ANTHRO's index of anthropomorphic literature

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—Amazon.com, 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.

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by issue
by title

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#1 / Jan 1990







Cover of HOWLING MAD, by Peter David
Title: Howling Mad
Author: Peter David
Publisher: Ace Books (NYC), Nov 1989
ISBN: 0-441-34663-4
Paperback, 201 pages, USD $3.50
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Howling Mad is not the first werewolf tale about a wolf that turns into a man rather than the familiar vice-versa, but it may be the first to use that concept for a serious novel rather than a one-gimmick short story.
   Not that Howling Mad is completely serious. At one point, Darlene introduces the humanized wolf, Joshua, to movies by taking him to see An American Werewolf in London. That’s a joke, but it’s also Peter David’s acknowledgement of the novel’s model. The plot is original, but the basic concept and the mixture of black comedy and horror is too similar to be coincidental. Yet there is a key difference. Landis’ movie is a tragedy in which the werewolf hero is powerless to alter his doom. David’s novel is a quirky thriller in which Joshua the werewolf (wereman?) has considerably more freedom of action. The story keeps the reader guessing what will happen to him, except for the fact that there will be a happy ending because the novel is told by Joshua as a flashback.
   A demonic werewolf (eight feet tall, bipedal, with fiery eyes) is terrorizing a Canadian town and forest. It attacks both men and animals. The only survivor of one of its attacks is the leader of the local wolf pack, who is badly enough wounded that he is unable to escape when found by hunters. The wolf is sold to a New York City zoo, which is where he is when the next full moon turns him into a man. The novel relaxes and segues into his humorous misadventures as he encounters Darlene, an animal-rights activist who can’t hold on to a boyfriend, and she determines to teach him human ways. Yet he is only human for a couple of days each month; the rest of the time, he’s a wolf being hidden in a no-pets-allowed apartment house. He is also a wolf who feels an obligation to his pack and mate, and is torn between his developing relationship with Darlene and his need to return to his forest to help defend it against the monster. And the demonic werewolf has his own agenda in New York to strike against Joshua.
   This comedic thriller is primarily about humans, but there are plenty of clever anthropomorphic incidents in it. When Joshua tells of his life as leader of his pack, it’s a good realistic wolf’s-eye description of lupine sociology. When the wolf turns human, he gains human intelligence but not knowledge. (David essentially admits that he stretches coincidence pretty thin in keeping Joshua free in the midst of New York long enough to figure out speech and the necessity of wearing clothes.) When he turns wolf again, he retains his human memories but they are compressed by his wolf’s intellect. This enables Joshua to make many sardonic comments about civilization from the viewpoint of an intelligent animal while he is human. After he becomes a wolf again, David plausibly describes how his wolf’s memory of what he learned as a human might help him battle the demon. Joshua is more richly characterized than a fictional wolf who conveniently has human intelligence. Howling Mad is a novel that is definitely worth adding to Furry reading lists.

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#2 / Mar 1990







Cover of CAT HOUSE, by Michael Peak
Title: Cat House
Author: Michael Peak
Publisher: Signet Books/New American Library (NYC), Sep 1989
ISBN: 0-451-16303-6
Paperback, 255 pages, USD $3.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   A three-page prologue gives the impression that this novel is going to be very imitative of Watership Down. Fortunately, this is misleading. Cat House is in that genre, the talking ‘realistic animal’ story, but it is refreshingly original and imaginative.
   The setup is the same as in Watership Down, or in countless folk tales of how the Maker created the world and all of the furry, feathery, and scaly people upon it. In this case, the focus is upon the cats— Felis domestica in particular. Their name in Peak’s animal language is the ‘farries’, evoking resonances of both ‘furry’ and ‘faery’.

   “But the man will be their friend,” said Farri hopefully.
   “The man will be their provider,” said the Creator, “although cats will certainly be able to take care of themselves. Just like man. And just like man, they will have no true friends in the animal world. They will have only themselves, and each other…” (pg. 9)

   A large community of farries live together with their paladins (the human companions who feed and protect them) in a modern suburb of San Diego, on the edge of the California desert. The farries love and reward their paladins with affection, but they really prefer to conduct their social affairs outside of their paladins’ notice, in back alleys and vacant lots.
   This farri community is different than most. One of the Creator’s rules to all animals is to be fruitful and multiply, which cats do frequently and joyfully. However, some female farries are taken by their paladins to be scarred, after which they no longer go into heat. They can still enjoy the pleasure of mating, but if they cannot go into heat, they are usually fated to watch the toms go courting elsewhere. But this community contains a wise cat, Mistress Halina, who organizes the scarred girls and teaches them how to be sophisticated in attracting the toms. Halina’s Den soon becomes the most popular social spot in the community.
   Halina tries to maintain friendly relations with everyone. But one of the toms, Coron, is so disgustingly brutal to the girls that she is forced to order him away permanently. In revenge, Coron starts a campaign to convince the normal females that it is sacrilege against the Creator for cats who cannot bear young to continue mating. Unfocused jealously quickly swells into an organized, self-righteous crusade to force Halina’s girls from the community. At the same time, a drought is driving wildlife from the desert into the housing development. This includes individual menaces such as rattlesnakes and hawks, and a very large menace in the form of a pack of krahstas (coyotes), the age-old enemies of the farries. And this pack has an unusually skillful leader, Dahrkron, a fanatic who believes himself blessed by the Creator to destroy all farries.
   Cat House switches back and forth between three viewpoints: Halina and her closest friends, Mahri and Melena, as they try to fight the growing prejudice against them; Dahrkron and his pack as they grow in strength and daring attacks; and Roger Anderson, Halina’s paladin, who works for the San Diego Courier and who suspects that one of his neighbors is engaged in organized crime. This third plot is nicely handled, but it seems to have no connection with the novel other than to serve as an example of the paladins’ own affairs which keep them too busy to notice what is happening among the farries all around them. It feels like poorly-justified padding, which keeps annoyingly interrupting the real story. But despite this, Cat House is a strong enough and unusual enough anthropomorphic novel to make it a must-read title.

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#3 / Mar 1990







Cover of FRANKY FURBO, by William Wharton
Title: Franky Furbo
Author: William Wharton
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company (NYC), Oct 1989

ISBN: 0-8050-1120-X
Hardcover, 228 pages, USD $50.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

ISBN: 0-8050-1157-9
Trade paperback, 228 pages, USD $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   William Wiley is an elderly writer of children’s stories. His popular character is Franky Furbo, a magical fox who has adventures with humans and with animals on Earth and in outer space. But the fox is not fictional. In 1944, Wiley was a young American soldier participating in the attack on Monte Cassino during the Allied invasion of Italy. He and a German soldier were caught in an artillery barrage, and both were dying when Franky Furbo saved their lives. It took months for the clever fox to nurse them back to health, during which he told them his life story and helped the two to exchange memories to make them all friends. When Wiley returned to the Army, his insistence that he was saved by a talking fox got him a psychiatric discharge. Nobody believed him except for the girl that he later married. To save his own reputation, Wiley stopped insisting that Franky Furbo was real and turned the fox’s adventures into a series of children’s fantasies. So after forty years, Franky Furbo is a popular fictional character throughout the world, but only William Wiley and his family know that he is real.
   Except that they don’t. The novel begins with Wiley’s discovery that his wife has only been humoring him all this time. She loves him but she can’t believe in his delusion. Crushed, Wiley begins to doubt his own sanity. He has to admit to himself that he has deliberately simplified Franky Furbo’s adventures, because even he could not comprehend all that the fox told him—of being able to teleport around the world in an instant, to read minds, to speak all languages, to transmute himself into any shape or size. The only thing that Franky Furbo could not do was to understand why he was so different from other foxes. He had been obsessed with solving the mystery of himself. Now Wiley must also find out the answer, or admit to himself that he is crazy. The only source of information would seem to be the German soldier who Franky Furbo also saved—if Wiley can find him after over forty years.
   Franky Furbo is an unusual blend of themes. It is partly a pseudo-traditional young children’s fantasy, partly a novel of psychological self-analysis, partly modern science-fiction, and partly a sophisticated inspirational fantasy (a la Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull). The beginning is dangerously weak; a bit too cute and simplistic. But that turns out to be deliberate; the author is downplaying elements that will reappear more seriously later on.
   The novel is also a riddle right up to the climax as to whether Franky Furbo is a real or an imaginary character. There are clues throughout the story; for example, consider the author’s name, the protagonist’s name, and the meaning of the Italian word ‘furbo’. (At the risk of getting too cute myself, I will say that Wharton dares to go where Doc Smith only hinted at.) But most importantly, Franky Furbo and other anthropomorphic characters appear often enough through samples of Wiley’s children’s stories, through Wiley’s memories of the ‘real’ Franky, and in other revelations, that the reader will not feel cheated. Don’t let the bland opening put you off; Franky Furbo is definitely a novel that anthropomorphic fans (especially fox fans) will enjoy.
   A ‘prepub’ announcement in Library Journal last year stated that, “The story is something of a fairy tale, which may or may not explain why Steven Spielberg is now in the midst of filming it.” Nobody else seems to know anything about Spielberg filming Franky Furbo, so maybe the story was only optioned and then dropped. Or maybe it will still appear on the big screen someday.


Cover of CATFANTASTIC, edited by Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg
Title: Catfantastic: Nine Lives and Fifteen Tales
Editors: Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg
Publisher: DAW Books (NYC), Jul 1989
ISBN: 0-88677-355-5
Paperback, 320 pages, USD $3.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This anthology contains fifteen new stories, plus a brief introduction by Norton, written especially for it. All of them deal with cats in S-F or fantastic situations, and all are well written. Other than that, the editors have aimed at a wide variety of moods, styles, and treatments. There are grim dramas and comedies; adventures on distant planets and in wizards’ dens; tales told by the cats themselves and stories in which humans observe strange things that happen to cats. Some cats are normal; some stories reveal that humans have no idea what ‘normal’ means when dealing with cats. There are ghostly cats, magically enchanted cats, and scientifically bioengineered cats.
   The most anthropomorphized cats are the witches’ and wizards’ familiars, in Elizabeth H. Boyer’s Borrowing Trouble, Donna Farley’s It Must Be Some Place, P. M. Griffin’s Trouble, and Ardath Mayhar’s From the Diary of Hermione. Cats encounter, and in some cases save Earth from, interstellar or pandimensional vermin in Jaygee Carr’s Wart, C. S. Friedman’s The Dreaming Kind, Mercedes Lackey’s SKitty, Patricia Shaw Mathews’ The Game of Cat and Rabbit, and Ann Miller and Karen Elizabeth Rigley’s It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s … Supercat. (One of those is actually an old English folk tale in a S-F setting; see how quickly you recognize it.) There is a shared-world story, Wilanne Schneider Belden’s The Gate of the Kittens, which is set in Andre Norton’s Witch World universe; although Norton’s own story here, Noble Warrior, is a Victorian thriller with a nod to Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. There are stories in which cats are revealed as benevolent galactic guardians of inferior species (humans), as brave protectors of mistreated children, or as cupids who help their humans find romance.
   Technically, not all the stories in Catfantastic deal with anthropomorphic cats, but enough do to justify a review of it here. Besides, I hope that none of Yarf!’s readers will be so narrow-minded as to ignore a good story just because its cats happen to be ‘normal’. And several stories feature more than one anthropomorphized cat—not to mention anthro birds, mice, dogs, and even a sea serpent and a hobgoblin or two. The wide variety in Catfantastic means that not every story may be to your taste, but the majority of them should be.

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#4 / May 1990







Cover of THE ELEVENTH HOUR, by Grahame Base
Cover is of a later Puffin edition
Title: The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery
Author: Graeme Base
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (NYC), Oct 1989
ISBN: 0-8109-0851-4

32 art pages + 7 text pages, USD $14.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   You may not instantly recognize the name Graeme Base, but you are almost certainly familiar with his alphabet book, Animalia, by now. “Unruly unicorns upending urns of ultramarine umbrellas”, and so forth. Published in America in 1987, it was a best-seller fine-art book for all ages despite its “children’s picture book” categorization. It established the young Australian artist’s reputation as a master of wonderfully rococo visual fantasy in the tradition of Brian Froud and Patrick Woodruffe, but specializing in anthropomorphized animals rather than on creatures of færie.
   Now Base has followed Animalia up with another art book in the same vein. The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery is an ostensible children’s picture book with rhyming text. It is Horace Elephant’s eleventh birthday, and the wealthy young pachyderm organizes a sumptuous party for himself at his luxurious estate. A number of his animal friends spend the day at party and at play, only to be rudely confronted by a dramatic mystery in the evening. The reader is warned on the first page to watch for clues and hidden messages in each picture. The fact that some of these clues require the reader to be able to read musical notation, Morse code, mirror writing, rebuses, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, to name just a few of the different codes, emphasizes that this is much more than just a children’s book.
   But it is an art book for all ages. Young children can enjoy the lush paintings full of colorfully costumed animals without worrying about the puzzle. The main purpose of the mystery is to give older readers a justification (as if any justification were needed) to study the paintings especially closely, instead of breezing through the book—to consciously see all of the fine details hidden in each complex illustration. Horace is a very wealthy elephant, and his home is a palace rich in architecture and interior décor of all history from the temples of Karnak to the drawing rooms of Mozart’s patrons. The party costumes of Horace’s animal guests are a treat for connoisseurs of lavish clothing and jewelry.
   The solution of the mystery is given, with a listing and explanation of the hidden messages, in a sealed section at the back of the book. You had better check the copy of The Eleventh Hour that you pick up before you pay for it, because of eight copies at the bookshop where I got mine, only two were in fact sealed. The seal is a paper wafer designed by Base especially for this book. You will miss a minor but delightful bit of his art if your copy of the book does not have it.


Cover of THE COACHMAN RAT, by David Henry Wilson
Title: The Coachman Rat
Author: David Henry Wilson
Publisher:

Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. (NYC), Oct 1989

ISBN: 0-88184-508-6

171 pages, USD $13.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the story of the rat that Cinderella’s fairy godmother transforms into a human coachman to take her to the Prince’s ball, and of what happens after the stroke of midnight. The coachman, Robert, reverts to his rat form but retains his human intelligence and speech. Neither rat nor human, yet both, he struggles to discover where he now fits into the societies of men and of rats—and he innocently brings tragedy and doom to all.
   The jacket blurb describes The Coachman Rat as “a brilliant and provocative” retelling of “the fantasy-horror tale” of Cinderella. I hadn’t known that Cinderella was a horror tale, but these are revisionist times. We must rely upon those who are wise enough to see beyond the surface to reveal to us the true meaning of things. (Such as all those helpful souls who pointed out that Disney’s The Little Mermaid is demeaningly sexist and an insult to womanhood.) How many orphans went hungry due to the taxes to pay for the Prince’s ball? What about all the wretches suffering in the royal dungeons while the Prince poses as the benevolent sovereign? Never thought about them, didya!?
   This “gripping fantasy” is more than just a retelling of Cinderella. There are equally strong portions of the Pied Piper legend and of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror in it. Wilson blends them together very imaginatively. Yet the novel reeks of a self-conscious cleverness that stifles any real emotion. All of the characters are stereotypes, introduced one at a time and displayed to be seen for what they are before being activated to react against the other stereotypes. Amadea (Cinderella) is Goodness; the Prince is Nobility; Biggs the drunkard is Greed; Dr. Richter the scientist is Intellectual Pretension; Jenkins the scholar is Humanity; the scheming Devlin is Politics; John the palace guard is the Easily-Misled Masses—and Robert is Everyman, the Fool of the Tarot deck, an innocent who has the capacity and the opportunity to develop into anything, and who is molded through carelessness and callousness into a grim punisher. There are some witty lines, some convincing philosophical arguments, and some unexpected plot twists. But it remains a clever puppet play rather than a live drama. These puppets perform until all of their strings have been cut. Then it’s all over. Applause for the author, please.

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#5 / Jul 1990







Cover of CARMEN DOG, by Carol Emshwiller
Title: Carmen Dog
Author: Carol Emshwiller
Publisher:

Mercury House (San Francisco), Mar 1990

ISBN: 0-916505-70-2
Hardcover, 161 pages, $15.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

ISBN: 0-916505-77-X

Trade paperback, $9.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Mercury House is strongly promoting this as “a feminist Animal Farm.” It is certainly feminist, but I see closer stylistic parallels with Pinocchio and with the classic Italian comic operas. The characters are deliberately histrionic; they posture exaggeratedly; the action takes place in a few locales that are described in the manner of artistically-stylized stage sets. There is the imagery everywhere of opera and of haiku; two very intellectual art forms. Carmen Dog is totally different in mood from the dramatic adventure narrative of Animal Farm.
   Females are changing throughout the world. Female animals are evolving into humans; female humans are devolving into animals. Pooch is a pedigreed golden setter who is the devoted pet of an upper-class couple, from whom she has picked up a passion for opera. Pooch finds herself taking on more and more of the household wifely chores, including minding the baby, as her mistress degenerates into a nasty snapping turtle. One day when the master is on a business trip, the mistress becomes too dangerous to stay around. Pooch flees with the baby into the streets of New York City.
   The world’s men are extremely annoyed. They are sure the females are doing this just to be contrary, to upset the natural order of male dominance. A doctor gets a government grant to perform electroshock research on the womanized animals. Among those caught and delivered to him are Pooch and the baby. (Pooch had managed to see a performance of Carmen before her capture and is now calling herself Pucci; she dreams of becoming an opera star.) The doctor shocks everyone, including the baby. His assistant is his dumpy wife, Rosemary, who seems kindly but is too passive to restrain him. (Besides, a good wife does not contradict her husband.)
   Pucci and the other animal-women escape. She hopes to find refuge with an operatic impresario, Valdoviccini, but he is, alas, more interested in her for reasons of lust than for her talent. The government decides that women are more trouble than they are worth. It constructs an Academy of Motherhood on Fifty-seventh Street:

   It looks rather like a fortress; indeed, it is a fortress, for no one wants motherhood defenseless in the modern world, or at the mercy of primitive forces. Major stumbling blocks are the mothers themselves. (Perhaps in the future a small monetary reward for mothering might not be out of line.) It is hoped that, under the aegis of the Academy of Sciences, motherhood will be modernized and mechanized and become a true science. (pg. 110)

   Meanwhile, the animal-women are being gathered into a secret sisterhood, whose leader is none other than Rosemary. To keep the police from seizing Rosemary, many of the animal-women disguise themselves in Rosemary rubber-masks and frumpy housecoats. The police disguise themselves as Rosemarys to infiltrate the feminist movement. Rosemary advises the women to disguise themselves as policemen to infiltrate the military-industrial leadership. Soon New York is filled with badly-disguised Rosemarys and policemen rushing about. There is more, but it all ends in a grand climax in which everyone realizes that mankind and womankind should live in harmony as equals – “Neither Conqueror nor Conquered; Neither Victory nor Defeat”, as Pooch titles the grand aria in the opera she writes to commemorate the birth of this new world.
   Carmen Dog is full of animal-women in various stages of hybridization: Chloe, the sexy Siamese cat woman; Mary Ann, the awkward duck(?)/swan(?) woman; Isabel, the murderous wolverine woman; and more. This is a different and a clever novel, but it may be too self-consciously literary and affected for the tastes of the average Furry fan.


Cover of BRIXOI, by Foster and Fletcher
Title: BRIXOI
Author: Tom Foster & Ken Fletcher
Publisher:

Neo-Zagatine Press, Apr 1990

ISBN:

100 pages. $10.00 (incl. postage & handling)

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2007 note: In its initial 1990 appearance, this review contained information on where to order BRIXOI from. Since this information is no longer accurate or relevant, it has been deleted from the current presentation.

   BRIXOI is a Neo-Zagatine publication of exactly 100 81/2" x 11" pages, issued simultaneously by Ken Fletcher in Minneapolis and by Tom Foster in Memphis. Ken Fletcher and Tom Foster have been drawing funny animals for years in fanzines, and this is a sampler of their work. Some pages are drawn by Ken Fletcher. Some are drawn by Tom Foster. Some are drawn by both Tom Foster and Ken Fletcher. A lot of the art is brand new, while other pages are reprints of old fanzine covers, personal Christmas cards, convention flyers, and the like, going back to 1982 or 1971 or whenever. (The copyright date on page 31 is 30,000 B.C.)
   The book? fanzine? folio? is divided into four sections: The Art of Getting Around; The Cartoon Artist; In Search of Frogsworth; and Miscellaneous Row. But there is no real continuity. BRIXOI is just a collection of (presumably) what Foster & Fletcher consider to be some of their best fanzine funny-animal drawing of the past couple of decades. Sober and drunken funny animals. Funny animals flying spaceships and driving Model Ts. Funny animals playing the piano or washing dishes. Funny animal carpenters and sheriffs and bag ladies and politicians and soldiers and mythological deities. 100 pages of funny animals. An inside-back-cover Afterword refers to this as “the first book of BRIXOI”, so maybe there are more coming. I can certainly remember some great funny animal drawings by Fletcher and/or Foster over the past twenty years that are not in this volume, so there is room for more.


Cover of NORMAL U.S.A., by Michael Jantze
Title: Normal u.s.a.—chili maneuvers
Author: Michael Jantze
Publisher:

Harvest Moon (Los Angeles), 1988

ISBN:

200 pages, $7.50 + shipping & sales tax

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2007 editor’s note: In its initial 1990 appearance, this review contained information on where to order Normal u.s.a. from; since the book is on the author’s website for all to browse freely, that information has been deleted from the current presentation.

   Do newspaper comic strips such as Berke Breathed’s Bloom County with a mixed human/anthropomorphic cast qualify for inclusion in an ‘Anthro Alert’ column? If you’re willing to stretch a point, you might want to read Normal u.s.a.—chili maneuvers, by Mike Jantze; Los Angeles, Harvest Moon, 1988. Normal began as a comic strip in the Cal State Northridge Daily Sundial in the mid-’80s, but this is a collection of new, unpublished strips that continue the lives and misadventures of his characters after Jantze graduated and the college paper dropped the strip. (It is part of an as-yet-unsuccessful development of Normal u.s.a. as a regular comic strip that Jantze is submitting to the newspaper syndicates.)
   Normal u.s.a. has a mostly human cast, but there are a few delightful fantasy-animal characters, notably A. C., the beer-drinking armadillo whose relationship to the protagonists, Norm and Lynn, is halfway between a pet and a self-invited permanent house guest. (He cooks up a mean pot of chili.)

YARF! logo
#6 / Aug 1990






The Redwall Trilogy, by Brian Jacques. Illustrated by Gary Chalk.

Cover of REDWALL, by Brian Jacques
Cover of the Philomel Books edition
Title: Redwall
Publisher: Philomel Books (New York), Mar 1987
ISBN: 0-399-21424-0
Hardcover, 351 pages, $15.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Publisher: Avon Books (New York), Mar 1990
ISBN: 0-380-70827-2
Paperback, 351 pages, $4.50
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Cover of MOSSFLOWER, by Brian Jacques

Title: Mossflower
Publisher: Philomel Books (New York), Sep 1988
ISBN: 0-399-21549-2
Hardcover, 431 pages, $16.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Cover of MATTIMEO, by Brian Jacques

Title: Mattimeo
Publisher: Philomel Books (New York), May 1990
ISBN: 0-399-21741-X
Hardcover, 448 pages, $16.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   The Redwall novels teeter between a juvenile and adult readership. The original British editions are published by Hutchinson Children’s Books, Ltd., but the U.S. paperback edition by Avon Books is packaged as an adult literary fantasy “in the glorious tradition of Watership Down”. The final novel has just appeared in hardcover, and the first has just been reissued in an ‘inexpensive’ mass-market edition.
   The trilogy is actually closer to an anthropomorphized version of Tolkien. Jacques’ world does not have magic, but his animal characters wear clothing, build their own houses and castles, and fight with their own swords and crossbows. Like Tolkien’s Hobbits, Jacques’ protagonists are peaceful yeomen (mice, moles, squirrels, rabbits, badgers) whose community is menaced by an army of carnivorous conquerors (weasels, rats, stoats, foxes) led by a truly evil commander. The woodland community must train itself to fight for its survival. One among them stands out as a warrior, and he must go on a dangerous quest while his mates try to hold the invaders back until he can return with aid.
   Redwall is the story of the castle-like monastery of that name, an abbey in the forested land of Mossflower. Matthias is a young mouse in training to enter its Order of healers and scholars. However, he is more fascinated by the legend of Martin the Warrior, the brave mouse who drove away Mossflower’s enemies generations ago. When Mossflower is invaded anew by the hordes of Cluny the Scourge, a rat who combines the attributes of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, Matthias proves to have the skills of leadership to rally a resistance against them. But Matthias is convinced that he must obtain Martin’s long-missing sword before he can be a true warrior, so he leaves on a long quest to find it, while his friends grimly defend Redwall Abbey during the increasingly desperate siege.
   Mossflower is Martin’s story. It is basically Redwall with the details reversed. Martin is a young Northern barbarian mouse who wanders into Mossflower, an animal community that had been conquered a generation earlier by the wildcat Verdauga and his mustelid ruffians. Verdauga has just been succeeded by his sadistic daughter Tsarmina, who is so murderous that she provokes the sullen Mosslanders into open revolt. Where Redwall was about vicious predators attacking the peaceful animals in their abbey, Mossflower is about the peaceful animals escaping into the woods and forming a Robin Hood-style peasant army to besiege the villains in their dark castle of Kotir. But the peasants fare badly against Tsarmina’s trained fighters, so Martin and two companions leave on a quest to find the legendary badger warrior, Boar the Fighter, and enlist his aid. Again the novel splits into two parallel stories, that of the heroic questors and that of the woodland animals battling to save themselves and their home.
   Mattimeo features three parallel stories. Slagar the Cruel, a fox injured in the battles of Redwall, returns about a dozen mouse-years later for revenge. He kidnaps the community’s children, including Matthias’ son Mattimeo, and takes them to be sold into slavery to he rats of the underground kingdom of Malkariss. Matthias leads a rescue party after the slavers. It has barely left Redwall when the abbey is attacked by an army of crows, magpies and rooks led by General Ironbeak. The novel shifts back and forth between the hardship of young Mattimeo and his playmates as they are dragged towards the evil rats’ kingdom; the adventures of Matthias and his warriors as they race to overtake the slave caravan; and the battles inside Redwall as its woodland defenders are forced down floor by floor into the cellars.
   The three Redwall novels bring to mind another comparison; the classical theatrical animated cartoon series such as the Road Runner and the Coyote, or Tom & Jerry. The first one is delightful, but watching three or more at the same time makes it overly obvious to what extent they are similar to each other. All three novels have the same types of characters who react in the same ways. All three involve an ancient prophecy that must be unriddled. All three have stylistic repetitions that, taken together, seem too unimaginative. Jacques’ novels were originally published a year or more apart, but now they are all available together. You will probably enjoy any one of them, but it may be a mistake to read all three too closely together.


Title: It’s Raining Cats and Dogs… and Other Beastly Expressions
Author: Christine Ammer
Illustrator: Cathy Bobak
Publisher:

Paragon House (New York), Oct 1988

ISBN: 1-55778-057-9
Hardcover, vii + 247 pages, $19.95
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ISBN: 1-55778-086-2

Trade paperback, $9.95

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Publisher:

Dell Publishing/Laurel Books (New York), Nov 1989

ISBN: 0-440-20507-7

No illustrations: viii + 279 pages, $5.95

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   The title tells it like it is. The Preface defines it further: “The nearly 1,000 terms in this book are arranged into nine general animal categories: cats, dogs, domestic fowl, farm animals, wild animals, birds, reptilians and amphibians, insects, and marine animals. They are roughly alphabetical within these categories, but the reader is advised to consult the complete index at the back of the book.”
   
This is a brisk and chatty dictionary of animal-related expressions in modern English, such as blind as a bat. Cats and dogs are popular enough to merit chapters of their own. Other animals are clumped into broader categories. For some animals, such as the horse, there are three or four pages filled with phrases. For others, such as the ostrich, there is only a single term.
   The general format for each entry is to begin with a literary quotation which alludes to the animal (e.g., “Paulina her first husband made a stag.” Thomas Pecke, Parnassi Puererium (1659)); to define the origin of the animal’s name (from Latin, Old English, or whatever); to briefly describe the animal’s characteristics; and finally to cite the catchphrases, with an attempt to establish their origins or at least the period to which their earliest usages have been raced. Ammer also includes some negative information; for example, she reveals that the term crazy as a loon does not derive from that waterbird’s maniacal-sounding cry, but the other way about. The bird was called the diver until the early 17th century, when people began to use the name loon because it sounded like a lunatic laughing. Phrases cited go back as far as the Old Testament and Æsop’s fables (which Ammer dates to 570 B.C.), and are as recent as current sports slang and comic-strip references.
   The book is designated by its publisher as ‘humor/reference’, indicating that it is equally appropriate for pleasurely browsing and for serious etymological study.
   There is a good index, making it easy to locate each term. In addition to the expressions and definitions themselves, here is interesting information on the evolution of animal names (e.g., hound was the general English word for all dogs until about 1050 A.D., then dog replaced it and hound came to mean specifically a dog used for hunting), and on the invention or creation of items with animal-related names such as hot dog and hobby-horses. There are even references to Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny and to Al Capp’s Skonk Works—which call attention to the only omission that I noted; there is no mention of a Mickey Mouse affair as a term of disparagement. (There is also no mention of E. C. Segar’s Eugene the Jeep, which popularly was the inspiration for the name of the U.S. military’s well-known General Purpose vehicle, but that could be justified on the grounds that the book does not include references to fantastic or mythological animals at all.)
   It’s Raining Cats and Dogs… is very comprehensive in its coverage. Ammer is a professional lexicographer with numerous dictionaries and similar educational books to her credit. The original edition came out in October 1988, but it is still available in bookshops. Now there is also a popular paperback edition, in Dell/Laurel’s The Intrepid Linguist Library series, which is priced more conveniently for a fan’s personal bookshelf. Note, however, that the Laurel edition does not contain the humorous cartoon illustrations of the Paragon House edition.

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#7 / Sep 1990







Cover of SKYWATER, by Melinda Worth Popham
Title: Skywater
Author: Melinda Worth Popham
Publisher:

Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), May 1990

ISBN: 1-55597-127-X

206 pages, $17.95

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   Skywater is a superb nature novel in the tradition of Jack London’s Call of the Wild. It follows a band of coyotes who are driven by the pollution of the ground water from their home territory in the Sonora desert near Yuma, Arizona. The coyotes are introduced through the eyes of an old retired couple, Albert and Hallie Ryder, who give them names based on brand products: Dinty Moore, Kodak, Boyardee, and the like. The novel uses these for convenience, but makes it clear that this is a deliberate human convention. The coyotes’ own awareness of their identities is more basic: The leader, the loyal follower, the challenger, the two females, the three-legged (injured) one, etc. The coyotes are anthropomorphized as little as possible, mostly just to give them a common goal—to search for the legendary Skywater, the home of all waters—and an awareness that it to their mutual advantage to seek this goal together, instead of living as loners as coyotes usually do.
   Popham convincingly puts the reader into a coyote’s mind, to see and think and be aware as a real coyote. The small amount of anthropomorphization is consistent with native American psychologies and beliefs. The leader, Brand X, thinks of the Moon in terms of his dead father’s white eye; the coyotes superstitiously regard undrinkable seawater as reserved for the spirits of their ancestors. But in general, Skywater presents the coyotes realistically rather than humanizing them to the extent, say, of Felix Salten’s Bambi: A Life in the Woods.
   The story takes a group of scruffy, look-alike, non-talking animals and succeeds in making each of them sharply individualized, capable of nonverbal communication, and sympathetic. It also realistically presents the dangers faced by modern Southwestern wildlife: Crossing busy highways, the large Yuma Proving Ground weapons test range, the inevitable result when large predators lose their fear of humans and come raiding for food in human communities. Popham shows that there are many people who are seriously concerned with wildlife preservation who nevertheless feel that coyotes are so prolific and are a menace to genuinely Endangered Species that they need to be cut back. It is because she presents all the ecological arguments in such an objective manner, and still comes out strongly in favor of the coyotes, that the ‘moon-callers’ stand out as such sympathetic characters. And it is because this is primarily an adventure novel and only secondarily an educational tract that readers will enjoy it whether they care about the Message or not. Seven coyotes against modern human civilization—do they really have a chance? Read Skywater and find out.
   Skywater is realistic enough that it may not be to the taste of those who prefer anthropomorphs who dress, talk, and act just like regular humans in animal costumes. Those who are intrigued by characters who mix their species’ individual traits with human-level intelligence will enjoy Skywaterand may find it a valuable reference for constructing coyotid Furry characters.


Cover of SHAMAN, by Sandra Miesel
Title: Shaman
Author: Sandra Miesel
Publisher:

Baen Books (New York), Oct 1989

ISBN: 0-671-69844-3

306 pages, $3.50

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   About half of Shaman does not have any anthropomorphic characters, but it is a very good novel that you should enjoy anyhow. Ria Legarde is an unhappy citizen in an overly regimented and monitored future. She has dreams in which her consciousness visits parallel worlds, some better and some worse. Her mind is lured to an Earth that has trained ESP powers, and which has bioengineered otters to partnership with humanity. Ria becomes a close friend of Lute, an otter technician, and visits him often. There is a lengthy scene in which she is invited to the otter’s coastal community to join one of their festivals. Ria remains in mental contact with Lute when she must return to her own world, and the two work together to save her from PSI, the ‘thought police’.
   Miesel extrapolates upon the otter’s natural playfulness and gregariousness to give her intelligent otter people a lively and impish personality, which is just as serious and practical as the drably-enforced ‘responsibility’ of Ria’s society. The otters’ own communal life-style is patterned after the extended families of the Polynesians.


Cover of CATHOUSE, by Dean Ing
Title: Cathouse
Author: Dean Ing
Publisher:

Baen Books (New York), May 1990

ISBN: 0-671-69872-9

247 pages, $3.95

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Dean Ing’s Cathouse is in no way related to Michael Peak’s Cat House, reviewed in Yarf! #2.

   Cathouse consists of two novellas that were originally published in Baen’s The Man-Kzin Wars (June 1988) and Man-Kzin Wars II (August 1989). If you have those, you don’t need this. These are shared-world stories, set in Larry Niven’s Known Space universe. Niven established in his stories that mankind has repeatedly beaten the cat-like Kzinti in a series of violent space wars, but the instinctively warlike Kzinti won’t give up. In this new series, other writers are describing the events of the Fourth Man-Kzin War. Cathouse is fully understandable on its own, and Ing is more successful than some writers in depicting the Kzin as intriguing Furry anthropomorphs rather than just a savage alien enemy.
   Carroll Locklear is human scholar captured by a small Kzinti warship when the war breaks out. He is dumped on an unexplored planet for temporary safekeeping. Locklear discovers that the planet is actually a base of the Outsiders, mysterious aliens whom nobody has ever seen but who left their artifacts throughout the galaxy. The world is a prehistoric zoo, with specimens in suspended animation from both and the Kzin homeworld of 40,000 years ago.
   In the first story, Locklear has to awaken the ancient Kzin, reach an understanding with them, and manipulate ancient-modern Kzin rivalries to his advantage to gain his freedom. In the second story, Locklear is having his own problems with the Neanderthals whom he revives in the Earth biosphere, but these fade to insignificance when human space-navy mutineers come to the planet. Locklear has to return to the Kzin biosphere and get involved in their deadly politics again to win their help against the modern humans, who are the most viciously murderous of all.
   Ing shows the Kzin as tiger-like anthropomorphs with an intelligence that has evolved from feline traits. A key story development is the manner in which Locklear and some of the Kzin use their intelligence to rise above their conflicting instincts for their mutual advantage.


Cover of RATHA AND THISTLE-CHASER, by Clare Bell
Title: Ratha and Thistle-chaser
Author: Clare Bell
Publisher:

McElderry Books (New York), Apr 1990

ISBN: 0-689-50462-4

232 pages, $14.95

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   Bell’s Ratha series (Ratha’s Creature, 1983; Clan Ground, 1984) is set twenty-five million years in Earth’s past. Hominids have not yet appeared, but a clan of large, cougar-like cats have evolved to intelligence. They have developed a language and a tribal society, and they have learned how to herd primitive deer and horses for a permanent food supply. The cats protect them from other predators, and take care that their own appetites do not outmatch their herd’s breeding powers. However, the clan is far outnumbered by hostile wild felines, some of which are unintelligent and some of which are equally smart but unwilling to restrain their gluttony and would slaughter the whole herd for an immediate feast. Also, the cats of the clan have noticed that the offspring of mating within the clan are always intelligent, whereas the cubs of matings between themselves and wild cats may or may not be intelligent.
   Ratha is introduced in Ratha’s Creature as an adventurous adolescent who dares to question the traditions and beliefs of the clan. She is driven out to become an outcast. During her wanderings before she returns to the clan, she mates with an Un-Named cat; but when her cubs are apparently unintelligent, she sorrowfully abandons them. By the conclusion of the first novel, Ratha is the new leader of the clan of the Named, and the adventures in Clan Ground confirm her in this position.
   Ratha and Thistle-chaser is set three years after the first novel and two years after the second. It tells two parallel stories. One is of a crippled, solitary young cat who is obviously one of Ratha’s abandoned cubs. The second is of the clan, forced by a drought to search for a new pasture for the herdbeasts, who discover the seacoast. Ratha’s daughter has already staked out her lonely home here, surviving on shellfish and fish trapped in tidal pools. The wild cat’s intelligence is erratic, but to what extent is this actual feeble-mindedness and to what extent is it due to growing up as a truly feral child? Whatever the reason, is she an equal of the clan? Intelligence aside, what psychological and emotional scars does she bear that might prevent her friendly adoption by the clan? And can Ratha, now accustomed to leadership, afford to acknowledge that she made a mistake? Ratha’s two old clan friends, Thakur and Fessran, watch with growing unease as stubbornness and misunderstandings on both sides appear to lead toward an unavoidable and tragic conflict.
   Bell’s intelligent cats are attractive creatures. They are plausibly anthropomorphized, with consciousness laid over their feline attributes rather than replacing them. In fact, it is difficult to read these books without being subtly depressed because Ratha’s people are not alive today—i.e., their fight for survival as told in these stories must have ultimately failed.
   If you have read the first two novels, you will enjoy this one. If you have not, you should start with Ratha’s Creature. In addition to giving the full background of Ratha and her cubs, it is a more satisfying story. Ratha’s actions seem more like her own decisions. In Ratha and Thistle-chaser, there is more of a feeling of the author’s manipulation of the story. It soon becomes clear that Ratha and Thistle-chaser are going to stubbornly avoid listening to reason and refuse to see each other until a Dramatic Confrontation at the climax of the novel. It is well-handled when it comes, but it is expected.

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#8 / Nov 1990







Cover of THE COLD MOONS, by Aeron Clement
Title: The Cold Moons
Author: Aeron Clement
Illustrator: Jill Clement (pictures & maps)

Publisher:

Delacorte Press (New York), Apr 1989

ISBN: 0-385-29694-0

Hardcover, xiii + 333 pages, $16.95

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Publisher:

Dell Laurel (New York), Jul 1990

ISBN: 0-440-550331-0

xvi + 314 pages, $8.95

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   This is basically Watership Down with badgers instead of rabbits. It is more than a bland imitation, however. Badgers were protected in Britain until 1975, when they became identified as carriers of tuberculosis which was spreading to other animals, notably the domestic cattle population. A policy of killing infected badgers was applied so broadly that by the 1980s there was a serious danger of the total extinction of wild badgers in Britain. It was against this background that The Cold Moons was first published in Wales in 1987, to rally public and environmental support for the badgers.
   Bamber, the sole survivor of a badger group gassed by humans, wanders into the larger community of Cilgwyn. His warning shocks its badgers, who react in various ways. Eldon, the complacent leader, hopes that it is a false alarm which they can ignore. Buckwheat, a council member, feels that they must migrate to a new home immediately. Palos, who seeks Eldon’s position, tries to turn the disagreement to his advantage. The arrival of the humans with their poison gas and hunting dogs forces the badgers to flee before they are fully ready. Their long trek across Wales is beset with hardships, tragedy, and heroism. During its long course, the badgers gradually come to rely upon two younger, stronger guides. Beaufort, Buckwheat’s son, is urged by his father to accept more responsibility; but while Beaufort is dutiful enough, he at first lacks the spark of leadership that the badgers desperately need. Kronos, Palos’ son, is an even worse schemer than his father, and he plots to trick the badgers into accepting him as a benevolent leader who will soon reveal himself as a sadistic dictator. The Cold Moons tells of the badgers’ search for a new home as they struggle against three enemies: the natural dangers of their trek; the deadly sabotage of Kronos which threatens to destroy them before Beaufort can grow into leadership; and the pursuing governmental badger extermination units.
   This is good enough to merit a favorable recommendation, but it is still close enough to Watership Down to make comparisons inevitable, and it does not match the literary genius of Richard Adams’ classic. The Cold Moons is told in a narrative format; there is not a line of dialogue in it. For example:

   Buckwheat asked Eldon to convene the council and went to fetch Palos as Beaufort moved over to inform Molyar. Buckwheat found a very dejected Palos lying down alone, deserted even by his mate, Tawna. He glanced up on hearing Buckwheat’s voice but refused to attend council. He no longer wanted any part of it or its members and just wanted to be left alone. Despite Buckwheat’s continued pleading there was no change in Palos’ attitude, and Buckwheat returned, bitterly disappointed in the badger who had changed from being an eminent figure to a pathetic one.

