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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

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#40 / Jan 1

Title: Outcast of Redwall
Author: Brian Jacques
Illustrator: Allan Curless

Hutchinson Children’s Books (London), Jul 1995

ISBN: 0-09-176721-0

360 pages, £12.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Jacques’ Redwall adventures, which began with Redwall in Britain in 1986 and in the U.S. in 1987, were already a sensation by the time they started appearing in mass-market paperback editions in 1990. They are now a phenomenon with over a million copies sold, and several literary awards to their credit. They are published as juvenile novels in Britain and as adult novels in America, although —like Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia— their appeal transcends age categorizations. Outcast of Redwall is the eighth in the series.
   The ‘high concept’ description is ‘Middle Earth with funny animals’. The world of Redwall Abbey in the land of Mossflower is broadly an English medieval countryside with animal inhabitants. The nice, cute creatures such as the mice, moles, squirrels, and hedgehogs are the friendly peasants and yeomen, while the bloodthirsty, evil carnivores such as rats, stoats, and foxes are the cruel robbers, slavers, and conquerers.
   The first four novels were reviewed in earlier issues of Yarf! as a good story, but basically the same story repeated with only slight variations. Outcast offers some more distinctive variations, but it is still clearly the same oft-repeated theme. It differs primarily in showing a more diffuse panorama of the whole Mossflower countryside. On its own merits, it could be criticized as confusingly vague in comparison with the previous novels. However, this is not a problem to readers already familiar with the Redwall world, and this different focus does make it stand out a bit more. But it does make Outcast a bad novel with which to begin the series.
   The adventure opens with one of Jacques’ stock scenarios: a robber band of vile predators is prowling the countryside, slaying and looting. Their leader is Swartt Sixclaw, a cunning young ferret who dreams of making himself a mighty Warlord. One of his captives is a young badger whom he sadistically rides as his mount. The badger, Sunflash the Mace, escapes in the first chapter after a battle which cripples Swartt’s six-clawed paw.
   The first 150 pages of Outcast tells parallel tales of the two. Sunflash, with his friend Skarlath the kestrel, wanders about Mossflower looking for the home from which he was stolen at an age too young to remember. After many adventures he comes to Salamandastron, the mountainous “stronghold of Badger Lords and fighting hares”, whose leaderless long-eared army acclaim him as their long-lost rightful Lord. Meanwhile Swartt, with his sinister advisor Nightshade, the vixen seeress, lurches from one conquest to another, scheming, betraying, and poisoning his way to power, building his band of ruffians into a formidable army of hardened troops. He, too, eventually comes to Salamandastron, which offers the twin lures of a vast fortune to be looted, and revenge against his old enemy.
   The last 200+ pages focus upon the maneuvering and fighting between the two opponents and their forces, and an unexpected third plot which introduces Redwall Abbey into the story. Redwall is the fortified sanctuary for all animals who would live in peace, such as the mice scholars, the mole farmers, and the squirrel woodsmen. The monastery finds itself with an abandoned baby on its paws; a ferret (the child of Swartt Sixclaw). Abbess Meriam dubiously decides to accept him to see if being raised among peaceful animals can have a beneficial influence on his naturally savage instincts—while fearing that she may be welcoming an unreformable killer into their midst.
   Jacques seems to be trying to retain his popular formula while bringing some minor variations into it. There are more poems than usual, but these are less the standard mysterious riddles to be solved than rollicking battle chants and banquet songs. Outcast reaches new lengths in describing both sumptuous feasts and casual snacks:

   Friar Bunfold swiftly untied his apron and hung it up, wiping face and paws on a clean towel as he issued orders to Togget. “Could you make up a tray and bring it to the gatehouse, my friend? Hot mint tea, a flagon of cold fruit cordial, some of those scones we baked this morning, oh, and a plate of the thin arrowroot and almond slices which the Abbess favours, there’s a good mole!”
   “Hurr that oi am, roight away, zurr Bunny!” (pg. 152)

    The more episodic nature of Outcast means that several intriguing setups which would have been used for the complete story in earlier books are broken off surprisingly quickly, to maintain the protagonist-enemies’ natures as wanderers. Fans of the Redwall series will find enough changes here to intrigue them.
   Outcast of Redwall can currently be ordered from British booksellers. The American edition will doubtlessly be out during 1996, although the American dust jackets have generally not been as attractive as the last couple of British cover paintings by ‘Fangorn’.

