazny
Title: A Night in the Lonesome October
Author: Roger Zelazny
Illustrator: Gahan Wilson

William Morrow/AvoNova (New York, NY)

Hardcover edition, Aug 1993

ISBN: 0-688-12508-5

280 pages, $18.00

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Paperback edition, Sep 1994

ISBN: 0-380-77141-1
280 pages, $4.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   I like Gahan Wilson’s cartoons. But I think that he was the wrong choice to illustrate this pseudo-1930s horror-mystery-comedy. Roger Zelazny implies in his wry dedication that his goal is to evoke the spirits of Weird Tales at its classic Lovecraftian heights, blended with the fog-shrouded England shown in those famous horror movies which introduced the Vampire, the Monster, and the Wolfman. Illustrations, slightly exaggerated, in the realistic pen & ink style of The Strand and similar popular fiction magazines of the 1890s, and of the 1930s horror-pulp illustrators, would have been more appropriate than Wilson’s ghastly-giggly squiggly cartoons.
   On the other paw, Wilson’s reputation instantly identifies a book as delivering a particular kind of dark-horror humor. In that sense he was the best possible choice, for that is exactly the mood of A Night in the Lonesome October.
   This whatdunit-thriller takes place during an October of an unnamed late-Victorian year. There are 31 chapters, one for each day. A group is gathering in London and the nearby countryside to play a deadly, supernatural game, upon which the fate of the world rests. This is not a contest between Good and Evil. The whole cast might be considered Evil; but, for their own reasons, some of these players want to save the world while the others want to destroy it. Some names are slightly disguised, but the reader will recognize the Serial Killer, the Vampire, the Witch, the Graverobbers, the Mad Russian Monk, the Druid Priest, the Scientist with his Monster, the Clergyman Turned Demon-Worshipper, and others—not to mention the Great Detective, who is investigating this secret meeting of unusually suspicious characters.
   But only half of the players are humans. Each has a talking-animal familiar, and it is through the cast of familiars that the mystery is related. The narrator is Snuff, the hound who is the partner of the Ripper. Others are Graymalk, the cat; Nightwind, the owl; Needle, the bat; Cheeter, the squirrel; Quicklime, the snake; and more. Like the humans, each of the animals must figure out who is to be trusted, what information is reliable, which clues are real and which are setups for deadly traps. It can be as fatal to reject a genuine offer of friendship as to be overly naive. Stupid animals do not survive in this game, so most of these familiars are adept at clever dialogue loaded with cynical double meanings and subtle misdirection. The players must also take each others’ physical attributes into consideration in planning useful alliances. Snuff has a good nose and strong jaws, while the avian familiars can get a good view of the entire countryside, and Quicklime or Bubo the rat can investigate small, enclosed places. Some of the animals also have supernatural powers of their own, which may or may not be obvious.
   This is about all that can be said without spoiling part of the creepy puzzle. Zelazny is a master at starting out with situations that are intriguing enough to hook the reader even though they are bewilderingly mysterious, and are only gradually revealed. However, it is immediately clear that this is the animals’ tale. The focus is upon them. The human players are seen through their eyes. Also, the familiars are not mere pets. Each has a strong individuality. and some are loyal to their human partners while others are more interested in looking out for themselves.
   The story starts slowly, as the players come together and cautiously, politely, sound each other out. Then the eldritch game begins. Who will survive until October 31st—and who will survive what happens on All Hallows Eve?
   A Night in the Lonesome October is a highly unusual, imaginative, and sardonic thriller. It smoothly blends the stereotypes of classic horror fiction with the formalized moves of a game of Clue—with monsters and talking animals in the roles of Col. Mustard and Mrs. Peacock.

Cover of SAMURAI CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES, by Mark E. Rogers
Title: Samurai Cat Goes to the Movies
Author: Mark E. Rogers
Illustrator: The author

Tor/Tom Dougherty Associates Book (New York, NY), Oct 1994

ISBN: 0-312-85744-6

286 pages, $10.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   I’m sorry, but my tolerance for *Concentrated Cute* was overwhelmed by halfway through the first chapter.