   By presenting the entire novel in this third-person, voice-over manner, Clement mutes its intensity. The characters seem like historical figures rather than living people whom the readers can care about.
   In both novels, the story continues beyond the point that the reader expects to be the end of the book. But Adams makes General Woundwort’s attack against the rabbits’ new home into an exciting extension of the story, whereas Clement’s surprise addition seems weak and anticlimactic. Both novels radiate their authors’ obvious love of nature, but Clement pushes his message too deliberately, to the extent that The Cold Moons has a Disneyish ‘all animals are friends; only Man the Hunter kills’ air of propaganda aimed at the uneducated animal-loving urban public.
   But these are quibbles. You may be annoyed by certain aspects of the novel, but you will not feel that you wasted your time by reading it.

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#9 / Dec 1990







Cover of REMEMORY, by John Betancourt
Title: Rememory
Author: John Betancourt
Publisher:

Popular Library/Questar (New York), Oct 1990

ISBN: 0-445-21045-1

197 pages, $4.95

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   This is a cross between Blade Runner and Total Recall, a fast-moving cyberpunk thriller set in a depressing future. The story, full of violent crime and political terrorism, is forgettable. What is memorable is the glimpse of new bioengineered societies that combine aspects of racial minorities, religious sects, and urban super-gangs.
   There is superpollution to the degree that nose filters are needed to breathe in the streets. Aircars fly through the skies, but it costs $500 for three hours at a parking meter. Individual police forces have been absorbed into the SecurNet, a Gestapo that ruthlessly enforces national public order. Major government offices have become hereditary, although the pretense of democracy is still maintained.
   People are dropping out of this society through bioengineering. It began a couple of generations earlier as cosmetic surgery. It has evolved into the rejection of a human race, which no longer offers anything to the individual, and the development of new artificial species that promise family and brotherhood. New ghettoes have formed for peoples such as the techs, proud of all their mechanical implants; the glitterfolk, pleasure-seekers who flaunt flashing electronics and neon body-parts; and especially the animalforms such as the catmen, the dogmen, the penguinmen, and others who have turned themselves into their chosen totem animals.
   Slasher, Hangman, and Jeffy are three catmen criminals who specialize in robbing dogmen, the rivals of the cats. As the novel follows them, it flashes past intriguing details of the catmen and dogmen societies, with passing references to other animen. There are bodyshops such as Animen-R-Us, where humans can get themselves converted. Conversion used to be an individual adult choice, but now that animal communities have developed, parents have their children converted as soon after birth as possible. Catmen and dogmen can transform themselves at will, were-animal style, between a human bipedal posture and an animal quadrupedal stance. Animen adults have enhanced muscles and steel claws; children have plastic practice claws. Bioengineered body forms establish the basic feline or canine structure, including head-shape, fangs, claws, tail, and so on; but the skin and body-fur are easily interchangeable. A catman can appear as a tiger, a leopard, a cougar, a cheetah, a man-sized Siamese cat, or just about any other feline almost as easily as a human can change clothes. There can also be hybrids, such as a dogman smuggler with the head of a Doberman and the body of a wolf or a husky.
   Rememory is worth reading for these glimpses of animan life, and for the semi-pathetic, semi-psychotic movement among the animen to deny their humanity and proclaim their adherence to their free animal nature, at the same time that they are developing their own political corruption and their own brutal Gestapo, the Shadowcats. The plot is for those who enjoy lots of blow-’em-up, shoot-’em-down action, chase scenes, and cynical double-crosses.

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#10 / Jan 1991







Cover of THE FOXES OF FIRSTDARK, by Gary Kilworth
Title: The Foxes of Firstdark
Author: Garry Kilworth
Publisher:

Doubleday (New York), May 1990

ISBN: 0-385-26427-5

371 pages, $18.95

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   O-ha is a young vixen in Trinity Wood, an ancient forest near the English coast. She chooses a mate, A-ran, who “changes his name to A-ho to reflect her family name as was traditional among foxes.” They are happy until he is killed as the result of a fox hunt. O-ha grieves for several months, during which men come to tear up the forest and build a new suburban community; and an American fox, Camio, escapes from a big city zoo into the countryside. After a stormy courtship, the two mate and Camio persuades O-ha to start a den in the town’s new scrap-yard instead of fleeing with other wildlife into the receding forests.

   In his short life, Camio had found that most humans were intrigued by foxes rather than disturbed by them. If indeed the men knew they had a fox earth full of cubs on their lot, it was more likely that they were proud of it than concerned by it. Camio had found that so long as he and his kind did not get in the way of human business, did not make threatening gestures toward human children, and generally kept a low profile, town dwellers were happy to leave them alone; they would even point them out to their friends as if to say, ‘Look at my strange neighbors—they chose my garden to have their family in!’ Country people were inclined to look on foxes as vermin, but that was partly indoctrination and partly because of the domestic livestock. (pages 220-221)

   The last half of the novel describes the foxes and their cubs growing up in a world of garbage dumpsters, pest-control poisons, and animal-rights activists. There are still many dangers to keep a fox’s life short. The most fearsome is O-ha’s old enemy, Sabre, the literally-bloodthirsty hunting dog of the local manor lord. Fox-hunting may have become passé, but Sabre is obsessed with killing the only fox who ever eluded him—and her whole family. He gets loose from the manor just as O-ha’s and Camio’s cubs become old enough to leave home. The conclusion is tense and imaginatively twisting.
   It goes without saying that there are many similarities between The Foxes of Firstdark (first published in England in 1989 as Hunter’s Moon) and other novels in the Watership Down tradition. There are also refreshing differences. Instead of migrating ahead of man’s advance, the foxes adapt to coexist with humans in a suburban environment. The now-obligatory animal languages and religious myths are developed (and Kilworth does an excellent job of it), but it seems that these are not species-wide nor fixed. The American Camio is unfamiliar with the British foxes’ customs, and a generation gap develops between the parent foxes and their cubs. There is a semi-naturalistic species typecasting—since the protagonists are foxes, dogs tend to be antagonists—but there are both friendly and unsympathetic characters among all the animals, developed consistently with their species’ traits. The Foxes of Firstdark is a worthwhile addition to the serious talking-animal wildlife literature.


Cover of MIDNIGHT'S SUN, by Gary Kilworth
Title: Midnight’s Sun: a Story of Wolves
Author: Garry Kilworth
Publisher:

Unwin Hyman (London), Sep 1990

ISBN: 0-04-440683-5

317 pages, £12.95

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1990 note: Kilworth’s Hunter’s Moon: a Story of Foxes was published in Britain in March 1989, and in the U.S. retitled The Foxes of Firstdark in May 1990. Presumably Midnight’s Sun will also appear in the U.S. under a different title. Keep an eye out for it.
2006 note: Although this book appeared in a March 1992 British paperback edition (Grafton), there has never been an American edition under any title.

   The two novels are a matched pair. There is no direct connection between them, but they share a common background. Kilworth’s different animal species have realistic predator/prey relationships, but they are aware of each other’s cultures and there are some overlapping similarities. To make a rough human comparison, an inhabitant of a Catholic country might be hostile to an inhabitant of a Protestant country, but they would share a general familiarity with each other’s beliefs, and know more about them than they would about Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism. So Kilworth’s wolves do not associate with foxes or coyotes or other canids, but their folk myths share many elements. The wolves have their own tales of Firstdark, and some of their myths seem similar to the foxes’ myths but from the wolves’ point of view. None of the canids are very familiar with the customs of other species such as the felines, the ursines, and so on; but what glimpses there are of them in both novels are consistent. (Kilworth indicates the differences between animal languages by having the canids speak English and its dialects; the felines speak French; the birds speak German; and presumably the rodents, mustelids, and others have their own tongues.)
   Aside from this common background, the two novels are quite different. The first is about foxes in England who adapt from life in the wild countryside to coexisting with humans around the fringes of expanding urban areas. Midnight’s Sun features wolves in their traditional open territories. The locale is presumably northern Canada or Alaska. There are humans around (they seem, through the wolves’ eyes, to be identifiable as resident natives, ‘civilized’ naturalists/scientists, and ‘civilized’ hunters), but the wolves have no interests in co-existing with them and prefer to avoid them as much as possible.
   These statements are all generalizations. The novel contains many exceptions, all well justified. One of the main themes is how the protagonist reacts to events and confrontations that are ‘out of the natural order of things’.
   Midnight’s Sun is a dramatization of the natural history and sociology of wolves as lived by one individual, Athaba. Athaba goes through just about every role that wolves normally live: Cubhood, young adulthood, loyal pack hunter, outcast, loner, father, leader. In a brief Author’s Note, Kilworth speculates on possible similarities between the psychology of wolves and primitive men. The novel draws a rough parallel between wolf-pack behavior and the speculative social behavior of prehistoric man.
   The wolves are organized for the welfare of the pack. They are not supposed to waste time on anything besides hunting and teamwork. This is generally a good rule because life is harsh and food is uncertain. A lone wolf is vulnerable but the pack is strong. Faulty teamwork can result in packmates getting killed while attacking dangerous prey such as elk. Yet absolute reliance upon tradition robs the pack of flexibility which may become essential for survival when new problems arise.
   Athaba has more imagination than the average wolf. This is both an asset and a liability, in different situations. He goes through several dramatic shifts in his status among the other wolves. His different adventures are too closely interrelated to describe in a plot synopses without giving away some surprises, but he leads an exciting life. It’s obvious that he will survive until the end of the book, but the reader is kept guessing about the fates of other characters: Athaba’s parents; Ulaala, his mate; his cubs; Skassi, his enemy; the strange human with whom he is stranded alone for weeks.
   There was no hint in Hunter’s Moon that Midnight’s Sun was coming, so it’s a wild guess as to whether Kilworth has any more animal novels planned. But he has left room to write about other canids from coyotes to dingoes, not to mention the other animal types. If Kilworth can keep up the level of quality in these two adventures, let’s hope that he has a long series ahead of him.

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#11 / Mar 1991







Cover of GALEN THE SAINTLY, by G. Raymond Eddy
Title: Galen the Saintly
Author: G. Raymond Eddy
Publisher:

Lightpen Press (Carrollton, OH), quarterly from Aug 1990

ISBN:

24 pages, $2.50 per issue

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2006 note: There were four issues of this mini-comic book.
2007 editor’s note: In its initial 1991 appearance, this review contained information on where to order
Galen the Saintly from. Since this information is no longer accurate or relevant, it has been deleted from the current presentation.

   G. Raymond Eddy has been creating anthropomorphic religious comic-art stories since at least 1984 for several fanzines and small-press magazines. He has decided to start his own imprint, Lightpen Press, “to provide a centralized location” for his stories. Galen the Saintly is a 24-page, 5.5" x 8.5" black-&-white comic book, published roughly quarterly. #1, A Gold One for the Wall, appeared in August 1990; #2, The Angelskates, in December 1990; and #3, The Masquerade, is scheduled for May 1991.
   Eddy has described himself as active in Christian church work. Galen, his cheerful mouse angel, is happily more reminiscent of the heroes of Horatio Alger (who was also a Christian minister) than of those modern comic-art religious tracts that try to scare you into salvation. Galen is friendly, intelligent, hard-working, a positive thinker, and always helpful. In these first two issues, he is the guardian angel of a human radio disk jockey and a ‘normal’ anthropomorphized mouse. Both are amiable but weak-willed, in need of a Big Brother role-model to keep themselves morally straight.
   Both stories use the same plot gimmick. Galen becomes so friendly with his wards that he allows them to borrow an angelic gimmick—a tape of heavenly music, in the case of DJ Raffy Johnson, and a pair of super-skates, in the case of Augustus P. Sharpcheddar. Both misuse them (innocently, in Raffy’s story, and deliberately, like a spoiled brat, in Gus’s), and Galen has to cover up for them and take the gimmicks back before any serious damage is done. In the first issue, Galen is the only animal character amidst a human cast; in the second, there are humans, anthropomorphized-animal mortals and angels, and normal ‘dumb’ animals.
   The stories are pleasant but very lightweight. The story similarity of the first two issues is unfortunate; I hope that #3 will show more originality. Galen is a strong character who is forced by his role as a guardian angel to remain passive until his naïve charges make a mistake, and then diplomatically correct them. This makes him a great social worker but a rather bland story protagonist. Because Eddy is keeping the stories gently humorous, they are shallow and vague as to background. There is no explanation of why a heavenly mouse is appointed as the guardian angel of a human in one story and of a mouse in the second; or why he is no longer the G.A. of Raffy in the second. (I got the idea from my own long-ago Sunday-School lessons that a Guardian Angel assignment was for the lifetime of the designated mortal.) In The Angelskates, Galen has to keep saving an anthropomorphized, clothes-wearing mouse from a ‘natural’ alley cat, and I couldn’t help wondering why the cat wasn’t equally anthropomorphized—although Eddy would have faced a large batch of new problems if it had been intelligent. (As long as the cat is a dumb animal, there is no issue of whether it’s being ‘good’ or ‘evil’ by following its instincts.) Criticisms such as this may be taking the stories too seriously—but if they aren’t worth taking seriously, then are they worth $2.50 per issue? Galen himself is likeable enough to make this comic worth reading. Issue #2 notes that #3 may look different, since Eddy’s art will be inked by Larry Blake.


Cover of SLEEPERS: PART I, by Bianca and Vetrone
Title: Sleepers: Part 1
Author: Vito Bianca & Kevin Vetrone
Publisher:

Rock Soup Studio (Wappinger Falls, NY), 1990

ISBN:

57 pages, $7.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2007 editor’s note: In its initial 1991 appearance, this review contained information on where to order Sleepers from. Since this information is no longer accurate or relevant, it has been deleted from the current presentation.

   This large, album-format graphic novel is a goulash of every politico-thriller clichè of the past two decades. German war criminals who infiltrated into the U.S. after World War II have organized a hidden Fourth Reich that is almost ready to take over America. Meanwhile, Japanese ultra-nationalists who are behind the modern Nipponese economic imperialism are about to openly buy up America. Simultaneously, Soviet Commie hardliners who want to discredit Gorbachev are plotting an ominous mission in the U.S. At the same time, a corrupt politician is favored to win the next presidential elections. And don’t forget Organized Crime. All of these groups are about to make their bids for power, and it looks like the only question is which dictatorship America will fall under—if it isn’t destroyed first in the crossfire between the rival gangs.
   Who can stop this? FBI agent Mac Talons, that’s who. But Talons is a wise guy, a loose cannon; always on the verge of expulsion because he refuses to fit the FBI’s approved image. The Bureau has tolerated him up to now because he’s always gotten results. But will the Bureau believe that all these fantastic plots are real? Can Talons, alone, fight ninja assassins, Mafiosa, Nazis and more?
   This funny-animal thriller contains lots of cynical humor and obviously-exaggerated suspense. So quibbles about realism aren’t very pertinent. The beginning is slow and heavy with bulging speech-balloons full of exposition. But once the story starts moving, there’s lots of action and reasonably witty smart-ass macho dialog. It does end with a cliffhanger. Art is good; spelling is variable.


Cover of BRIXOII
Title: BRIXOII
Author: Tom Foster & Ken Fletcher
Publisher:

Neo-Zagatine Press, quarterly from Apr 1990

ISBN:

100 pp/volume. $10.00 (incl. postage & handling)

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2007 editor’s note: In its initial 1990 appearance, this review contained information on where to order BRIXOII from. Since this information is no longer accurate or relevant, it has been deleted from the current presentation.

   In Yarf! #5, I reviewed BRIXOI as 100 pages of funny-animal art that Tom Foster and Ken Fletcher had drawn together. “A lot of the art is brand new, while other pages are reprints of old fanzine covers, personal Christmas cards, convention flyers, and the like, going back to 1982 or 1971 or whenever. […] Funny animals in the past and in the future. Sober and drunken funny animals. Funny animals flying spaceships and driving Model Ts. […] An inside-back-cover Afterword refers to this as ‘the first book of BRIXOI’, so maybe there are more coming.”
   Indeed there are. It turns out that BRIXOI is Volume 1 of The Brixoi Chronicles, which will be published four times a year, in an edition of 100 copies. BRIXOII has just been published; it will be followed by BRIXOIII, BRIXOIV, and so on. The cost is $10.00 per volume; they do not say whether subscriptions are available.
   BRIXOII is also 100 pages, divided into four sections. However, this volume contains more new pages than reprints, and the contents are more pertinent to the named sections. The Imaginators (A Brixoi Tours Special) consists of a Time-Travel Plus tour “of unpronounceable geographies and geographic personalities who have escaped the mundane and traded it for the exotic commonplace”. Send In the Frogs is 32 pages of frog cartoons, dominated by a short story, Frank Frog, Beale Street Detective. This indicates that The Brixoi Chronicles will be more than just an archive of Foster’s & Fletcher’s old funny-animal at with a few new items. It will showcase their current work. Order a sample volume and see how you like it.

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#12 / May 1991







Cover of CATFANTASTIC II, edited by Norton and Greenberg
Title: Catfantastic II
Editors: Andre Norton & Martin H. Greenberg
Publisher:

DAW Books (New York, NY), Jan 1991

ISBN: 0-88677-461-6

318 pages, $4.50

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Catfantastic (reviewed in Yarf! #3) was evidently popular, because here is Catfantastic II. It contains eighteen more brand-new fantasies about cats; and they’re all magical or anthropomorphic pusses this time.
   The stories are all enjoyable, although there is not quite as broad a range of settings and moods as was in the first volume. There are no pure comedies, and only a few that are wryly humorous adventures. There is a preponderance of mood pieces about cats who are the loyal companions and protectors of lonely old women, frightened young girls, and friendly but doddering old wizards.
   But there are stories that are dramatically different. Clare Bell’s Bomber and the Bismarck describes how a highly unusual cat was responsible for the sinking of the Third Reich’s prized battleship. Elizabeth H. Boyer’s Nordic The Last Gift tells how the ancient jotun, Skrymir, creates cats and kittens to amuse his lonely housemaid; and how the vain hero, Airic, foolishly gives them the jotun’s last gift for mankind. In Patricia B. Cirone’s Papercut Luck, a paper-cat good-luck charm comes to life to save a peasant girl’s family as the Mongols besiege Canton. And in Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s The Queen’s Cat’s Tale, Queen Guinevere’s cat relates how it was really Morgan le Fay, disguised as a cat, who was responsible for the fall of Camelot.
   Nine of the eighteen stories are by authors who were in the first anthology. Three of those are sequels to their earlier stories, so if you enjoyed the original adventures of Marylois Dunn’s Cat, Ardith Mayhar’s Hermione, or Andre Norton’s Thragun Neklop, you can read their further exploits in Dunn’s Shado, Mayhar’s Hermione at Moon House, and Norton’s Hob’s Pot. The other stories are independent tales, set in worlds of high fantasy or modern American metropolises; in dignified mansions and raucous carnivals and bleak animal shelters; featuring ‘ordinary’ cats and cat-goddesses. If you liked Catfantastic, you’ll like Catfantastic II, II … er, too.


Cover of BUFFALO GALS AND OTHER ANIMAL PRESENCES. by Ursula K. LeGuin
Title: Buffalo Gals And Other Animal Presences
Author: Ursula K. LeGuin
Illustrator: Margaret Choclos-Irvine
Publisher:

New American Library/ROC (New York, NY), Oct 1990

ISBN: 0-451-45049-3

236 pages, $4.50

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   If you missed this when it came out as a Capra hardcover in 1987 or as a Plume trade paperback in 1988, here it is in a mass-market edition. Don’t miss it this time!
   LeGuin’s ‘animal presences’ are not the usual anthropomorphic stories. This collection consists of eleven introductions, the same number of short stories, and twenty-one poems. But that’s misleading. What is a ‘story’? Some of these are traditional romantic adventures with a plot and characters, yes. Others are more like essays, or entries for very technical scientific journals. Anthropomorphism is carried to plants and rocks—not plants and rocks that speak to us with human voices, but the question of how we should go about attempting to communicate with plants or rocks.
   This collection contains science-fiction, fantasy, anthropological fiction, and poetry. In the lead novelette, the award-winning Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight, a young Anglo girl is lost in the desert and is taken care of by the local animals. They are anthropomorphized in the style of pre-Anglo Amerind animal personifications, and the young girl undergoes quite a culture shock. May’s Lion, toward the back of the book, is somewhat similar. LeGuin relates an incident (a farmwife in the Napa Valley is confronted by a mountain lion that has wandered from the hills) in two different ways: as a modern American woman would perceive it, and as a pre-Anglo Amerind woman would have perceived it. A story? A lesson in cultural anthropology? You decide.
   Not all the tales deal with the ‘soft’ sciences. Schrödinger’s Cat seems to be traditionally anthropomorphized, since it features a talking cat and dog. But it is really an anthropomorphized demonstration of quantum mechanics. Direction of the Road anthropomorphizes perspective—and if you know of any other story by any author that has successfully done this, please let me know about it.
   Buffalo Gals is a different anthropomorphic book. It is highly imaginative, and it will make you look at commonplace things in a totally new way. Read it!

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#13 / Jun 1991







Cover of THE ABANDONED, by Paul Gallico

Title: The Abandoned
Author: Paul Gallico
Publisher:

International Polygonics, Ltd. (New York), June 1987; 2nd ptg., Mar 1991

ISBN: 0-930330-64-1

256 pages, $5.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2006 note: Jeff Ferris, the editor of YARF!, felt that older Furry classics should occasionally be reviewed for current readers, but that there was no point in reviewing long out-of-print first editions. These reviews should be of the latest editions. This was reasonable; but in 2006 a 1991 edition is as out of print as the 1950 first edition. In these days of Amazon.com and many other online bookstores, readers can quickly find out for themselves whether there are any current editions in print. For the record, the first edition information is:
American edition:
The Abandoned, by Paul Gallico. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, September 1950, viii + 307 pages, $2.75.
British edition:
Jennie, by Paul Gallico. London, Michael Joseph Ltd., October 1950, 268 pages, £0/9/6.
There is debate as to whether the American or the British edition should be considered the ‘true’ first edition. September 1950 obviously comes before October 1950, but the British setting implies that it was originally intended to be published in Britain first. The two excerpts quoted in the review are on pages 40-41 and page 99 of the American first edition.

   Paul Gallico (1897-1976) wrote many popular stories that featured animals, such as The Snow Goose. Only three were anthropomorphic fantasies: The Abandoned (1950); Thomasina, The Cat Who Thought She Was God (1957); and Manxmouse (1968). The Abandoned is the best of these; ironically, it’s the only one that hasn’t been made into a movie. So it’s good that the novel is being kept in print.
   Unfortunately, the last edition that was easy to find was the Avon paperback, which went into several printings in the 1970s. International Polygonics picked up The Abandoned in June 1987 and has just reissued it, with a very attractive cover by Quay. There is also a matched edition of Thomasina. But International Polygonics is a small publisher, and its quality paperbacks are hard to find except in comprehensive, ‘real’ bookstores. The big shopping-mall chain bookshops don’t carry them.
   The Abandoned are those cats who do not live with human companions and must survive as alley strays. In particular, those abandoned are Peter Brown, an 8-year-old London boy who is transformed into a cat’s body after an accident, and Jennie Baldrin, a street-wise tabby who teaches Peter to be a cat. Gallico had a sharp eye for the behavior of cats, and The Abandoned may be the best novel ever written for rationalizing and explaining their habits.

   “‘When in doubt—any kind of doubt—wash!’ That is rule No. 1,” said Jennie. […] “If you have committed an error and anybody scolds you—wash,” she was saying. “If you slip and fall off something and somebody laughs at you—wash. If you are getting the worst of an argument and want to break off hostilities until you have composed yourself, start washing. Remember, every cat respects another cat at her toilet. That’s our first rule of social deportment, and you must also observe it.” (pg. 40)

   Or:

   Here she crouched down a few feet away from the dead mouse and then began a slow waggling of her hind quarters from side to side, gradually increasing the speed and shortening the distance of the waggle. “That’s what you must try, to begin with,” she explained. “We don’t do that for fun, or because we’re nervous, but to give ourselves motion. It’s ever so much harder and less accurate to spring from a standing start than from a moving one. Try it now and see how much easier it is to take off than the other way.” (pg. 87-88)

   There are many of these lessons throughout the novel.
   The Abandoned is also the story of Peter’s life as a cat in the slums of London and Glasgow, and of his and Jennie’s experiences as ship’s cats in getting to Glasgow and back again. It’s a mixture of fantasy-adventure for older children and a romance for adults, as Peter matures emotionally in his husky tomcat’s body from a frightened child under Jennie’s motherly guidance into her lover and protector from other toms. The setting of London rebuilding after the wartime bombing is a bit dated today, but the characterizations of cat personality types are timeless. This novel is worth looking for if you haven’t already read it. Or, since it’s ‘literature’, ask your public library to get it.
   (Interestingly, animation historian John Canemaker quotes a forgotten review of a Felix the Cat cartoon from the November 20, 1922 issue of the New York Daily News in his new, and excellent, study, Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat (Pantheon, April 1991). The 1922 review, by ‘P. W. Gallico’, who was just beginning his writing career, raves about how great the Felix cartoons were and concludes, “We’re for five reels of Felix and only one reel of other folks.”)

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#14 / Jul 1991







Cover of the video THE LITTLE FOX
Title: The Little Fox
Publisher:

Celebrity Home Entertainment (Woodland Hills, CA), 1988

Catalog number: CHE 3022

80 minutes, $14.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   In Yarf! #7, an uncredited animated cartoon character appeared on page 33. Although animated cartoon funny-animals are invariably anthropomorphic, Yarf! hasn’t devoted much attention to them. I wondered what response this would get. None, it turned out. In fact, most readers didn’t recognize that this fox cub was from an animation model sheet rather than by one of Yarf!’s regular artists. Of those who did recognize the movie character, most knew him only as the star of The Little Fox, one of those previously-unknown animated features that appear in the video rental shops. And nobody knows where they come from.
   This seems unfair, especially in this case. The Little Fox may be unknown in America except to those who have seen it on the Disney Channel, or on Celebrity Home Entertainment’s 1988 Just For Kids video release. But in Hungary, where it was made, it was so popular that the government commemorated it on a set of postage stamps.
   The American video industry is paranoid about identifying any movies as ‘foreign films’, for fear that the public will avoid them as being arty rather than entertaining. Celebrity Home Entertainment tried to have it both ways with The Little Fox, publicizing its popularity without saying where it was popular. “Award Winning Animated Feature” appears on the cover. What award? “Based on a best-selling book”, says the back cover. What book? The movie’s credits have not been removed, but they have been shifted to the back of the tape. “Produced by Pannonia Film Studio, Budapest. Directed by Attila Dargay. Screenplay by Attila Dargay, Istvan Imre, Ede Tarbay. Music by Peter Wolf.”
   Unless I blinked when I shouldn’t’ve, the American credits do not mention the best-selling book. It’s Vuk, by István Fekete (1900-1970), a forestry engineer who was Hungary’s most popular author of children’s nature novels around the middle of this century—Hungary’s version of America’s Ernest Thompson Seton or Germany’s Felix Salten. Vuk is Fekete’s novel about an orphaned fox cub who grows up to get revenge upon the farmer who killed his parents by avoiding all the farmer’s traps and watchdogs and stealing his prize poultry. The novel is a best-seller in Hungary, but it has apparently not been translated into English. (The Hungarian Embassy and a Hungarian bookshop in New York City say that none of Fekete’s books have been published in English, but the Los Angeles Public Library has Fekete’s Thistle (Bogancs), about a puli sheepdog puppy, published in English in Budapest in 1970, so I hope that Vuk will turn up in English, too. Judging from Thistle and from Fekete’s reputation as an author of ‘true life’ nature novels, I suspect that the movie is anthropomorphized much more than the book is.)
   Pannonia Film Studio is Central Europe’s largest producer of animation. Attila Dargay (1927- ) has been associated with it since it was separated from Hungary’s nationalized motion-picture industry in the 1950s to specialize in cartoon and puppet animation. (It is completely independent today.) Dargay has directed several features for Pannonia, but Vuk was the first to feature a total animal cast. The characters show his art style, just as Chuck Jones’ cartoons show his art style. Vuk was released in 1981. It became the biggest box-office grossing film in Hungary that year, and in 1982 it won Dargay the “Author’s Prize” at the National Feature Film Festival in Pècs. The set of seven Hungarian postage stamps was released on November 11th.
   The translation of Vuk into The Little Fox, by Robert Halmi in 1987, is faithful. The movie is complete. Vuk, a peasant’s name in Southern Hungary and the Northern Balkans, has been changed to the more American-sounding Vic, and there are a couple of other similarly-minor changes, but most of the movie is unchanged even when the jokes may be too obscure for American audiences. In an early scene, after Vic’s first successful raid on the henhouse, the farm dogs gather to decide whom to blame for letting the fox get away. They sniggeringly decide to tell the farmer that the German shepherd was at fault. The emphasis is more meaningful if you realize what the average Hungarian’s opinion of Germans has been since the Nazi occupation during World War II. It’s an enjoyable film, and Yarf!’s readers should know for whom the credit is due for Dargay’s portrait of Vuk/Vic in Yarf! #7.

2006 notes: (1) The Little Fox also had an edited, 60-minute video release that I did not know about at the time. The complete 80-minute version is definitely preferable. (2) There are many more books published, and more library catalogues online today, than there were in 1991, but there are still no listings for an English-language edition of Fekete’s novel Vuk.

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#15 / Sep 1991







Cover of ZONE YELLOW, by Keith Laumer
Title: Zone Yellow
Author: Keith Laumer
Publisher:

Baen Books (New York, NY), Dec 1990

ISBN: 0-671-72028-7

247 pages, $4.50

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2006 note: Patten’s early, pre-computer reviews in YARF! were mailed in as typewritten manuscripts, and transcribed by the YARF! staff. This review was so typo-filled (it said “…rescuing a cut rat-princess form the evil …”) that some readers assumed the reference to zlots was also a misspelling since it made no sense to them. The Polish currency is the zloty; plural zlotych.

   Keith Laumer is best-known for his many Retief stories, but he first made his reputation as a notable s-f author with his 1962 novel Worlds of the Imperium, with its striking imagery of an endless series of alternate earths, all parallel in time but diverging gradually in physical resemblance. Brion Bayard, from our world, is kidnapped into another which has the technology to travel between all the earths, to prevent a would-be dictator from creating a trans-universal empire. In the 1965 sequel, The Other Side of Time, Bayard encounters a force of travelers from so far away that they’re no longer even human, but are more like one of the monkey peoples in the (later) Planet of the Apes movies.
   Twenty-five years later, Laumer has returned to the Imperium. Bayard’s earth is invaded by new dimension-travelers from still farther, where simians never evolved and the intelligent species has grown from the rodents—rats, in particular. Ylokk rat-soldiers pour in mass waves through transfer portals in all the largest cities, catching humanity by surprise. Defense is difficult since the Ylokk are so intermixed with terrified civilians. Governments are reluctant to order heavy firepower against their own cities and peoples. Colonel Bayard and two soldiers embark in a shuttle on a ridiculously-hopeless three-man retaliation against an entire non-human world…
   And what was a s-f pseudo-high-tech military thriller turns into a fairy tale. The mysterious Ylokk aren’t intelligent rodents with an alien civilization, but outright funny-animal rats. There’s a Ruritanian good rat monarchy with a rat king and queen and Lord Privy Seal and dukes and barons and fancy-dress sentries, who live in a beautiful pale-green jade palace “replete with crenellated towers, slim spires, flying granfallons, and ominous fire-slit openings”. The royal family’s armorial bearings are sable, a griffin or, on a bend argent, three mullets of the first, if you’re interested in how closely it parallels our society. It sounds like Ozma’s palace in the Emerald City, inhabited by the cast of The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King. Bayard and his companions, with the aid of a mysteriously helpful Ylokk general, learn rat-language in what seems like about 15 minutes, and are immediately rescuing a cute rat princess from the evil rat-communists (called the Two-Law faction, but it’s obvious who Laumer is parodying) who have overthrown the monarchy and launched the invasion of the human earths, to kidnap the ‘monkey-men’ to be the rats’ slaves. The royalists are peace-loving and will happily call off the invasion if they are restored to power, and you can take it from there, I’m sure.
   Zone Yellow is fun on an anthropomorphic level, with its rats in royal purple robes and gingerbready Eastern European villages (their currency is called zlots; remind you of any European money?). In comparison with the other two Imperium novels, it’s almost embarrassingly simplistic—and ethnocentric. The entire rat-citizenry sullenly dislikes its rat-communist bosses, but it takes a human (read ‘American’ since Bayard started out as a U.S. government official in the first novel) to inspire them to fight for their freedom.

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#16 / Nov 1991







Cover of WHO P-P-P-PLUGGED ROGER RABBIT?, by Gary K. Wolf
Title: Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit?
Author: Gary K. Wolf
Publisher:

Villard Books (New York, NY), Aug 1991

ISBN: 0-679-40094-X

255 pages, $17.00

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the authorized sequel to Disney’s 1988 hit movie. Gary Wolf is also the writer of Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, the novel upon which the movie was based, but you can forget about that. This mystery’s title emphasizes Roger’s distinctive stutter created for the Disney movie. The cover shows the official Disney visualizations of Roger, Jessica, and Eddie Valiant. The jacket blurb advertises that this novel stars “the characters from one of the most popular and innovative movies of all time”. The back cover features a rave review by “Michael D. Eisner, Chairman of the Board and CEO, The Walt Disney Company”. And the first page of the story flaunts references to Uncle Walt and to the Roger Rabbit short cartoons, Tummy Trouble and Roller Coaster Rabbit. The only thing that the packaging lacks is a banner headline: “This Is Not Literature; This Is Disney Merchandising”.
   That grump out of the way, the story is enjoyable. Curiously, it doesn’t match up with the setting of either the first novel or of the movie. It shows a new alternate universe altogether. The date is “1947, more or less”, but there are characters from the 1930s through the 1950s walking about together. David O. Selznick is just beginning to shoot Gone With the Wind, and it is to be a comedy with all Toon stars. Toons usually speak in word balloons, as they always did in Wolf’s original book, but they can speak aloud when they have to, as when they are acting in movies. There are brief references to the new creations of the Disney movie, but they are effectively offstage or ignored: no Benny the Cab or other inanimate-object Toons, no Doris or Judge Doom, no Toontown with its own laws of physics. Eddie Valiant casually mentions that it’s now common for bullets to have been dipped in Dip, and all of a sudden Toons are just as vulnerable as the humans to death by gunshot.
   The most significant change is that the social and physical distinctions between humans and Toons have been blurred. In his earlier novel, Wolf used Toons as metaphors for the discriminated-against minorities of the 1930s and ’40s. Here, they are the minorities of the 1990s despite the ‘1947’ date. Roger Rabbit is no longer the equivalent of a Stepin Fechit; he’s a Bill Cosby or a Danny Glover. Jessica Rabbit is the social equal of Mae West or Rita Hayworth. There are still Toon neighborhoods but they’re not slum ghettos. Eddie Valiant’s sister is married to a Toon detective in the L.A.P.D., and Eddie has three Toon nephews who dress and act the way you would expect from Toon triplet nephews. Several human characters have distinctly Toonlike names, such as UCLA linguistics Professor Ring Wordhollow and Tom Tom LeTuit, chief of the Cuban secret police. And, possibly from associating with Toons so much (but more likely because this is a comedy-mystery), the whole human cast acts in a much zanier and more Toonlike manner then it did in the previous novel or in the movie—including Eddie and such notables as David O. Selznick and Clark Gable.
   The plot is a repetition of the formula of the first novel. Roger Rabbit is one of the finalists under consideration for the starring role of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. But the gossip tabloids are headlining a torrid romance between his wife Jessica and Clark Gable, and the scandal could ruin his chances. So Roger hires cheap private eye Eddie Valiant to prove that there’s really nothing going on. Instead, Eddie finds evidence that Jessica is pregnant with Clark’s baby. Then one of the other Toon actors trying out for Rhett Butler is murdered and Eddie is framed. Is Roger trying to eliminate his competition and set up a fall guy? Are Jessica and/or Clark trying to keep Eddie from talking about them? Was the murdered Toon really blackmailing Selznick, and what secret is the movie mogul hiding? Are Toons passing themselves off as humans, and vice versa?
   This is a genuine murder mystery, but it’s treated much more lightly than in the original Roger Rabbit novel. The dialogue contains more witticisms, and they are humorously sarcastic rather than bitterly cynical. The background atmosphere of the hopelessly oppressed Toon minority is almost gone. The mystery is wrapped up neatly but not as ingeniously, and Wolf is sloppier in tying up all the loose ends. More importantly, since the reader is constantly aware that this is an authorized Disney story, there’s never any real suspense as to whether Jessica is Bad or things just look that way.
   Fans will enjoy several new funny-animal supporting characters, such as Delancey Duck, publisher of the sleazy Toontown Telltale, and Large Mouth Bassinger, the ritzy publicity agent who decorates his office in a maritime motif. The ‘About the Author’ note states that Wolf is already at work on his third Roger Rabbit novel.

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#17 / Nov 1991







Cover of RATS AND GARGOYLES, by Mary Gentle
Title: Rats and Gargoyles
Author: Mary Gentle
Publisher:

Viking/A Roc Book (New York), Apr 1991

ISBN: 0-451-45106-6

416 pages, $18.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Rats and Gargoyles and Humans and Katayans. Katayans are just like Humans except that they have long, whiplike tails with a tuft of fur at the end. They all inhabit a weirdly magnificent city which is the real star of this novel. No name is necessary; the city dominates the world. It is a mélange of the greatest cities of Renaissance Europe with their Cathedrals, their Palaces, their Universities, their wide plazas for gaudily-dressed militia to drill in, their canals and harbors, their thieves’ quarters and dungeons and catacombs and networks of sewers providing secret passages everywhere. And above all, their deadly court intrigues.
   In this city, this world, the Gargoyles are supreme gods. The Rats are the nobility and the army. The Humans are lower-class merchants and laborers. The Katayans are from the countryside, and the social status of the few Katayans who live in the city has not been settled yet.
   Everyone is plotting against everyone else. The Rats are scheming against each other, the Gargoyles, and the Humans. The Humans are divided against each other, the Rats, and the Gargoyles. There aren’t enough Katayans in the city to have a faction, and nobody is sure whose side the individual Katayans are on. The Gargoyles remain contemptuously aloof, occasionally idly destroying a building or transforming a victim into something hideous just to remind everyone of their power. But one of the Gargoyles is bored—and insane—and it decides upon a sadistic plan to amuse itself which will probably destroy the world.
   The book contains reproductions from numerous illustrated 16th- and 17th-century treatises on astrology, numerology, Hermetic science, and other fields of learning that were suppressed by the Church. They are the laws of physics and nature upon which this world exists: the crystal spheres of the heavens, Rosicrucianism, Masonic science, and the like. These elements are introduced slowly, so the reader does not need a background familiarity with them. They are gradually added together until a fantastically new natural universe has been constructed for the apocalyptic climax of the novel.
   In her Acknowledgements, Gentle also credits the works of Alexandre Dumas. His influence is most evident in the scenes featuring the Rat nobility, which will feel familiar to fans of The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After:

    A heavily built Rat swept down the steps and ducked under the stone archway. Lucas stared. She was a brown Rat, easily six and a half feet tall; and the leather straps of her sword-harness stretched between furred dugs across a broad chest. She carried a rapier and dagger at her belt, both had jeweled hilts; her headband was gold, the feather-plume scarlet, and her cloak azure.
   “Messire Plessiez.” She sketched a bow to the black Rat. “I became worried; you were so long. Who are they?”
   She half-drew the long rapier; the black Rat put his hand over hers.
   “Students, Charnay; but of a particular talent. The young woman is a Kings’ memory.”
   The brown Rat looked Zar-bettu-zekigal up and down, and her blunt snout twitched. “Plessiez, man, if you don’t have all the luck, just when you need it!”
   “The young man is also from”—the black Rat looked up from tucking the canvas bag more securely under his sword-belt—“the University of Crime?”
   “Yes,” Lucas muttered.
    […]
    “Zari…” Lucas warned.
   The black Rat sleeked down a whisker with one ruby-ringed hand. His left hand did not leave the hilt of his sword; and his black eyes were brightly alert.
   “Messire.” Plessiez said, “since when was youth cautious?”
   Lucas saw the silver collar almost buried under the black Rat’s neck-fur, and at last recognized the ankh dependant from it. A priest, then; not a soldier.
(pgs. 26-27)

   There are many fascinating characters of all species in Rats and Gargoyles. Those among the Rats include Plessiez, the scheming Bishop; Charnay, his earthy henchwoman; Desaguliers, the harried Captain-General of the King’s Guard; and the King/s of the city him/themselves (eight pampered Rats permanently joined by their knotted-together tails).
   Rats and Gargoyles is not totally anthropomorphic, but there is more than enough in it to captivate the attention of Yarf!’s readers.
   This novel was originally published in July 1990 in Britain. The sequel, The Architect of Desire, has just appeared there (July 1991), but it features only the human characters.