Title: Animal Planet
Author: Scott Bradfield

Picador USA (New York), Oct 1995

ISBN: 0-312-13428-2

231 pages, $22.00

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is supposedly a sophisticated modernization of George Orwell’s Animal Farm for the post-Socialistic ‘now’. A couple of sections have been rewritten into short stories for journals such as Conjunctions, ‘the Bard College Literary Magazine’. The novel has gotten admiring reviews for its biting satire of ’90s civilization and its stinging parodies of our contemporary social dogmas such as Political Correctness and Power Lunches. Well…
    Mankind, having achieved total social equality, gradually realizes that people are not happy unless they have somebody to look down upon and patronize. So humanity decides to upgrade the animals into this niche. “We want to improve your standard of living,” the do-gooders say as they close the zoos and make the animals get menial jobs. The military ‘liberates’ all the penguins in Antarctica into education camps to teach them how to open charge accounts, and how to get jobs to pay their debts. “These are good people,” General Heathcliff lectures. “These are simple people. You know what your average penguin wants out of life, boys? A nice evening of greens and mackerel. A warm place to go to the bathroom. And maybe a little raw nookie out behind the snowplow.” (pg. 60) Animals are dragged in from the forests and jungles and taught such advantages of civilization as working on factory assembly lines, clerking in shops, and serving as maids and nannies.
   But, inevitably, there arise animal troublemakers. “Creatures who talk too much. Creatures who think they know all the answers. Creatures with bad attitudes toward authority. Creatures who don’t believe in our free-market economy,” the General continues. (pg. 61) Revolutionaries like Charlie the Crow, Dave the Otter, and the four-hoofed, masked urban terrorist, Mr. Big, harangue their advertising-bedazzled brethren against the indignities of being forced to become imitation humans. The animals rise up in a gory revolution. But they have already been too heavily indoctrinated. The freedom that they demand is not to return to their own natural lives, but to have their own Cadillacs, to appear on TV talk shows as equals of celebrities like Newt Gingrich.
   The parallels to Animal Farm are obvious, but Bradfield’s plot is less important than his style. He is hip, cool, or whatever the latest cutting-edge vocabulary is, precisely so that he can satirize such trendy vocabulary as ‘cutting edge’. He carries this to such cynically surrealistic extremes that the style overwhelms any logic. The penguins living in ‘suburban Antarctica’ are already ruining their livers with champagne business lunches and cheating on their wives, before the humans arrive to integrate them into the consumer society. There is an Eskimo whore living down there, shacked up with her Marlboro-smoking sled dog, Rick the Husky. Why? They were “relocated to the South Pole by America’s Federal Housing Program (which had decided to save money by offering housing to needy people in places they didn’t want to live).” (pg. 51-52) Ha, ha!
   Bradfield has a passion for breathless descriptive passages. When Charlie the Crow (the animal-rights activist who is as much of a main character as this novel has) and Buster the Penguin escape to warn the other Antarctic fauna:

   They passed through howling storms and frozen tempests. They passed through regions of dizzying whiteness. They passed through blizzards of static electricity and bluish showers of cosmic debris. They weren’t even certain where they were going. They knew only that they couldn’t turn back. […] They journeyed into regions of white storm and cold conquest where they encountered primitive cultures and strange, savage dialects even Charlie couldn’t entirely comprehend. A wandering tribe of shaggy polar bears wearing wolf-head masks, bone necklaces, and burred, mossy dreadlocks who worshipped a rudely claw-carved wooden totem named Awe. A paranoid community of mollusks who could speak only two words and accomplish two purposes: “Procreate!” and “Die!” … (pg. 48-49)

   There are countless vivid anthropomorphic parodies of modern society, such as three oafish ‘working girls’ (a gorilla nanny, an orangutan hatcheck girl, and a baboon forklift operator) complaining about their jobs and their love lives while they slobber through a meal at a New York Italian restaurant.
   If bizarre imagery, cynical witticisms, and occasional clever turns of phrase alone can compensate for a lack of any likeable characters or believable characterizations, and for a story that doesn’t really go anywhere (but that’s the whole point!), then Bradfield may have a winner here. Sophisticated? Heavy-handed? It may be a matter of taste, but I’ll still bet on Orwell and Animal Farm surviving as a classic of literary satire, despite the collapse of Socialism, long after Animal Planet is forgotten.