Cover of EMPERORS OF THE TWILIGHT, by S. Andrew Swann
Title: Emperors of the Twilight
Author: S. Andrew Swann

DAW Books (New York, NY), Jan 1994

ISBN: 0-88677-589-2

283 pages, $4.50

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Cover of SPECTERS OF THE DAWN, by S. Andrew Swann

Title: Specters of the Dawn
Author: S. Andrew Swann

DAW Books (New York, NY), Aug 1994

ISBN: 0-88677-613-9
284 pages, $4.50
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   These are the second and third novels in Swann’s trilogy which began with Forests of the Night (reviewed in YARF! #26). That was a superbly-written, although grittily-depressing, political murder mystery set in a mid-21st-century society in which bioengineering has become common. America’s ghettos are filled with ‘moreaus’, animal-peoples who are mostly descendants of super-soldiers made to replace humans in armies of twenty to fifty years earlier. They have become the new lower class. Bioengineering of improved humans is illegal in most nations, but that has not stopped various security agencies who want their own super-agents. Most of this background was gradually built up in the story of Nohar Rajasthan, a cynical tiger private investigator who handles cheap but safe cases for the moreau community, until he is pressured to take an extremely dangerous investigation involving probable top-level corruption and murder in the U.S. Congress.
   Emperors of the Twilight and Specters of the Dawn are less direct sequels than separate novels following two of the supporting characters from Forests. That was set in Cleveland in the early 2050s. Emperors and Specters are set in Manhattan and in San Francisco at the end of the decade. The three give readers a look at the human/moreau social situation as it develops over a decade, in three major urban centers across America.
   Emperors of the Twilight is, technically, only a borderline ’morph novel. Its protagonist is Evi Isham, the ‘frank’ (bioengineered human, or ‘frankenstein’) federal agent who was assigned to track down Rajasthan in the first book. That was six years earlier, and she’s practically forgotten that case. She has been assigned to a desk job in Manhattan since then. Four pages into the story, Evi is exercising on the balcony of her penthouse apartment when she becomes aware that a sniper is aiming at her from the adjacent building. Approximately the next 150 pages are high-intensity, exquisitely choreographed violence. Evi desperately struggles just to stay alive while being hunted by at least two rival assassination teams, who do not hesitate to explode whole buildings around her. Plenty of ’morphs are seen in brief supporting roles, but the main cast is all human.
   Emperors is a tour de force in the genre of Die Hard-type thrillers. The action is non-stop, and the reader has to assume on faith until over halfway through the novel that there will be a satisfactory justification for the neverending, over-the-top mayhem. Swann brings it off! A real plot slowly, gradually emerges from the murk, and the reader is solidly with Evi as she begins to take command of the situation. Emperors is extremely highly recommended, but readers should be aware that ’morph characters are downplayed except for one scene depicting the moreau radical underground in the Bronx.
   ’Morphs are highlighted again in Specters of the Dawn. Angel Lopez is the rabbit moreau teen gang member who Rajasthan rescued in Forests. She moved from Cleveland to ‘tolerant’ San Francisco, and has been working as a waitress for the past seven years—a dead-end job, but the best honest work a moreau can hope for. She is wearily resigned to her lot, when she meets Byron Dorset, a suave, sophisticated fox who saves her from a beating by punk human supremacists. In a nine-day whirlwind romance, Byron sweeps her off her feet, pours gifts upon her, hints at marriage, and is murdered. The shock of losing Byron, and the suspicion that the police will make a politically-correct arrest of the supremacists rather than looking for the real killers, awakens her enough to realize that Byron himself was suspiciously too good to be true. Her smoldering investigation into who he really was, despite opposition from both moreau urban terrorists to conservative human federal bureaucrats, uncovers secrets that could touch off a long-feared human-moreau second Civil War—or control the 2060 presidential elections.
   Swann develops these two taut thrillers with superb control. Both are filled with brutality in hate-filled 21st-century America, but they are handled quite differently. Evi in Emperors isn’t aware why unexpected assassins are after her, but sudden death is part of a secret agent’s job description. She knows how to handle overt, sustained violence—and Swann provides it for page after page without turning it into boring overkill. The mystery is less the killers’ motivation as it is what deadly trap Evi will face next, and how she will get out of it.
   Specters is a more conventional detective puzzler. The violence is more covert and sporadic, and Angel is no trained death machine. But she has her street smarts, and a fiery temper with the pressure of a lifetime of being pushed around behind it. The more that she learns, the more dangerous and higher-level the plot is revealed to be; the madder she gets. Mad enough to bring anybody and everybody down, if she can.
   As with Forests of the Night, the moreaus’ anthropomorphic nature is not just for decoration. Angel is a genetically engineered rabbit whose great-grandparents had been designed for combat as part of the Peruvian infantry. Her speed, the strength of her kick, and her other lepine attributes are key factors in Specters action in several scenes.
   Swann’s three novels have been billed as a trilogy. It helps to read all three, but each of them is completely self-sufficient. There is also no reason to end them with Specters of the Dawn; there is still a whole world of human-moreau relationships to explore.

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