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#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
Publisher:

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
Publisher:

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.

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#20 / Apr 1992







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

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
Source:

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.

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#21 / Jul 1992







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

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
Publisher:

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.

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#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
Publisher:

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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#23 / Mar 1993






   These novels are all sequels to novels reviewed in previous issues of Yarf!

Cover of THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, by Pournelle & Stirling
Title: The Children’s Hour
Author: Jerry Pournelle & S. M. Stirling
Publisher:

Baen Books (New York, NY), Nov 1991

ISBN: 0-671-72089-9

316 pages, $4.99

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   This new “novel of the Man-Kzin Wars” takes place forty-two years after the ferociously predatory tiger-like kzin conquered the human colony world of Wunderland, and began using it to launch invasion fleets against the Solar System. A commando mission is finally sent to Wunderland, to sabotage the latest kzinti fleet and, if possible, to start or support a human resistance movement against the kzin overlords. Good guys and bad guys are found on both sides. The commandos’ assassination target is a charismatic ‘noble enemy’ kzin commander who is more admirable than many of the human low-life types that the commandos have to work with.
   The Children’s Hour was first published as two separate stories in the Man-Kzin Wars anthologies, as was the previous novel reviewed in Yarf! The two halves of Cathouse were better integrated into a single novel. The Children’s Hour remains two obviously separate stories stuck together, with a completely new alien menace, the thrint, appearing unexpectedly halfway through the book to threaten both the humans and the kzin.
   Morph fans will be intrigued by the portrait of the kzin sociology, and how the kzin rulers on Wunderland interact with their conquered human servants. The giant felinoid warriors were originally described by Larry Niven as so touchy, proud, and viciously argumentative that it seemed unlikely that they could work together to build an interstellar civilization. Jerry Pournelle & S. M. Stirling have developed a plausible description of how the kzin culture works. The title refers to the revelation as to how the kzin raise and train their feral young. The telepathic, mind-controlling thrint are also fascinatingly non-human, but they are not depicted in as much colorful detail.


Cover of CATAMOUNT, by Michael Peak
Title: Catamount
Author: Michael Peak
Publisher:

New American Library/Roc Books (New York, NY), Mar 1992

ISBN: 0-451-45141-4

282 pages, $4.99

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   Peak’s second fantasy is again set in the dry foothills around San Diego, California. Sarena, the young puma who was a supporting character in Cat House, is a major character here, but the rest of the cast is brand new.
   Catamount repeats Peak’s formula of switching between three simultaneous stories, two starring animals and one featuring humans; all of them blending animal-fantasy mythology with realistic Southwestern zoology. Sarena is a lone mountain lion wandering through the semi-arid countryside. Pumas are naturally solitary predators, but Sarena has never seen another of her species. She is now old enough to seek a mate. She gains an unlikely companion when she meets Lanakila, a bald eagle driven far from his natural territory. The two team up for their mutual advantage.
   Eight large dogs escape from a kennel where guard dogs are trained. They form a wild pack led by Grash, a German shepherd. Peak gives a sympathetic picture of the potentially dangerous but bewildered dogs trying to live off the land. But there is not enough game for them and the better-adapted coyotes. It appears as though the dogs are either headed for a tragically fatal confrontation with Sarena and Lanakila, or they will be forced to raid suburban back yards and eat pet dogs and cats, which is sure to bring the police and their eventual extermination. Peak keeps the reader guessing whether this fate can be avoided.
   Laura Kay is a reporter for the San Diego Union who covers a report that the California Department of Fish and Game is about to issue 250 permits for trophy-hunting of mountain lions, and that animal-rights activists plan to disrupt the Department’s meeting. She also gets involved with the story of the feral dog pack terrorizing the foothill suburbs, and she learns that Fish & Game is also after some ruthless poachers. As she investigates these stories, she becomes romantically involved with Keith Gallatin, a rock-star environmental activist who has a more-than-natural rapport with animals. Peak makes a pretense at presenting the environmental issue sympathetically but objectively. But it’s clear that the worst of the animal-lovers are merely embarrassingly overenthusiastic but harmless, while the pro-hunters and NRA activists all come across as gun-nut sadists who just love to blow away innocent wildlife and endangered species.
   Catamount is simplistic as propaganda, and Peak resorts too often to dei ex machina to get his protagonists out of the desperate situations into which he casts them. But there are some interesting anthropomorphic characters, even among the villainous coyotes.

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#24 / May 1993






   These are more sequels to novels reviewed in past issues of Yarf!


Cover of MARIEL OF REDWALL, by Brian Jacques
Title: Mariel of Redwall
Author: Brian Jacques
Illustrator: Gary Chalk
Publisher:

Hutchinson Children’s Books (London, UK), Oct 1991

ISBN: 0-09-176405-X

387 pages, £12.99

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   This fourth Redwall novel also follows its author’s formula. We learn that Redwall, the forest abbey where all animals live in peace, is near the seacoast. Mariel, a tomboyish young mousemaid, is brought to Redwall for healing after she has escaped from Gabool the Wild, the dread Lord of Terramort Island, King of the Searats, Warlord of all Rodent Corsairs, Captain of Captains (pg. 5). Gabool’s pirates captured her father’s ship and killed or tortured everyone, and Mariel is determined to return to Terramort and slay Gabool in revenge. Meanwhile, Gabool is going mad and has begun to kill his own officers, whom he suspects of plotting against him. Greypatch, captain of the Darkqueen, decides to desert with his rat-crew, give up the sea, capture Redwall, and live as robber barons with the peaceful animals as their slaves.
   Once again the novel splits into two parallel adventures, one involving a heroic quest and the other set at Redwall. Mariel is joined by the handsome mouse warrior Dandin, the witty rabbit troubador Tarquin, and the stolid young hedgehog Durry Quill. They have numerous near-fatal escapades with quicksand bogs, treacherous toads, a giant lobster, and similar dangers as they decipher the cryptic map that shows the way to Terramort. Meanwhile, Greypatch’s scurvy gang is a laughable menace when compared to the evil armies that besieged Redwall in the earlier novels, but it is now many generations after the days of Martin the Warrior. The current inhabitants of Redwall are totally unfamiliar with having to defend themselves. Abbot Bernard quickly bars the strong walls against the swaggering rats, but how long can the naïve animal peasants and children stand against the sadists who know all the tricks of dirty warfare?
   Mariel of Redwall stands on its own better than the third novel did, and it is a good one with which to start the series. But it does have a couple of annoying aspects. Nobody expects the villains to win, but the ghost of Martin the Warrior keeps appearing so often to help the heroes that there is virtually no suspense. And you need a thick dictionary of British dialects to follow the dialogue, what with the “Harr, shiver me timbers, matey” speech of the searats, the “I say, old chap, wot ho, pip pip, wot bally rot” of the rabbits, and the “Hurr aye, doant ‘ee worrit, owd lad” of the moles and hedgehogs.


Cover of K-9 CORPS: CRY WOLF, by Kenneth Von Gunden
Title: K-9 Corps: Cry Wolf
Author: Kenneth Von Gunden
Publisher:

Ace Books (New York, NY), Feb 1992

ISBN: 0-441-42495-3

250 pages, $3.99

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   K-9 Corps III reads as though it were written by Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame. It opens with space scout Ray Larkin, his human partner Ake Ringgren, and their talking bioengineered scout dog team buying a fancy luxury space yacht with the treasure they found in the second novel. They are just blasting off to return to Earth when they are attacked by a government battle cruiser and five single-pilot fighters, with all atomic cannon and lasers blazing! Oh, no! So there’s this spectacular space battle with the spaceships zipping and zooming around each other, shooting rays and missiles and space torpedoes; and of course the troopers’ shots all miss while our heroes’ shots are all dead hits. Better yet, the space yacht turns out to have anthropomorphic weapons! Its robot missiles and torpedoes must’ve been programmed by a fan of centuries-old Earth movies like Dr. Strangelove and Dark Star. They spout lines like, “I am proud to report that I am fully operational and prepared to execute my instructions,” and, “Open wide, Mama, this cowboy’s home from the range!” as they home in on the Federation’s fighters. (Don’t ask if there’s any reason for this battle; just lookit how exciting it is!)
   That’s in the first two chapters. The story goes downhill from there, after they arrive back on Earth and immediately have to fight all the military warlords and the killer punk biker gangs and the crime bosses who rule the cities, and the giant crocodiles and slavering bears in the sewers under the ruins of New York City, and the carnivorous multi-trunked elephant-squid, and the…
   And the scout dogs still talk funny. Somehow their “We love you, Ray! You our Man! We die for you!” dialogue isn’t as endearing as it was in the first novel. It’s gotten old; it’s a schtick that’s worn out and needs to be replaced by something fresh. An endless succession of battles with increasingly exaggerated menaces isn’t it.

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#25 / Jul 1993







Cover of THE LAST RESORT, by Kenneth Von Gunden
Title: K-9 Corps: The Last Resort
Author: Kenneth Von Gunden
Publisher:

Ace Books New York, NY), Jan 1993

ISBN: 0-441-42496-1

252 pages, $4.99

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   This fourth volume in the K-9 Corps series is the best so far. It’s still nonstop action with little depth, but the drama flows more smoothly and plausibly.
   Ray Larkin, Ake Ringgren, and their team of genetically enhanced talking scout dogs are wandering through 24(?)th-century galactic civilization, which is reeling after the interstellar civil war that led to the fall of the corrupt Terran Federation. The Last Resort begins with the team accidentally saving the life of one of the galaxy’s richest businessmen. In gratitude, he offers to take them as guests to Neverland, the most luxurious, adventurous, exclusive, and expensive resort planet imaginable, which he owns. Can you say Westworld and Jurassic Park, boys and girls? It’s obvious to the experienced team that something is wrong on Neverland even before they land. However, they assume it’s just some minor larcenous enterprise of dishonest employees, which they can easily expose. But it turns out to be much more deadly than that. Soon Our Heroes are fleeing from a planetful of robotic war machines, scientifically resurrected carnosaurs, licensed-to-kill secret agents, and take-no-prisoners commando teams, all out to exterminate them before they can escape offplanet to reveal what they have learned. (But no ninjas. How did he miss throwing in ninjas?)
   Seriously, the progression of the mystery from light-hearted detective work to Oh shit, we’re in real trouble! discovery is nicely handled. The action is choreographed less implausibly than in the third novel, so that it seems like a handful of Good Guys really might stand off a planetful of professional killers.
   More importantly, the dogs—Beowulf, Frodo, Mama-san, and the rest—have an improved role. In the first three novels, they seem to do little more than hero-worship their human ‘pack leaders’ and blindly obey orders. In The Last Resort, they seem more confident. The humans and dogs talk more as social equals, with the dogs joining in the macho good-buddy joshing between Ray and Ake. This gives them a stronger and more likeable personality, and better presents them as individuals rather than interchangeable extras. Also, their bizarro-speech is downplayed, so that it seems more like a colorful accent than an indication of a lack of education or an inferior status. These are encouraging developments. Let’s hope that Von Gunden continues to expand on them.

2007 Note: He didn’t. This was the final K-9 Corps novel. The series was discontinued just when it was starting to get good.


Cover of THE NINE LIVES OF CATSEYE GOMEZ, by Simon Hawke
Title: The Nine Lives of Catseye Gomez
Author: Simon Hawke
Publisher:

Warner Books/Questar (New York, NY), Oct 1992

ISBN: 0-446-36241-7

216 pages, $4.99

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   Simon Hawke likes to surprise his readers. This novel is a spin-off of his six-volume Wizard of… series, which began with The Wizard of 4th Street in 1987 and may have ended with The Wizard of Santa Fe in 1991. It is set in the 23rd century, which looks like today’s world except that magic has replaced technology. In the first novel, a group of sorcerous vigilantes comes together to battle a cult of foul necromancers who prey on humanity. The necromancers scatter, and the good wizards have to track them down individually in London, Hollywood, Paris, et cetera. In The Wizard of Santa Fe, they seemingly kill the final necromancer, although there are still some loose ends. One item that did not appear to be a loose end was the appearance of a tough alley cat with magically enhanced human intelligence and speech, who helps the wizards. Catseye Gomez was a colorful character, but his role was not large enough to make the novel stand out as ’morph fiction.
   Now Gomez is back, starring in a novel of his own. He’s wandered from Santa Fe to Denver, where he immediately gets involved in a mundane murder mystery. Because Gomez is a Mickey Spillaine fan. It seems that 20th-century popular literature is still big in the 23rd century, and Gomez’s hero is Mike Hammer, the tough-guy private eye. So he’s not about to stay uninvolved when an investigative reporter is murdered—a reporter who owns a sexy calico cat whom Gomez is interested in.
   Gomez and Princess are by no means the only talking animals in the novel. The 23rd century is full of intelligent dogs, horses, and other pets magically enhanced for rich owners. (Also unicorns and some grotesquely ‘cute’ fantasy hybrids that shouldn’t have been tried.) But the intelligent animals are now demanding civil rights. New social problems are being created. Can a pet bring suit against an abusive owner? If an owner tires of an intelligent pet and throws it out, what should happen to it? You can’t just put an intelligent animal to sleep at the local pound (well, you legally still can, but not even the most callous bureaucrat would dare order that), and the city can’t feed them indefinitely. Can you even lock up or neuter an intelligent animal against its will? The reporter was investigating the newly-formed Equal Rights for Animals (ERA) movement, which is trying to get a bill onto the Colorado ballot in the next state elections, when she was car-bombed. Is someone involved with the movement guilty? Or did the reporter have other enemies who are trying to use the ERA as a scapegoat? The police are investigating, but no PI worth his trench coat would leave a case like this to the bulls, especially when an alley cat can go places and snoop where no human can.
   The Nine Lives of Catseye Gomez is more than a regular murder mystery with a talking-cat investigator. The ERA angle gives it a much wider ’morph connection. The background depicts how human urban society is being modified by the presence of intelligent, but not otherwise anthropomorphized, animals in its midst. For example, many of the animals are cynical over the fact that, whether they win legal rights or not, they’ll always be dependent upon humans’ goodwill for their homes and meals, since animals without hands can’t do much for themselves. Gomez is one of the few talking animals who is willing to revert to ‘wild’ nature to preserve his independence, eating garbage from trash cans and killing mice to devour them raw, instead of getting nauseated by anything cruder than packaged pet food.
   However, Hawke does have a writing problem that makes the novel hard to start. He always begins each story in a series with a summary of what has gone before. Since Catseye Gomez is the seventh set in his magical 23rd century, the book opens with a tremendous expository lump. The plot doesn’t really start to move until page 36. Stick it out, because it’s worthwhile reading after that point.

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#26 / Sep 1993







Cover of SON OF SPELLSINGER, by Alan Dean Foster
Title: Son of Spellsinger
Author: Alan Dean Foster
Publisher:

Warner Books/Questar (New York, NY), Apr 1993

ISBN: 0-446-36257-3

376 pages, $5.50

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   Fans of Foster’s Spellsinger series can rejoice! Six years after The Time of the Transference, which Foster had said would be the final Spellsinger story because he had used up the plot potentials of that funny-animal world, a seventh novel has finally appeared.
   (Curiously, the advance publicity for this novel, including photographs of its cover in ads just before its release, clearly showed the title as Son of a Spellsinger. Did somebody at Warner Books decide at the last minute that the obvious allusion was too risqué?)
   The first six Spellsinger novels related the adventures of Jon-Tom Merriweather, a young human wanna-be rock singer who was magically transported into a world shared by humans and talking, clothes-wearing funny animals. Because music has magic powers, Jon-Tom was drafted as the reluctant aide to Clothahump, the turtle wizard, who sent him to combat various menaces that threatened to destroy or enslave this whole world. Jon-Tom made several friends (notably Mudge, the rascally otter) and formed attachments (notably Talea, a human girl). In what was originally the final novel, he decided to remain in this world instead of returning home.
   Since The Time of the Transference was intended to be the last story, Foster wrapped up all the loose ends and closed it with a happily ever after finale. To keep from reneging on this, Son of Spellsinger takes place eighteen years later, and it stars the children of Jon-Tom and Talea, and of Mudge and his wife. Jon-Tom’s son Buncan, and Mudge’s son and daughter Squill and Neena, are restless adolescents, bored with the lazy life that their parents are content with. When a sloth merchant comes to tell about a legendary fabulous treasure to which a dying fox mercenary gave him a clue, the adults aren’t interested in leaving home to help find it. Buncan, Squill, and Neena see this as their opportunity to have an Adventure, and they sneak away to make the most of it.
   Son of Spellsinger features the same sort of picaresque wanderings as in the previous novels. The human and otter teenagers are constantly in danger as they travel from one new animal community to the next. The menaces that they encounter include a band of hound robbers, a woodchuck wizard, a mink nobleman who kidnaps and tries to ravish Neena, a tribe of murderous meerkat desert raiders, and an evil religious cult (the species is supposed to be a surprise) that is conducting unholy experiments to create new kinds of animals to be their zombie slaves. The three teens also meet new friends: Gragelouth, the sloth merchant who is slow but not stupid; Snaugenhutt, a once-mighty rhinoceros warrior who has become a drunken bum; and Viz, Snaug’s exasperated tickbird squire who has been trying to reform him.
   The novel is fun. Unfortunately, it does not quite measure up to its predecessors. The changes that Foster has made in his formula have weakened it. The earlier novels thrust Jon-Tom, Mudge, and their various companions into desperate quests to save the world. It’s true that this began to feel very stereotyped by the end, but it did give the stories a greater thrill of impending doom than the misadventures of three teen runaways just bumming around. Although the three are often in personal deadly danger, there is always the feeling that they can end their problems just by turning around and going home. Jon-Tom was a more likeable protagonist for the reader to identify with than his shallow, know-it-all, rebellious son. Squill and Neena are more frenetic versions of their otter parents; but while Mudge was often rash, he was not completely foolhardy. Finally, Foster has tried to update the musical magic by making Buncan, Squill and Neena wanna-be rap singers. The problem here may be with me rather than the novel, because I don’t pretend to like rap music, but somehow Foster’s rapping doesn’t seem as convincing as his rocking.
   However, these flaws are only minor and in comparison with the other Spellsinger books. Son of Spellsinger is still delightfully entertaining.


Cover of FORESTS OF THE NIGHT, by S. Andrew Swann
Title: Forests of the Night
Author: S. Andrew Swann
Publisher:

DAW Books (New York, NY), Jul 1993

ISBN: 0-88677-565-5

284 pages, $3.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

     This is an incredibly suspenseful thriller. To oversimplify for the sake of an easy comparison, it’s like BladeRunner with the future society’s Replicants replaced by ’morphs—from the viewpoint of the ’morphs. It depicts a mid-21st-century America full of new slang, new high-tech crimes, and new world tensions, but also some very old hatreds and passions. There’s always going to be a downtrodden minority, and this time it’s the ’morphs. But is this just basic human nature, or is somebody deliberately manufacturing a suicidally explosive clash here?
   Swann (the name in the copyright statement is Steven Swiniarski) does an excellent job of presenting a future that has evolved enough to be exotic, but is still familiar enough to be comprehensible. Cryptic references seem at first to be just to build up the colorfully futuristic ambience, but they gradually connect to clarify each other and advance the plot. The clearer it is, the more ominous it becomes.

   It had been only a matter of time before Harsk got involved. He was the detective in charge of Moreytown. He had jurisdiction over anything involving moreaus, and, by extension, any product of genetic engineering. In the case of the shoot-out at Zero’s that covered the victims, the suspect, and the witness.
   
[…]
   A little nonhuman form left Zero’s. The moreau wore a lab coat and carried a notebook-sized computer, the display of which he was reading.
   Nohar called out, “Manny.”
   Manny—his full name was Mandvi Gujerat—looked up from the display, twitched his nose, and started across the parking lot toward Nohar and Harsk. Manny was a small guy with a thin, whiplike body. He had short, brown fur, a lean aerodynamic head, and small black eyes. People who saw Manny usually guessed he was designed from a rat, or a ferret. Both were wrong. Manny was a mongoose.
   Manny reached them and Harsk interrupted before Nohar could say anything. “Gujerat, what have you got on the bodies?”
   Manny gave Nohar an undulating shrug and looked down at his notebook. “I have a tentative species on six of seven. The three bodies outside were all a Peruvian Lepus strain. From the white fur and the characteristic skull profile I’d say Pajonal ’35 or ’36. They all have unit tattoos and some heavy scarring. Infantry, and they saw combat.”
(pgs. 18, 20)

   American ghettos are filled with ‘moreaus’, most of whom are ex-soldiers biodesigned to fight in a spate of foreign wars about twenty-five years earlier, who poured into the U.S. during peacetime until immigration of non-humans was shut off. Nohar Rajasthan is a young, American-born, cynical private investigator of tiger stock. He has played it safe by handling cheap moreau cases exclusively, and not getting involved in ‘pink’ (human) affairs. Then a mysterious client offers Nohar more money than he can afford to refuse, to look into the murder of the campaign manager of an influential Ohio Congressman, who has inexplicably brought pressure to have the police investigation shelved.
   The murder-mystery aspect of the novel is well developed. Nohar is led to increasingly dangerous complications, such as a rat street gang pushing a new, scientifically sophisticated deadly drug; and interference from both local and federal investigators who have their own rivalry, one of whom is an illegally biogenetically-altered human. But the deadliest twist of all is entirely Nohar’s own fault, because he knows that a moreau must never, never get emotionally involved with a pink woman.
   The story is well worth reading on this level alone. ’Morph fans will also appreciate all the tossed-off glimpses of what this moreau society is like, such as a rabbit-owned bar named Watership Down.

   “Who’s your friend?”
   “She’s a lead from the Johnson killing.”
   “She?”
   Sometimes pinks weren’t quick on the uptake when it came to morey gender. Nohar supposed it had to do with the lack of prominent breasts.
(pg. 134)

   If there are any essential novels for a ’morph fan’s library, Forests of the Night is one of them.

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#27 / Nov 1993







Cover of DINOTOPIA, by James Gurney
Title: Dinotopia; A Land Apart from Time
Author: James Gurney
Illustrator: The author
Publisher:

Turner Publishing (Atlanta, GA), Sep 1992

ISBN: 1-878685-23-6

159 pages, $29.95

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   Artist James Gurney is well known in the SF field for his cover paintings to SF and fantasy paperback novels. He is also known to the readers of National Geographic Magazine for his artistic recreations of lost civilizations. Now he has combined both his specialties in a tour de force which is deservedly a national best-seller. Dinotopia evokes the 19th-century literary wonder of Vernean SF, illuminated with the artistic splendor of a Doré or a Rackham.
   Dinotopia is written as the travel diary of Professor Arthur Denison, a Victorian-era explorer who is shipwrecked with his young son Will on a large unknown island. They find a civilization of humans and dinosaurs living in harmony. Since this is a fictional travel diary, the emphasis is less on story or action than on Prof. Denison’s scholarly notes and sketches. There are full-color paintings on virtually every page, including numerous double-page panoramas of Dinotopia’s forests, cities, and street scenes.
   Some among the general public may superficially consider Dinotopia little more than a variant of Alley Oop or The Flintstones, with better art. ’Morph fans should be aware of the significant difference that this is not a land of humans with domesticated dinosaurs, but a society in which humans and intelligent dinosaurs live as equal partners. There is apparently some debate as to whether Dinotopia should be considered anthropomorphic, because the dinosaurs are not designed as funny animals. There are degrees of anthropomorphism. Suppose that you were developing a world in which most* mammals were equally intelligent and willing to live and work together; humans, horses, dogs, elephants, deer, pgs, etc—but were not otherwise any more anthropomorphized than they are in reality. How would you design a common language for so many different mouth forms and vocal chords? What would a written alphabet look like that must be used by many species with hooves or paws but no hands? What would houses, public buildings, furnishings, or sanitary facilities look like for so many different body types? This is certainly a scenario that should interest Yarf!’s readers.
   Gurney’s human-dinosaur civilization is richly and intriguingly depicted, eve if its practicality seems idealistically utopian. Denison’s diary runs from November 1862 until, apparently, late 1866. It covers four years’ worth of touring the small continent’s forests, farms, cities, schools, government buildings, industries, health facilities, transportation and communication networks, cultural events, and so forth; but there is not one word about the less pleasant social services—police, courts, prisons, armies. Can everyone among all the species, even the intelligent Tyrannosaurii, be so reasonable and good-natured? There is not even a fire-fighting agency mentioned, despite one city, Volcaneum, being located next to an apparently active volcano; and another, Treetown, being totally constructed of wood.
   Although this is a pseudo-scientific journal, there are some personalities in it. Prof. Denison is happily willing to spend years compiling his notes, which he vaguely expects to eventually bring back to Boston’s learned societies. Will, twelve years old when they are shipwrecked, is growing up to become a Dinotopian. A romance develops between him and Sylvia, a teen-aged human native; and he dreams of becoming a Skybax rider, one of the elite couriers who fly upon pterosaur partners between the island’s cities. The first person whom the Denisons meet is a young female Protoceratops, Bix, “one of the few dinosaurs who can ‘speak’ human languages.” (That is, one of the few saurians whose vocal chords can produce human speech. The humans and dinosaurs have become accustomed to each other’s languages, and Bix helps the Denisons to comprehend the meanings within the reptilian grunts and squeaks.) Bix becomes the Denisons’ friend and personal guide. Most other individuals, human or saurian, are met only in passing, such as “a distinguished Stenonychosaurus named Malik, the timekeeper for all of Dinotopia.”
   Dinotopia describes the Victorian present of this fabulous land. A sequel, The World Beneath, scheduled for fall 1995 publication, will present Prof. Denison’s findings in the island’s subterranean caverns, which (it is hinted) contain the secrets of man’s prehistoric arrival upon Dinotopia and the development of this unique civilization. Gurney’s imaginative tale may not be standard funny-animal fiction, but it is definitely of interest to intelligent fans of anthropomorphics.

* Only ‘most’, not all, since there should conveniently be some dumb animals for the carnivores to feed upon without disturbing their intelligent neighbors.