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#41 / Apr 1

Books in James Gurney’s Dinotopia setting
Title: Dinotopia: The World Beneath
Author: James Gurney
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Turner Publishing (Atlanta, GA), Sep 1995
ISBN: 1-57036-164-9
160 pages, $29.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Title: Dinotopia: Windchaser
Author: Scott Ciencin
Illustrator: ? (map)
Publisher: Random House/Bullseye Books (New York, NY), Apr 1995
ISBN: 0-679-86981-6
148 pages, $3.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Title: Dinotopia: River Quest
Author: John Vornholt
Illustrator: ? (map)
Publisher: Random House/Bullseye Books (New York, NY), Apr 1995
ISBN: 0-679-86982-4
146 pages, $3.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Title: Dinotopia: Hatchling
Author: Midori Snyder
Illustrator: ? (map)
Publisher: Random House/Bullseye Books (New York, NY), Sep 1995
ISBN: 0-679-86984-0

148 pages, $3.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Title: Dinotopia: Lost City
Author: Scott Ciencin
Illustrator: ? (map)
Publisher: Random House/Bullseye Books (New York, NY), Feb 1996
ISBN: 0-679-86983-2
143 pages, $3.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Artist Gurney’s sequel to his 1992 mega-hit Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time (reviewed in Yarf! #27) is more of the same; heavy on beautiful art but weak on story. Since the art is the primary purpose of the book, this is not a serious problem.
   The first book was presented as the travel diary of Professor Arthur Denison, an explorer who was shipwrecked in 1862 with his twelve-year-old son, Will, on a large unknown island settled by a joint civilization of humans and intelligent dinosaurs. The art book was Denison’s illustrated notes, in the fashion of National Geographic recreations of past civilizations, of his first four years on Dinotopia: the flora and fauna, the unique native costumes and culture, the architecture, city scenes, notable characters among both the humans and dinosaurs, the saurian footprint alphabet, and so on. The diary incidentally recorded Will’s merging into this civilization as he made acquaintances among both the young humans and saurians, and grew up with the desire to join his skybax friend, Cirrus, in becoming one of Dinotopia’s elite messenger corps of flying saurians with human riders.
   The one weak aspect of Dinotopian knowledge was its own history, and this was what (Dinotopia hinted at its conclusion) would be the subject of its sequel. The World Beneath fills in this information in two parallel plots. Prof. Denison is finally ready to launch his expedition into the caverns that underlie the island, which he hopes will reveal the truths behind the legends of Dinotopia’s first, half-man half-dinosaur king and his lost city of Poseidos. Among his party is Bix, the small protoceratops-translator who was the Denisons’ first friend in Dinotopia. Meanwhile, Will and Cirrus receive their chance to join a dangerous mission to escort a convoy across Dinotopia’s last unexplored territory, the Rainy Basin, home of unfriendly tyrannosaurs. The stories remain parallel for the first three-quarters of the book, then merge as Denison and his expedition find an exit from the caverns in the Rainy Basin near where Will and his group are located. There are some brief adventures, but again the main focus is upon Gurney’s lavish art, with beautiful double-page spreads of awesome grottos, the ruins of ancient cities including forgotten mecha-sauroid technology, and so forth.
   What makes The World Beneath anthropomorphic is the presence of such intelligent saurians as Bix and Cirrus, the giganotosaur leader Stinktooth, the ailing baby triceratops Stubbs, and others. The best scene is the special meeting that Prof. Denison calls to propose his expedition, in a gigantic meeting hall in Waterfall City designed for both human and dinosaur elders, including a saurian stenographer with a foot-pedal writing machine. However, due to the artistic nature of The World Beneath, there is very little characterization among the cast. The dinosaurs, in particular, seldom stand out as much more than vivid but isolated pictures.
   Dinotopia as a scenario for stories works better in the series of juvenile novels that has recently appeared from Random House’s Bullseye paperback imprint (for young readers). These are without illustrations, so the whole story is told in a standard fiction format, with plenty of dialogue:

   Hugh growled in frustration as he saw the scroll was littered with characters and formulae he could not read, “Raymond! Quickly. What does it say?”
   Raymond was about to respond when Sollis [a dinosaur teacher] stopped him.
   “No,” Sollis said. “Hugh, if you want the secret so badly, you can learn to read it for yourself. What you have in your hands is a copy. There are others on the shelf. Borrow this one and see if you can unravel its mysteries.” (Scott Ciencin, Windchaser, pg. 52)