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#28 / Jan 1994






   The editors of Yarf! have suggested that it would make a nice change of pace from the usual book reviews to begin 1994 with a preview of the ’morph comics scene for this year. Okay! The ’morph comics publishers have been contacted, and here are their replies.
   ’Morph comicsdom is, broadly speaking, mirroring the general comics industry. There are the Big Two publishers—Antarctic Press and MU Press—and a number of other publishers with only a couple of ’morph titles each.
   The larger of the Big Two is Ben Dunn’s Antarctic Press, in San Antonio. Antarctic is producing more anthropomorphic titles than any other publisher, and it also has a large line of manga-influenced comics. Antarctic’s ’morph comics fall into two categories: those edited by the publisher, and those packaged by outside editors.
   Those edited directly by Antarctic Press include primarily their short-story anthology titles. Furrlough, Wild Life, and Genus usually contain from four to six items per issue. These comprise short stories, episodes of serials, collections of pin-up pages, or previews of new Antarctic comics and other ’morph-related news, such as flyers for the ConFurence convention or ads for ’morph cartoonists’ art-print folios. This has the disadvantage of filling the issues with lots of advertising, but the advantage of making these comics a good survey of the entire ’morph marketplace.
   Furrlough is Antarctic’s flagship title, with thirteen issues to date. It began as a venue for ’morphic military stories, and it still contains a preponderance of these, although its policy has broadened to include ‘high adventure’ tales of all sorts. There have been theme issues for fantasy and for space opera. Editor Shon Howell says that he personally would like to schedule more theme issues, but the creators are happier when they have total freedom to write and draw whatever they want instead of being constrained to work within a particular theme. Furrlough’s most popular series is Ted Sheppard’s Stosstrupp, following the exploits of a German sniper platoon on the Russian front in a new Eurasian war in 2028 A.D. Joe Rosales started a Roman Legion series set during the last days of the Roman Republic in Furrlough’s early issues which was extremely popular, but Rosales hasn’t had time to finish any new stories since issue #6—a situation which his fans hope will soon change.
   Wild Life and Genus have been typecast as Antarctic’s comedy short-story titles, although it’s more accurate to say that they cover everything that won’t fit into Furrlough. There’s certainly nothing comical about Kjartan Arnôrsson’s Mink in Genus, a black magic/horror serial. But it’s true that most of the stories in these two titles revolve around light, humorous situation-comedy scenarios. Wild Life contains the more G- and PG-rated fare, while Genus gets the stories involving more mature situations. Wild Life has had four issues to date, and Genus has had three.
   Up to now, Furrlough has been bi-monthly and the other two have been quarterly. Antarctic is increasing the frequency starting in 1994; Furrlough is now monthly, and the other two are bi-monthly. Furrlough has also just reprinted its first issue, and a Furrlough Annual is in the works. Also, Antarctic published a one-shot, Hit the Beach, during summer 1993 which was similar to Wild Life and Genus. This sold well enough that there will be two issues of Hit the Beach during 1994, a swimsuit issue in July and (tentatively) a lingerie issue around the end of the year. Finally, Antarctic has a definitely-adults-only short-story title, Velvet Touch, which featured humans only during 1993. It may get some ’morph stories that are considered too strong for Genus during 1994.
   Those of Antarctic’s titles that are put together by creator-editors may be totally creator-produced, such as Steve Gallacci’s Albedo, or the creator may assemble the main contents and leave a few extra pages for Antarctic to fill with its advertising. Gallacci’s Albedo, featuring his popular Erma Felna, EDF military-political space-opera saga, has been Antarctic’s top-selling title up to now. Gallacci originally published Albedo under his own Thoughts and Images imprint; when it moved to Antarctic, it started over as Volume Two. It has just switched from black-and-white to color printing, and is beginning again as Volume Three, Number One. Antarctic is also publishing Command Review, the collected reprints of the Erma Felna stories without the other contents of Albedo. #4 recently appeared, and future issues should come out approximately quarterly.
   Albedo was Antarctic’s top-selling title, but Paul Kidd’s and Mike Sagara’s Tank Vixens has just shattered that record. Albedo has been selling around 4,000 copies per issue recently; the first issue of Tank Vixens, just out, having received orders for just over 6,000 copies. Tank Vixens was designed as a spoof on ’morph fandom’s three favorite hang-ups: sexy furry women, military action with big guns, and gonzo humor. Even the advertising in the issues is satirical. Kidd and Sagara designed Tank Vixens as a bi-monthly two-issue mini-series, although they have ideas for sequels if the title is popular—which it already seems to be.
   Mike Curtis’ Shanda the Panda is a soap opera featuring Shanda Bruin, the young manager of a movie theater in Cedar Rabbits, and her friends and associates—their lives, loves, and personal problems, including enough adult situations to make this a Mature Readers title. Shanda has had problems in finding a regular artist, but the current plan is that Michele Light will draw every other issue while other artists fill in the issues between hers. Curtis reportedly has his stories outlined up through issue #50 or so (the latest out is only #4).
   Carole Curtis (Mike’s wife) is the writer of Katmandu, drawn by Terrie Smith. This is an exotic melodrama set on a desert planet inhabited by warring cat-peoples, with romantic entanglements between the enemy species. Katmandu is scheduled as “at least” a three-issue mini-series (#2 has just appeared), which may be extended if sales warrant it.
   In Fred Perry’s Gold Digger, young fun-loving nympho human archaeologist Gina Diggers and her adopted sister Cheetah (actually a were-cheetah) roam the world looking for ancient treasures, most of which turn out to have ancient supernatural curses on them. In the earliest stories Cheetah appeared in her human guise most of the time, but by now she seldom bothers to turn back from her natural appearance as a furry cat-woman with a body-builder’s physique. Also, they have discovered so many hidden tribes of other animal peoples, both friends and enemies (and all with very sexy bods) that, at the moment, the ’morphs usually outnumber the human cast. Even the supernatural demons are usually furry. Gold Digger started out as short stories in Antarctic’s pre-’morph anthology comic, Mangazine, graduated to a four-issue mini-series, and now has its own monthly title that is up to #7.
   ’Morphs and manga mix in Antarctic’s bi-monthly American edition of Japanese fan-cartoonist Satoru ‘Ganbear’ Yamasaki’s Fantastic Panic. This is a light-hearted sword-and-sorcery romp in which the main characters are ’morphs based on the twelve animals of the Oriental Zodiac. Shon Howell says that Fantastic Panic is still coming out in Japan, so there’s no telling how long this title may run.
   In addition to these scheduled titles, Antarctic Press is always looking for new ’morph ideas, including either reprints or new material. Antarctic published a two-issue mini-series during 1993 of John Nunnemacher’s Buffalo Wings short stories from Yarf!, and Nunnemacher is now continuing this series in Wild Life. Dan Flahive started Space Wolf as a four-issue mini-series that was interrupted after #2 due to a medical emergency in his family; one hopes that Flahive will be able to finish the series during 1994. Kurt Wilken has a one-shot tentatively scheduled for March or April—Aztec Amazon Animal Women, consisting of theme short stories rather than a novel. Mike Curtis and Terrie Smith are preparing an outer-space series, Nautilus, which won’t start until the latter half of 1994. Other titles are in negotiations and it’s too soon to talk about them.
   During 1993, Shon Howell was Antarctic’s sole editor of its ’morph titles, with the assistance of several stalwarts such as Joe Rosales and Matt High. The workload has grown to the point that Joe Rosales has just been made the full editor of Wild Life and the titles being written by Mike and Carole Curtis, and they hope to get another assistant or two. It’s evident that Antarctic Press has a major commitment to publish anthropomorphic comics.
   The second of the Big Two ’morph publishers is Edd Vick’s MU Press in Seattle. Up through fall 1993, Vick was publishing a variety of comics (mostly but not exclusively ’morphic) almost single-handedly, with some assistance by Chuck Melville after he moved to Seattle in 1991. In late 1993, Vick made Melville the full editor of almost all of MU’s comics, but he also split the company into two imprints. MU Press is now the imprint for anthropomorphic comics exclusively, and the non-’morph titles are coming out under a new imprint, AEON Press, which Vick edits. Vick remains the publisher of the overall company.
   MU’s constant problem has been that most of its comics are labor-of-love projects by cartoonists whose daily jobs do not allow them enough spare time to draw them on a regular schedule. Dwight Decker’s popular swashbuckling melodrama, Rhudiprrt, Prince of Fur, has seen only two issues since 1991, #7 and the just-published #8, due to the resignation of the original artist and the sidetracking of more than one new artist by ‘real life’ commitments. Chicago animator Will Faust, the penciller of #7 and #8, has just become its sole artist. He will attempt to draw three or four issues of Rhudiprrt a year single-handedly, but his regular job of animating TV commercials often requires him to put in a twelve-hour day, so don’t be surprised if he continues to fall behind schedule.
   This problem has even overtaken Chuck Melville’s own Champion of Katara, a sword-and-sorcery three-issue mini-series. Melville wrote and drew the first two issues shortly after he settled in Seattle, but his increasing editorial work at MU has kept him from finishing the final issue. Frustrated readers of the first two issues can be reassured that #3 should definitely be published by summer 1994.
   That problem should not affect Vicky Wyman’s five-issue Xanadu mini-series, Xanadu: Across Diamond Seas, which has just begun monthly publication. Wyman’s story was completed over a year ago, so it’s just a matter of printing it each month through May. At least two more Xanadu sequels are probable if Diamond Seas and the recently-collected original novel, Xanadu: The Thief of Hearts, sell well enough.
   Of MU’s other ongoing ’morph titles, Cathy Hill’s Mad Raccoons is an annual scheduled for publication in time for the San Diego Comic-Con each August. The 1994 issue will be #4. Wild Kingdom, MU’s erratic and erotic ’morph anthology, will appear whenever they get enough short stories to fill an issue. The hope is that #3 will be out in May or June, and #4 by the end of 1994. Wild Kingdom #1 is currently in its third printing, by the way. Unfortunately, MU’s pin-up tile, Beauty of the Beasts, has not sold well enough to continue past last summer’s #2. A few pin-up pages will probably be added to each issue of Wild Kingdom, but it looks as though textless pin-up pages alone are not strong enough to sell a comic book.
   The Furkindred shared-world albums are being redesigned for a standard 32-page comic-book format, since the 100+-page graphic-album package and the increased production time that each required (#2 was published over a year ago) have tended to inhibit sales. The next title out will be a one-shot comic, Furkindred: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, written by Dean Graf and drawn by Terrie Smith. This is a sequel to their short story, Just Another Day on the Farm, in the original Furkindred anthology, which was the most popular single story in this shared-world project so far. Chuck Melville describes the plot as, “Ian and Morgan, two human astral travelers who are stuck in furkin bodies, travel across the hostile Acostan southlands in search of an ancient treasure that just might mean a way home for them…” Sleeping Dogs should hit the comics shops in May or June, and it will be promptly followed by what would have been the third album, Furkindred: Ferret’s Wheel. This will appear as a five-issue monthly mini-series, probably beginning in early summer. The contributors will include Roy Pounds II, Dan Kaufman, Mark Ashworth, Gerald Perkins, Chuck Melville, Heather Hudson, and Gus Norman, among others. Ferret’s Wheel will lead directly into the fourth story-arc, starting the war between the Mathoka and the Acosta and their allies which has been developing since The Furkindred began; however, this next mini-series will not start until all of the contents are on hand, to ensure that there will be no delays between issues once publication has begun.
   In addition to these ongoing series, MU has many new titles in preparation. Individual schedules will vary with the individual artists, but in general MU will try to arrange these as mini-series of no more than three or four issues, and will wait until the series are completed before announcing them, to avoid the problem of excessive lateness between issues.
   The first issue of Lou Scarborough Jr.’s Dance of the Radio-Men should be published just about now. This is an offbeat mini-series scheduled for six to eight monthly issues. “Rachel Plympton is a television line producer for a superhero program who, in the process of saving her show and studio from being sold out from under her, herself becomes a ‘super-hero’. The series deals with the idea of imagination as both commodity and survival for the humans known as Teerithians. Rendered in traditional animation techniques, this is the first original concept-animation comic,” says Melville. This is a rather marginal ’morph title; it is set on Teerithia, an Earth-like planet whose people look roughly like the generic funny-animal background characters in Carl Barks’ Duck universe.
   Writer Paul Kidd is preparing Cyberkitties as a monthly mini-series of at least three issues, starting in June. Each will contain two to four stories, each drawn by a different artist. Chuck Melville, Tom Milliorn, Eric Blumrich, Toivo Rovainen, Pat Shuttlesworth, Monika Livingston, Mike Raabe, and Phil Morrissey have signed up so far. The Cyberkitties are Morgana, Alex, and Tammi, three cat-ladies who run The Cat-Byte Detective Agency and Pizza Delivery service in twenty-first-century corporate-controlled Seattle. Cyberkitties will commit satirical mayhem on cyberpunk (especially as depicted in the Shadowrun FRP games), vampire fandom, New Age shamanism, Political Correctness, pop-culture snobbery, street samurai, and whatever else Kidd and the artists decide to skewer.
   Steve Gallacci is working on two projects for MU. One is Birthright, a series of three graphic albums collecting his three-volume interstellar political melodrama which appeared in Fantagraphics’ Critters in the late 1980s. At the moment, Gallacci is checking into whether the original negatives can be obtained from Fantagraphics or Fantagraphics’ printer after so long. If they can, this will save considerable time and money. If they cannot and the original art must be re-photographed, Gallacci may take the opportunity to revise some pages that he was unhappy with, and the project will take longer in production.
   The second is Beatrix (working title), tentatively scheduled as a three-issue mini-series ‘by Steve Gallacci and Friends’. Readers of Gallacci’s Albedo and MU’s Wild Kingdom have already seen a couple of short stories featuring Beatrix Farmer, a young single rabbit-woman trying to find a steady job and boyfriend. Bea’s mundane problems become fantastic when prankish aliens turn her into a super-heroine, dressing her in a flashy invulnerable costume that she can’t ever take off. This event will be the focus of the book-length second issue, which is being drawn by Taral Wayne. The first issue will reprint the first two stories, with two or three others set before Bea gets her super-dress. The third issue will explore how being stuck inside an invulnerable costume affects Bea’s social life, as developed in another three or four short stories. The writers and artists include Gallacci, Taral Wayne, and Fred Patten for sure, with a couple of others currently expressing interest. Gallacci wants to have at least the first two issues completed before publication is scheduled, so don’t look for Beatrix before late ’94 or early ’95.
   Even though Chuck Melville’s Champion of Katara #3 is months behind schedule, plans are in the works for at least two future Katara mini-series. Melville has recently finished a separate novel in the Rowrbrazzle apa, Felicia: Melari’s Wish. This took five years to serialize. Melville will redraw a couple of the early pages to make the overall art style more consistent, and repackage the installments to fit into a standard comic-book format. MU should start its publication in late 1994. Melari’s Wish introduced the fox-sorceress Felicia, who was so popular with Rowrbrazzle’s readers that Melville found himself having to answer many questions about her background. Figuring that the general public will also want to know more about Felicia, Melville is writing a second, three-issue monthly mini-series, Felicia: Sorceress of Katara, to relate her early years. The artists for Sorceress of Katara will be Mike Raabe and Diana Vick, and the current plans are to publish this first, leading in to the later events in Melari’s Wish. Sorceress of Katara may begin in ate summer or early fall.
   Another series reprint from Rowrbrazzle is Vixen’s Keep, drawn by Mark Wallace and written by several of his friends in the Society for Creative Anachronism under their SCA court names. Medieval weaponry and clothing styles are guaranteed to be accurate. The Keep is an academy run by a determined feminist noblewoman to train ladies in the jousting arts, to prove that a lady can be more in this male-dominated aristocratic society than just a fainting damsel who needs her knight’s protection. Vixen’s Keep will be a single graphic album containing several short stories, some completely drawn by Wallace and others penciled by him and inked by Margaret Carspecken. Phil Morrissey will draw the cover. Publication is tentatively set for June or July.
   Several years ago, Steel Tiger Press published two issues of Menagerie, an anthology comic book. The most popular thing in it was a ’morph s-f adventure serial, Scarycat and Mousekanaut, written by Paula Shoudy and drawn by Mike Raabe. The two chapters won enough fans that there have been requests to continue the story with another publisher ever since Menagerie disappeared. The problem has been that neither the original art nor the negatives for the first two chapters were kept for a reprint, and no other publisher wanted to pick up a serial in mid-story. It has finally been agreed that Mike Raabe will both write and draw a one-shot which will summarize the first two chapters and complete the adventure. MU hopes to publish this Scarycat and Mousekanaut one-shot around summer 1994.
   Two mini-series which should start around the end of 1994 are The Adventures of Kitty Malone, by John Speidel, starring his feline adventuress who has appeared in short stories in various ’morph comics over the past decade; and Stellar Babe, by Phil Morrissey, relating the misadventures of his sexy space cadet who has only appeared in pin-up art until now. It has not been decided how many issues each of these may run.
   Edd Vick and Chuck Melville say that this includes all of MU’s plans for 1994 which are reasonably definite at this point. Paul Kidd has two more series that are nearing completion in the scripting stage: Fangs of K’aath, a 30-issue graphic-art serialization of his Arabian Nights-style text novel (MU’s recent Princess Karanam and the Djinn of the Green Jug one-shot was excerpted from Fangs); and Hive, a 12-issue melodrama set in a society of anthropomorphic bees, modeled upon medieval Japanese court intrigue. But they are having trouble finding artists for these. The problem is that Kidd wants both titles released as ongoing monthly comics, not broken up into several mini-series. MU is frankly not in a position at present to pay any artist to draw the number of issues in advance that are necessary to guarantee that these titles will come out reliably for at least several months, once they begin publication. (Are there any angels out there?) Finally, two as-yet-untitled one-shots are currently being negotiated: a story by Mike Kazaleh (an actual story, not a selection of art pages like Kazaleh’s other recent one-shots); and a collection of material by William Van Horn.
   Even though MU Press is much smaller than Antarctic Press, it still has dynamic plans to increase its production of anthropomorphic comics during 1994.
   One of the oldest ’morph-community independent publishers is Jim Groat, with his GraphXpress. Its stability always looks shaky, but it is coming up on its tenth anniversary soon. GraphXpress is currently publishing only one title, Red Shetland, a parody of sword-and-sorcery in general and of Marvel’s Red Sonja in particular. Groat says that Red Shetland #8 will probably be published in February 1994, and he hopes that #9 will be out in time for the San Diego Comic-Con in August. Number 8 is being scripted and drawn by Red’s co-creator, Richard Konkle, and it will conclude the current story-sequence in which Red, the mercenary warrior-maid, has been hired by the aristocratic Lady Mizbich to find the latter’s kidnapped husband. Number 9, written by Groat and Konkle and drawn by Terrie Smith, will start the sequence in which Red finally “is humbled by the steed who is my better” (which will release her from her vow of chastity)—and it’s not who most fans expect it will be.
   A tenth anniversary is also coming up for Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, now appearing as a bi-monthly color title from Mirage Press. Sakai says that volume 2, #5 through #8 are scheduled for the first half of 1994. The current story-line features separate 20-page tales set during Usagi’s wanderings as a lone ronin through the medieval Japanese countryside. It will probably be another few months before Sakai starts planning the return of some of the regular supporting class, or another adventure spread over several issues. But there will be a three-issue serial, Battlefield, in the backup stories describing the rabbit ronin’s early life. Issues #6 through #8 ( March—July) will tell how Young Usagi reacted upon getting his first taste of warfare.
   The interstellar adventures of Usagi’s distant descendant, Space Usagi, are about halfway through their planned run. Space Usagi was designed as three three-issue bi-monthly mini-series, to be published by Mirage in rapid succession. Space Usagi II: White Star Rising #2 and #3 are currently finishing the middle sequence, and Space Usagi III #1 will begin in late spring or early summer. The overall adventure encompasses the betrayal of Space Usagi’s Shirohoshi (White Star) clan and the seizure of their castle by the villainous Kajitori (Firebird) Empire, and Usagi’s efforts to organize a popular resistance against the Kajitori and to train his murdered lord’s son, Prince Kiyoshi, to rally the clan to victory. Sakai says that there are discussions about making Space Usagi a regular ongoing comic book, after the third mini-series has ended, although if it has to be produced continuously, other writers and artists may be brought in to help share the workload.
   “How do you define an anthropomorphic comic?”, is as subjective a question as, “How do you define science fiction?” Opinions vary with personal tastes. Many fans don’t count the titles that feature only one or a small group of ’morphs living in an otherwise-human world. That would eliminate Biker Mice from Mars, Buster the Amazing Bear, Cerebus, Dinosaurs for Hire, Dream Weavers, and the original, Mirage-published Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
   But Archie Comics’ monthly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, a spinoff of the TV cartoons, has taken on a ’morphic life of its own. Credit goes to editor/writer Dean Clarrain, who has been developing an intricate and reasonably mature independent story line within the constraints of producing a kids’ funny-animal book, and to several other writers and artists (notably regular penciller Chris Allan) who know the fine distinction between funny animals and ’morphs. Over the past couple of years, an increasing group of animal characters has overwhelmed the original human supporting cast: Katmandu, the four-armed Himalayan tiger-warrior (good guy); Al’Falqa, the Saudi hawk-chieftain (good guy); Armageddon, the hyper-evolved shark-warlord from the future (villain); the Mighty Mutanimals (team of heroes); and numerous others—notably Ninjara, the female fox-ninja. Ninjara was introduced in TMNTA #28 while having been naïvely allied with a villain in Japan. The Turtles invited her to return with them to visit America. By issue #56 (the present), Ninjara seems to have become a permanent resident of the Turtles’ and Splinter’s New York sewer home, and she has discreetly but definitely become Raphael’s lover. Chris Allan often draws Ninjara in a manner that proves the adage that properly-designed clothes can be sexier than nudity. New details are slowly being given about Ninjara’s past and her heritage among a tribe of kitsune (Japanese fox people), which adds even more to TMNTA’s ’morphic atmosphere.
   About fifteen issues ago, the Turtles received a time-travel cry for help from their own future selves, in a late 21st-century Earth far gone in ecological disaster. Their future selves would not reveal their personal futures to the present Turtles, but it was obvious that they had been severely battered (Raphael has lost an eye), that Splinter was no longer around, and that some tragedy had separated Raph and Ninjara. This has cast a somber mood over the present Turtles, and created an ongoing subplot in which they are constantly wondering whether there is anything they can do to change the future and avoid their own doom. This theme will feature prominently in the stories for 1994.
   Well-known cartoonists in our field who have worked on stories for TMNTA (including its spinoffs such as the quarterly TMNTA Special, or various three-issue mini-series like TMNT Presents: Donatello and Leatherhead), either recently published or due in 1994 include Mike Kazaleh, Ken Mitchroney, Garrett Ho, Bill Fitts, Mark Bodé, Gary Fields, Milton Knight, and Stan Sakai. Readers who assume that Archie’s TMNT Adventures is just another mindless juvenile funny-animal comic like Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog or Harvey’s Woody Woodpecker should give it a try.
   Golden Realm Unlimited published its first comics around the middle of 1993, including the anthropomorphic Tall Tails #1, written by Jose Calderon and drawn by Daphne Lage. This takes place in the Kingdom of Lifdell, a fantasy land with a traditional D&D-style cast (warriors, wizards, healers, thieves, bards, etc.) battling the evil Trolls. Well, actually, the story seems to be starting with the old super-hero plot gimmick of Let’s Have the Heroes Mistakenly Fight Each Other, but presumably they’ll get back onto the track of the real villains soon. Golden Realm’s titles all also follow the current marketing trend of coming in three editions; a regular Readers’ Edition ($1.50 in Tall Tails case), a higher-quality Collector’s Edition with a different cover ($2.75), and a Gold Edition “limited to 500 copies, signed and numbered by the artists and writer and is sealed with a Certificate of Authenticity” (inquire for price).
   Daphne Lage has apologized for all of GRU’s second issues being late, which was due to their finding out the hard way how much work is involved in self-publishing independent comics, and how long it actually takes for the money to come in. “In a nutshell, there wasn’t enough money to print on schedule and we had to wait until we sold enough first issues before we could go to presses with the second.” This has caused missed deadlines, the need to delay further for resolicitation, etc. Tall Tails #2 should be out around now, and “the third issue will not be expected to ship until March 1994 at the earliest. We are hoping, with this policy” (waiting until a new issue is completely ready to be printed before announcing a publication date and soliciting orders), “to be able to come out on a regular monthly schedule (bi-monthly at worst).” Lage also sent information about GRU’s Dream Weavers, but that’s one of the titles featuring only a small group of ’morph super-heroes in an otherwise human universe (not counting all of the interdimensional horrific demons).
   Miami cartoonist Juan Alfonso has been producing a cute but naughty adult small-press booklet, X-Tra Spicy Tales, for the past couple of years. He is now upgrading it to a regular comic-book format, for publication by the independent Conquest Press. The new X-Tra Spicy Tales #1 will debut in February, with a 28-page story featuring the Cute Bears, X-rated parodies of the Care Bears. Number 2 will come out in time for the San Diego Comic-Con in August. Alfonso has also just published in December an eight-plate X-Tra Spicy Tales Portfolio of ’morph orgies in various fantasy settings.
   This concludes the news from those who replied to the request for information for this preview. As to other comics worth looking for—well, there are several whose publishers are not happy at having them categorized as ‘’morph comics’, but they are popular with most ’morph fans.
   Gladstone’s ongoing publication of the Disney comic books is making available again many classic stories by Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson and his writers, and excellent new stories by William Van Horn, Don Rosa, and some of the European Disney writers and artists. Gladstone is beginning Don Rosa’s epic 12-issue Life of Scrooge in Uncle Scrooge, which will take two years to complete. (This may be somewhat controversial, because there has been gossip that Carl Barks is not happy with the detailed life-story that Rosa has written for his character.) Readers also won’t want to miss the first American publication of a series of wonderfully witty and wacky fantasy tales starring Mickey and Goofy, written by Cal Howard and Greg Crosby and drawn by Jaime Diaz more than a decade ago for foreign sales. These were originally intended for publication as 44-page albums, but most (starting with Don’t Call Me Tut) will be serialized over three issues of Donald and Mickey.
   Reed Waller and Kate Worley’s ‘Omaha’, the Cat Dancer; Martin Wagner’s Hepcats; and Jeff Smith’s Bone. ’Nuff said, okay? All transcend mere ’morph popularity. They have been getting rave reviews throughout the comics field ever since they began, and if they aren’t enjoying the massive sales of the psychotic costumed heroes, they nevertheless seem to be financially secure enough that their publication is assured throughout 1994 (barring personal emergencies befalling the creators, like Reed Waller’s recent cancer—which, it seems, was caught in time).
   On the other hand, what about the comic-book spinoffs of current trendy TV cartoons featuring animal characters, which are theoretically aimed at the discerning satire-appreciating public rather than the kiddies? When asked for information about Marvel’s The Ren and Stimpy Show comic book, Mike Kazaleh said, “Well, I guess you can include Ren and Stimpy if you want to, although I don’t really think of them as funny animals. They’re drawn as animals, yeah, but they’re more like funny things. Martians, maybe.” It turns out that there’s not much to say about them, since there is no continuing story line. You know what to expect if you like Ren and Stimpy, and you’ll get more of it during 1994. As for Matt Groening’s new Bongo Comics’ new Itchy and Scratchy Comics, ‘Bart Simpson’s Favorite Cartoon!’, the ‘carnage-crammed’ first issue parodies Tex Avery-type cartoon violence with 28 pages of nothing but “bone-crushing anvils, hostile bulldogs, angry bee swarms, red-hot pokers (…) runaway steamrollers, skull-smashing falling safes, even eyeball-pecking canaries!” inflicted upon long-suffering Scratchy cat by the fun-loving Itchy mouse. It’s too early to tell whether this ‘satire’ title will feature this one-track formula forever, or (we hope) more varied plots will appear.
   Is that it? Other new publishers have released one or two ’morph titles during 1993, but they did not reply to the request for information about their 1994 plans. These include Sun Comic Publishing’s Tom Katt #1 (by John Dean), and Bugged-Out Comics’ Zog the Frog #1 (by Stanley White). There may be others that were overlooked in this survey; if so, our apologies for not contacting them. The independent comics field is unfortunately littered with tiny publishers who get out one or two issues and then disappear. (Remember the glossy color flyers at the 1991 San Diego Comic-Con for Studio 91 Creation’s Mogobi Desert Rats, which turned out to be considerably artistically superior to the black-and-white #1 issue? Did that ever get past #1? What’s happened to Randy Zimmerman’s third attempt, as Massive Comics Group, to publish his Tales from the Aniverse?) Let’s hope that Zog the Frog and any other new titles are doing well and they will continue during 1994. And there will probably be two or three more brand-new publishers who appear with first issues this year. Keep an eye out for them, because the next Bone or Usagi Yojimbo or Xanadu may be among them.

2007 Note: This Anthro Alert column, unlike all others in Yarf!, was a forecast of publishers’ plans for the next year rather than a review of something already published. In retrospect, it is a fascinating and, in some cases, rather pathetic time capsule of comic-book publishers’ hopes and dreams as of late 1993. Some of these comics were published as planned. Others appeared in different formats; Felicia: Melari’s Gift was published in August 1994 as a single 184-page graphic novel rather than being repackaged as a mini-series. Still others such as Dance of the Radio-Men never appeared at all. Of those that were published during 1994, most disappeared for one reason or another during the next few years. Antarctic Press, which appeared firmly established as a major publisher at the end of 1993, decided to abandon ’morph comics in 1997; fortunately their editor, Elin Winkler, started a new publisher, Radio Comix, to keep such established titles as Furrlough and Genus going. Do not look for all the ’morph comics profiled in this preview, because some never became real.

YARF! logo
#29 / Apr 1994







Cover of MAGICATS II, edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois
Title: Magicats II
Editors: Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois
Publisher:

Ace Books New York, MY), Dec 1991

ISBN: 0-441-51533-9

213 pages, $3,99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Here are still more fantasy short stories about cats! Yarf! has already reviewed DAW Books’ two Catfantastic anthologies, but Ace Books’ Magicats series is actually older. The first volume was published in June 1984.
   These anthologies are similar in that both are devoted to short stories about bizarre cats, or cats in bizarre situations. But there are differences between them. Catfantastic features brand new stories written especially for that series. Magicats consists of reprints—the best SF and fantasy cat tales written over the years. Catfantastic stars domestic pusses, while Magicats is open to felines of all species. Housecats do predominate, but mountain lions, tigers, and jaguars are also present.
   There is also a subtle distinction in emphasis. Each of the Catfantastic stories is a short adventure fantasy in which a cat is the lead or pivotal character. Doubtlessly the authors were influenced toward this slant by being asked to write for an anthology featuring cats. Each Magicats story contains a cat, but the cat may be incidental rather than the main focus. These stories were not all written with a cat foremost in the author’s mind. The focus in some is on the message (the horrors of war), or on the human characters (the animal rights movement), or on the genre (comedy or murder mystery). These stories contain cats who may be vividly presented and may be central to the action, but they do not seem to be necessarily cats. They could have been dogs or some other animal just as easily. So Magicats and Catfantastic are not simply duplicates of each other. Each series has a different ‘flavor’ to it.
   The dozen stories in Magicats II span the three decades between 1961 and 1991, with the exception of John Collier’s 1940 A Word to the Wise. They are all excellent reading, although only three of the twelve really have anthromorphized cats: the Collier anecdote, Fritz Leiber’s Kreativity for Kats, and Pamela Sargent’s The Mountain Cage. Two are about human were-felines: Lucius Shepard’s The Jaguar Hunter and Avram Davidson’s Duke Pasquale’s Ring. Three are fantasies featuring ordinary cats: Isaac Asimov’s I Love Little Pussy, Ward Moore’s The Boy Who Spoke Cat, and Tanith Lee’s Bright Burning Tiger. (Well, Lee’s fiery tiger is hardly ordinary, but it is not anthropomorphic.) The last four stories not only feature normal felines, they are not even fantasies. Michael Bishop’s Life Regarded as a Jigsaw Puzzle of Highly Lustrous Cats is surrealistic stream-of-consciousness of a psychotic who is obsessed with cats; Ursula K. LeGuin’s May’s Lion is a sociological essay showing how women from two different cultures would perceive a cougar; and Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Sin of Madame Phloi and R. V. Branham’s The Color of Grass, the Color of Blood depict life (and death) in modern American homes from a housecat’s point of view.
   From the specific aspect of anthropomorphism, the Catfantastic series will be of more interest to readers of Yarf! than Magicats. But if you like good writing, fantasy, and cats—anthropomorphized or not—then you will have to read both series.


Cover of TURNING POINT, by Lisanne Norman
Title: Turning Point
Author: Lisanne Norman
Map: Michael Gilbert
Publisher:

DAW Books (New York, NY), Dec 1993

ISBN: 0-88677-575-2

267 pages, $3.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   ’Morph fandom has a reputation that is practically synonymous with furry eroticism. Well, it’s not just ‘us’ any more. Here is an inter-species romantic space opera that lets it all hang out and is proud of it. A human woman meets a felinoid alien—a handsome, studly, furry hunk of a cat-man—and:

   From the first she’d felt drawn to him in a strange fascinating way. Then she’d felt it change to something more. Was this truly what she wanted? She knew that two worlds not two people stood beside the tree. Could they, would they… dare… make that bridge?
   When she spoke, her voice was a barely audible whisper.
   “Then may your gods pity me, too, because I seem to have no choice either.”
   Kusac froze. “What are you saying?”
   “That we aren’t very different. That I find myself as drawn and bound to you as you are to me.”
   “Then we will have to face the future together?” he asked, hardly daring to breathe.
   “Together,” she replied, looking up at him and seeing again the person that he was as well as the Alien form he wore.
   Carrie buried her face in the fur on his chest, deeply breathing in his musky scent. She clutched at his back, running her hands through the soft pelt, aware of the strength of the muscles underneath.
(pg. 138, abridged)

   Carrie Hamilton is a repressed young woman on a male-dominated world. Not only does the colony planet Keiss have a strongly patriarchal society, but it has recently been conquered by brutally militaristic aliens, the Valtegans. Keiss’ menfolk are fighting a guerrilla war to regain their freedom, but Carrie is considered too delicate to help. She has an uncontrollable telepathic talent that makes her overly susceptible to the pain and stress felt by others, a liability in combat situations. Her father and brother are arranging to marry her to the town’s richest and most arrogant lout, smugly sure that they are acting in her best interests and that her opinions are not worth listening to.
   The first time that Carrie stands up to them is when she finds an injured cougarlike forest cat, and insists on nursing it. Only Kusac isn’t a wild animal. He’s a member of another alien race that’s also at war with the Valtegans. His spaceship was shot down on a reconnaissance mission, and he was too badly injured to keep up with his felinoid shipmates as they escaped into the forest. Kusac is the Sholan team’s telepath, so he quickly senses how good-hearted Carrie is.
   Turning Point is skillfully composed as a light adventure space opera, but it’s not hard to see all the wish-fulfillment clichés beneath the surface action. Everyone else is frightened of the fierce animal Kusac appears to be; only Carrie senses his inner nobility. Kusac uses his telepathic powers to train Carrie to control her own gift, helping her to grow from a confused girl into a strong woman. As she nurses him back to health, he gradually turns from a wild animal who is her loyal protector into (once he drops his telepathic disguise) a handsomely humanoid cat-man; the beast becomes the Beast to her Beauty. He next rescues her from her impending forced marriage, as they use their combined telepathy to find and join the other Sholans. When one of the more paranoid cat-men attacks Carrie, Kusac fights a spitting, clawing animal battle to protect her. Carrie is the only one who can bring the mutually suspicious Sholans and the human guerrillas together to fight the Valtegans as allies. And when the macho guerrillas want to send her back home to safety, it’s Kusac who demands they let her show that she can fight just as well as a man.
   The romantic theme runs overtly throughout the action. True love becomes reinforced by their telepathic link into an unbreakable bond. Both the Sholans and the humans have trouble accepting the inter-species romance, but they are proud to openly display their affection. Let it serve as a model for future human-Sholan friendly relations. The novel ends abruptly, with Carrie’s family convinced to welcome Kusac as a son-in-law, and the two lovers about to journey to Shola to break the news to his family. There is obviously room for a sequel, to tell what happens to Carrie as the only human on a planet of cat people. Is one coming?

2007 editor’s note: In fact, there was room for several sequels—Turning Point turned out to be the first novel in Norman’s seven-books-and-counting Sholan Alliance series. They are, in order:
   
Turning Point (Am / BN / Al / Pw)
   Fortune’s Wheel (Am / BN / Al / Pw)
   Fire Margins (Am / BN / Al / Pw)
   Razor’s Edge (Am / BN / Al / Pw)
   Dark Nadir (Am / BN / Al / Pw)
   Stronghold Rising (Am / BN / Al / Pw)
   Between Darkness and Light (Am / BN / Al / Pw).

YARF! logo
#30 / May 1994







Cover of THE WEIGHER, by Erin Vinicoff and Marcia Martin
Title: The Weigher
Authors: Eric Vinicoff & Marcia Martin
Publisher:

Baen Books (Riverdale, NY), Nov 1992

ISBN: 0-671-72144-5

313 pages, $4.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This SF novel does a fine job of establishing an alien culture that seemingly shouldn’t exist. The novel is narrated by Slasher, a razor-fanged, bloodthirsty carnivore on a distant planet that is discovered by Ralph and Pam Ayers, a husband-wife pair of human explorers. The Ayers do not take a major role until about ninety pages into the story; the opening is devoted entirely to establishing Slasher’s lively, vivid daily life.

   Groundplant was a springy, rust-colored blur under my driving paws. I was running at my best long-distance pace, not quite as fast as when I was in my prime, but not dallying either. The wind whistled through the pounding drum-rhythm, while it ruffled my fur and cooled my burning muscles. I sucked in quick, deep lungsful of it, enjoying the rich variety of forest scents. […] I caught up with a coal-laden wagon rattling toward town. A tagnami was loping beside the pair of runlegs, herding them with snarls and nips. Runlegs made poor hunting, tasted terrible, and were only slightly smarter than the boulders they resembled.
   “Get those abominations out of my way!” I yelled irritably.
   The
tagnami glanced over his shoulder, saw me, and yelped, “Yes, Ma’am!” Snarling at the runlegs, he drove them over to the right side of the trail. I hurried past the wagon. […] The wrought-iron gate was open. I stood up on my hindlegs and walked under the stone arch. The first thing I noticed upon entering Coalgathering was, as usual, the reek. Even after a night of airing out, the town-smells set my fangs to aching. Trying to ignore them, I headed for the middle of town. (pgs. 1-3, abridged)

   Slasher is Coalgathering’s town Weigher, the closest thing this society has to a civic official. She acts as an arbitrator in any disputes whose participants are willing to settle them peacefully rather than take them to the town’s challenge lawn, where disagreements are fought until one litigant is dead. Only Weighers who are strong enough to enforce their rulings are respected, so Slasher must maintain her reputation as the potentially deadliest fighter in town as well as its wisest balancer of fairness. Since she is getting past her physical prime, she is resigned that it will probably be only another few seasons before she is fatally replaced by a younger and more agile challenger.
   All this is changed when two strange monsters float down from the sky and introduce themselves as people from another world who want to study this one. Partly because they are immediately challenged by an enemy of Slasher’s, she keeps them from being instantly killed. She also realizes that they may be able to offer new viewpoints that will help with some problems that she has been having with some of Coalgathering’s more troublesome inhabitants.
   By this point, the reader is probably wondering how such ferocious, vicious animals could ever coexist long enough to form any society. This is practically the first thing that Ralph and Pam Ayers start asking:

   “Our working hypothesis is that you evolved intelligence as a defense against a danger greater than starvation or hostile predators.”
   My back fur rose instinctively. “What danger?” I asked sharply.
   “Yourselves.”
   My fur subsided, but I felt another confusion-generated headache coming on. “I don’t understand.”
   “With your territorial instinct and year-round breeding, there must always have been tremendous population pressure and competition for the best land. Smarter people fought better and figured out ways to avoid more fights. They tended to be the survivors and the breeders.”
(pgs. 115-116)

   Unfortunately for Slasher’s people, they were lone predators before they were social animals. The instincts for communal living and cooperation are comparatively weak. The evolution into townships with populations in the low hundreds has already reached about as far as it can go before people start growing murderously irritable through overcrowding and too many differences of opinion. Slasher can intellectually understand that her world has only another few generations before it suicidally self-destructs. But she still embodies her species’ instincts. Her attempts to arrogantly force Coalgathering to adopt improvements based upon the humans’ knowledge sparks a conservative rebellion that forces her and the Ayers into a humiliating exile. Humiliating to her, that is; the two humans are fascinated by their involuntary trek across this world, looking for a new community to settle into. And Slasher must settle the turmoil between her individualistic ego and her understanding of the need to promote cooperation rather than dominance, for her world’s good as well as her own.
   Ken Kelly’s cover painting for The Weigher shows Slasher and her people as a cross between shaggy large wolves and grizzly bears. Some of the situations imply that they may be more lean and lithe than this, and their tails are definitely prehensile enough to be significant aids in a fight:

   She leaped over me, a flashy but effective move. Her foreclaws raked at my back. But I wasn’t there; I had dropped to my belly, rolled and crouched. I tried to hook one of her hindlegs with my tail, but missed. (pg. 297)

   Since The Weigher is told from Slasher’s viewpoint, the reader is in the midst of the anthropomorphic action at all times. Vinicoff & Martin develop an elaborate and fascinatingly appealing society, considering how bloody it is. There are scenes depicting these carnivores’ feral courtship, family life, education, commerce, shipping, and even religion.

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#31 / Jul 1994







Cover of ANIMAL BRIGADE 3000, edited by Greenberg & Waugh
Title: Animal Brigade 3000
Editors: Martin Harry Greenberg and Charles Waugh
Publisher:

Ace Books (New York, NY), Feb 1994

ISBN: 0-441-00014-2

276 pages, $4.99

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   MAN AND BEAST—UNITED IN BATTLE […] Harnessing the combined force of instinct and intelligence, evolution and engineering, these interspecies teams join in combat—and in the universal fight for survival… (blurb)

   This anthology features seven stories about teams of human and animal partners in dramatic situations on interstellar worlds. The creatures range from ’morphs to intelligent aliens to well-trained domesticated beasts. Four of the stories are reprints; three are written especially for this anthology.
   Unfortunately, this concept works better in theory than it does in actuality. For starters, over 40% of the book is filled with the 113-page Dragonrider, by Anne McCaffrey. This was the second Pern story in Analog SF, the sequel to her Weyr Search. The two together comprise Dragonflight (1968), the first novel in McCaffrey’s classic series about the human Dragonriders and their intelligent native dragon partners who protect the world of Pern from the deadly Thread-like spores of a neighboring planet. That novel is certainly worth reading, but in its entirety. Why read Part 3 and Part 4 without Parts 1 and 2? And if you don’t read Dragonrider, almost half of Animal Brigade 3000 is wasted.
   On the Tip of a Cat’s Tongue, by Karen Haber, introduces private detective Willem Seaton to a rich client who talks through her cat.

   Belatedly Seaton remembered the story: a cruiser docking error. Three passengers killed, five badly hurt. One—Kembali Val, level-two curator—had survived. But her throat, her voice, was gone. The doctors had fitted her with prostheses and a cyber-link to the animal—and new voice—of her choice.
   “My situation takes everyone by surprise at first,” the cat continued. “My voice’s name is Sebastian. He does not enjoy being petted by strangers. Please sit down.”
(p. 116)

   The imagery is striking of the detective who reports to a stately woman whose voice comes from her pet cat as it wanders through her office. And the mystery is a clever one. But the cat seems to be more of an unusual prop than a character.
   Exploration Team, by Murray Leinster (1956), puts two humans, three giant Kodiak bears and a cub, and a bald eagle on a hell-world where every native life form is ferociously deadly to mankind. The eagle is merely well-trained, while the bears (Sitka Pete, Sourdough Charley, Faro Nell, and her cub Nugget) are giant, bioengineered mutations. “There was need, on my home planet,” the frontiersman Huygens explains to Colonial Survey officer Roane, “for an animal who could fight like a fiend, live off the land, carry a pack and get along with men at least as well as dogs do. […] the bears want to get along with men. They’re emotionally dependent upon us! Like dogs.” (p. 156). There is constant drama as the humans and bears trek through the jungle to the rescue of colonists who had relied on robots to keep them safe from the hellish sphexes, the night-walkers, and other monsters. There’s also some humor as the slightly stuffy Roane learns how to get along with the 12-foot-tall, two-ton, slobberingly friendly Teddy bears. The story was written for an earlier generation, however. Today’s readers may not be totally receptive to the clever concept of settling a planet by killing off all the native animals and replacing them with nice, safe mammals bred to love humans.
   All the Angles, by Jack Nimersheim, is the first story here with a real ’morph character. In fact, it’s narrated by Thom Cat, the feline partner of Jerry Jones, a professional team of human and enhanced animal. ‘Professional’ what? Thom spends so much time arrogantly boasting about how clever he is that the little details never get described. Thom’s story is about how he and Jonesy hired out as mercenary secret agents to the Deimos government which was losing a rebellion against Mars, and he personally won the war for little Deimos. In one scene, Thom is briefly mistaken for a normal cat (until he starts mouthing off), so presumably he is not very physically different from one. But in another scene, “Withdrawing the laser knife from my neck pouch, I cut through the fine mesh in less time than it takes to tell you about it;” implying that he has hands instead of paws. The story would be more enjoyable if it had less back-patting dialogue and more details about the characters and action.
   The Undecided, by Eric Frank Russell, is the oldest story (1949). A Terran spaceship crashes on a distant planet. The crew of eight must defend themselves from the hostile local military until they can repair their ship and blast off. Although the Terrans talk telepathically among themselves, the story is told mostly from the point of view of the aliens. Sector Marshal Bvandt slurged in caterpillarish manner across the floor and vibrated his extensibles and closed two of the eight eyes around his serrated crown and did all the other things necessary to demonstrate an appropriate mixture of joy, satisfaction and triumph. (p. 193). Bvandt and his aides grow increasingly frustrated as their attempts to capture or destroy the mystery spaceship are stymied by its unknown inhabitants, who each seem to be of a completely different species. The sluglike locals wonder (as the reader is obviously supposed to) whether its crew is composed of amorphous shapeshifters, or maybe the master races of several different worlds of a space empire. But since this story is in Animal Brigade 3000, the reader will guess from the beginning that the Terrans consist of one human and several different intelligent animals (dog, cheetah, owl, etc.) who have evolved into a society of mutual equality. (Yeah, but it’s still the human who’s the captain.)
   Schurman’s Trek, by Roland J. Green, is set on a planet where human scientists are helping to establish a colony of bioengineered elephant ’morphs, the Hathi, during an interstellar war. When the planet is attacked by the enemy, human Roberta Schurman and Hathi Clan-Mother Drina have to lead the nervous elephant people on a long, dangerous trek to safety. This is the best story in the anthology for depicting a ’morph culture that mixes the instincts and attributes of its base species with human intelligence.
   Harry Harrison’s 1967 The Man from P.I.G. was written at the height of the James Bond/Man from U.N.C.L.E. craze, and is a humorous s-f variant on that theme. A newly-colonized planet appears to be haunted; its harried Governor calls the Patrol for a top-notch Secret Agent to save them; and all that he gets is an amiable farmboy with a herd of squealing pigs! But this is Bron Wurber, the Man from P.I.G. (Porcine Interstellar Guard). His boars and sows are better-trained than the best attack dogs. Harrison plainly studied up on swine, and he works a lot of data about the different breeds and their abilities and capabilities into this adventure, as Bron’s detective work brings him and his herd under attack by the evil alien empire’s saboteurs and their criminal human hirelings. There are no ’morphs here, though; only domesticated animals.
   So Animal Brigade 3000 is a mixed bag. There are only three stories featuring real ’morphs, and one of those is more annoying than enjoyable. Three other stories are worth reading, although they are about trained animals rather than ’morphs. And the longest in the book, Dragonrider, cannot be recommended as long as McCaffrey’s Dragonflight is easily available instead.


Cover of the deluxe edition of FUR MAGIC, by Andre Norton
Cover of the deluxe edition
Title: Fur Magic
Author: Andre Norton
Illustrator: Alicia Austin
Publisher:

Donald M. Grant, Publisher (Hampton Falls, NH), May 1993

ISBN: 1-880418-20-7

173 pages, $18.00

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Deluxe edition

ISBN: 1-880418-19-3
173 pages, $65.00
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   This juvenile fantasy featuring Native American themes was originally published in 1968. Norton was a Guest-of-Honor at the 1992 World Science Fiction Convention in Orlando, FL, and this lavishly illustrated edition of Fur Magic was intended to commemorate that occasion. Unfortunately, production difficulties postponed it for so long that it was not published until the middle of the following year. But it is available now, and the delays have not affected the quality of the book.
   Cory Alder is an urban child spending a Summer vacation at his dad’s Army buddy’s ranch in Idaho. But what was supposed to be a treat has turned into a severe emotional trauma. The shy boy has discovered that he is terrified of real horses and of the great outdoors.
   Cory’s ‘Uncle Jasper’ and their ranch hands are Nez Perce’ Indians. From their conversation, Cory picks up the native myths of the beginning of time, when the Old People, the animals, lived in tribes and conducted their affairs as the Indians themselves later did. Then the Changer (Coyote to the Nez Perce’; Raven or other animals to different tribes) created humans, and the world turned upside down. According to the legend, the Great Spirit exiled the Changer for his meddling. He has been trying to get back and correct his mistake ever since, by using his trickery to make mankind destroy itself so the animals will rule the world once again. Uncle Jasper comments sardonically that, considering what the world news says about the way humanity is headed, that’s not so hard to believe.
   As Cory wanders about the ranch, he stumbles over the hidden medicine bundle of Black Elk, an ancient medicine man who follows the old ways. The shaman insists that Cory must purify the bag by holding it in a stream of strangely-scented smoke. The smoke makes Cory dizzy; when he recovers, he is in the body of Yellow Shell, a beaver warrior in the days of the Old Ones.
   Most of Fur Magic is the story of Cory as Yellow Shell of the beaver tribe, who was on a scouting mission against war parties of the vicious mink tribe. Cory has Yellow Shell’s memories but his own mind. The frightened human child is no match at first for the seasoned animal warriors. He is led by an otter brave to the otter tribe’s village, where he learns that the old ways are beginning to change. The minks have grown bolder and are now in alliance with the crows, who are spies of the Changer. The Changer is the enemy of the Old People, for they know that in his arrogance he is about to make a new animal (man) who will enslave all the other Peoples. The otters’ shaman recognizes that Cory/Yellow Shell is two spirits within one body, and this is a wrongness which only the Changer himself can alter. The medicine otter lets Cory join two emissaries who are being sent with a peace pipe to the tribe of Eagle, where he may find advice on how the Changer can be persuaded to aid him. Thus the boy begins a quest to return to his own body and world, learning self-reliance and courage in the process.
   Fur Magic is more successful as a broad panorama of this mythic America inhabited by the animal tribes, than as an adventure story. Cory is the only major character; all others are met only in passing, and are gone within two or three pages. There is practically no dialogue. Yellow Shell was on a lone scouting mission when Cory entered his body; no other beavers are encountered, and Yellow Shell does not know the languages of any of the other animals whom they meet—they communicate only briefly through sign language. There are several hints that Cory is being invisibly guided and protected during his quest (But time was important. He could not be sure how he knew that, only that it was so.), which removes any real dramatic suspense. What is left is the spectacle; the landscape of the pure American wilderness, inhabited by animals dressed as Indians and following indigenous customs.
   This is why the novel excels through Alicia Austin’s artwork. Austin is an award-winning fantasy artist who specializes in paintings and allied graphics depicting animals wearing the clothing of their lands’ native peoples—North America, Africa, the Arctic Circle, etc. This is exactly what Norton has described in Fur Magic. The characters are not anthropomorphized to the usual funny-animal extent; they are large but otherwise normal animals who are wearing little more than ceremonial body paint, and carrying a buckskin or turtleshell pouch and a spear or two. Austin shows these in ten full-color plates—one for each chapter—and forty black-&-white illustrations; practically one for every other double-page spread. The book, like all of the Donald M. Grant fine editions, is printed on top-quality paper and has sewn binding within sturdy blue cloth-covered boards. This is a novel that you can be proud to display on your bookshelf.

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#32 / Sep 1994







Cover of ADVENTURES OF THE RAT FAMILY, by Jules Verne
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
Publisher:

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
Publisher:

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
Publisher:

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.

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#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
Publisher:

William Morrow/AvoNova (New York, NY)


Hardcover edition, Aug 1993

ISBN: 0-688-12508-5

280 pages, $18.00

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Paperback edition, Sep 1994

ISBN: 0-380-77141-1
280 pages, $4.99
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   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
Publisher:

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

ISBN: 0-312-85744-6

286 pages, $10.95

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   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
Publisher:

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
Publisher:

DAW Books (New York, NY), Aug 1994

ISBN: 0-88677-613-9
284 pages, $4.50
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   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.

YARF! logo
#34 / Jan 1995






   ’Morph fandom is doing just fine in its own little world. However, it often seems as though it is unknown and/or misunderstood by the broader society of ‘fandom in general’, which has the notorious stereotype of us as a group of mental adolescents who slaver over funny-animal pornography.
   Two articles have just appeared which present a much more favorable and accurate description of us. Both are written by major practitioners in our field, and are probably as comprehensive as they can be without getting so detailed as to become boring to general readers.
   File 770 #105, August 1994, published by Mike Glyer (5828 Woodman Avenue, apt. 2, Van Nuys, Calif. 91401; no individual price listed, $8.00 for 5 issues) is a 22-page issue of Glyer’s Hugo-winning fanzine of general commentary on s-f fandom. This issue includes a three-page survey of furry fandom, Essential Refurance, by Taral Wayne.
   Taral mentions the creation of the ‘funny animal’ apa Vootie, by Reed Waller and Ken Fletcher in 1976, but he feels that furry fandom wasn’t really established until 1984, when two things happened: (1) Vootie died and was replaced by Rowrbrazzle, a more successful ‘fanzine club’ for funny-animal artists to socialize in and nurture their common interest; and (2) furry independent comics became a self-aware separate category, with Reed Waller & Kate Worley’s Omaha, the Cat Dancer, Joshua Quagmire’s Cutey Bunny (in his Army Surplus Komikz), and Jim Groat’s Equine the Uncivilized.
   Taral’s brief survey covers the existence of furry fanzines such as Yarf! and Bestiary; the furry BBSs and Furry Muck; and the social gatherings at our own ConFurences and other conventions, such as the San Diego Comic-Con, which have become unofficially established as where furry fans should congregate. However, after noting the successful establishment of these, he adds, “The one area of the funny animal field that once led and perhaps lags now, is the black and white comic.” He then devotes a whole page—a third of the article; the largest single portion—to a history of the ’morph independent comics since 1984.
   It seems strange that the bulk of this survey concentrates on what Taral feels may currently be its least successful aspect. The roll call of evanescent titles implies that furry fandom is always on the brink of expiring. But there is a point to this. Taral editorializes that, while we may not be growing, we are not losing ground. Cancelled titles are always replaced by an equal number of new ones. Furry fans are loyal to the genre, and determined to not let it die. But is this enough? “Can [furry fandom] grow far without more development of its public face, the comic book? Or is a professional side in fact irrelevant?” How do we feel about this? Do we want furry fandom to expand, or to remain cosa nostra, our own small, private thing?
   (There are a couple of minor errors. Equine the Uncivilized ought to be credited to Richard Konkle as well as to Jim Groat. Taral says that the final appearance of Vootie was in 1984, and that, “At almost the moment Vootie passed away, Marc Schirmeister brought into being a new apa, called Rowrbrazzle.” Vootie #37 was published in February 1983 and Rowrbrazzle #1 was published in February 1984, so they were actually a year apart; although Taral is correct in that Schirmeister, a Vootie member, tried for several months to keep Vootie going before giving up and creating Rowrbrazzle as a replacement for it. So there was a direct continuity between the two.)
   This favorable survey would be noteworthy if it were not overshadowed by the almost simultaneous publication of a 12 1/2 page analysis in a ‘Special Furry Fandom Issue’ of Phlogiston (#40, the 42-page 4th 1994 issue; published by Alex Heatley, P. O. Box 11-708, Manners Street, Wellington, New Zealand; $NZ3.00 or $U.S.6.00). The File 770 survey is for those who want only a brief description of furry fandom. The Phlogiston in-depth article is for those who want to know what furry fandom is really about. (And Phlogiston #41 includes additional discussions of Furry Fandom in its letters column.)
   This is actually two articles, by Jefferson Swycaffer and Craig Hilton. Swycaffer’s article is itself in two parts. He first defines ‘Furry Fandom’ as “the organised appreciation and dissemination of art and prose regarding ‘Furries,’ or fictional mammalian anthropomorphic characters.” After briefly tracing its fascination back to prehistoric tribal shamanism and the mythology of Egypt and Greece, Swycaffer analyses its attraction in three psychological and behavioristic motifs: the desire for communication with animals, the release of the instinct for sexual attraction, and the release for a kind of parenting instinct, with the latter two effects being triggered by visual cues. The second part is a survey, which is almost as long as Taral’s entire piece in File 770, of the more notable characters and titles in anthropomorphic comics of the past 15 years.
   Craig Hilton’s even longer Insider’s View from the Outside is a masterful description and history of furry fandom, especially since Hilton keeps apologizing for his lack of knowledge due to his isolation in Western Australia. The only gap that I see is in his admitted ignorance as to exactly when & how the tradition of furry room parties with those notorious black sketchbooks got started at fan conventions; and that is covered in the discussions in Phlogiston #41. Hilton has facts here that I didn’t know, such as that the specific term ‘Furry Fandom’ was being used in fanzines as early as 1983. As good as Taral’s and Swycaffer’s articles are, they are almost superfluous next to this seven-page history, which generally gives the same information in greater and more succinct detail. In general, this could appear in the Encyclopædia Britannica as a definitive summary of the entire scope of Furry Fandom.
   It’s nice to know that there is a favorable review of ’morph fandom in File 770 #105, but unless you’re collecting every publication with even a slight reference to our genre in it, you don’t need this. Phlogiston #40, on the other hand, should be read by everyone who is seriously interested in a comprehensive and intelligent depiction of furry fandom—or who wants one on hand to show to acquaintances who ask, “What do you see in that Furry sex stuff?” In addition to the writing, Phlogiston is well-illustrated with a dozen examples of the art of such leading ’morph cartoonists as Hilton himself, Taral Wayne, Ken Fletcher, Chris Grant, Steve Gallacci, Tommy Yune, and others.
   Incidentally, the use of the term ‘Furry Fandom’ by both File 770 and Phlogiston is a strong argument that this has become the standard name for our genre, whether we like it or not—although there is not yet any standardization as to whether the words should be capitalized.


Cover of CHORUS SKATING, by Alan Dean Foster
Title: Chorus Skating
Author: Alan Dean Foster
Publisher:

Warner Books/Aspect (New York), Oct 1994

ISBN: 0-446-36237-9

344 pages, $5.99

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   Authors—and reviewers—of long-running series have the problem that when new titles are too similar to previous volumes, the reaction tends to be, “Ho, hum; the same old stuff.” But when they are too different, there are complaints that, “This isn’t the series that everybody knows and loves!”, rather than congratulations for originality.
   Chorus Skating is the eighth* of Foster’s Spellsinger novels. The first six, published between 1983 and 1986, related the adventures of Jon-Tom Meriweather, a human wanna-be rock guitarist, in a funny-animal universe where music has magical powers. Each novel featured Jon-Tom and his lovably grumpy sidekick, Mudge the otter, on a quest to save the world from some dire menace. There were plenty of colorful supporting characters, such as a rabbit riverboat gambler and a parrot pirate. The series was a skillful blend of humor, light adventure, and a threat of serious danger. Foster apparently decided that he was finished with the series with the sixth volume, because he very pointedly wrapped up all the loose ends and gave it a happily-ever-after conclusion.
   When Foster revived the series in 1993, he got around that conclusion by setting Son of Spellsinger eighteen years later, and starring the teen-age children of Jon-Tom and of Mudge. (Reviewed in Yarf! #26.) It was nice to see the series back, but the teens just didn’t have the charisma of their parents.
   Now Foster has returned to his formula, with all of the plusses and minuses that this means. He has found an amusing and plausible excuse to bring Jon-Tom and Mudge back: they are having a mid-life crisis, and want to prove to themselves that they are not too old to go adventuring any more. Their goal is to have just a little adventure; not much more than a camping trip. But before they realize it, they are joining in the rescue of a beautiful princess—make that a whole bevy of beautiful, headstrong ’morph princesses—from a brigand lord. Events escalate from there until, once again, they must save the whole world from an ominous disaster.
   The parts of Chorus Skating are greater than the whole. Jon-Tom and Mudge are their old selves, and Spellsinger fans will delight to have them back. There are colorful new characters, such as the half-dozen richly-dressed princesses (mongoose, lynx, gorilla, etc.) who are not used to roughing it during their rescue; Lieutenant Naike, the harried commander of the mongoose royal guards who finds himself expected to return each of the princesses to her own kingdom; Silimbar, the tamarin traveling merchant; and many more. There are exotic new locales, like the delta city of Mashupro, consisting of self-aware houses on stilts that can walk about at their dwellers’ commands. And the individual adventures that Jon-Tom, Mudge, and their companions encounter are reasonable and well-handled.
   However, the overall tone of Chorus Skating makes it a comparatively weak novel. The basic premise, of two middle-aged heroes coming out of retirement to convince themselves that they still have what it takes, may be heart-warming but it lacks the drama of the earlier adventures. The world-threatening—nay, universe-threatening—disaster that eventually materializes is the most implausible in the whole series. As a serious menace, it ranks with Dr. Soran in Star Trek: Generations. It also feels like it was tacked on just because Chorus Skating wouldn’t be true to the Spellsinger formula if it didn’t end with a threat to the whole world. As a result, Chorus Skating doesn’t build to a climax as much as it fizzles out.
   It’s been nice to be with Jon-Tom and Mudge once again, but maybe it would be best to leave them in happy retirement now.

   *More specifically, it is the eighth paperback volume. The first two books are actually a single novel in two parts, and they were originally published as one title, Spellsinger at the Gate. So it is debatable as to whether Chorus Skating is the seventh or the eighth novel.

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#35 / Apr 1995







Cover of DUN LADY’S JESS, by Doranna Durgin
Title: Dun Lady’s Jess
Author: Doranna Durgin
Publisher:

Baen Books (Riverdale, NY), Aug 1994

ISBN: 0-671-87617-1

343 pages, $4.99

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   Camolen is a stereotypical medieval-looking magical world gearing up for a war between wizards. Carey is a courier, a rider who delivers important messages for the wizard Arlen. Dun Lady’s Jess is Carey’s favorite horse, a six-year-old mare who is exceptionally fast, spirited, and reliable.
   When Carey is trapped by agents of a power-hungry sorceress, he triggers a last-ditch defensive spell that transports him and his horse to a different world; a place of theoretical safety. Unfortunately, one of the enemy agents is swept along with him. And one of the effects of the transition to the new world (ours) is that it turns their horses into humans.
   There are two main characters: the horse—called both Lady and Jess, depending upon whether her equine or human personality is uppermost at the moment; and Jaime Cabot, the owner of The Dancing Equine Dressage Center in Marion, Ohio. Needless to say, it is Lady/Jess’ story in which ’morph fans will be most interested. Yet Jaime is the easier character with whom to identify, as an animal-loving woman who helps to educate the frightened horse/woman into developing her human personality.
   The rules of magic are that the people from Camolen automatically think and speak English while they are in Ohio, but they otherwise know nothing about 20th-century Earth technology. The horse finds herself with a strange body, and a suddenly increased intelligence. She not only has to learn human speech, she has to learn to think of herself as a human rather than a horse.
   In a very narrow sense, Dun Lady’s Jess is not truly anthropomorphic. Lady/Jess is never a blend of horse and human, at least physically. She is either one or the other, all the way. The only blend is mental, at the beginning, when she is born with a blank adult human mind and a horse’s memories. The outstanding facet of the novel is the believability with which Durgin describes a horse’s normal thoughts, and then expands them into human terms. Lady’s world was one of simplistic instincts, and of pride in understanding her ‘leader’’s instructions to her. Jess’ world is much more complex and confusing, but also exciting as she suddenly realizes that she understands the meanings behind things that she had always observed but had never thought about. As her comprehension increases, her feelings about Carey also shift from a sort of herd loyalty to desire for a closer intimacy—while, at the same time, she feels a need for a more distinct identity. She is a person with a right to her own interests and feelings, rather than a cypher whose only goal is to do whatever her ‘friend’ wants.
   There are a half-dozen important human characters. Carey’s main concern is to get back to Camolen to complete his urgent mission. He looks at first upon Lady’s transformation as an embarrassment and as the temporary loss of his best horse, until they return home and she becomes a horse again. Carey’s gradual awareness of Jess’ developing human mind leads to correspondingly confused feelings of his own. Is she only an enchanted horse, a magical mockery of a human; or something more? If she has truly become a person, what will happen to her intelligence and human personality if she reverts to a horse?
   Most of the others are those who discover Jess and gradually become her friends. I will not describe them, or the story, in any detail because they are complex enough that it would turn into a very long description. The plot does contain some surprises which should not be given away.
   There are a few ground rules that the reader must just shrug and accept as the laws of nature that make this romance work. We learn in the first chapter both that Arlen has to send messages by Pony Express, because messages transmitted magically may be intercepted magically; and that all the riders before Corey have been waylaid by the enemy sorceress’s hired assassins. In such a no-win situation, the former reason sounds like a weak excuse for why a wizard needs an old-fashioned courier. There is no reasonable (or even unreasonable) explanation as to why horses turn into humans, and back again, while humans moving between the worlds are unaffected. Durgin clearly put some effort into rationalizing why average Americans who find a naked woman who obviously thinks that she is a horse, would bring her home to educate her themselves, instead of taking her to the nearest police station or hospital. Unfortunately, it’s not really convincing. Neither is the justification of why Camolen’s good wizards must remain scattered all around the countryside, vulnerable to the enemy’s concentrated attacks, instead of gathering together for mutual defense. Carey is skeptical, and so is the reader. If you will accept that there are reasons for these situations, however (and all ’morph fiction is dependent upon a pretty generous suspension of disbelief), the rest of the story is logical and intelligent. Durgin keeps the plot balanced evenly enough that it is impossible to guess whether Lady/Jess will finally remain a horse or a human, and whether that result will be happy or tragic.


Cover of FOREST WarS, by Graham Diamond
Title: Forest Wars
Author: Graham Diamond
Publisher:

Lion Press (Forest Hills, NY), Jan 1995

ISBN: 0-9641740-4-9

416 pages, $21.95

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   Diamond’s first novel, the anthropomorphic thriller The Haven (“A Novel of Bloodcurdling Horror”), was published in 1977. Since then he has written fifteen more books, including some modern Arabian Nights sequels. These have mostly been paperback originals. Now Diamond has become a serious novelist with Forest Wars, a $21.95 hardcover on high-quality paper, attractively and sturdily bound with a dignified dust jacket by Dionisios Fragias.
   However, this is not exactly a new book. Forest Wars is a completely rewritten expansion of The Haven, which was only 347 pages.
   It is not unusual for authors to want to improve their early writing, to retell their first plot ideas with the benefit of years of later literary experience. This allows their fans to get those early stories (and the author to continue to get royalties from them), without the embarrassment of keeping their adolescent, most amateurish writing in print.
   So is Forest Wars a better version of The Haven? Again, not exactly. Diamond has turned what had been merely a forgettably bad novel into a veritable Plan Nine from Outer Space of ’morph fiction, a horror probably not in the sense that he intended.
   Although Forest Wars is 69 pages longer than The Haven, the story has few significant new scenes. Instead, the writing has been padded with extra descriptions of pompous verbosity. For example, an old warrior merely named Rolf in the first version has become Crafty Old Rolf who always carries a mighty weapon, his club of spike. Crafty Old Rolf, top sergeant of the 9th.; a wily ingenious soul with well over twenty years of active service behind him. (p. 8) First came Crafty Old Rolf, heaving his massive club of spike. […] A club of spike could cleave a mongrel’s innards into chopped liver with a single properly-aimed heave. (p. 53) Crafty Old Rolf kneeled beside the sleeping figure, his fearsome club of spike at his side. (p. 223) This kind of writing easily fills pages.
   In this tale of the far future, mankind has been reduced to only one nation on Earth, the Empire of Civilization. In the center is its magnificent capital city, The Haven. The sages had recounted tales of this powerful city, but in his wildest imagination he had never conceived of anything as breathtaking as this. Massive, soaring bulwarks of solid stone, buttressed by parapets and prominent towers, each taller than the last, seemingly reaching into the clouds. Atop these fortifications were complexes of embrasures and casements, and castellated battlements. On either side of Great Gate the walls stretched almost as far as he could see. (p. 198) This city is surrounded by a large nation of parks and fields of happy farmers which stretches for nearly twenty leagues (p. 20) to its farthest border. (About sixty miles. Some empire.) Surrounding the Empire in all directions is the Forest, an endless, impenetrable thicket filled by savage animals of all sorts, but dominated by packs of ferocious, bloody-fanged killer dogs.
   For as long as anyone can remember, the hordes of killer mongrels, in packs up to 2,000 strong, have poured from the fringes of the Forest every year to attack the Empire, which has been defended by the military might of The Haven. It was known as the War Room of Central Command, General Headquarters, and it hummed with activity even in the small hours before dawn. GHQ staff went about their various assignments with quiet military efficiency. […] Security at Central Command, CeCom as it was called, remained the top priority, and was followed by the most rigorous inspection. (p. 24) Can’t have those slavering mongrels sneaking in disguised as janitors, you know.
   But mankind is not alone in defending the Empire. Humanity has become partners with the fierce talking birds: eagles, hawks, falcons, who have thrown in their lot with humanity for mutual protection against the dogs. They will slaughter your species as they once did mine, Antonious the parrot says to Lord Nigel (p. 47). Vandor, king of the hawks, tells the Council, For countless years my species has relied heavily upon friendship and alliance with your Empire. Long ago, when we were cruelly chased from our homes within the wood, we learned we’d find safety within your boundaries. (p. 119) Just how the maddened dogs chased the raptors from their nests is never explained.
   Now a cruel Messiah has arisen among the dogs to unite them into an organized army 50,000 strong! Worse, he has formed an alliance with the hideous vampire bats. These foul aerial monsters were not birds at all. Rather, they were a category of disease carrying, flying rodents. Bats. Nocturnal vampire bats. Their bite inflicted a poison so awful, so repugnant, that victims suffered an indescribable, agonizing torment until, fortunately, they died and found peace. (p. 141) Rodents? Well, at least Diamond knows that bats aren’t hairy giant bugs. Actually, he seems to have a thing about rodents. A warrior mongrel, disparaging the wolves, describes them as, They’re no better than rodents, eternally alert, slinking around with their noses sniffing. It’s uncanny, I tell you. (p. 221)
   Up to now, there has been no love lost between the dogs and the wolves, but they have remained in an uneasy peace. But his majesty, King Dinjar, scion of Perseus the Unifier, king of all wolves (p. 130), knows that if the dogs succeed in overrunning the Empire and slaughtering mankind, they will next turn upon the wolves and reduce them to slavery. So Dinjar proposes that the wolves move into the Empire and join the men and birds—a decision which throws all the dogs into a maddened frenzy. The mongrel army barked so loudly, so cruelly, the earth shuddered beneath their paws. (p. 156)
   There are attention-grabbers throughout the book. Bones cracked loudly as the already decimated body collided forcefully against the trunk of a tree. (p. 224) Can you decimate a single body? With vulture-like squawks the eagles hovered above him, circling, constantly circling while the hapless dog flayed his paws at the air. (p. 4) Shouldn’t that be ‘flailed’, not ‘flayed’? Without a word the hawk-king fluttered his wings. His lieutenants chirped commands to their subordinates. (p. 73) Hawks chirping? An elite champagne ball in The Haven is attended by the priprimrose cream of Emp aristocracy. Dowagers and matrons wore sublime billowing gowns of white and pastel satin, drenched in exotic eau-de-cologne. (p. 55) That ballroom had better be well-ventilated. Caught by surprise, frightened Westland farmers had chosen to burn their fields rather than leave even a single grain of food for the advancing mongrel army. (p. 75) Just picture those bloodthirsty carnivores stopping to harvest the grain and bake it into bread.
   These are only some of the gems from the first half of the novel. The main action—gruesome battles, political treachery, the discovery of a new world, and more howlers (literally and figuratively)—are all in the second half! If you’re the kind of geek who can’t give a party without a TV showing an Ed Wood video in the background, you really need Forest Wars for your guests to read aloud at each other. Remember, it’s the result of almost twenty years of writing expertise.

YARF! logo
#36 / May 1995







Title: Lovelock (The Mayflower Trilogy, Book 1)
Author: Orson Scott Card & Kathryn H. Kidd
Publisher:

Tor Books (New York)


ISBN: 0-312-85732-2
Hardcover (Jul 1994),285 pages, $21.95,
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

ISBN: 0-812-51805-5

Paperback (Apr 1995), xiii + 300 pages, $5.99

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   You would never guess that this is a ’morph novel from its astronautical cover by Donato showing a space station orbiting around the earth. But this scene is appropriate for one of the most convincing high-tech scenarios yet written about bioengineered sentient animals.
   Lovelock takes place one or two hundred years from now, judging by the sociological and technological changes. The communication highway has become such a speedway that even experts can no longer take in the full scope of data roaring at them. The (apparently global) government has just succeeded in bioengineering mentally-enhanced animals to serve leading scientists and administrators as ‘witnesses’. These monkeys, parrots, miniature pigs, and presumably others, look like ordinary animals but their brains have been nanoelectronically engineered as super data processors. They constantly accompany their important human partners, observing and hearing the same things but recording it far better. Their brains can be connected via electronic jacks to computers for permanent downloading, and for replaying key memories. To better assist their human partners, they have also had their intelligence increased.
   Lovelock, the narrator, is an enhanced capuchin monkey, the witness of Dr. Carol Jeanne Cocciolone, a leading gaiologist (a specialist in all aspects of planetary sciences). She is assigned as the head gaiologist aboard humanity’s first interstellar Ark, a pioneering attempt to colonize a habitable planet of another star. To maintain social stability on the decades-long trip, even at near light-speed, and to provide training for the agricultural environment that the humans will need to establish on the new world, the Ark has been designed as an artificial world divided into sixty ‘village’ communities. Colonists have been chosen for their family skills as well as for their technological expertise. Carol Jeanne, her family, and Lovelock are assigned to Mayflower, an old-fashioned New England town.
   The novel tells two stories simultaneously. Lovelock, as Carol Jeanne’s constant witness, observes her disintegrating marriage. Her familial bliss is a sham; her household is dominated by her mother-in-law, who has moved in with them. Carol Jeanne is a workaholic who could ignore her ineffectual husband and his manipulative mother as long as she could escape to her office on Earth. But she is too technologically oriented to be at home in the artificial small-town atmosphere with its mandatory ‘morale-maintenance’ social picnics and town gatherings and song fests, where her gossipy mother-in-law soon shines.
   Lovelock is aware of the problem. Ordinarily, he would devote himself to helping Carol Jeanne. But his mental conditioning is beginning to wear off. As the story progresses, the focus shifts from Lovelock’s mostly passive reporting of Carol Jeanne’s soap-opera problems, to his own awakening personality and realization of his identity as a sapient individual. It is when he starts using his electronic intelligence to investigate the origins of himself and the whole witness program that the story really comes alive as a s-f thriller.
   The ’morph aspects of Lovelock get better as the story advances. A serious challenge to any scientifically plausible story about animals who are the equals of humans is physical reality. Postulating an intelligence-raising drug or mutation that uplifts the intelligence of normal animals to the human level is a pseudoscientific fantasy on the level of faster-than-light travel. It might be possible to raise animals’ intelligence through skillful bioengineering, but why bother? What is the payoff, considering the fantastic research cost that it would take, to have a pig or dog that is as smart as a human? Card and Kidd have found an answer which is unpleasant but plausible.
   Since Lovelock is subtitled The Mayflower Trilogy, Book 1, there is clear warning that this novel is not complete in itself. By the end of this volume, the story has become so gripping that the delay until the second volume is published is quite frustrating. You may want to buy this and put it aside until all three volumes are available, but you will want to read it!

2007 Note: As of this date, Rasputin, the promised Book 2 of this trilogy, has not yet been published, much less Book 3. We readers are still frustrated!


Title: Ratha’s Challenge
Author: Clare Bell
Publisher:

Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York), Jan 1995

ISBN: 0-689-50586-8

231 pages, $16.95

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   This is the fourth novel in this hardcover Young Adult series; the previous volumes were Ratha’s Creature (1983), Clan Ground (1984), and Ratha and Thistle-Chaser (1990; reviewed in YARF! #7).
A nicely challenging aspect of the novels is that Bell does not provide a pat explanation for every detail. There are clear implications so that the reader may make intelligent assumptions as to what is going on. The continuing story may confirm those assumptions, or it may spring some surprises.
   The Named are a clan of intelligent cougar-like great cats living 25,000,000 years ago. Their intelligence is apparently due to a local mutation rather than to slow evolution. Within a few generations, they have worked out a language and a tribal society. They also figured out the advantages of herding deer and other food animals to keep a permanent food supply. However, they are still far outnumbered by their unintelligent cousins, who are attracted by their animals. The Named (so called because each is an individual with a personal name) have to constantly fight to keep their herds from being wiped out by the dumb cats in a feeding frenzy.
   The first novel told how Ratha became the leader of the Named by adding fire to their stock of primitive tools. This fourth novel is the most clearly and cleverly science-fictional. The Named come into conflict with a new tribe of cats over control of a herd of wooly mammoths. The new clan acts very intelligently even though its cats do not seem to speak. It soon becomes evident that they have a different form of intelligence: the reader will recognize that they are telepathic, operating through a hive mind controlled by their strong leader, True-of-voice. The separate cats serve as this clan’s eyes; True-of-voice makes the decisions and directs the clan’s entire strength with an instant communication and coordination that the individual warriors of the Named cannot hope to match.
   The Named’s previous conflicts have been with cats who only had brute strength and greater numbers. The methods that were developed to fight them are useless against the telepathic hunters. The Named still have their ace-in-the-hole of fire, but Ratha realizes that as soon as the hunters see it, they will be able to figure out how to use it, too. Also, she can generalize from the Named’s own contempt for dumb cats, that the hunters may hold similar feelings without realizing that some cats may be intelligent without being telepathic. Should the Named try to establish friendship with the hunters? But what if the only form of intelligence that they will recognize is as units of their hive-mind? What if calling attention to themselves will only make the Named serious rivals to be eliminated? Ratha has to struggle just to consider the situation objectively, because she is so repelled by the telepaths:

   She sighed. “To be frank with you, Thakur, I don’t like these hunters. I like them even less than the witless Un-Named. At least the Un-Named do not enslave themselves willingly to a tyrannical leader, as this True-of-voice seems to be. And they walk around in an endless dream, unable to wake up. It makes me shiver.” (p. 61)

   A subplot develops which suggests that there is a distant blood relationship between the two clans, and that the individuality of the Named and the group mind of the hunters may be different aspects of the same mutation. Which is better suited for a feral life-style? In such an environment, with both clans small enough to be barely surviving, can the Named afford the luxury of experimenting with a moral decision; or is the old law of “kill the strangers before they can kill us” the only safe choice? There are several unexpected twists that will keep both Ratha and the reader guessing how to react best to the situation.
   In my previous review, I commented that “it is difficult to read these books without being subtly depressed because Ratha’s people are not alive today—i.e., their fight for survival as told in these stories must have ultimately failed.” The jacket blurb of Ratha’s Challenge has a tiny amendment to the statement that the series takes place 25,000,000 years ago; it now says that the setting is an alternate world millions of years ago. Did enough readers complain about the implied extinction of the Named that it was decided to at least hint at a possible survival? I may be cynical, but it seems more likely that there were complaints about scientific inaccuracy—“How dare you teach children that cats were intelligent in the late Miocene epoch?”—and that the change was to defuse them. In any case, Ratha’s Challenge is highly recommended.

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#37 / Jul 1995







Title: Mus of Kerbridge
Author: Paul Kidd
Illustrator: Diesel (map)
Publisher:

TSR Books (Lake Geneva, WI), Apr 1995

ISBN: 0-7869-0094-6

314 pages, $4.95

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   This first novel reads like a cross between Brian Jacques, Georgette Heyer, and Rafael Sabatini. If you can imagine a rough parallel of the European wars of the 17th century being fought between intermixed armies of humans and the creatures of faerie, you’ve got the general idea. But there are no anthropomorphic animals—until the creation of Mus, a common mouse sorcerously bioengineered to become a tiny, furry Cavalier knight.
   The date is specified as 1641 and 1642, although the geopolitical situation is closer to the 1670s. The names and monarchs are different, but Duncruigh, Nantierre, and Welfland are obviously Britain, France and the United Provinces. When Welfland collapses into violent civil war, the progressive revolutionaries gain support from Duncruigh. This is all that Nantierre’s aggressive young ruler needs to ‘come to the rescue’ of Welfland. As the novel begins, Nantierre is completing the defeat of Duncruigh’s expeditionary army and Welfland’s last revolutionary troops, and the repressive occupation of Welfland in the name of a new puppet king who is no more than a Nantierran viceroy; and is turning Welfland’s large merchant fleet into an armada for the invasion of Duncruigh itself.
   But this is a world shared equally by humans, centaurs, satyrs, pixies, and similar creatures of mythology. All are social equals, in a human-based civilization. Think here of Donna Barr’s Stinz series, about rural centaurs living in a late 19th-century or early 20th-century Teutonic society. Some species gravitate toward roles suited to their specialties—the harpies make good aerial scouts and ‘air couriers’, while the centaurs excel as cavalry shock troops—but there appear to be no interspecies prejudices. There are humans, centaurs, etc., etc., among both the nobility and commoners of all nations.
    There is also magic. Kerbridge is an old Duncruighan river and university town (Oxford?) whose centaur baron served as commander of the royal armies on the continent. (pg. 7) Nantierre tries to strike at him through his family at Kerbridge Castle. A spy hires Pin-William, an inept satyr sorcerer, to magically get into the castle. He tries to use a mouse as his remote-controlled agent. The brain & body of the natural mouse are too crude, so its mind must be enhanced and its body anthropomorphized to understand and carry out their orders. But the brave mouse, Mus, is strong-willed enough to throw off Pin-William’s control. He saves the baron’s daughter, young Lady Miriam, and the two become firm friends who turn the Nantierrans’ trick back on themselves, using Mus as a tiny spy to uncover enemy agents within the Duncruighan Parliament.
   Mus is a delightfully anthropomorphized character. Readers will be amused and enchanted by his adjustment to his altered body and mind, his efforts to fit into the ‘human’ society that is now his, and his exasperated attempts to get people to take him seriously as a wanna-be knight in the king’s service. And Mus finds that he is not the only ’morph, after Pin-William attempts to create new animal puppet-slaves without Mus’ ‘flaws’ of independence.
   What about the half-animals? Virtually all other major characters are centaurs or satyrs, with humans, harpies, and others playing only minor roles. Kidd deftly spins a Cavalier-era melodrama full of elegant court intrigue, romance, duels, and knowledgeable 17th-century military action. However, aside from providing colorful decor, there is little need for any characters to be centaurs or satyrs dressed in ruffles and lace. At least Kidd avoids the inconsistencies of less-skilled writers who put half-animals into architecture and clothing designed for humans. The most satisfying scene to take practical note of their physical differences is the Channel naval battle which presages the Nantierran invasion of Duncruigh:

   A huge black figure staggered out onto the deck, its hooves skittering for purchase on the wooden planks. Torscha Retter hunched his huge shoulders against a fresh onslaught of spray. A ship is not a natural environment for half-horses, and Torscha’s hooves were hard put to keep purchase on the slippery, rolling deck. He watched in silence as human sailors swarmed nimbly up into the rigging. (pg. 189)

   Kidd makes you believe that centaurs can participate in stormy, deck-tossing naval action without falling all over themselves. Mus of Kerbridge is not a comedy, but it certainly blends a sense of humor with its melodrama. It is full of impish, tongue-in-cheek action, led by little Mus who is determined to out-swashbuckle every other knight in Duncruigh.


Title: Fluke (movie)
Screenplay: Carlo Carlei & James Carrington (from the novel by James Herbert)
Cast: Matthew Modine, Nancy Travis, Eric Stoltz, Max Pomeranc, (voice of) Samuel L. Jackson, Comet (dog), Barney (dog)
Crew: Carlo Carlei (director); Paul Maslansky, Lata Ryan (producers); Raffaele Mertes (cinematography); Carlo Siliotto (score)

MGM (2 Jun 1995), 95 minutes

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   This is an excellent motion-picture version of James Herbert’s 1977 novel Fluke. Fluke is a dog (played by Comet, a golden retriever) who is suddenly aware that he had been a man in a previous life. He becomes obsessed with finding out who he had been, what happened to his family, and how he had died.
   This is one of the best live-action movies ever made about animals with human-level intelligence. ‘Talking’ is done telepathically (it was the same in the novel), so there is no problem with phoney-looking lip-sync. The dogs do appear through their body language as though they really are conversing with each other. The only failure is in a brief scene at the very end, where Fluke ‘talks’ with a squirrel. The voice-acting and Comet’s acting are both fine, but it is obvious that the real squirrel is simply not relating to the dog. Doubtlessly due to this problem, Herbert’s novel was revised to remove all other scenes where Fluke ‘talks’ with animals besides dogs. Fluke and Rumbo (the other mutt with a human mind) are hiding the fact that they are not normal canines. This is very intelligently staged; so there is none of the artificiality of Francis the Talking Mule-type comedies where the human cast seems exceptionally stupid not to notice how smart the animals are right behind their backs.
   In the novel, most animals are not aware of their previous lives. Fluke’s awareness—and his questioning of why he is an exception—is glossed over with metaphysical patter about how the whole purpose of reincarnation is to improve the soul for Reasons We Do Not Yet Understand. There is doubtlessly Some Divine Purpose for Fluke to have access to his human memories. At least Herbert had the imagination to avoid the cliché of ‘coming back to complete unfinished business because of an untimely death’. There are thousands of humans killed every day in ‘untimely deaths’; if that were true, there should be so many reincarnated animals trying to contact their ‘loved ones’ that it would have been obvious long ago. No, Fluke must have his human memory for some other unknown reason. This seems like a huge cop-out, but Herbert deserved credit for knowing that a metaphysical cop-out was better than a completely unconvincing rational excuse.
   The movie has its own rules of reincarnation. Any mentions of ‘souls’ or of ascending to a higher plane are severely downplayed. Fluke learns that when ‘people’ are reborn as something else, they are to accept this as the natural order of things. They must live the normal life of whatever creature they now are, instead of trying to go back to continue a previous life in their new body. Two scenes make the point that ‘people’ do not forget past lives. All animals are as smart and aware of their human pasts as Fluke is—they simply are ‘hiding it’ as they are meant to do.
   This premise is consistent within the scope of the movie, but it raises some different credibility problems. Presumably one should not wonder about such questions as why cattle or pigs would go so docilely to slaughterhouses if they know what to expect there. Is it only a coincidence that this is so consistent with the ‘Circle of Life’ philosophy in The Lion King, where the herbivores apparently do not mind that their lion monarchs will eat them because it is ‘the natural order’? This switch cancels any questions of why Fluke has ‘come back’ or why, if they all come back, only he is aware of it. However, it creates the opposite question of why Fluke is apparently the only animal who needs to have this explained to him. When he asks Rumbo if he remembers his past life, Rumbo clumsily changes the subject with an embarrassed ‘we don’t talk about such things in public’ attitude. If the subject is not taught to newborn animals (like sex education to American children?), then why doesn’t Fluke know it instinctively like the other animals?
   One problem in both the novel and the movie is with Jeff, the man who had been Fluke’s business partner in his previous life as Tom (Matthew Modine). Fluke does not know whether Jeff (Eric Stoltz) was really his loyal friend or his murderer. It is even more obvious here than on the printed pages that, like Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the audience is supposed to be kept guessing until the climax. As a result, Stoltz must play the role in an unnaturally emotionless manner, not giving any clues as to whether he is genuinely friendly or just faking it, until the denouement, after which he suddenly displays appropriate normal emotions. It is annoyingly clear that the author/director is jerking the reader/moviegoer around.
   There are several cosmetic changes between the novel and the film. In addition to switching the rules of reincarnation, the locale is changed from England to the American South. Nigel and Reg become the more American-sounding Tom and Jeff, and Nigel’s daughter Polly becomes son Brian. But on all significant points, the film is much more faithful in mood and in basic plot than most movie adaptations are to their original stories.
   Fluke is not a perfect movie, but its good points outweigh its problems. Frankly, even if it were a real ‘dog’ (which it is not), it might be worth supporting with your admission or your video rental, to help show that the public is ready for serious dramas about talking animals. If Fluke is not a success, there may not be any more talking-animal movies except The Shaggy Dog-level comedies for a long time to come.

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#38 / Sep 1995







The Crimson Bears series, by Tom LaFarge
Title: The Crimson Bears, Part I
Illustrator: Wendy Walker
Publisher: Sun & Moon Press (Los Angeles, CA), Apr 1993; 2nd printing, Feb. 1995
ISBN: 1-55713-074-4
272 pages, $12.95
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Title: A Hundred Doors (The Crimson Bears, Part II)
Publisher: Sun & Moon Press (Los Angeles, CA), Feb 1995
ISBN: 1-55713-192-9
228 pages, $12.95
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2007 editor’s note: In its initial 1995 appearance, this review contained information on where to order The Crimson Bears and A Hundred Doors from. Since this information is no longer accurate or relevant, it has been deleted from the current presentation.

   Edgar and Alice, brother and sister, one morning set out from their room to walk across an entire country. Their room was in the City of Bears, and they were bears; Edgar a dark brown, Alice more russet; they were both about half grown. The country they were to walk across was called the Commonwealth of Bears […] (pg. 7)

   Edgar and Alice are two young innocents. The City of Bears is the major city of the bears, and they have grown up comfortably surrounded by bears. They have left home to visit their Uncle Claudio in Bargeton, in the far East of the bear nation. Bargeton is an ancient city near the confluence of several animal peoples, and the newest metropolis of the bears, having been conquered only three generations previously. Claudio is the leader of Bargeton’s Senate, and the young siblings expect to spend a pleasant vacation. Instead, they are swept into a maelstrom of Renaissance-Italianate politics amidst a variety of animals unfamiliar to them, as different factions seek to win their friendship to gain their uncle’s favor, or to seize them as hostages.
   The two volumes of The Crimson Bears are published as volumes 26 and 31 of The New American Fiction Series. They are self-consciously literary—which is not a bad thing when it is done well, as it is here. The writing style is leisurely, emphasizing rich description rather than action. Almost two pages are devoted to Claudio’s ornate robe of office alone:

   Nature’s forces at their violent work were embroidered in many places. […] Across one shoulder a fire ate a forest, sending up overlapping billows of silver needlework, and threatening a city hard by the collar. The fleeing inhabitants, blue weasels, were caught in postures of dismay by sure feather-stitches. On the left pocket fat clouds, rimmed with violet bullion-knotting, shed snow on roebuck, who watched their grazing disappear. […] By the banks of the great watercourse that tumbled down the right sleeve Alice could find: seven dog-sages laughing by a pool; a fishing rhinoceros; a baboon stepping into a boat just above a waterfall. […] (pgs. 24-25)

   There are similarly intricate word-portraits of fantastic mansions, ornate gardens, market squares teeming with animal merchants, ominous subterranean crypts, and much more. LaFarge’s imagination starts on a level equal with the architects who designed the pleasure palaces for Louis XIV and Ludwig II, and escalates to the macabre splendor of Peake’s Gormenghast castle.
   The narrative is a savory stew of antique literary styles. The Clowncats, dissolute descendants of the former feline rulers when Bargeton was known as Concatenopolis, affect the florid rhetoric of 18th-century melodrama:

   Then the cat was on his feet. He swept the bonnet from his head and made them a courteous bow.
   “Have no fear,” were his first words to them, “although the place be something tenebrous and vasty-gloomy, yet we may shed light of cheer in it by changing loving greetings.” (pg. 113)

   The lizardish Ceruk are a melancholy species, given to mercantilism and Shakespearean tragedies. A Ceruk father-to-be, boasting of his wife’s newly-laid eggs to his rivals:

Ha! Tread lightly, you who throng the narrow space
Around the sand, for here’s a fearful clutch of eggs
To beat you back, to jostle past you in the press,
To wedge between your longest-nursed affairs and you!
Ten eggs! Ten sons! Ten brothers raised to handle gold,
Ten wits and twenty arms, one undivided mind,
One single purpose, to extend the fortunes of their house. […] (pg. 194)

   Unlike many novelists whose attempts at old-fashioned writing are shallow and error-filled, LaFarge provides lengthy passages which show his mastery of each of these styles and create a genuine exoticism. He also knows just how much to use, and when to get on with the story. (Sometimes humorously, as when one cat interrupts another to tell him to cut short the tedious bomphiology and get to the point.)
   There is also a strong ’morphic atmosphere. A key subplot revolves around the status of the Ceruk as the most recently evolved of the speakable animals, who still often have unintelligent offspring. An elaborate social code has evolved around how they must treat children who are dumb animals, and how intelligent Ceruk born to feral animals are recognized. This becomes a corkscrewishly twisted lever in the deadly legalistic interplay. Little tidbits are scattered throughout, such as an offhand comparison between caribou and beaver cookbook recipes (of equal disinterest to a carnivore).
   But The Crimson Bears is by no means all wordplay and no action. Edgar and Alice arrive in Bargeton on the eve of an attempted coup which turns into a bloody free-for-all civil war among at least eight different factions. The bears are caught in the midst of rioting, conflagration, murders, and an invading army. The two-volume novel is filled with lavishly described dramatic scenes that cry out for a fantasy artist like Don Maitz or Thomas Kidd to paint them. This is definitely worth reading—although at $26.00 for the two volumes, you may want to have your local library order it.