   Be warned that these novels may be too simplistic for most of Yarf!’s readers. They all feature twelve- to fourteen-year-old human protagonists, with some of Gurney’s supporting cast (such as Bix in Windchaser and Malik, the stenonychosaurus Timekeeper of Waterfall City in River Quest) as incidental characters. Windchaser introduces Dinotopia through the eyes of Raymond and Hugh, two English castaways who settle their own emotional losses and culture shock through bonding with Windchaser, a young skybax who had previously lost his human friend in an accident and needs his confidence restored. In River Quest, Magnolia (a native human) and Paddlefoot (her Lambeosaur comrade) are apprentices of wise Master Edwick and his Saltasaurus partner, Calico; the Dinotopian equivalent of Chief Forest Rangers. They expect to succeed their mentors eventually, but when Edwick and Calico are gravely injured, Magnolia and Paddlefoot must carry out an immediate investigation of an earthquake-diverted river in the tyrannosaur-dominated Rainy Basin, without their tutors’ comforting guidance. In Hatchling, Janet runs away from remorse with her dryosaur friend Zephyr after she falls asleep while guarding the eggs at a dinosaur hatchery. But she redeems herself by helping Kranog, an almost-extinct dinosaur who is injured in the forest, to save her rare last egg. In Lost City, three young castaways (Andrew from England, Lian from China, and Ned from Louisiana; which makes one wonder how rapidly Dinotopia is filling up with castaways?), find a hidden city of knightly stenonychosaurs and persuade them to rejoin Dinotopian society.
   Although all four novels have some mild drama, their emphasis is less on story or characterization than on depicting insecure young adolescents faced with their first mature responsibilities. All are helped by their saurian best friends to conquer their self-doubts, and acquit themselves so honorably that they become famous throughout Dinotopia. This wish-fulfillment similarity, plus the fact that all four are the same basic length, make them all look written to a preassigned formula. In many scenes the dinosaurs talk so humanly that, without illustrations, it is hard to keep in mind that they are not just human playmates. Readers might read one novel to make sure that it is to their taste before buying the others.

Title: Toad Triumphant
Author: William Horwood
Illustrator: Patrick Benson

HarperCollins U.K. (London), Oct 1995

ISBN: 0-00-225309-7

283 pages, £12.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) has been a literary classic for most of this century. William Horwood began writing sequels to it in 1993 with The Willows in Winter. Toad Triumphant is his second in the series.
   It must take nerve as well as talent to invite comparison with a famous masterpiece, yet Horwood has plenty of both. He is best known for his six-volume Duncton drama; an anthropomorphic saga about political/religious wars among English moles which combines the grandeur of Tolkien’s Middle Earth with the intolerance and brutality of the 17th-century Thirty Years’ War, in a massive 3,681 pages. This is an epic of a different sort than Grahame’s gentle wood-&-stream fantasy, yet Horwood has done an excellent job of simulating both Grahame’s writing style and the personalities of his well-known characters.
   The charm of the world of the Willows falls into two broad categories; the paean to the beauty of the English countryside, as seen through the eyes of Rat and Mole, and the rollicking exploits of the vain and high-spirited Toad. The two are symbiotic. The pastoral scenes are deeply moving, but too placid to support a whole novel on their own; while Toad’s hijinks are lively and amusing, but too shallow and, at their extremes, overly silly to hold our attention. The biggest complaint about Horwood’s writing is that he has imitated Grahame’s faults as well as his virtues.
   Toad Triumphant tells two parallel stories. Rat and Mole get curious about the origins of their beloved River, and decide to leave their River-bank community and explore up to its unknown—and, according to gossip, mysteriously dangerous—headwaters. Horwood is at his bucolic best here, focusing upon the honeysuckle growing on the ruin of an old mill or the butterflies fluttering over the lilacs near the riverbank as the two friends row upstream on their peaceful camping trip. Then, for contrast, Toad comes along in a roaring motor-launch:

   Cows and sheep turned and fled across fields at his loud approach; horses bolted in alarm, leaping gates to get away; rooks flocked up from trees and headed to all points of the compass in their eagerness to escape. As for those fish unfortunate enough to be harmlessly grubbing about amongst the weed and mud beneath the water, such as roach and perch, silver dace and stickleback, the shock of Toad’s passage caused general panic and disarray. (pgs. 156-157)

   Toad decides that Toad Hall needs a statue of himself. The sculptor whom he calls in is a distant cousin, a noted French artiste, Madame Florentine. Think of Miss Piggy as a toad, and you will know her.

   “’Ow ’appy I am!” said she, retaining her grasp of the hapless Toad, and squeezing tighter still. “’Ow content! Already I adore you!” (pg. 87)

   Badger, aghast, cannot decide whether the Countess should be endured for long enough to sculpt the statue (a second Toad is bad enough as a temporary guest), or whether she has more permanent, matrimonial intentions which must be firmly discouraged. Toad himself dithers between playing the devoted Romeo or the confirmed-bachelor Figaro. The plot develops in histrionic comic-opera style. A good time will be had by the reader.
   The dust-jacket blurb says that Patrick Benson’s numerous pen-&-ink drawings in the tradition of Ernest Shepard have “received outstanding praise”, which I will echo. The Wind in the Willows may not have needed a sequel, but it now has two which can stand with it as equals.

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