The Woodstock Saga, by Michael Tod
Title: The Silver Tide (The Woodstock Saga, Book One)
Illustrator: ? (maps)
Publisher: Orion Books (London)

ISBN: 1-85797-563-4
Hardcover (Apr 1994), 226 pages, £9.99
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ISBN: 1-85797-319-4
Paperback (Nov 1994), 226 pages, £4.99
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Title: The Second Wave (The Woodstock Saga, Book Two)
Illustrator: ? (maps)
Publisher: Orion Books (London), Nov 1994
ISBN: 1-85797-367-4
xi + 244 pages, £12.99
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   Stephen Jones and Jo Fletcher reported in Science Fiction Chronicle, December 1993:

   Publishing mogul Anthony Cheetham just happened to be a guest of BBC Radio Wales’ book programme And Now Read On at the same time as frustrated first-time novelist Michael Tod. Mr. Tod spent some time regaling listeners with his all-too-familiar tale of woe: he’d writen a novel, The Silver Tide, a sort of squirrel version of Watership Down, but couldn’t find anyone to publish it. As his conservatory-designing business had been hit by the recession and he was stony broke, he raised capital by selling shares in the book to family and friends and published the volume himself. The financial constraints were such that, picking up the last consignment from the printers, he ran out of petrol and had to stop at a friend’s house and sell him copies of the book so he could get home. Local booksellers were duly impressed with his talent and took more than 1,000 copies. Mr. Cheetham was also impressed, and bought the book itself, as well as two sequels. So who says publishers never listen? Look out for The Silver Tide in mass-market format in January. (pg. 38) [It was April.]

  Watership Down is a hard act to follow. but Tod’s trilogy comes close enough to put him solidly in the ranks of the better British ‘nature novelists’ along with Richard Adams, William Horwood, and Garry Kilworth.
   In The Silver Tide, a community of native red squirrels in Purbeck, in Dorset on the Channel coast, is confronted by a wave of larger, aggressive American grey squirrels spreading throughout Britain, or ‘New America’ as they call it. The peaceful red squirrels do not know how to react to the arrogant grey squirrels, whose attitude seems similar to the stereotype of the American settlers who considered the native Americans a “decrepit bunch of savages” (pg. 80) who did not deserve the land that they lived upon. After one of the Reds of Blue Pool is killed, the others regretfully abandon their ancestral land and begin a trek to find a new home—if there is anyplace in Britain where Reds can live which the Greys will not eventually take over.
   But the story is much more complex than this. The Greys do not fight only with their teeth and claws; they have Stones of Power:

   His queasiness increased and he had some difficulty in focusing his eyes. When his vision cleared he saw that the Greys were arranging a square of stones at the base of his tree. There were ‘lots’ of stones, certainly more than eight. He tried to count again. For some reason, it seemed to be important to know how many stones there were.
   […]
   The Grey, Quartz, came forward and put his forepaw on one of the corner stones. Juniper’s whiskers instantly buzzed and tingled, much worse than before, and his body started to shake uncontrollably.
   The Grey lifted his paw and the buzzing and shaking stopped. Juniper hung limply out of the drey coughing and retching, his head aching intolerably.
(pgs. 66-67)

   The Greys have learned how to manipulate Earth power; the primal force controlled through Leylines, pyramidology, and similar metaphysical practices. The Reds have their own power through their worship of the ‘life-giving Sun’. The Greys’ Stone Power is more immediate and obvious, but the Reds’ prayers to the Sun are also answered in a more subtle way.
   As with Watership Down, The Woodstock Saga builds up colorful cultures for the squirrels. The Reds have plant names: trees for the males (Oak, Rowan, Larch, Chestnut) and flowers for the females (Burdock, Bluebell, Meadowsweet). The Greys all have harsh mineral names (Flint, Marble, Granite, Chert). But the cultures are not uniform within each species. One refuge which the Blue Pool Reds find is already settled by a tribe of Reds who have a monarchical caste system, and the two Red societies clash. In The Second Wave, a group of Greys who are willing to embrace the Sun faith unfortunately fall under the influence of a Red fanatic who has perverted their gentle nature religion. He turns the Greys into a Crusading army to slay all Red ‘degenerates’ who do not agree with his decrees of harsh penance for their ‘sins’. So what at first seems to be a conflict between two colors of otherwise-identical squirrels turns out to be much more interestingly complex.
   The biggest annoyance about Tod’s writing is an overuse of coincidence and divine intervention. The Reds’ young intellectual, Bright Marguerite, ‘invents’ counting just in time to figure out a defense against the Stone Power. Why do prayers to the Sun work so well for the Reds of Blue Pool, but apparently not for other Reds? If prayer were as efficacious as it seems here, the divinity of the Sun and the ‘right way’ to worship ought to have become obvious to all squirrels long since. However, the novels have enough merit to make this minor flaw tolerable. Tod is a new author, with at least one more novel in his trilogy to come. Hopefully his writing will mature to match his imagination.

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#39 / Nov
1995







Title: Fortune’s Wheel (The Sholan Alliance, vol. 2)
Author: Lisanne Norman
Publisher:

DAW Books (New York, NY), Aug 1995

ISBN: 0-88677-675-9

646 pages, $5.99

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   This sequel to Norman’s Turning Point (reviewed in Yarf! #29) is a big surprise in several respects. Literally; at 646 pages, it is almost 21/2 times the size of the first novel’s 267 pages. That story stood nicely on its own, although there was a strong hint that a sequel might be coming. Fortune’s Wheel is clearly labeled as Book #2 in “Lisanne Norman’s sensational new DAW science fiction series!”, and it does not stand on its own. It ends on a cliffhanger, with enough unresolved plots and subplots to fill two or three more volumes, at least.
   Turning Point is a nice space-opera updating of Beauty and the Beast. Carrie Hamilton is a young woman on Keiss, a male-dominated Terran colony planet which was conquered by brutally hostile aliens, the Valtegans, a few years earlier. A human resistance movement has grown up, but none of the men take Carrie seriously when she wants to help. Carrie nurses a wounded catlike wild animal back to health; he turns out to be Kusac, a disguised handsome felinoid from a scoutship of the Sholans, an unknown alien species which is also at war with the Valtegans. Kusac is the scout party’s telepath, so he has no trouble recognizing Carrie’s inner strength and her own latent telepathic powers. Carrie helps Kusac return to his shipmates, and aids him in bringing the Terrans and Sholans into an alliance to overthrow the Valtegans. The novel ends with Keiss liberated, and Carrie as Kusac’s telepathically-linked lifemate who is about to return with him to Shola to meet his family.
    It was obvious that any sequel would involve the culture shock that both Carrie and the Sholans must go through as she becomes the unofficial representative of humanity on a planet of intelligent cat-people. That is actually just the starting point for several unexpected developments.
   Fortune’s Wheel begins deceptively blandly, as little more than an imitation of McCaffrey’s & Nye’s Doona novels, with humans and extremely human-like felinoids learning to get along in a mutual alliance. The opening scenes even seem to have regressed from the exotic atmosphere of Turning Point, where the Sholans were introduced as an intriguingly mysterious furry & fanged people. Fortune’s Point’s depiction of a Sholan space battle fleet is no different from hundreds of s-f human military spaceships, except that the uniformed crews are described as twitching their whiskers and ears and swishing their tails. Carrie’s first impression of the Sholans is similar; they seem like little more than furry humans. It takes time for the differences to begin to develop—and they are differences which surprise not only Carrie, but also the Sholans! (Unfortunately, more details cannot be given without spoiling some of the surprises.)
   Carrie is only one of several important characters, both human and Sholan, in this much larger novel. She and Kusac Aldatan may be mind-bonded lovers, but they are also nervous about their unique relationship, and partly resentful towards the telepathic compulsion which would force them to remain united even if they did not love each other. Kusac’s family and friends react in different ways to his bringing home an alien mate. Factions within both Shola’s political and religious hierarchy must decide whether the human/Sholan bonding is natural or perverted; to be encouraged for interstellar friendship or stamped out to preserve Shola’s social stability. A couple of the sub-plots get so involved with existing Sholan politics that Carrie and Kusac are almost incidental to them.
   One of the first sub-plots is unfortunately also one of the weakest. Norman tries to create some suspense almost immediately by making Carrie the target of murderous isolationists who fear all aliens, while most Sholans are overjoyed by the news that a friendly new space people have just been discovered who will help them fight the Valtegans. Granted that any large social group will have its lunatic fringe, this cell of terrorists snaps together unconvincingly swiftly; and its rationalizations for not believing the Sholan government’s press releases describing the Terrans’ aid seem exaggeratedly paranoid.
   Fortune’s Wheel does carry one major plot through to its conclusion, so this book ends satisfyingly even though there are numerous questions left unanswered. The cliffhanger implies that the Valtegans will return in the next novel, and there are many other sub-plots to be resolved.


Title: Babe (movie)
Screenplay: George Miller & Chris Noonan (from the novel by Dick King-Smith)
Cast: James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski, (voices of) Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, Danny Mann, Hugo Weaving
Crew: Chris Noonan (director); George Miller, Doug Mitchell, Bill Miller (producers); Andrew Lesnie (cinematography); Nigel Westlake (score)

Universal (4 Aug, 1995), 91 minutes

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   1995 has been a good year for live-action movies about talking animals. There is Fluke, which may be the first serious adult-oriented drama about talking animals rather than a comedy. And now there is Babe, which is a comedy (based upon a children’s novel by Dick King-Smith) but a gentle, intelligent one rather than going for low farce. (There is also Gordy, which I haven’t seen yet but which has gotten mostly unfavorable reviews.)
   Babe is also an exciting demonstration of the movie industry’s ability to create convincing talking animals. Until recently, this was not a serious concern. Talking animals were only for laughs, and any crude simulation of an animal spouting witticisms was considered good enough. There have been live-action comedies with animals with animated mouths since the 1940s (Jerry Fairbanks won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject in 1942 and 1944 for his Speaking of Animals one-reelers), but there was no attempt to disguise the fact that these were cartoon lips superimposed onto the faces of unintelligent animals. In movies such as the Francis the Talking Mule series or The Shaggy Dog, the emphasis was not on the animal characters as much as on the human leads. The animals were just the catalysts to keep the human highjinks moving. It has only been since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in 1988 that producers and directors have had to create sympathetic non-human stars who must be as convincing to the audiences as the human cast.
   Both Babe and Fluke (released just two months earlier) feature superbly-directed animal casts. They imply by their body-language that they really are conversing with each other. But in Fluke the animals talk telepathically, so there is no need to show plausible mouth movements. In Babe the pigs, dogs, sheep, horses, ducks, and other animals are seen to talk among each other. This requires animated mouths realistic enough to sustain the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Babe combines well-directed animal poses with state-of-the-art model and Muppetry work from the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, plus computerized image blending by Rhythm & Hues. The result is a cast of animal characters who can carry the whole movie, instead of only supporting the human actors. Audiences can identify with and care for them, instead of merely enjoying the movie for its clever camera tricks. (The least-convincing characters are the trio of mice, who wisely are seen only in brief distance shots.)
   Dick King-Smith is a British author of children’s fantasies. This was published in England as The Sheep-Pig (Gollancz, 1983) and in the U.S. as Babe, the Gallant Pig (Crown, 1985). Babe is a newborn pig won by Farmer Hogget at an English county fair. Hogget, despite his name, specializes in raising sheep, although he keeps a normal barnyard for family use. He decides that Babe will do for next Christmas’ dinner. The piglet is turned over to his sheepdog, Fly, to nurse along with her litter of pups. When the pups grow old enough to be sold, Fly turns her motherly attention onto Babe, who idolizes her. Despite her assurances that nobody expects a pig to have the talents of a dog, Babe wants to herd sheep, too. He does so well at it that Farmer Hogget gets the wild idea of entering him in the annual National Sheepdog Trials.
   The childrens’ novel was too short for a feature-length film, so some new scenes were put in to pad the plot. Happily, they complement the story wonderfully. The best is the addition of Ferdinand, a nervous duck who tries to usurp the rooster’s role of crowing to awaken the farm. He hopes to make himself so essential to the farm’s routine that he will take himself off its standard menu of roast duck. Besides being a funny gag in itself, Ferdinand’s acerbic personality and cynical wit adds a bit of bite which the otherwise-overly-sugary cast needs. It also sets up Babe’s own situation. He just wants to herd sheep like his foster mother, Fly, but if he can make himself more useful to the farm than a potential dinner…
   Any story is only as good as how it is directed. Babe is handled just right. James Cromwell as Farmer Hoggett gets top marks as a crusty old farmer who convincingly comes to love the little piglet who ought to be just another item of livestock running around the barnyard. Most of the other actors are the offstage voice cast, whose performances give their animal counterparts the emotional gravity to win real audience appeal, rather than treating them as subjects for hoked-up cartoony laughs. There is much humor, but it is clever and subtle, unexpected more often than obvious. The Sheep-Pig may be a childrens’ book, but Babe is a movie that is designed for audiences of all levels of sophistication. Talking animals aren’t just ‘funny animals’ any more. Kudos to everyone involved, especially Director Chris Noonan with the close association of his mentor, producer-director George (Mad Max) Miller.

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#40 / Jan 1
996







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

Hutchinson Children’s Books (London), Jul 1995

ISBN: 0-09-176721-0

360 pages, £12.99

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   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
Publisher:

Picador USA (New York), Oct 1995

ISBN: 0-312-13428-2

231 pages, $22.00

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   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
996







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
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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
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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
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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

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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
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   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
Publisher:

HarperCollins U.K. (London), Oct 1995

ISBN: 0-00-225309-7

283 pages, £12.99

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   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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#42 / Jun 1
996







Title: House of Tribes
Author: Garry Kilworth
Illustrator: Paul Robinson
Publisher:

Bantam Press (London), Nov 1995

ISBN: 0-593-03376-0

[xiii +] 430 pages, £12.99

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   Kilworth has established a reputation as an author of ‘realistic’ talking-animal novels in the vein of Watership Down, with Hunter’s Moon: a Story of Foxes; Midnight’s Sun: a Story of Wolves; and Frost Dancers: a Story of Hares. House of Tribes is a bit different—in fact, it is accurately blurbed as ‘An epic animal fantasy in the tradition of Duncton Wood.’ The animals are superficially like Watership Down’s rabbits, but a bit too clever and well-organized to pass as ‘realistic’.
   Pedlar is a young yellow-necked mouse born into a Hedgerow community of British wildlife. They are three fields away from the House, a fabulous paradise too good to be believable:

   Wandering rodents had entertained the hedges and ditches with tales about the House. It was a place where mice lived in comfort, they said, warm all the year round. It was a place where food was in plenty, whatever the season, whatever the weather. It was a place where a variety of different species of mice made nests above ground, yet still remained out of the rain, out of the wind, out of reach of the fox and weasel, the stoat and hawk. (pg. 3)

   But Pedlar begins to have a Dream urging him to go to the House, for his destiny is to play a part in a great event which will befall the mice there. Dreams are believed to be messages sent by the departed ancestors and guardians of all mice, so Pedlar is morally pressured to uproot his life and venture to the House despite his doubts.
   Pedlar becomes so involved in the complex society within the old country mansion that he (and the reader) tend to forget about the plot. The House is no happy playground, although it is more full of mice than it should be. Readers will recognize what the mice do not; the House’s nudnik (human) inhabitants are old and probably senile, and are mostly unaware of the horde of vermin robbing their pantries and chewing up the books in the vast Library. There is a sadistic child among them, but his death traps are usually easily avoided. (Mice who do fall prey are fed to his psychotic, cannibalistic pet white mouse.)
   The House has become overpopulated with mice, who have separated into warring tribes; one for practically every room. The kitchen mice, who control the coveted never-empty larder, are the Savage Tribe, marked by Viking names like Jarl Forkwhiskers, Gytha, and Tostig, and led by the appropriately brutal and bloody Gorm-the-old. The library mice, the Bookeaters such as Owain, Cadwallon, Rhodri, and Gruffydd Greentooth, are literati and mystics, led by Frych-the-freckled who is into witchcraft and black magic. The attic-dwelling Invisibles are aloof cynics who give each other sarcastic names like Whispersoft (he invariably bellows), Nonsensical (the most practical in their tribe), and Ferocious (a coward). The cellar-dwelling Stinkhorns have vulgar names like Phart and Flegm, and you don’t want to know their personal habits. Pedlar gets so involved with these colorful personalities (and others), and their intra- and intertribal feuds, that it comes as a shock when the plot resumes more than a hundred pages later, and we are reminded that Pedlar is there for a purpose.
   Although the divine larder is never empty, it never has enough for all the mice at the same time. The main reason is that the mice are forced to wait for quiet after dark, while the giant nudniks can come into the kitchen and eat as much as they want whenever they want. Gorm-the-old decides to call a House-wide crusade to drive out the nudniks, so the larder will be all theirs. Astrid the high priestess prophecies disaster and a great famine if they are successful, but Gorm (who envisions all mousedom united under his leadership) bulls ahead anyway. Pedlar, not sure whether he should participate in the Great Nudnik Drive or oppose it, is swept up in the hysterical frenzy which will change all of their lives forever.
   Kilworth is talented at establishing his almost-identical mice with sharply individual personalities and characteristics. The story unfolds with drama and wit:

   Gorm-the-old was a legend in his own time and the story of his rise to power was told to every new infant of the Savage Tribe, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Now he was placing that legend on the line. (pg. 125)

   There is a mood of both fatality and of challenge. It gradually becomes obvious that the lives of the mice are to some extent preordained, but their fates can be changed if strong individuals recognize the crisis points and act upon them. Unfortunately, the Fates never speak clearly. Pedlar must gamble as to whether he has been sent to support Gorm in his daring crusade, or to save the mice from Gorm’s madness. To the reader, who will have a more realistic idea of the results of mice attacking humans, the question is more as to whether Pedlar himself can survive, or help any of his friends among the House mice to survive. The results may surprise you.


Title: Summerhill Hounds (First Quest™ Books)
Author: J. Robert King
Illustrator: Terry Dykstra
Publisher:

TSR, Inc. (Lake Geneva, WI), Nov 1995

ISBN: 0-7869-0196-9

250 pages, $3.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   The First Quest™ Books are a series of ‘Young Readers Adventures’ set in the Endless Quest™ gaming world. Although it is a straightforward novel, its literary style and quality are closer to those Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks. It is a very simplistic adventure in a very stereotypical fantasy setting. But it is certainly anthropomorphic. To quote the back-cover blurb:

   Castle Dunkirk might have been musty and moldy, but for the Summerhill Hounds, it was home sweet home. Sheepdogs, collies, mastiffs, cockers, terriers, bloodhounds—a veritable mess of domesticated dogs—lived and worked around the massive fortress. But that was before the orc attack. Now, all is gone … castle … soldier friends … days of idyll. The dogs must band together to pursue the piggish warriors that are marching their men into captivity. Their decision sets them on an adventure in which—battling odds and strange creatures—they must dig deep within themselves, discover bravery and fantastical powers, and learn to live wild and free.

   Keep in mind that this is intended for ‘Young Readers’. Otherwise it is too easy to criticize its lack of sophistication. Fantasy-adventure role-playing settings are, by definition, not realistic, but they need to be pseudo-realistic enough to sustain a modicum of believability and suspense. The stereotype of Summerhill Hounds is closer to that of generic Disney animation, especially the funny-animal Robin Hood movie—the one where the Sheriff of Nottingham has Pat Buttram’s hillbilly accent. Here it’s the ‘old codger’ bloodhound, Lank Leonard, whose accent and manners of “southern gentility” (pg. 129) make him sound like the twin of Trusty in Lady and the Tramp—not exactly what one would expect in a setting of early Norman castles with orcs and the Celtic Seelie Court just the other side of the drawbridge.
   We all know that medieval courts included packs of hunting dogs. But would you believe a pack that resembles the cast of a dog show? There’s Mongy the terrier; Reedel the English sheepdog (the furballs with hair covering their eyes—just picture one of those in a manor lord’s deer hunt); Merry the collie; Dea the golden retriever; the aforementioned Lank Leonard; Goldie the cocker spaniel; Gray the deerhound; Sheba the part-wolf deerhound; and Slav the black mastiff. Slav is actually an enchanted fire-breathing mastiff, which is a nice touch of originality; otherwise the crew resembles the multibreed stray-dog casts of Lady and the Tramp or Oliver & Company more than what one expects in a sword-&-sorcery landscape. And, as soon as the bloody capture of the castle is finished, the orcs suddenly start bumbling around more like the buffoonish ogres from Disney-TV’s The Gummi Bears than the serious menaces of Middle Earth.
   There is also the Watership Down-based stereotype of ‘realistic’ animals who have their own language, folklore, and religion. But King’s dog-legends unfortunately lack the word-magic of Adams, Kilworth, Horwood, et al. Two ancestral wolf packs are the Griooowas and the Uuffuffs. The legend of the Silver Dog and the Seelie Hound isn’t bad, but it loses a lot when his First Dogs have names as pedestrian as Humphrey, Ivy, and Kelly.
   One coincidentally identical conceit both here and in Kilworth’s House of Tribes is the least convincing aspect of both novels: That the dogs/mice believe themselves to be intelligent and sophisticated, but that the humans whose buildings they live in are only dumb animals—their pets, here, and unpleasant vermin (like giant cockroaches) in House of Tribes. It’s amusing to observe these animals considering themselves to be so superior, but not really believable that characters smart enough to realize what intelligence and self-awareness are would not recognize the same traits in the humans whom they can see talking among themselves and manipulating utensils.
   What happens to the loyal dogs (plus a supercilious cat named Gato) cast loose in a countryside of fierce wolves, brutal orcs, and a magical Celtic faery realm is at least unexpected. And it’s a quick and relatively inexpensive read. If Disney intends to make any more movies along the lines of The Aristocats or The Black Cauldron, they might keep this novel in mind.

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#43 / Aug 1
996







Title: Mink!
Author: Peter Chippindale
Illustrator: Matthew McClements (map)
Publisher:

Simon & Schuster Ltd. (London), Sep 1995

ISBN: 0-671-71916-5

566 pages, £9.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Here is another new Animal Farm for the ’90s”, according to the cover blurb. Well, it does feature talking animals, and it is written for adults. But it seems closer to Watership Down than to Animal Farm. There is certainly satire in it, but it remains subordinate to a complex and taut drama of politics and survival. Mink! feels more like a talking-animal version of such 1950s and ’60s political thrillers as Forbidden Area or Seven Days in May.
   
The first half of the 566-page novel consists of two parallel stories, told in alternating chapters. The first begins with the birth of Mega, a mink, into a dirty, overcrowded British countryside fur farm. The colony is dominated by an aristocracy of conservative Elder mink who rule as high priests. As Mega grows, he is smart enough to see that the creed of peace and brotherhood is more for the Elders’ own good than that of the restless, high-strung common mink. They have the choicest benefits of their cramped world without having to fight for them, as mink instinctually do.
   In the parallel story, the animals of the nearby Old Wood are being nagged by a group of Concerned Woodland Guardians, led by the rabbits, into forming a cross-species ‘Woodland Code’ and ‘Bill of Creatures’ Rights’. But even its most ardent advocate, Burdock, must admit that they are getting nowhere. The animals that do accept the concept of animal rights just splinter into factions—Frogs for Freedom, Worms’ Lib, and the like—which spend all their time making endless speeches and referring proposals to Committees. Also, one key group is not represented; the predators. Burdock’s solution is to persuade one of the more influential of the predators, Owl, to become involved; as much for his shock value as anything else. Also, Owl is the only predator with the intellectual curiosity to be interested in the social affairs of the ‘veggies’, as his fellow predators disparagingly call them. So in the first half of the novel, the story switches back and forth as Mega plots the takeover of the mink community from the decadent Elders, then must figure out how to free all the mink from the human cages; and as Burdock wheedles and cajoles his Congress of herbivores towards accomplishing something, while Owl watches with a combination of boredom and dilettante fascination.
   When the escaped mink arrive in the Old Wood, the two stories merge with the impact of When Worlds Collide. New questions and plot twists arise with increasingly dizzying rapidity. Should the resident predators consider the voracious mink as ‘brothers’, or join forces with the herbivores to oust the invaders to protect their own food sources? Or should it be every animal for itself? What can herbivores do in defense against such overenthusiastic murderers? What ‘rights’ are realistic when a carnivore has to kill its neighbors to keep from starving to death, whether it would prefer to be a ‘good guy’ or not? Mega is convincingly portrayed as simultaneously a sadistic, kill-crazy slaughterer, and as an idealist who is trying to create a paradise for all mink—and who grows increasingly frustrated with such realities as that the mink may overeat the Old Wood into their own starvation unless they curb their appetites. (Since Mega had promised the mink unlimited feasting to gain their support, this development poses political problems for him, as well.) Owl is convincingly portrayed as realizing that he must turn himself from a detached intellectual into an involved activist; but he can see so many variables resulting from each possible decision that he agonizes over the right action to take. The story keeps springing clever surprises on both the characters and the reader.
   The basic plot is an adventure drama and a political thriller strong enough to support plenty of satire, both light-hearted and cynical. British readers are supposed to recognize specific caricatures of prominent public figures of the Thatcher and Major eras among the cast. American readers will get enough humor just out of the clear stereotypes of the Politically Correct, the Do-Gooders, the Devoted Followers who are ready to obey any order, the Manupulators, the Marketing Strategists, the Feminists, and others. The major cast is much more fully developed as realistic individuals than are the famous characters of Animal Farm. Chippindale’s writing is always witty; sometimes obvious, as in the minks’ own version of the British anthem (“Rule Minkmania; Minkmania rules the wood; Creatures ever, ever, ever; Shall be food!”), and sometimes very subtle.
   Mink! is extremely highly recommended. It is good enough to be worth the trouble and expense of ordering your own copy from Britain, if no American edition of it comes along soon.


Title: Dinotopia: Sabertooth Mountain
Author: John Vornholt
Illustrator: ? (map)
Publisher:

Random House/Bullseye Books (New York, NY), Jun 1996

ISBN: 0-679-88095-X

133 pages, $3.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   I just reviewed Bullseye Books’ first four Dinotopia juvenile novels in Yarf! #41. I didn’t expect to return to them so soon, but I can’t resist ranting about how this latest virtually destroys the concept of Dinotopia.
   James Gurney’s premise of a large island where humans and intelligent dinosaurs share a harmonious civilization has always been a fragile fantasy. It is good for art books full of beautifully intricate paintings of men and dinosaurs associating together in friendship and equality. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of the requirements of fiction. Novels need drama and conflict. The contradictions among the adventures in Bullseye’s first four Dinotopia novels already strained the suspension of disbelief needed to accept this human-dinosaur brotherhood.
   With Dinotopia: Sabertooth Mountain, it all falls apart. The dinosaurs have become wooly mammoths, dire wolves, giant sloths, cave bears, and all of the other spectacular vanished mammals. The way that these species live in harmony is that, whenever a herbivore or omnivore is about to die of old age, it joins a Death Caravan of elderly philanthropists who totter off to one of the carnivore communities to offer themselves as a meal; so the friendly carnivores are not forced to reluctantly prey upon their neighbors.
   13-year-old Cai, a human boy, is accidentally cast away among the sabertooths who live in a valley at the foot of Sabertooth Mountain. There is only one pass into their valley, and a winter avalanche has blocked it off; so no dying volunteers can get in to feed the big cats—who are getting awfully hungry. Redstripe, the leader of the sabertooth pride, wants them to show their will-power and wait until the pass can be cleared. Neckbiter, Redstripe’s rival who is a sabertooth über alles demagogue, wants to leave the valley through a series of dangerous underground passages through the mountain, and start feasting on all the animals of Dinotopia—starting with Cai. Cai and Redstripe are forced to become allies, escaping from Neckbiter and his brainwashed followers. They must get help for the sabertooths before Neckbiter turns them into murderers and pariahs throughout Dinotopia.
   Although Vornholt offers a weak excuse as to why mammals just happened to be offstage in all the previous books, the unavoidable implication is that ‘dinosaurs’ = ‘extinct animals’, so an extinct giant sloth is as much a dinosaur as is a stegosaur. Dinotopia theoretically separated from the rest of Earth’s land mass 50 or 35 million years ago, so the dinosaurs were spared from the evolutionary extinction which befell them elsewhere. Then early humans migrated to Dinotopia maybe 5,000 years ago, and the two have created a joint civilization since then. But for Dinotopia to also be populated with the Ice Age mammals, it would have to have remained connected to the other continents until only about 12,000 to 10,000 years ago. That’s an awfully short time for tectonic drift to have zipped it over the horizon and far away.
   Nobody knows how smart dinosaurs really were, so it’s at least arguable that they could have been intelligent enough to understand the advantages of a civilization and to develop their own speech. But you can’t extend that intelligence to as recently as the dire wolves, prehistoric camels, and other Ice Age mammals without raising the question of when and why this intelligence abruptly disappeared, since today’s elephants, lions, or horses no longer have it.
   The dramatic conflict in the other novels has already made it hard to accept Dinotopia as so harmonious that it never needs even civil arbitrators to mediate peaceful disagreements or misunderstandings. The literally backstabbing politics among the sabertooths here, and the panicked ‘kill the carnivores before they kill us’ mobs in a nearby human village, completely undermines this crucial plausibility.
   The snowy avalanche that seals off the sabertooths’ valley is seemingly the first time such a disaster has ever occurred. Yet from the description of the narrow mountain pass, how could such an avalanche fail to happen every winter; or at least every twenty years or so? Alan Dean Foster, to his credit, shows in Dinotopia Lost that there are records and emergency plans to deal with disasters that may happen only once in hundreds of years. Vornholt in Dinotopia: Sabertooth Mountain gives the impression that Dinotopia is such a happy land that nobody has ever stubbed their toe in the past, so everyone is completely amazed and unprepared when the slightest inconvenience happens. It is totally unconvincing.
   Hmmmph. On the one hand, I feel that I’ve hardly started on this review. On the other hand, I feel that I’ve already wasted more space on it than it deserves. Let’s hope that Dinotopia: Sabertooth Mountain is just a bad book, and not so abysmal that it ridicules the whole concept of Dinotopia into oblivion.

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#44 / Oct 1
996







Title: Ramar: The Rabbit with Rainbow Wings
Author: Darrell T. Hare
Illustrator: Tom O’Sullivan
Publisher:

St. Martin’s Press (New York City, NY), Mar 1996

ISBN: 0-312-14031-2

128 pages, $16.95

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   According to St. Martin’s publicity release, this book was produced by “the same editor and designer who brought us the Jonathan Livingston Seagull tale,” Eleanor Friede; and “Yes, Ramar (the central character) is a rabbit because Darrell’s last name is Hare. With that out of the way […]”
   I find that I am having to struggle to write my own review, because St. Martin’s publicity is so clear, interesting, and succinct that it is very tempting to just quote from it at length:

   In a distant land, known as the World-in-Between, a magical place that precedes earth, a young, gossamer-winged rabbit named Ramar is being readied for his mystical voyage to earth as a human being. Guided by other animal spirits who tell of their own earthly visits, Ramar gradually gains the wisdom of what lies ahead. As Ramar’s consciousness and understanding of the ways of the world grows so do his wings, gradually adding beautiful colors—changing them from black and white—until they are finally transformed into a glorious pair of rainbow stain-glass wings.

   It is also difficult to pull out of the book itself because the World-In-Between is such a soft, lovely, dreamy, feel-good place. Despite the fact that one of its most prestigious inhabitants is a radiant white lamb named The Shepherd—“A sheep who is also a shepherd?” he asked. “Yes,” said the lamb. “For life has taught me that each of us must learn to care for ourselves, and to care for ourselves, we must also care for those around us. Thus I am a sheep and also a shepherd.” (p. 103)—it is less like Christianity’s Limbo than like Roman mythology’s Elysian Fields, inhabited by friendly animal spirits. Ramar is definitely an original story concept; at the same time, its spiritual similarity to Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull is so pronounced that the Publicity Dep’t’s credit to editor Eleanor Friede for both novels is helpfully informative.
   The theological setup seems mainly Buddhist, heavily into reincarnation, with a Greek-Roman-Christian veneer. The World-In-Between is the home base of the spirits. They go to Earth to be born into mortal bodies, over and over again, for their edification and betterment, until they become perfect in love. This is an almost impossible goal, for there is always something new to learn. The implication is that anyone who does finally achieve perfection rises above this plane of existence to something better. Ramar is the first new spirit born into the World-In-Between in ages, so he needs to be educated in these ground rules. The three main friends whom he makes are Lydia, the cat with aqua eyes; The Dove Who Rhymed With Love; and Leonardo, the butterfly. Others include Micah the turtle, Yolanda the swan, and Bahrue the man; many more pass briefly by.
   One of the more appealing aspects of this cosmology will be the apparent equality of the animals and the humans. In fact, it is not clear how much Hare distinguishes between them. In an early scene, Lydia explains to Ramar about how the animal spirits go to Earth to be born:

   She told him that all the creatures who lived in the World-In-Between were once human beings, most of them just recently. This was not their permanent home, she said. It is just that when a person dies, each may choose to rest here for a while … to think, to dream, to contemplate what they learned on Earth.
   And one way to learn your lessons well, she told him, was to let your spirit be changed into the form of whatever creature you were like on Earth. You might become a cat. You might become a robin. You might come home as a puma or a peacock or a tapir or a spider.
(pgs. 30-31)

   This sounds as though Hare is using ‘human being’ as a synonym for ‘mortal’, rather than specifically homo sapiens. A ‘person’ may be any creature, not just a man. Frankly, Hare seems more concerned with casting his characters as parables than as consistent creatures. Some seem to be one animal or another because that is the form of their most recent mortal life. But others are fresh returnees who are shaken to find themselves transformed into animals because they are still used to their lives as humans—such as Micah, who is a turtle because of the ‘shell of loneliness’ that he built around himself in his human incarnation.
   Consistency aside, most fans will appreciate Hare’s basic attitude of human-animal equality on both the mortal and spiritual level. The book is filled with lovely spidery drawings of Ramar and his friends, which begin in black-&-white and grow more chromatically complex as Ramar’s wings add new hues.


Title: Thomas (The Deptford Histories, Book 3)
Author: Robin Jarvis
Illustrator: The author
Publisher:

Macdonald Young Books Ltd. (Hemel Hempstead, Herts.), Oct 1995

ISBN: 0-7500-1744-9

Hardcover, xii + 441 pages [pgs. 442 - 450 are adv’ts], £9.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

ISBN: 0-7500-1745-7

Paperback, xii + 441 pages [pgs. 442 - 450 are adv’ts], £4.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the sixth, and presumably last, of Jarvis’ Deptford funny-animal horror novels. The Deptford Mice trilogy was set in the present, chronicling the desperate struggle of a group of British mice to keep the rats’ evil god, Jupiter, from destroying the world. The Deptford Histories are set in the past, answering some of the questions raised in the first trilogy by showing their origins: how an innocent pet in 17th-century London was corrupted and transformed into the sadistic Jupiter (The Alchymist’s Cat); and how the squirrels and bats in medieval England were betrayed into becoming eternal enemies (The Oaken Throne).
   Thomas returns to the present, or at least the very recent past. One of the Deptford Mice (and one of their few survivors) was the old midshipmouse, Thomas Triton. He was the most reluctant and mysterious of the group, refusing to tell of his past except to constantly mutter that he should leave because he was a jinx; bad luck followed wherever he went; he only brought doom to his friends, especially his best friend…
   This is the tale of the bold young mouse, then Tommy Stubbs, who went to sea looking for adventure. Tom stops in a small village on his way to the coast long enough to become friends with a young teen, Woodget Pipple (think of a fieldmouse version of Beaver Cleaver). Due to a misunderstanding with his girlfriend, Woodget runs away to become a sailor like Tom. The flattered Tom promises to protect his innocent hero-worshipper until he can bring him safely home to Bess. But when Tom and Woodget fall afoul of the evil Oriental serpent cult of Suruth Scarophion, the maritime menaces multiply until it becomes clear that the two mates are both babes in a vast world more ancient, cruel, and horrific than they ever dreamed.
   As the two mice muddle through from one deathtrap to the next, Woodget grows in experience and confidence until he seems almost ready to take the lead from Tom. But Thomas is told as a flashback by the despairing, drunken old sailor, so the reader is aware from the outset that this saga of sorcery and skullduggery in the sleaziest seaports of the sinister Orient will end in tragedy and crushing anguish. (This will be no surprise to the readers of Jarvis’ previous novels.) The only real questions are which well-meant action of Tom’s will bring about Woodget’s doom, and how gruesome it will be.
   In the meantime, supporting characters are wiped out individually and in wholesale lots. An example: Tom and Woodget are tricked by an old salt, Mulligan, into embarking in a human cargo ship which regularly transports animal passengers in a hidden ’morphic community in its hold, amidst all the boxes and bales. Then a sorcerously violent storm tosses the ship about:

   Like a shrieking tide with flailing arms, thrashing legs and whisking tails the mice, rats, shrews, hedgehogs, stoats, voles and moles were washed to and fro. Lethal and hopeless was their plight, for no one could spare a paw to help them and those who valiantly struggled to save some poor, tumbling wretch were torn from their anchor and fell headlong into the screaming, steerless crowd.
   But soon the violent, brutal shaking began to reap a horrible harvest.
   Mothers screamed as children were ripped from their aching arms and went flying down the tilting deck to be lost amid the surging flow of tortured bodies. Breath was punched from lungs as feet and elbows drove heedlessly into stomachs. Many of Mulligan’s snooty neighbors were already dead but their limp frames continued to be hurled across the hold. Heads cracked against the metal bulkheads and backs snapped when they struck the corners of great quivering crates. Skulls split open as they slammed into the hull and bones splintered, their fragmented spikes piercing mangled, flapping limbs.
(pgs. 156-157)

   In this sixth Deptford book, Jarvis plays variations on his writing style. Scenes begin in ways that readers of the previous novels will find predictable, only to veer so abruptly that you can practically see the author chortling, “Fooled you!” Jarvis’ major villain is usually hidden among the main cast until his or her unmasking at the climax, but in Thomas he is revealed unusually early, so that the reader can watch over his shoulder as he sabotages the unsuspecting heroes. Jarvis is still the master of anthropomorphic morbid horror.
   According to the advertising, the first and third novels of the first trilogy, The Dark Portal and The Final Reckoning, are available as ‘talking book’ cassettes narrated by Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee, respectively. Funny; the Deptford books don’t seem particularly Whovian…


Title: The Son of Summer Stars (The Firebringer Trilogy, Book 3)
Author: Meredith Ann Pierce
Publisher:

Little, Brown & Co. (Boston, MA), May 1996

ISBN: 0-316-70755-4

vi + 250 pages, $17.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Most anthropomorphic fiction features talking ‘real’ animals such as cats or rabbits or hawks or mice, rather than fantasy animals such as unicorns or dragons or griffins. This may be because the appeal of anthropomorphism is partly that it enables us to feel in closer understanding with our actual neighbor-species in this world. Also, fantasy animals usually appear as incidental players in stories where the main cast are human knights or warriors. When a fantasy animal has a major speaking role, its animalistic aspects are seldom more than window dressing. It could just as easily be a human loyal companion or a villain.
   Pierce’s young-adult Firebringer Trilogy (Birth of the Firebringer, 1986; Dark Moon, 1992; and at last The Son of Summer Stars) is a rare exception. It is set on a world without man, or at least where man is primitive and distant enough to be little more than a myth to the intelligent unicorns, gryphons, and others who are the ‘people’ of the story.
   The main focus is upon the unicorns of the Vale, exiled from their true homeland for 400 years since its capture by the evil wyverns; and upon Aljan, the Dark Moon, their prince who dreams of becoming the prophesied Firebringer who will finally lead them to reclaim their ancient Hallow Hills. Much is shown of the unicorns’ herd life, which is a richly anthropomorphic society mixing aspects of Bronze-Age Greek and Plains Indian cultures with the actual sociology of horse herds. Also, the unique aspects of each species—the unicorns’ use of their horns as weapons and to strike sparks to create fire; the gryphons’ flight; the dragons’ fire-breathing; and the wyverns’ multiple heads and poisonous stings—are used as important plot elements, not mere costumery.
   Although The Son of Summer Stars does stand on its own, readers who would enjoy it would appreciate the whole trilogy, and would benefit by reading the novels in proper order. Birth of the Firebringer introduces the impulsive young Jan, adolescent foal of Korr, proud prince (war leader) of the exiled unicorn herd. The exploits which lead to his learning caution and battle wisdom also set the scene of the exotic societies of the unicorns, the gryphons, and the wyverns. (Other animals and birds also talk, but have only incidental roles in the three books.) In Dark Moon, dramatic events mold the personalities and the relationships between key characters. The very existence of the unicorns is threatened, particularly of Jan’s pregnant mate, Tek. These adventures are summarized succinctly in the final volume, but readers ought not to miss the full details.
   The Son of Summer Stars begins with the mature Prince Aljan having restored the unicorns to their full strength, finally ready to march against the wyverns entrenched in their distant former home. But events separate Jan from his herd once again. His new wanderings lead him to a different ‘nation’ of unicorns with their own culture, and eventually to the land of the dragons. These societies are also vivid, and distinct from those of the other animals’. The question arises of whether Jan’s personal destiny lies with his own herd’s, or elsewhere.
   This final novel does have one annoying flaw. The unicorns’ religion is introduced at the beginning of the series, along with their ancient legend of a mystical ‘Firebringer’ who will bring them home. Jan dreams that he might be this fabled warrior. Occasional hints in the first two books nicely flesh out both the religion and the myth. But in this climax, they merge and intensify to an overpowering degree. It becomes clear that the unicorns’ goddess, Alma, is real and is manipulating events. Jan is reduced from an intelligent war-leader to an unconsciously-guided puppet. By the time the climactic battle between the unicorns and the wyverns arrives, it is so obvious that Alma is not going to let the unicorns lose that there is no real suspense.
   In fact, this and a couple of lesser riddles seem so telegraphed as to raise a suspicion that Pierce is deliberately cluing her Young Adult readers, to give them the satisfaction of guessing what is about to happen before it does. After all, the main strengths of The Firebringer Trilogy are the rich portrait of its fantasy world, its colorful animal peoples—usually literally so: Jan trotted beside the crimson mare. Her pale-blue filly pranced alongside. The mare’s sire, the brindled grey, led them over grassy, rolling hills, with the mare’s brother-belovèd […], pale gold, bringing up the rear. (pg. 53)—and its intelligent and sympathetic characters. If it is a bit too blatant that the good guys will win and the bad guys will lose—well, this doesn’t really pretend to be a cliffhanger-type story.

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#45 / Nov 1
996







Title: Cowkind
Author: Ray Petersen
Publisher:

A Wyatt Book for St. Martin’s Press (New York City, NY), Jun 1996

ISBN: 0-312-14302-8

viii + 195 pages, $21.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Cows are an unusual cast for serious fiction. But Cowkind is an unusual novel. Its topic is Rural America in a time of transition, at the end of the 1960s; from the viewpoints of both the farmers and the livestock.
   Cowkind is told in twelve chapters, each focusing upon a different character living at Bob Scott’s dairy farm in upstate New York. The first seven chapters relate the viewpoints of five of Farmer Bob’s milk cows and their calves; White John, the farm’s stud bull; and King, the farm’s border collie. The remaining five chapters switch the focus to the humans; Farmer Bob, his wife, son, & daughter, with a final shift back to the cows in the next-to-last chapter.
   Petersen develops the overall scene slowly in a convoluted, jigsaw manner. The novel not only moves from character to character, but it jumps around in time, from the present (1971) back to 1968, and slowly working forward to 1971 again; with flashbacks within each chapter to still earlier events.
   The daily farm routine is all that the characters have known, from ‘time immemorial’. Farmer Bob inherited the farm from his father, and he expects to leave it to his teenaged son, Gerry. The pattern of life to Bob is growing up on the farm as a boy, undergoing a Rite of Manhood by fighting for America as a teen (his father in World War I; himself in World War II), then returning to the farm to work it until old age and death. The dairy herd have their similar life, the Order; the same from day to day, comfortably familiar.
   The opening establishes that the characters are nervous and uneasy, without knowing why. Changes are coming that bewilder them. The cows are distraught that Bob and Gerry and their part-time helper, Bob’s brother Merle, have replaced traditional hand-milking with milking machines. Bossy, Daisy, and the others do not understand why the human men who used to give them such personal, caring attention have abandoned them to be hooked up to cold machines. Pet has heard the men saying something about the milk going into ‘tanks’, and they have also overheard ‘tanks’ talked about on the farm TV’s newscasts about the Vietnam war, so the cattle wonder whether they have somehow become involved in this war to which Gerry is so opposed.
   Bob himself is no more comfortable with the changing world. He only realizes that his farm is losing money, that it is becoming increasingly old-fashioned, and that to stay out of bankruptcy he must invest in lots of modern technology that he does not really trust. He also does not know how the government can take away part of his farm for things like power-line right-of-ways. He reacts by concentrating on the one thing that he feels he can understand and control: his family. He was just as traditional about how the house should be run. Men worked outside and women worked inside, except when the men needed help. Inside, men were waited on, served their three square meals—breakfast, dinner, and supper. (pg. 5) But this Biblically patriarchial way of life is as old-fashioned as his farming methods.
   To anthropomorphic fans, the best part of Cowkind will be the first 2/3 of the novel. It starts by establishing the male and female cattle as individuals, with distinct personalities and their own small society. This Order, and the cows’ religion, the Gathering, are gradually revealed as the cows discuss the changes that are taking place, and what they will mean to them. These changes are first glimpsed in a distorted manner from the cows’ viewpoints. (Petersen shows a thorough knowledge of farm routine and the actual sociology of dairy cattle.) The reader will later translate them into human terms and realize what is really happening. There are also parallels between the tensions and problems introduced with the cattle, and what is later seen happening within Farmer Bob’s family.
   It is technically unfortunate from our standpoint that the cows’ society gradually fades into the background as the story increasingly focuses upon the Scotts and their problems. But Petersen is a good enough writer that the reader will remain engrossed until the end. This is good, because there is an anthropomorphic surprise in the last chapter. The social situation among the cows, and between King and his relationship with the neighboring farm’s dog, Scout, make Cowkind worth reading even if they do not fill the book. Most intriguing is Aretha, the mystical cow, a Cassandra whose nightmarish visions of where the trends in modern farming are leading are mocked by her stablemates:

   Aretha was lost in a vision of the future, delirious. She saw calves stillborn, aborted spontaneously, born as monsters with two heads, no legs, calves destroyed by the ruin of the air and the land. She saw all the elders slaughtered, no cows allowed to grow old, none ever let outside to graze or to feel sunshine, cows alive only to give milk or their flesh for humans to eat. Each vision was more frightening than the previous one. Supercows—the product of chemicals and growth hormones, until humans were afraid of milk, cheese, and butter from real cows. Then vats of bacteria digesting grain and grass, oozing out milk that had never touched a cow’s stomach. Finally extinction, humans completely cut off from the rest of creation, and doing their best to accelerate the process. (pg. 147)


The Animorphs series, by K. A. Applegate
Title: Animorphs: The Invasion
Publisher: Scholastic Inc./Apple Paperback (New York, NY), Jun 1996
ISBN: 0-590-62977-8
184 pages, $3.99
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Title: Animorphs: The Visitor
Publisher: Scholastic Inc./Apple Paperback (New York, NY), Jun 1996
ISBN: 0-590-62978-6
175 pages, $3.99
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Title: Animorphs: The Encounter
Publisher: Scholastic Inc./Apple Paperback (New York, NY), Aug 1996
ISBN: 0-590-62979-4

154 pages [pgs. 155-157 are adv’ts], $3.99

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Title: Animorphs: The Message
Publisher: Scholastic Inc./Apple Paperback (New York, NY), Oct 1996
ISBN: 0-590-62980-8
151 pages, $3.99
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Title: Animorphs: The Predator
Publisher: Scholastic Inc./Apple Paperback (New York, NY), Dec 1996
ISBN: 0-590-62981-6

152 pages, $3.99

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   This Young Adult series is a new entry in the juvenile/adolescent horror series-paperback market. Instead of featuring independent weird fantasies like R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps best-sellers, it is a super-hero continuing serial which should be read in order for best effect. Each novel presents a complete adventure, but while the first three stand on their own nicely, there is enough backstory by the fourth to make it inadvisable to start reading that far into the series.
   A good ‘high concept’ summary of Animorphs would be, “Marvel Comics’ Power Pack juvenile super-heroes tumble into Robert Heinlein’s Puppet Masters world”. Jake, Rachel, Tobias, Marco, and Cassie are five junior-high-school good buddies (a P.C. gender/ethnic mix), returning to their homes from hanging out at the mall one evening. They are cutting across an abandoned construction project when a battle-battered flying saucer crash-lands almost on top of them. Its vaguely deer-centauroid pilot, a mortally wounded heroic Andalite, reveals that his planet is fighting the evil Yeerks who are trying to conquer the galaxy. The Yeerks—…a gray-green, slimy thing like a snail without its shell, only bigger, the size of a rat, maybe.. (The Invasion, pg. 17)—have recently discovered Earth. They are establishing their beachhead in the kids’ home town, by crawling into people’s ears and taking over their bodies. The city government, the police force, their teachers, anybody could be a Yeerk puppet by now. The dying Andalite prince has sent a galactic radio message to his distant planet to come to Earth’s aid, but Earth may be totally enslaved before their armada can get here. Only the five teens can save Earth, by delaying the spread of the Yeerks until the Andalites arrive!
   The Andalite’s last act is to give the buddies his species’ super-scientific power to morph into any kind of animal. As dogs or cats, they can spy unnoticed and discover which of their neighbors are now Yeerk thralls. As birds, they can observe from great heights. They can sneak into Yeerk control centers as mice, then turn into elephants and trample irreplaceable equipment. And so forth.
   The writing generates a reasonable degree of suspense, if you don’t mind the super-hero/horror-movie level of science or logic. (The Yeerks’ takeover method postulates some cavernlike gap inside human skulls, where the evil slugs can sit upon and control people’s brains. The young heroes’ super-scientific ability to “acquire an animal’s DNA” and rearrange their mass into its duplicate begs the question of how an average junior-high student can expand into a five-ton elephant, or contract into a tiny flea.) The Yeerks’ leader, Visser Three, is convincingly in the Darth Vader mold; absolutely ruthless and nobody’s fool. The teens are no enthusiastic Superboys and Wonder Girls; they are scared kids, very aware of the impossible odds against them. They know that their animal abilities are no real match for ray guns and other deadly sci-fi weapons. They must figure out how best to use their powers in commando-style hit-and-run raids. Tobias gets frozen in hawk form at the end of the first novel, raising the fear in the others that they may also become permanently exiled from humanity.
   Animorphs is not about anthropomorphic characters in the talking-animal sense. It is about how way-cool it would be to become whatever real animal you wanted to, just long enough to try it out. The stories are also ‘educational’ in describing how animals presumably really think and how they are controlled by instinct, without any romantic anthropomorphization.

   It wasn’t easy, that first time. Being a dog is so completely amazing. For one thing, there’s nothing halfway about it. You’re never sort of happy. You’re HAPPY. You’re never sort of bummed. You’re totally, completely bummed. And boy, when you get hungry in dog form, you are nuts on the subject of food. (The Invaders, pg. 65-66)

   It was definitely a tom’s scent. A tomcat had marked this pole by peeing on it. He was a dominant cat. Very dominant. His smell made me nervous. Not afraid, just a little less arrogant than I had been. If this cat appeared, I would have to submit. I would have to make myself smaller and less threatening and accept his dominance. (The Visitor, pg. 85)

   One of those alpha males was Jake. The other was an actual wolf. Jake had human intelligence on his side. But if it came to a fight, the other wolf had more experience. He hadn’t gotten to be the head wolf in his pack by losing fights. (The Encounter, pg. 57)

   There are five teens, and the first five novels are narrated by Jake, Rachel, Tobias, Cassie, and Marco, respectively. The first three present variations on the basic plot. The Message introduces Ax, an Andalite adolescent marooned on Earth, whom they rescue from Visser Three. The Predator integrates Ax into the team, and increases the tension as the Yeerks begin to suspect that they have active opponents among the humans. At least two more in the series are advertised. Since these are Apple Paperbacks, the name K. A. Applegate sounds suspiciously pseudonymous, although their copyright is in the corroborative name of Katherine Applegate.
   This is a different take on anthropomorphics; one which emphasizes the sensations of you galloping on four hooves, of feeling razor-sharp claws sliding out from your paws, of you soaring in the air almost a mile up and then diving toward a tiny target at sixty miles an hour. Fortunately, these scenes are more convincing than those with the comic-book physics and melodrama.

2007 Note: Animorphs became a popular Nickelodeon adolescent TV series of 26 episodes from September 1998 to March 2000. This probably extended the popularity of the books longer than they would have normally lasted. There were eventually 54 Animorphs novels published in the numbered series from June 1996 to June 2001, plus an extra “Animorphs Megamorphs” tetralogy, two “Animorphs Alternamorphs” gamebooks (“you become an Animorph”), and the standalone novels The Ellimist Chronicles, The Hork-Bajir Chronicles and the hardcover Animorphs: Visser.


Title: The Pearls of Lutra: A Tale of Redwall
Author: Brian Jacques
Illustrator: Allan Curless
Publisher:

Hutchinson Children’s Books (London), Jul 1996

ISBN: 0-09-176536-6

406 pages, £12.99

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   Jacques’ ninth Redwall novel is more of the same. Once again a horde of dastardly vermin (piratical rats, stoats, ferrets, and similar predators) threaten the peace-loving squirrels, moles, and other woodland animals of Redwall Abbey. There are multiple interlocked stories, poetry in the form of both songs and riddles, deadly backstabbing treachery among the villains, and plenty of luscious feasting among the Redwallers.
   Ublaz Mad Eyes, a pine marten who is the most cunning and vicious of the pirates of the tropical isle of Sampetra, has proclaimed himself Emperor. He orders his corsair fleet to steal six fabulous pearls, the Tears of all Oceans, from the otter Holt of Lutra. The otters are slain, with one exception, but the pearls (through a series of misadventures) end up hidden inside ancient Redwall Abbey. Ublaz sends his most loyal pirates to get the pearls from Redwall, which they attempt by kidnapping elderly Abbot Durral (mouse) and young Viola (a tomboyish bankvole) and demanding the pearls as ransom.
   The Abbey’s defenders, led by Martin the Warriormouse (grandson of the Martin of the original Redwall), go on a quest to rescue their friends. Meanwhile, the greedy pirates have tired of Ublaz’s cruelties (he sadistically murders his own supporters when he runs out of innocent victims) and mutiny to seize his throne and loot; ineffectively, since they are also busy doublecrossing each other. Grath Longfletch, the sole survivor of Holt Lutra, is waging her own lone-otter war of vengeance. And Tansy hedgehog, Recorder Rollo bankvole, and their friends back at the Abbey try to decipher the cryptic puzzles that tell where the six pearls are hidden. The adventure switches back and forth from one tale to another, merging and separating, until all threads converge at the climax.
   If this plot is familiar, its elements have become honed and polished rather than stale. The poetry is more catchy and sprightly; the riddles (one for each of the pearls) are more varied; the villains are more intelligently sinister; the Redwall banquets are more mouth-watering; the adorable Abbey orphans have grown so impishly cute that you want to wring their necks. And there are some touches of originality, notably Ublaz’s personal guard of carnivorous monitor lizards, a cold-blooded (naturally) gang of assassins. The Pearls of Lutra is a distillation of all the best elements of the Redwall series.


Title: Catfantastic IV
Editors: Andre Norton & Martin H. Greenberg
Publisher:

DAW Books (New York, NY), Aug 1996

ISBN: 0-88677-711-9

314 pages, $5.99

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   Here is another ‘more of the same’. After a 21/2-year wait since Catfantastic III, this fourth anthology of brand-new stories contains 18 tales featuring cats.
   The stories are ‘weird’, using the late 19th-century popular meaning of that word. Mercedes Lackey’s SCat, about two telepathic cats on a spaceship who help their human partner track down galactic smugglers, is clearly science-fiction. P. M. Griffin’s The Neighbor, about a sorcerer, his young apprentice, and their two cat familiars who track down a murderer in their Medieval European neighborhood, is clearly fantasy. What about Janet Pack’s One With Jazz, in which a jazz fan trying to get a job as a talent scout for a record company finds that his otherwise-apparently-normal pet cat has an uncanny talent for picking hot new bands? Twelve of these eighteen stories are clear-cut fantasies, four are s-f, and two are ‘normal’ except for the cat’s metaphorically winking at the reader.
   The statistics get fuzzier broken down by types of cat. There is one story with an intelligent felinoid alien, and one with bioengineered intelligent cats. Five have cats that pretend to be normal, but talk secretly (by sign language, telepathy, or speech) with their human companions. In three, it is revealed that all cats have human-level intelligence but are hiding it. Two are fantasies with divine cats; and in one of those, Bast gives speech to all cats. Two are about loveable but obviously ‘dumb’ cats in s-f or magical situations. Most of the rest leave the reader guessing as to just how intelligent their cats really are.
   For readers of the previous Catfantastic anthologies, there are six sequels continuing the adventures of cats previously introduced: P. M. Griffin’s The Neighbor (with Master Trouble), Mercedes Lackey’s SCat (with SKitty and SCat), Lyn McConchie’s Deathsong (with Many Kills), Andre Norton’s Noble Warrior, Teller of Fortunes (with Thragun Neklop), Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s Born Again (with Mu Mao the Magnificent), and Mary H. Schaub’s The Cat, the Sorcerer, and the Magic Mirror (with Drop, the cat previously turned into a boy apprentice, who is a cat again).
   All of these stories are strongly pro-cat. It would be nice to say that all are pro-animal, but the atmosphere is more katze über alles than pan-animalistic, and there are a couple of definitely snide comments about dogs. It is an open secret that most s-f authors are cat people; in fact, one of the panels at the 1996 World Science Fiction Convention was, Are There Too Many Cats in Science Fiction? Obviously, not in the opinion of the authors of Catfantastic IV.

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#46 / Jan 1
997







Title: Top Dog
Author: Jerry Jay Carroll
Publisher:

Ace Books (New York City, NY), Sep 1996

ISBN: 0-441-00368-0

330 pages, $12.00

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   This is one of those infuriatingly brilliant novels that is so imaginative and mysterious that it is almost impossible to say anything about it without giving away a surprise. Once again, it seems safest to just quote the cover blurb:

   One day, William B. Ingersol sat in an office high above Wall Street conducting corporate takeovers.
   The next day, he was a big dog, surviving by instinct alone in a strange new world.
   Same difference.

   Alice in Wonderland meets Wall Street in Jerry Jay Carroll’s brilliant and witty debut novel. A high-powered executive gets a real lesson in looking out for #1 when he wakes up as a dog. Gone are the stock reports, limos, and cocktail parties. In their place are fairy-tale forests, magical creatures, and hideous monsters. It’s a world where you’re either good or evil. Our hero decides to thoroughly explore both options before choosing. Because he may be a dog now, but he’s still no idiot. And making moral decisions was never one of his strong points…
   A better comparison might be “Donald Trump falls into Middle Earth and is confronted by Gandalf and Saruman”. (Although the moral philosophy espoused by the Good side is closer to C. S. Lewis’ than to Tolkien’s.) There is nothing cutesy about either the protagonist (who narrates the story as a first-person running commentary) or the world in which he is a dog. ‘Bogey’ Ingersol (a childhood nickname because he seemed as cold and tough as Humphrey Bogart) has always been completely materialistic, believing that ‘good’ is whatever wins. Now he is in a world in which Good and Evil are personified. How? Why? Is he dead and in Hell? Has he been sent to a parallel world by super-science or magic? Was he personally targeted or is he a random victim/subject? Is he being brainwashed by corporate enemies? Has he gone crazy? There are constant questions, which Ingersol must figure out on the run because some really nasty monsters are immediately on his trail.
   Most of the main characters in Top Dog are humans, but the first characters whom Ingersol meets are forest animals; a fox, a snake, a badger:

   Every now and then I caught Quick [a fox] looking behind. I finally asked him what the trouble was.
   “We’re being followed.”
   I looked around and worked my nose until it was flooded with smells—a salamander in wet leaves, toadstools, a weasel that passed by a half hour or so ago, etc.—but I couldn’t detect any menace.
   “That bird’s been watchin’ us a long time,” Quick said. He was looking at a big black bird staring down from a tree. “That ain’t a bird’s way. They mind their business and don’t care about nobody else’s.”
   When it saw us looking, the bird rose from the branch and flapped off. Big and black. Of course it would be a raven. I suppose Poe himself will step from behind a tree any minute now.
   “That was what was watchin’ us. Something else is followin’ us,” Quick said.
   “I don’t see anything.”
   “Nothing you can see. You have to be a fox to feel it.”
(pgs. 42-43)

   I sat down to wait. “Look!” one of the horses cried. “A wolf!” They whinnied and raced around the paddock, first in one direction and then the opposite. As I said, horses are stupid. (pg. 100)

   Ingersol is a strong, handsome dog and a good hunter, but he knows how little those really count toward survival in the wild:

   There are more ways to get hurt in the wilds than I like to think about. Step in a hole and break a leg and it’s a death sentence for sure. But even a sprain would be doom because you couldn’t catch anything to eat. Other risks—a snake bite, a big cat dropping from a tree and severing your spine with one bite. Or make a tiny mistake in timing when you pounce and get an antler or horn in your gut. No way you recover from that. Infection sets in and you’re history. Lap up bad water and get parasites that weaken you and make you a mark. What about rabies and distemper, not to mention Mogwert and all those monsters? (pg. 49)

   When he does get into human lands, he finds that he cannot talk with them as he can with the animals; they consider him to be just another dumb animal himself. This makes him a good spy.
   I don’t want to risk giving away anything more. Trust me! Read this one!


Title: Anarchist Farm
Author: ‘Jane Doe’
Illustrator: Lynne Margulies (map)
Publisher:

III Publishing (Gualala, CA), Aug 1996

ISBN: 0-886625-01-8

190 pages [p. 191-192 are adv’ts], $10.00

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   III Publishing is a small press which specializes in ‘Anarchist Fiction’. The advertisements for their other titles indicate a strategy of using the soft-sell of entertaining fiction (“…at times terrifying, at times hysterically funny…”, reads one blurb) rather than abstract political polemics to get across their messages.
   Anarchist Farm is posed as a rebuttal to Orwell’s Animal Farm, though no names from the latter are used (presumably both for coy humor and to avoid any copyright violation). A white pig escapes after being deposed as leader of a farm which has been taken over and is being run by its livestock. Adopting the alias of ‘Pancho’, he wanders into the neighboring woods. He meets wild animals, plus Sabo, a cat that has already defected from his farm (a nameless minor character in Orwell’s novel). They are planning environmental activism against a logging operation that threatens the whole forest. Pancho offers his experience in leadership to Judi Bear, several raccoons (Mischief, Riff-Raff, Rascal, etc), Tex and Mex the coyotes, Bonkers the escaped zoo monkey, and the other furry commandos at Cave Camp, but they reasonably want him to prove himself first. Their inexperienced sabotage results in deaths among both themselves and the humans, and they suspend their activism in confusion.
   Pancho and Sabo move on to another farm which has also just been taken over by its animals, peacefully following the death of its old human owner. Again Pancho’s offer of leadership is rejected, since the animals (Goldie the retriever, Rosy the cow, Bob the black sheep, and others) are doing fine working in cooperation without any formal leaders. (News of the increasingly despotic activities of the other pigs at Pancho’s old farm have given ‘leadership’ a bad name.)
   But Pancho is not power-hungry. He wants to lead both because he genuinely likes to help others, and because he is vain enough to want to be admired for his intelligence. He learns that it is good to want to help, but true help is offered on a basis of equality rather than as a justification to consider oneself superior to one’s fellows. Once Pancho adjusts to becoming ‘one of the gang’ rather than part of an elite leadership, his advice is welcomed. When ‘the corporation’ reactivates its logging and moves to take over the farm, as well, Pancho brings the farm and forest animals together to share their wisdom and experience.
   As news of the success of Anarchist Farm spreads, more animals come in: A group of escaped lab rats who have formed a punk rock band, the Free Radicals; the dogs from a bankrupt dog-breeding kennel, militant German shepherds and tough French poodles (descended from French underground guerrillas). Emma, a wild turkey, undertakes a dangerous mission into a human city to preach the revolution to zoo animals and pets. They are even joined by an enthusiastic band of human environmental activists, who throw away their clothes to demonstrate their solidarity with the animals. The Farm develops a happy animal society, and Pancho starts a romance with Sally, another pig. But the day finally comes when the heavily-armed National Guard marches from the city to seize the forest and the Farm. The animals grimly prepare for their defense, while Pancho and Emma turn detective to unmask animal traitors who are spying for the corporation.
   Despite all the allusions to Animal Farm, Anarchist Farm reads much more like R. L. Crabb’s Junior Jackalope three-comic mini-series, The Fauna Rebellion (Fantagraphics, 1990), with a touch of Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! trilogy thrown in. Readers familiar with Animal Farm’s veddy-British setting will be jarred when Pancho finds a North American forest full of black bears and raccoons just next door. But ‘Jane Doe’ (the author is supposedly one of the Cave Camp commandos) does not try to match Orwell’s style. It is quickly obvious that she has moved Pancho’s original farm into a comic-bookish funny-animal land where all animals live together. Expecting serious logic and consistency here is like expecting it in Mars Attacks!
   The strong point of this fable is that it is sprightly and full of humor. Some of the jokes are clever, such as the horse ranch where the horses are named after vehicles (Corvette, Volvo, Rolls, etc, and a pony named Jeep), as a deliberate satire on the practice of naming cars after horses (Pinto, Colt, Mustang, etc). Others are overly forced, but enough jokes work to keep the story moving quickly.
   Most of the characters are good-natured and friendly. The straw-man caricature of ‘the corporation’ as the exaggerated personification of every flaw of capitalism, military-industrialism, bureaucracy, the legal profession, etc, is definitely heavy-handed; but no more so than in many popular thriller movies with an omnipotent Evil Company as the villain. Because the fantasy is so broad and light it is easy to accept the superiority of anarchy in business and military strategy (no leaders; everybody just working and fighting side by side in comradeship) for the sake of this plot.
   All in all, Anarchist Farm has more plusses than minuses. Try it for something different. ($10.00 from III Publishing, P. O. Box 1581, Gualala, CA 95445.)


Title: The Bear Went Over the Mountain
Author: William Kotzwinkle
Illustrator: Kate Brennan Hall
Publisher:

Doubleday (New York, NY), Oct 1996

ISBN: 0-385-48428-3

306 pages, $22.50

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   Once upon a time in rural Maine, a big black bear found a briefcase under a tree. Hoping for food, he dragged it into the woods, only to find that all it held was the manuscript of a novel. He couldn’t eat it, but he did read it, and decided it wasn’t bad. Borrowing some clothes from a local store, and the name Hal Jam from the labels of his favorite foods, he headed to New York to seek his forture in the literary world.
   Then he took America by storm.
(Jacket blurb)

   William Kotzwinkle’s latest satire is compared favorably in the jacket copy with Candide, Being There, and Forrest Gump. It would have been polite to mention Frank Tashlin’s 1946 The Bear That Wasn’t, too. Kotzwinkle’s setup is a bit more elaborate, since ‘Hal Jam’ does put on clothes and try to pass for human, unlike Tashlin’s bewildered bear. But the punch line is the same. The bear does it so clumsily (jumping into a Central Park pond to eat a boy’s toy submarine that he thinks is a fish, or rolling on his publisher’s office floor to scratch his back, waving his paws in the air) that the self-delusion of the human characters—that he can’t really be a bear; he is just a colorfully eccentric author; he’ll make a great guest on TV talk shows!—becomes as fantastically improbable as is the postulate that an animal that ignorant of human customs would recognize a manuscript and know how to take it to a publisher.
   Tashlin’s fantasy was a succinct 55 pages. If Kotzwinkle weren’t such a sardonically humorous author, this 306-page novel would bloat the joke to tedious length. Fortunately, he adeptly spins it out into several witty variations. It looks at first like a parody of the literary establishment, but before it is over, the bear has unwittingly exposed pomposity in the entertainment industry, the legal profession, the political arena, and more. Everyone looks at Hal Jam without really seeing him. They see only the literary sensation or the media celebrity that they can create to ensure their own success. The reader keeps waiting for the equivalent of the little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes to shout, “He’s not a man; he’s only a bear!”, but it seems as though this won’t happen here…
   Ironically, the bear’s success makes this somewhat unsatisfying as a ’morphic tale. Despite his continual ursine backsliding, both he and the cast are oblivious to any hints of animalicity. People were more aware of something weird about Mork in Mork and Mindy. There is more Furriness in a subplot about what happens to the college professor who is the real author of that manuscript. This is our problem; we want something out of the novel that Kotzwinkle wasn’t trying to put into it for his audience. But be aware before you spend $22.50 for this. Do take a look at Peter de Sève’s delightful dust jacket painting!


Title: Fire Margins (The Sholan Alliance, Book 3)
Author: Lisanne Norman
Illustrator: Michael Gilbert (maps)
Publisher:

DAW Books (New York, NY), Nov 1996

ISBN: 0-88677-718-6

758 pages, $6.99

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   This is the third novel in Norman’s Sholan Alliance series. Or maybe not, depending upon your definition of ‘novel’. Fortune’s Wheel ends with a cliffhanger, and Fire Margins opens immediately upon the next scene. It is not a separate novel any more than J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers (the middle volume of The Lord of the Rings) is a separate novel. Anyone who tries to read this without reading Fortune’s Wheel first will be completely lost. And, also like The Two Towers, it ends with a lot more of the story still to come.
   In fact, anybody who has read Fortune’s Wheel may still be bewildered unless they read it recently. I enjoyed it when it came out in August 1995, but it was not so good that it burned itself into my memory. Leaping right into this next chapter fifteen months later, it’s quite confusing at first as to whether Esken and Lijou are good or bad guys; why Kaid and Ghezu are at each other’s throats; and what the differences are between the Guild, the Warriors, and the Brotherhood. If you haven’t read Turning Point and Fortune’s Wheel (reviewed in Yarf! #29 and #39) since they were first published, you may want to browse through them again to refresh your memory before starting Fire Margins.
   It is worth it. The Sholan Alliance is a complex space opera combined with a Beauty & the Beast woman’s romance about the adventures of Carrie Hamilton, the first human woman on Shola, a planet of felinoid aliens, and the friends, lovers, and enemies whom she finds there. Carrie and her furry husband, Kusac, are actually rather in the background for the first half of this hefty 758-page segment of the saga. The main focus is upon the enigmatic, tortured Kaid, who has sworn his loyalty to Carrie and Kusac even though he admits that he was originally ordered to murder them. Why? Can he really be trusted? What is his relationship with Dzaka? This is a soap opera, complete with some steamy interspecies bedroom scenes, so the complex character relationships are more important than the space war with the Valtegans or the uneasy political tensions among both the humans and the Sholans caused by the ‘impossible’ mixed-species marriage and Carrie’s pregnancy. That particular mystery is fully resolved in this volume, which does close on an emotionally comfortable note even though several new plot threads are left conspicuously dangling for the next volume.
   It is slightly unsatisfying that the Sholans act so human that their anthropomorphic aspects seem like little more than costumery. But it is nicely elaborate costumery. Hardly a paragraph goes by without a mention of the characters’ tails switching or their ears or whiskers flicking or their fur bristling, to the extent that Carrie is startled at one point when she sees herself in a mirror and is reminded that she is a furless, tailless human. Okay; how long do we have to wait for volume four?

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#47 / Mar 1
997







Title: Tales from Watership Down
Author: Richard Adams
Illustrator: John Lawrence

Publisher:

Hutchinson (London, UK), Sep 1996

ISBN: 0-09-180166-4

198 pages, £14.99

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Publisher:

Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), Nov 1996

ISBN: 0-679-45125-0

xiii + 267 pages, $23.00

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   This “long-awaited return to the magical world of [Adams’] classic novel” is set during the first year after the defeat of General Woundwort and the successful establishment of the Watership Down warren.
   The book is divided into three broad sections. The first part contains seven ‘traditional stories’ told by the rabbits as they relax in the evening on the grass outside their warren. Five feature the rabbits’ mythical hero, El-ahrairah, and these are anthropomorphic versions of primitive folk myths. The remaining two, The Rabbit’s Ghost Story and Speedwell’s Story, are more in the style of the European peasant folk humor as recorded by the Grimm Brothers in the early 19th century.
   Part II contains four of the many stories which are told of the adventures of El-ahrairah and his stalwart, Rabscuttle, in the course of their long journey home from their terrible encounter with the Black Rabbit of Inlé. (p. xi.) Surely you remember reading about El-ahrairah’s and Rabscuttle’s long journey in Watership Down? These four tales are actually sequentially connected, so they read like four incidents during a single adventure—not unlike reading four exciting chapters from the middle of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. These are realistic in style, in contrast to the fairy-tale mood of the tales in Part I.
   Part III, the longest, presents eight tales of the Watership Down rabbits themselves, during the year that they consolidate their new home and build friendly relations with the new leaders of General Woundwort’s Efrafan warren. These tales are also sequentially connected, and seem more like a mini-novel than separate stories.
   However, Tales from Watership Down is a very accurate description of this book. If it is more than a collection of nineteen completely separate short stories, it is nevertheless less than a coherent novel. It also does not stand on its own—at least, no more than do the Star Trek motion pictures, which are supposed to stand on their own but cannot be fully appreciated by those who are not familiar with the characters and personalities established in the TV series. The reader is obviously expected to be familiar with Hazel, Fiver, Dandelion, Bigwig, Hyzenthlay, Kehaar, and the rest of the cast; and with references to such events in Watership Down as “…the ill-judged raid on Nuthanger Farm…” (p. 5) and “…during the night of Woundwort’s attack—which, it will be recalled, Fiver had spent lying unconscious among Efrafans on the floor of the Honeycomb …” (p. 152). Also, the sequences which are connected do not have beginnings or endings. El-ahrairah’s and Rabscuttle’s adventures are described as having occurred “in the course of their long journey”; and that journey’s origin and conclusion are outside the scope of this book. The further adventures of the Watership Down rabbits begin with the ending of Watership Down—and you had better reread that story if it is not fresh in your memory—and they break off one year later. Some of the new plot threads introduced are complete in themselves, but others are unresolved. Life is like that, but it makes an unsatisfying conclusion to a romantic narrative.
   The first tale is, to this reviewer, the least satisfactory part of the whole book. It is an origin myth, in which El-ahrairah must journey into the Underworld—the land of the gods and the home of the dead—to win The Sense of Smell for all rabbits. On this difficult, meandering journey, he comes to the Kingdom of Yesterday, where dwell all of the animal species that have been made extinct by human beings’ hunting or environmental destruction. Next, he comes to the Land of Tomorrow, which is inhabited by… well, what would you expect to find as the opposite of all extinct species? It turns out to be the peacocks, chipmunks, raccoons, koalas, and all others that are waiting to be made extinct by human beings. This heavy-handed Message sets an unfortunately strident tone of Politically Correct Environmentalism; more akin to Disney’s ‘Man is in the forest’ which unrealistically portrays all animals as loving brothers, and which is contradictory to Adams’ own saga of rabbits constantly menaced by ‘the Thousand’ (innumerable predators besides man). Fortunately, this didacticism is not present in the rest of the book; but it certainly is a sour note to start off on.
   Is Tales from Watership Down worth reading? Certainly, by all fans of Watership Down. But it should not be read by those who have not already read Adams’ classic. And, unfortunately, to those who have, it is sure to compare as anticlimactic. Some parts are as good as any of the parts in Watership Down, but they are only fragments. They do not fit together into a cohesive and satisfying whole.


Two Joe Grey Mystery novels, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Title: Cat on the Edge
Author: Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Publisher: HarperPaperbacks/HarperPrism (New York, NY), Jun 1996
ISBN: 0-06-105600-6

274 pages, $5.50

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Title: Cat Under Fire
Author: Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Publisher: HarperPaperbacks/HarperPrism (New York, NY), Jan 1997
ISBN: 0-06-105601-4
244 pages, $5.50
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   Cat-themed (and dog-themed) murder mystery series have become one of the most popular subgenres in detective fiction today. But no matter how prominently they may be featured in titles, the animals usually turn out to be only supporting characters. They are normal pets, either of human detectives or of victims. In a couple of series, the cats talk ‘in animal language’ with other critters while the humans are busy detecting.* This is admittedly anthropomorphic, yet it is really just padding. The cats may ‘accidentally’ expose a clue or two (with a nudge-nudge-wink-wink to let the reader know how deliberate this is), but—despite their billing in the blurbs as ‘crime-solving cats’ (or dogs)—their actions are seldom essential to the real solving of the mysteries by the human amateur detective.
   Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Cat on the Edge and Cat Under Fire are the first two novels in what is at least a trilogy of murder mysteries with actual feline detectives. Cat Raise the Dead has been advertised for July 1997 publication, and the advertisement does not say whether it will be a final volume. Murphy’s series is notable because her protagonists are unabashedly anthropomorphized cats who are hiding their intelligence. When they talk to each other, they have to make sure that no humans are likely to overhear them speaking in English. This is nothing new in juvenile fantasy—just look at Disney’s Chip ’n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, or the Miss Bianca or Rats of NIMH series—but it is a new step for the adult detective genre. It might be an exaggeration to describe this new series as ‘hard-boiled’, but at least it is not ‘cute’ like the other talking-cat novels.
   Cat on the Edge features two mysteries: the murder mystery, and the ‘magic’ puzzle. Molina Point is a California coastal resort village maybe a hundred miles south of San Francisco. The crime occurs in the first paragraph: The murder of Samuel Beckwhite in the alley behind Jolly’s Delicatessen was observed by no human witness. Only the gray tomcat saw Beckwhite fall, the big man’s heavy body crumpling, his round, close-trimmed head crushed from the blow of a shiny steel wrench. (pg. 1) An apparently absolutely mundane crime—so why do two cats who happen to be nearby suddenly gain human intelligence and the ability to talk? And why does a human housewife suddenly find herself transformed into a cat?
   Joe Grey, the cat in question, has an easygoing personality. He would rather hide his new abilities in order to continue living a pampered housecat’s lazy life, than become a celebrity/freak and probably a victim of scientific poking & prodding. But the killer seemingly knows that he is an intelligent witness and tries to hunt him down. An additional problem is that Joe’s human companion, Clyde Damen, was the victim’s business partner, making him an obvious suspect. This becomes a major threat when Joe observes the killer planning to frame Clyde for the murder. Joe will have to save Clyde to protect his own comfortable home life. Besides, he likes the guy.
   Dulcie, the other cat who becomes intelligent, is more concerned with wondering what has happened to them, and why? But when the killer also targets her, she becomes too busy running to ponder metaphysics. Joe, Dulcie, and the housewife-turned-cat, Kate, eventually get together to expose the killer, to get him imprisoned and out of their lives.
   Cat Under Fire takes place a few months later, just after Janet Jeannot, a famous artist living in Molina Point, is brutally murdered. Joe feels that it is none of their business, but Janet had always been kind to Dulcie and she takes it personally. A suspect is quickly arrested, but Dulcie is sure that it is the wrong man and that Janet’s killer is still free. Since the police have stopped looking for other suspects, Dulcie determines to carry on the case herself; with Joe reluctantly tagging along to make sure she does not get hurt.
   In both novels, the cats masquerade as dumb animals while using their natural feline abilities of sharp hearing, superior night vision, and so forth, to spy and find evidence. They next have to figure out how to reveal their findings without exposing themselves—an especially vexing problem in the second novel, since they have to convince the police that there is crucial evidence hidden in a spot that no human could possibly know about.
   The murder mystery is the more satisfyingly handled of the two puzzles. In fact, the question of how the cats have become anthropomorphized fades away. Murphy throws out a handful of clues and suppositions (some obviously contradictory) in Cat on the Edge, but none of them are really proven. By Cat Under Fire, Dulcie has given up wondering, while Joe was always satisfied to take advantage of the benefits of anthropomorphization without worrying about their source. But readers can still sense the mystery hovering just offstage. Could the anthropomorphization wear off? Presumably Murphy plans to reveal the secret eventually, either in the forthcoming third novel, or later if the first two are popular enough to turn this into an extended series.

   *Most notably the five Mrs. Murphy novels by Rita Mae Brown with Sneaky Pie Brown (her own cat gets a byline), and the six Midnight Louie novels by Carole Nelson Douglas.


Title: Nine Lives to Murder
Author: Marian Babson

Publisher:

HarperCollins/Collins Crime Club (London, UK), Oct 1992

ISBN: 0-00-232414-8

188 pages, £13.99

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Publisher:

St. Martin’s Press/A Thomas Dunne Book (New York, NY), Apr 1994

ISBN: 0-312-10511-8

188 pages, $18.95

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   There are, of course, even more individual cat-themed mystery novels than there are long-running series. Marian Babson specializes in these, with such titles as Murder at the Cat Show, Whiskers and Smoke, and The Diamond Cat. Most are completely unanthropomorphic. Nine Lives to Murder is an unusual and witty foray into fantasy.
   Winstanley Fortescue, a Laurence Olivier-like prominent London actor, regains consciousness after a traumatic shock to discover that he is in the body of Monty, the stage cat at the Chesterton Theatre where he is rehearsing his next play. While dazed, he learns from the conversations around him that he fell from a ladder and struck the cat as he hit the floor. His body is in the intensive care ward at a nearby hospital. Win sneaks in his cat body into the hospital to find out how his real body is doing, and discovers that his fall had been no accident—and that the would-be killer is still trying to engineer a fatal mishap.
   Who could want Win dead? As he eavesdrops, Win is shocked to learn how many of his family and theatrical acquaintances have motives for wanting him out of the way. He also learns which of his friends are genuine and which are only opportunists. Still, nobody really suspects foul play, which means that if Win wants his ‘murder’ investigated, he will have to do it himself—as a cat.
   An additional complication is that Win’s and Monty’s minds were not transferred totally. Each body has the other’s conscious mind superimposed over its original natural instincts. This is handy in enabling Win to operate his new body as a normal cat while hunting for clues, but awkward when he has to consciously struggle against Monty’s instincts to go chasing after mice, or female cats in heat. And the opposite promises to be at least embarrassing, and possibly fatal for Win’s human body, when Monty’s cat-mind recovers enough to reactivate it.
   Unlike most ‘feline detective’ novels, Win in Monty’s body is a genuine case of a cat deliberately investigating a crime. Nine Lives to Murder is blurbed as a ‘comic mystery’. It is light-hearted, but it seldom descends into the cuteness of some of these ‘cat-detective’ mysteries. The U.K. and U.S. first-edition hardcovers have been out for awhile, so you may need to look for them in public libraries rather than bookstores. There are also more recent paperback reprints.


Title: Sanctuary: A Tale of Life in the Woods
Author: Paul Monette
Illustrator: Vivienne Flesher
Publisher:

Scribner (New York, NY), Feb 1997

ISBN: 0-684-83286-0

93 pages, $17.00

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   This lyrical tale of forbidden love was intended to be the first in a collection of literary fables in the style of Borges, to create a modern mythology for ‘the gay and lesbian experience’, according to the Introduction. But Monette died of AIDS in February 1995 before he could complete any more. This slim volume has been published in his memory, and to present his last work.
   “The last forest” has been sealed off from the despoilation of humanity by a witch, at the cost of her own life. (Monette says ‘witch’, although the context makes it clear that she/he is an asexual?/bisexual? Earth Spirit.) The Great Horned Owl, a jealous egotist, decides to make himself master of the forest. He demonstrates the magic Spell that protects the animals from the outside world, and claims that he is the wizard responsible for their safety. Alas, he says; he was so busy completing this enchantment that he was unable to stop new animals, refugees from the outside world, from entering the forest before it was sealed off. He urges the animals to report to him any who are acting ‘different’; just to be on the safe side.
   Although he is careful to never say that ‘different’ means ‘bad’, everyone interprets it that way. Soon the forest has become a web of suspicion, with the owl in the center in the guise of their benefactor. But he realizes that he needs something more dramatic to establish himself as a Leader. He needs a scapegoat who can be portrayed as a danger from which he must save them; someone whose ‘difference’ can be made to seem an actual threat. That someone turns out to be Renarda the fox and Lapine the rabbit; a carnivore and a herbivore who are lesbian lovers—a doubly unnatural relationship.
   Although Sanctuary is a prose tale, it is easy to see that Monette was a gifted poet. The writing is beautifully descriptive, painting an ethereal word-portrait of the enchanted forest and its inhabitants; both physically and spiritually. However, with respect to all who designed this attractive example of the bibliographic art as a memorial to him, it is also obvious that it was never meant to be a novel, either in content or in format. Its 93 pages are in large type with wide margins, counting Flesher’s many modernistic full-page illustrations which are blank on the backs. There are no real characterizations, only shallow stereotypes of the Good, the Evil, the Strong, and the Weak. The prose is delightful to savor slowly, but the story is quickly over. Monette meant to write a short morality tale in the tradition of Aesop or La Fontaine, not a Watership Down or Duncton Wood-style epic adventure. By all means, seek it out and read it, but be aware of what you are getting.

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#48 / May 1
997







Title: Lives of the Monster Dogs
Author: Kirsten Bakis
Illustrator: Zooks, by Greg Goebel
Publisher:

Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), Feb 1997

ISBN: 0-374-18987-0

x + 291 pages, $23.00

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   This strange story is set in New York City between 2008 and 2011, but it is closer in mood to the Victorian ‘things man was not meant to know’ romances such as Fawcett’s Solarion and Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau.
   “In the years since the monster dogs were here with us, in New York, I’ve often been asked to write something about the time I spent with them”, (pg. ix) Cleo Pira begins this rambling multiple-viewpoint flashback, overloaded with portents of doom and tragedy. Cleo is a young woman recently jilted by her boyfriend, who after several months is still wandering the streets in a despondent daze, a year after the arrival of the monster dogs.
   These freaks are 150 anthropomorphized large dogs who have come to New York after revolting and escaping from a Teutonic version of Dr. Moreau’s vivisection experiment, set up by a Prussian mad scientist in an isolated colony in Canada a century earlier. Fortunately for the dogs, they have brought the vast wealth of their former masters and are liberal in spending it. Nevertheless, as Ludwig von Sacher, a German Shepherd whose diary is intercut with Cleo’s narrative, notes:

   The other dogs still often wear the Prussian officers’ uniforms or elaborate bustled skirts that they took from the closets of the humans in Rankstadt ten years ago. They are proud to have stolen the clothes of their oppressors; they don’t realize how ridiculous they look walking around New York. […] …they aren’t aware of the mixture of amusement and revulsion people feel at the sight of Pinschers and Rottweilers stepping from a limousine, dressed like nineteenth-century Prussians, with their monocles and parasols. (pgs. 7-8)

   And so it goes. Much of the story seems deliberately obscure, muted down from drama to ennui. Cleo is hired to be the dogs’ sole public relations liaison to the human world. She duly (and dully) records that her friends think that she has been picked because she is so naïve that she won’t be aware of what the dogs are really up to, or the plottings among their own factions. (Her own reason for accepting the job is that she might as well; she hasn’t anything better to do.) Ludwig is so morbidly obsessed that humans are constantly laughing at the dogs behind their backs, and that he is going mad, that he talks about little else. (It is Ludwig who insists on calling the dogs ‘monsters’.) There are frequent comments that the dogs did not just escape from their human masters; they killed them all. Yet when the details are finally revealed, it is in the form of an opera which the dogs present to New York’s cultural elite, written by Burkhardt Weil, a short, round-headed Bull Terrier who wore a monocle and a lopsided cravat:

Cursed master, this morning I won’t answer you.
But if only once I could answer you properly, with a sword!
Oh, what joy!
What joy to split his ugly head
And leave him lying there for dead,
To burn his house and all that’s in it,
To stand up finally to fight, and win it!
Oh, how I long to kill him.
(pg. 194)

   That is an excerpt; the novel includes the entire libretto. It seems more like Henry Purcell than Richard Wagner; certainly artistic, but stately rather than dynamic. The major exception to this refined mood consists of excerpts from the diary of the long-dead Augustus Rank, the 19th century scientist who set up the secluded colony to create the dogs. He is a nauseating madman; an egocentric and sadistic combination of Dr. Moreau and Mr. Hyde. At the same time, he is the most charismatic of the cast because he is vibrantly active. His diary shows him as having a stupendous goal, and a determination to let nothing stop him from accomplishing it.
   After a year of living scattered among New York’s finest hotels, the dogs decide upon a magnificent project: to build on the Lower East Side an enlarged replica of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle as a luxurious home for them all. Cleo carefully notes that Neuschwanstein is best known to Americans through its miniaturized replica in Disneyland. She then tells how the original Neuschwanstein was built by Bavaria’s mad King Ludwig II; with such ponderous emphasis on the castle-builder’s grandiose insanity and fated tragedy that it is obvious that the dogs’ Neuhundstein is being forecast as both the symbol and the agent of their own doom.
   Lives of the Monster Dogs contains many scenes that would make lovely paintings. However, it is rather frustrating in its funneled viewpoint upon melancholy self-proclaimed failures. There is a murky swirl of metaphysics and neurotic psychology: the dogs have serious medical problems which they blame upon their vivisection experiences, but it is impossible to tell whether their declining health is really physical or due to hysterical hypochondria. There are constant hints that most of the incidental characters are smarter than the main cast. The most notable example is Lydia Petze, a white Samoyed with dark eyes and a fine pointed muzzle. “She was wearing a long, narrow gown of pale yellow silk, low-cut so that her big mane of fur fluffed up in the front, and she carried a matching long-handled parasol, which she used as a cane.” (pg. 106) Lydia is a quiet but keen observer whose calm comments show that she is very aware of what the narrator has failed to notice.
   Bakis’ first novel is intriguingly intelligent. It is obviously not meant for readers looking for adventure novels. As a reconstruction of a languidly bygone era (and writing style), it is an unusually different creation.


Title: Changespell
Author: Doranna Durgin
Publisher:

Baen Books (Riverdale, NY), Feb 1997

ISBN: 0-671-87765-8

338 pages, $5.99

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   This sequel to Dun Lady’s Jess (Baen Books, 1994; reviewed in Yarf! #35) is a good example of a genuine sequel, rather than a single novel in multiple volumes. The two novels each stand on their own. Readers who liked Dun Lady’s Jess will enjoy these further adventures of the cast. Those who have not read the first story will find enough background well blended into the narrative that they will not feel that they have missed anything important. (Spoiler warning: this review will give away some of the important plot developments in Dun Lady’s Jess. If you feel you should read it before you read Changespell—both are recommended—you might want to stop reading this review after the next paragraph.)
   The setting of the first novel is the magical world of Camolen, engaged in a wizards’ war. When Carey, a courier of the wizard Arlen, is about to be caught by the villains, he triggers an emergency spell that flings him and his horse into an unknown world. This turns out to be Ohio. An unexpected side effect of the transition is that Carey’s mare turns into a human. The adventure/romance novel switches between several viewpoints, but the main story is that of Lady the horse who must learn how to be Jess the woman. She and Carey have to work out their relationship; are they master and loyal pet, good friends, or lovers? Carey desperately needs the aid of a reliable steed to save his friends and all of Camolen from the sadistic sorcerers, but can he ask Jess to give up her humanity and return to being a ‘mere’ animal for their benefit?
   One of the story’s intriguing facets is the way Durgin handles the distinction between intelligence and memory. A human is much smarter than a horse, so when Lady/Jess is human, she is able to understand a lot more of what she saw as a horse. As a horse, her intellect is much more limited, but she knows who her friends and enemies are. And, as anyone who is familiar with real horses knows, they can be exasperatingly cunning and contrary when they want to be.
   Changespell reveals at the beginning that one of the main problems of the first novel has been solved. Arlen, the master mage, has devised a changespell that allows Lady/Jess to choose whichever identity she prefers, rather than being stuck as either a horse in Camolen or a human on Earth. So she remains in Camolen, but she still switches between her equine and human forms. Most humans might not understand how anyone could prefer to be a dumb animal, but she knows that each form has advantages that the other lacks. Her real friends respect her preferences. In fact, she wishes that Carey would stop being so damn respectful about “removing his psychological dominance as her former master”, and resume his former close relationship with her. She is not nearly as concerned as is Ander, another of Arlen’s handsome riders who appoints himself Jess’ tutor/guardian. His ‘protection’ of Jess from Carey is obviously based more on jealousy than any real need. But is Carey being unnecessarily noble, or is he really not interested in Jess? Is Ander offering a personal relationship that she should take seriously, or is his idea of ‘care’ actually as psychologically dominative as he accuses Carey of being?
   The new menace, to everyone’s surprise, turns out to be inspired by Arlen’s changespell for Lady/Jess. A group of unscrupulous wizards decide that if he can turn a horse into a woman, they can turn other animals into a new class of servants who will have human form and abilities but not human rights. It doesn’t take long for some of those wizards to turn completely criminal, reverse the spell and use it for blackmail. “Recognize us as your new lords or we’ll turn you all into sheep or worse!” Things are even worse than they seem, although more cannot be revealed without giving away too much. Lady/Jess is suddenly in mortal danger in both her forms, and is hard-pressed to decide whether being horse or human is best for fighting, spying, or fleeing in each of the rapidly changing situations. She is also confused by how to interpret the attitudes of her two suitors. If she volunteers for a dangerous mission and Carey lets her go, does that mean that he is respecting her right to make her own decisions or that he doesn’t care about her safety? If Ander tries to hold her back, does this mean that he cares more for her or that he feels that she should let him make all the important decisions for both of them?
   Dun Lady’s Jess has some annoying improbabilities built into the basic structure of the magical world of Camolen, such as why wizards need to send messages by heroic Pony Express riders rather than instantly by magic. Durgin provides answers, but they are less convincing than they are obvious excuses to make the story more exciting. This is not quite as blatant in Changespell, and what there is of it is more ‘traditional’, such as setting up the heroes’ desperate commando raid on the villains’ fortress for the grand climax. Changespell wraps itself up neatly, as Dun Lady’s Jess did. It would be nice to see the cast return again, yet there are no frustrating dangling plot threads in case they do not.


Funny Animal Money?

   Discounting childrens’ play money and such trade script as Disney Dollars and (Joe) Camel Cash, the new post-socialist Mongolian government has recently issued what may be the first national currency to feature an anthropomorphized animal: a fu (good fortune/happiness) dog.
   Mythological animals and animal/human hybrids on paper money are nothing new: dragons, unicorns, winged horses, Singapore’s merlion, and many more. But with the exception of depictions of pre-Christian art featuring animal-headed gods, centaurs and the like from such nations as Egypt and Greece, these fantastic animals have not shown any hint of anthropomorphization.
   The dog is one of the traditional animals of the Oriental zodiac, and one of the six domestic animals considered most benevolent towards man. Since before recorded history, the dog’s favored position in man’s household has been to guard his family and possessions. (Please excuse the masculine emphasis, but Oriental theology has always been patriarchally oriented.) Until the 20th century, most long-haired Oriental spaniels and terriers such as the shih tzu and the Pekinese were popularly believed to be crosses of dogs and lions, and are still called fu (good luck) or shih (lion) dogs interchangeably. Statues of lion dogs on guard were a fixture at the entrances of important public buildings, and Buddha riding on a giant fu dog remains a standard scene in religious popular art.
   Returning to the domestic scene, the dog is seen as the most devoted and helpful of the animal members of the household; somewhat similar to the brownie in British folklore. To emphasize this aspect, the current Mongolian brown-&-orange one-tugrug note (1993 issue) depicts the dog with hands instead of paws, so it can make itself as useful as possible.
   (Unfortunately, none of the other Mongol Bank notes depict fantastic animals, anthropomorphized or not. However, there is a pleasant pastoral scene on the backs of some of the higher denominations.)


The large white space contains a watermark portrait of Jengiz Khan.

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#49 / Jul 1
997







Title: Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation
Author: Marie Darrieussecq
Translator: Linda Coverdale
Publisher:

The New Press (New York, NY), May 1997

ISBN: 1-56584-361-4

151 pages, $18.00

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   The unnamed narrator tells on the first page how difficult it is to write her manuscript, now that she is a big pig without hands, wallowing in the mud. The story is her rambling reminiscences, in excruciating detail, about her feminine problems as she gradually transformed into an obese, multi-dugged, corkscrew-tailed sow.
   This opening is important, since the story takes quite a while to reach that point. It starts with the narrator’s pride when she became the top beautician at Perfumes Plus, a tres chic beauty/health salon. It is quickly obvious what this boutique really was, since her main duty was screwing anything (of both sexes) more animate than the furniture, with offhand references to her bosses paying off the vice squads by giving them free privileges. Naturally, her status as Perfumes Plus’ premiere beauty suffered as she started to bulge and rip her tight dresses, her hair turned to stiff bristles, she grew extra teats, and so on (even though a growing number of customers didn’t mind, as their tastes were swinging toward animal-style sex). Her emphasis in this first part is on her frantic use of the boutique’s beauty aids in an attempt to keep her good looks; her worries that changes in her menstrual routine meant that she had become pregnant—or sterile—or had cancer (she belatedly realized that it was due to her shift from human to porcine femininity); how her rivals among the female staff plotted her downfall; and her despair over the growing disgust of her sophisticated lover, Honoré, towards her.
   Inevitably, she was thrown out on the streets and became a bag lady. This was not too bad, since she didn’t mind the cold due to her thickened hide, nor did she find eating garbage offensive any more. But the focus remains on her personal affairs. There are only frustratingly vague glimpses of the increasingly chaotic political situation: the right-wing expulsion of all foreigners from France; a new Reign of Terror; replacing the Arc de Triomphe with a cathedral; a counterrevolution; the extremist government’s conversion of the SPCA into a super-Gestapo. This may have had something to do with the animalization of humanity, but the narrator didn’t really care. “There was a lot of talk about Edgar’s [the fascist political leader] mental illness. It seems he was neighing and eating nothing but grass, down on all fours. Poor Edgar.” (pg. 114) “The director was extraordinarily handsome, even more so than Honoré. He sniffed my rear end instead of shaking my hand, but aside from that he couldn’t have been nicer, a truly refined man, well dressed and everything.” (pg. 115)
   For ’morph fans, the crux of the novel is her meeting with Yvan and becoming his mistress. Yvan had become a wolf, and was proud of it. He had learned to shift back and forth between his human and animal states by willpower, and he taught her the advantages of both existences. “Yvan loved me equally well as a woman and as a sow. He said it was fantastic to have two modes of being, two females for the price of one, in a way, and what a time we had.” (pg. 122) They could have it as human-human, human-pig, human-wolf, or wolf-pig. Yvan also taught her that one could be a sow and still be elegant. He got her a jeweled collar and leash, and took her out promenading around the boulevards, as an aristocratic socialite with his pet blue-ribbon pig. Unfortunately, this was only a tragically brief interlude. Without Yvan’s strong personality to support her, the narrator sank back into her increasingly squalid swinish existence.
   With Pig Tales concentration and obsession on kinky sex—including lurid scenes of the highest government officials’ secret torture/snuff orgy nests—it is probably no wonder that this 27-year-old schoolteacher’s first novel became France’s publishing sensation of 1996. (The French title, Truismes, is a pun on ‘truisms’ and ‘truie’, the French word for ‘sow’. Curiously, the nameless narrator has a name in the French edition: Zoé.) It skyrocketed to the top of the best-seller charts as soon as it reached the bookshops. According to Livres Hebdo #217, 20 Sept. 1996, pg. 47, “The print run of the book swelled from 4,000 copies on 28 August [its release date] to 55,000 copies on 17 September!” By the end of 1996 there were 173,000 copies in print, with sales passing over 3,000 copies a day at its peak. It became a finalist for France’s literary Prix Goncourt, and a major movie directed by Jean-Luc Godard is in production.
   The novel’s reception in America is problematical, and its appeal to ’morph fans is even more so. This first-person flashback is overwhelmingly permeated with the narrator’s shallowness, which would seem a major irritation. The story is totally self-centered on a basically boring person. It becomes imaginative only as her viewpoint shifts from human to porcine. There are some intriguing descriptions of her emotional turmoil during the transformation of her feelings and instincts. But this is over halfway through the novel, which may make it too little and too late for some readers. Also, most of the detailed descriptions are of human lusts. The references to doing it doggy (or piggy or horsey…) style are very brief, as though she assumes that the human readers for whom she is writing her memoirs would not be interested in this.
   However, the French critics seem to feel that this is one of the points which makes Pig Tales such a devastating satire. It reveals the unimportance of world events in comparison to one’s banal personal concerns. So it is only natural that the comments about France’s political collapse (with machine-gun-toting SPCA terror squads ruling the streets) are brief and annoyingly cryptic, while the narrator goes into pages of detail about what she wore and what makeup she used and how hard she tried to please her lover of the moment; with as many piggy-wiggy puns as possible. Well, chacun à son goût. The French love Jerry Lewis, too.


Title: Empire of the Ants
Author: Bernard Werber
Translator: Margaret Rocques

Publisher:

Bantam UK (London, UK), Mar 1996

ISBN: 0-593-03385-X

Hardcover, 275 pages, £9.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Publisher:

Corgi Books (London, UK), Jan 1997

ISBN: 0-552-14112-7

Paperback, 348 pages, £5.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   In the early days of the s-f pulp magazines, there was a vogue for ‘scientific fiction’ as sugar-coated scholasticism. Many of these worked nicely at awakening ‘the sense of wonder’ in adolescent readers, although anyone who went on to actually study astronomy or zoology or biology soon realized that they were much too anthropomorphized (or geomorphized) to be accurate as scientific education. Most were too didactic to be worth much as fiction, either.
   (For an example appropriate to this review, read Clifton B. Kruse’s Dr. Lu-Mie (Astounding Stories, July 1934). The human narrator is kidnapped into a termitarium by Lu-Mie, a termite ‘scientist ’. The story is mostly an educational travelogue of the daily routine in a termite nest, as observed by the narrator as Lu-Mie boastfully shows him around, and as he flees through its corridors trying to escape.)
   Science fiction has advanced considerably in the last sixty years. Bernard Werber’s Empire of the Ants (originally published in France in 1991 as Les Fourmis, from Albin Michel) is excellent both as an intriguing two-pronged mystery novel, and as a basically accurate depiction of life among different species of ants despite their anthropomorphization.
   The initial protagonist of the human mystery is Jonathan Wells, a young husband who has recently lost his job. So it is a godsend when his scientist Uncle Edmond dies and he inherits Edmond’s house in the Fontainebleau forest district of Paris. This is an upper-middle-class neighborhood of residences and nearly woodlands, where the well-maintained houses are several centuries old. Edmond’s house seems normal except for the locked cellar door and the note, ‘ABOVE ALL, NEVER GO DOWN INTO THE CELLAR!’ Since Jonathan has a ten-year-old son and a yappy poodle, you can imagine for how long that admonition is observed.
   Six kilometers away, in the forest, is the russet ant metropolis of Bel-o-kan, home to 18 million inhabitants. Its story starts by following a young ant, the 327th male of the current breeding season. The introductory scenes among the ants are of a travelogue nature until 327th joins an expedition of 28 other ants to bring in some carrion from the forest. 327th falls slightly behind the others on the trail; when he catches up to them, they are all dead without a mark upon them. 327th rushes home to warn Bel-o-kan of a danger, as ants are supposed to do, even though he does not know what killed them:

   Ants came running from all directions.
   He’s talking about a new weapon and an expedition that’s been decimated.
   It’s serious.
   Can he prove it?
   The male was now at the centre of a knot of ants.
   To arms, to arms! War has been declared. Clear for action!
   Can he prove it?
   They all started repeating the scent question.
   No, he could not prove it. He had been in such a state of shock that he had not thought of bringing anything back with him. Antennae stirred. Heads moved doubtfully.
(pg. 50, Corgi ed.)

   Since 327th cannot prove there is a danger, the ants soon ignore him and return to their regular duties. Neuter worker ants are more regimented and less imaginative than males, and the ant city is just awakening after a winter’s hibernation so there is much to do.

   In the Tribe, decisions were made by constant consultation, through the formation of working parties which chose their own projects. If he wasn’t capable of generating one of these nerve centres—in short of forming a group—his experience was useless. (pg. 56)

   327th decides to form a small group, to convince a few ants to follow him and see the bodies of the dead expedition. Their verification will be enough to convince the city that there is a real danger to mobilize against; to identify the unknown enemy and to prepare a defense against it. However, 327th has hardly begun when he narrowly escapes being murdered by ants within Bel-o-kan itself. This is unheard of! Different species of ants have different modes of fighting, and the russet ants have been warring with a city of dwarf ants who have recently migrated into their forest. But the species are so distinct that no ant has ever been able to disguise itself successfully enough to enter another’s city; nor are ants individualistic enough for any to be persuaded to betray their own cities. And ants do not attack each other within their own Tribes. So who is trying to kill 327th? And why?
   The two stories are interwoven, although there are about three chapters of the ant mystery for each chapter of the human mystery. Both are intriguing, with unexpected surprises. But they are so separate that they might be two entirely different novels. Jonathan’s cellar turns out to be a dark stairway that goes down and down—and down—and down—until his story seems about to turn into a Lovecraft pastiche, with hideous squeaks echoing from abysmal depths:

   “It’s incredible. What were you doing down there for eight hours? What’s at the bottom of that damn cellar?” she [his wife] flared.
   “I don’t know what’s at the bottom. I didn’t get there.”
   “You didn’t get to the bottom?”
   “No, it’s very, very deep.”
   “You didn’t get to the bottom of… of our cellar in eight hours?”
(pg. 66)

   The story of 327th, and the two comrades he finally enlists to solve the ant mystery—the 56th female (a ‘princess’ who will soon leave Bel-o-kan with other young females to start new cities) and the 103,683rd soldier, an old neuter warrior/guard—is exciting. But it seems to be a realistic adventure of warfare among the ant nests of a Northwestern European forest, battles against other natural predators of ants such as woodpeckers and moles, and the fictitious puzzle of identifying the enemy among their own fellow russet ants. There appears to be no possible connection, except that there are constant hints that Jonathan’s scientist uncle, who left the warning to never enter the cellar, was conducting experiments on ants.
   I don’t want to spoil this book by revealing too much, but I will warn that it ends on a cliffhanger—though not the cliffhanger that the reader is led to expect. The sequel, Le Jour de Fourmis, has already been published in France. Empire of the Ants itself is scheduled for an American edition, under a straight translation of the French title—The Ants—from Bantam Books this December. Most of the mysteries in this first volume are answered, although some of the answers—especially in the human mystery—are more Hollywood-dramatic than convincing. (People who know there are monsters around will wander off alone into the darkness…) But the emphasis of the novel is a murder mystery among ants which manages to simultaneously keep the ants natural enough to be ‘seriously educational’, and anthropomorphized enough to stand out as individuals. Making realistic ants sympathetic enough for the reader to care about them is a good enough trick that Empire of the Ants is worth reading for that alone.

2007 Note: This is actually the first novel of a trilogy in France. The three are Les Fourmis (Albin Michel, March 1991; 351 pages), Le Jour des fourmis (Albin Michel, November 1992; 463 pages), and La Révolution des fourmis (Albin Michel, May 1996; 533 pages). There is also an omnibus edition, La Trilogie des fourmis (Le Livre de Poche, January 2004; 1393 pages). Only this first volume has been published in English so far.

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#50 / Sep 1
997







Title: Kevin & Kell: Quest for Content
Creator: Bill Holbrook
Publisher:

Online Features Syndicate (Norcross, GA), May 1997

ISBN:

138 pages, $9.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the first collection of Bill Holbrook’s Kevin & Kell comic strip. Kevin & Kell’s main claim to fame is that it is the first daily strip created especially and exclusively for Internet publication, where it appears mostly on CompuServe forums. It is also one of the most imaginative funny-animal strips ever published anywhere, thanks to its clever usage of animal traits in a modern situation-comedy setting.
   Kevin & Kell Dewclaw are a modern couple—though their mixed marriage is definitely not typical. Kevin (in his mid-thirties) is a rabbit, and Kell (in her late twenties) is a wolf. It is the second marriage for both of them. Kevin’s first marriage broke up when his militantly independent rabbit wife walked out on him, leaving him with their adopted daughter Lindesfarne (mid-teen), a porcupine. Kell’s first husband was killed trying to singlepawedly bring down a moose, leaving her with a young-teen cub, Rudy. Kevin & Kell met and developed a romance through an online discussion forum. By the time they finally realized that he was a herbivore and she was a carnivore, they were too much in love to break it off.
   At the time Kevin & Kell begins, they have been married for a year and are expecting their own first child. Lindesfarne and Rudy are in the throes of teen step-sibling rivalry. Rudy loses no opportunity to remind her that he is a macho predator, while Lindesfarne loftily points out that, as a more mature porcupine, she is nobody’s prey. Kevin’s & Kell’s families have both disowned them in hostility over the mixed marriage, and Kevin’s inept brother-in-law Ralph keeps trying to eat him. Kevin works at home, as the sysop manager of the Herbivore Forum. Kell has an office job at Herd Thinners, Inc., a public-service corporation which helps manage population control.
   Kevin & Kell: Quest for Content presents the first year of the strip, from September 4, 1995 to August 29, 1996. It contains 258 Monday-Friday daily strips (actually 257; the 12/13/95 strip is accidentally printed twice and the 12/14 strip is missing) and six monthly Sunday-format strips. The humor revolves around two major topics: computers, and ‘the law of the jungle’ as applied to modern American life.
   Part of Kevin’s attraction for Kell was that she was tired of being pawed by the slavering, predatory males with whom she had previously associated. An early question is what the first child of their mixed marriage will be like. The child, Coney, is born two months into the strip; and how she affects their family is a continuing theme. Kevin’s status as a herbivore is useful for household chores (he doesn’t have to mow the lawn; he grazes it). Contrariwise, Kell finds her job at Herd Thinners harder since she has to work farther afield to avoid preying on any of Kevin’s family or friends. Rudy and Lindesfarne and their friends are focuses for teen and school-related humor. Rudy, as a wolf cub, tends to eat his own homework, both the paper variety and in field classes like Sneaking Up On Prey 101. He develops a puppy-love relationship with Fiona Fennec, and is crushed when she has to return with her parents to the MidEast. (But they stay in touch via the Internet, providing lots of jokes based on email romances.) Kevin listens to the online complaints of insects; their lifespan is so short that they’re dead before they can get tech support. Rudy is scolded for drinking out of the toilet. When Lindesfarne gets into an online argument, she doesn’t flame, she quills. Kevin has hardware problems because practically everyone in his household sheds. When Kevin is called away from home on a mysterious freelance assignment in early April, Rudy and Lindesfarne join forces to investigate whether he is really the Easter Bunny.
   Kevin & Kell almost never merely places animal heads on human bodies. Virtually every joke depends on the animal natures of the characters: that they are carnivores or herbivores, or that they are color-blind or they shed. Despite this mixed cast, Holbrook has made the Dewclaws into a loving family that is more functional than many in today’s TV and comic-strip situation comedies.
   Kevin & Kell is Bill Holbrook’s third comic strip. He has been writing & drawing On the Fastrack and Safe Havens, both with human casts, for the newspapers since the 1980s; he is currently producing all three simultaneously. As a result, Kevin & Kell does not show the rapid changes in art style which many beginning cartoonists’ strips go through during their first months. It has a professional consistency throughout.
   Holbrook was a Guest-of-Honor at ConFurence VIII this past January. He announced that he was trying to sell a Kevin & Kell volume, but that so far no book publisher was interested because they only collected ‘newspaper comic strips’ and Kevin & Kell did not appear in newspapers. Holbrook apparently gave up, because this book is self-published. Kevin & Kell: Quest for Content is available for $9.95 + $1.75 shipping from Holbrook’s own Online Features Syndicate, P. O. Box 931264, Norcross, GA 30093. The book contains an advertisement for other Kevin & Kell merchandise such as T-shirts, screen savers, and mouse pads.


Title: Reinardus; Yearbook of the International Reynard Society
Publisher:

John Benjamins Publishing Company (Amsterdam), 1988-1997

ISSN: 0925-4757

ca. 200-250 pp. each, Hfl. 117,– (v. 1-9), Hfl. 130,– (v. 10)

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   I would like to thank Michael Russell of Orlando for informing me about the International Reynard Society and its Yearbook. To quote from the Society’s literature, “The International Reynard Society was founded in 1975 by Professor Kenneth Varty of the University of Glasgow and the late Nico Van Den Boogaard of Amsterdam, to group together medievalists and other scholars in […] essentially, the associated fields of the so-called ‘Beast Epic’ of Reynard the Fox, the Fable tradition, and the short comic narrative genre exemplified by the Old French Fabliaux.” It has held an International Colloquium in Europe every two years since 1975 (Glasgow in 1975, Amsterdam in 1977, Münster in 1979, Paris in 1981, and so on), almost always at universities; a special out-of-sequence colloquium was held in Tokyo in July 1996.
   Its Yearbook consists primarily of the publication of scholarly papers which have been read at these colloquiums. Reinardus aims to promote comparative research in the fields of medieval comic, satirical, didactic, and allegorical literature, with emphasis on beast epic, fable and fabliau, including sources, influences and later developments into the modern period. The methods and critical interpretations it offers are as wide-ranging as is its subject matter, since it considers discussion and the coexistence of conflicting views as more important than the defence of a specific methodological point of view.”
   Each volume consists of 15 to 25 papers in either English or French (and very occasionally Italian), usually about evenly divided. Despite the Society’s comment about “later developments into the modern world”, there are barely a handful of articles which touch on anything more recent than the 18th century. Some average titles are:

   Most articles are unillustrated, but there are a couple in each volume which include plates showing Medieval or Renaissance woodcuts, photographs of humorous carvings in old churches, and the like.
   Frankly, Reinardus seems too academically dull for the average ‘Furry fan’. However, it is an excellent source for information about all aspects of the Medieval Reynard the Fox fable and other talking-animal satires. The discussions of Reynard encompass profiles of the entire cast: King Nobel the lion, Isengrim the wolf, Bruin the bear, Tibault the cat, Baldwin the donkey, Chantecleer the rooster, Grimbert the badger, Belyn the ram, Cuwert the hare and many others who have faded into anonymous background roles in the streamlined modernizations. These essays also detail the brutal and adult nature of the original fable. In modern versions, Isengrim asks King Nobel to punish Reynard because the fox has ‘insulted’ him, which implies little more than that the wolf is haughty and not bright enough to think of witty comebacks. The unexpurgated tale specifies how the insult was that Reynard broke into the wolf’s home during his absence to rape his wife and blind his cubs, just to flaunt his power. The original texts quoted in Reinardus will be of interest to anyone wanting to compile notes on Medieval French and Dutch scatology, obscenities, and erotic scurrility.
   Reinardus is also horrendously expensive. The current foreign exchange rate of the Dutch guilder is U.S. 50.8¢. This makes the first nine volumes approximately $60.00 apiece, and the current volume $66.00, not counting shipping. However, the cost is only U.S. $30.00 per volume to members of the International Reynard Society, and membership in the Society is free upon request. For membership information, inquire to the International Secretary, Dr. Brian J. Levy, Department of French, The University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX, England, U.K.; or e.mail: b.j.levy@french.hull.ac.uk. For information about ordering Reinardus, the publisher’s North American address is: John Benjamins North America, P. O. Box 27519, Philadelphia, PA 19118-0519; (215) 836-1200; customer.services@benjamins.nl; http://www.benjamins.nl.
   To digress, even if the Society and Reinardus are too scholarly for the tastes of most of our group, it seems incredible that apparently none of us (with the exception of Michael Russell) have even been aware of the existence of this international society of enthusiasts of talking-animal legends and stories, which has been holding conferences all around Europe (and in Japan) every two years since 1975, and publishing a thick annual collection of studies for the past decade. I have been active in ’morph fandom since the early 1980s, and I had never heard of such an organization during all this time. It makes one wonder what other anthropomorphisms may be out there that we don’t know about.

2007 Note: Reinardus is still being published; current ordering information is at http://www.benjamins.com/cgi-bin/t_seriesview.cgi?series=REIN. The latest issue seems to be vol. 18, 2005. I still have not heard a word in anthropomorphics fandom about it or the International Reynard Society to this day.


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#51 / Dec 1997





Title: The Bear Comes Home
Author: Rafi Zabor
Illustrator: Jane Winsor
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co. (NYC), Jul 1997
ISBN: 0-393-04037-2
480 pages, $25.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

      It has been debated for centuries whether the ethereal beauty of music can be expressed in words. Zabor does a good job of it in this sometimes-hauntingly mystical, sometimes-raunchily earthy tale of a Bear who longs to become an alto saxophonist in the contemporary East Coast jazz scene.
   The Bear is a mutant, or, to get away from the mecha-sci-fi connotations of that term, a freak.

   The same genetic crapshoot that had enlarged and detailed his brain had laid a set of opposable thumbs on him, which was cool, but his paws did not have the degree of articulation those nightmare wormy hands would have taken for granted. Was that the point? Was it a saxophone dream? It didn’t feel like a saxophone dream. The Bear often played saxophones in his dreams. On occasion he had made love to saxophones in his dreams—tell it like it is: he had fucked them, with a ruthlessness he’d never have directed at another living being, and then would wake amid sheets of sound or cotton gone sticky thinking, How perverse. (pg. 30)

   When the Bear was a cub in a circus, his trainer had lost him in a poker game to Jones, a well-meaning but weak-willed drifter around New York’s popular music world. Jones vaguely intended to keep the animal as a pet while he was small (a great conversation piece and a way to meet women); by the time the cub manifested his intelligence, they were good buddies. The Bear appreciates the way that Jones treats him as an equal, and they work out a sidewalk dancing-bear act that pays the rent. But the Bear gets restless:

   “…We got any decent wine in the house?”
   “I think an okay Italian red.”
   “Let’s hear it for an okay Italian red,” the Bear said dully.
   “Bored?” Jones asked him.
   “To death,” said the Bear, and downed the mound of steak tartare in two large mouthfuls. “I mean, dance is all right, even street dance. It’s the poetry of the body, flesh aspiring to grace or inviting the spirit in to visit. But music.” He shook his big head side to side. “That’s different. That’s one level more subtle. I mean, if the universe is vibration, and after Einstein who’s gonna deny it, energy sifts down matter and before it gets there it manifests as sound. So playing music—playing music well,” he corrected himself, “it’s like taking an active part in the future… Jones? You with me here? Do I detect a glazed look about the eyes?”
   “It’s a little obscurant for me,” Jones admitted amid rising veils of steam.
[…] (pgs. 13-14)

   At this beginning, the Bear has only one other human friend:

   Iris had been a biochemist friend of Jones’ left him from his college days, and after the bear he had won in a card game began talking a blue streak and developing a musical gift of surprising proportions, Jones had called her in to test the animal’s capacities. […] Soon Iris was hanging out at the apartment, staying for dinner and sitting up talking with the Bear late into the night, the radio on, the ashtray filling, and Jones trying to sleep in the next room, bothered by the sound of their laughter, their equable, affectionate conversation. What had emerged from the genetic inquiry was not a pat quotidian answer to explain the Bear away but an intimacy that surprised the Bear and Iris both, and as it deepened, as the correspondences between them multiplied and wove them closer, they found that the obvious next step was one they were too shocked or surprised to take. […] (pg. 47)

   The Bear can’t take the cabin fever of staying hidden in Jones’ apartment, emerging only to play a trained dumb animal, which is getting increasingly impractical as he matures into a brown bear too massive to look safely cute any more. He is tormented between common sense—it’s too risky to reveal himself; he’ll end up shot or ‘disappeared’ into research laboratories or at best shunned as a grotesque freak—and the desire to get together with his own people.
   But who are his own people? His advanced intelligence in an ursine corpus has given him instinctual mixed allegiances. Other bears have an appreciation of the poetry of nature: moss and moldering earth, a continuous undercurrent of insect life, the green difference between the smell of treeleaves and the lolling ferns that found sufficient reason for being in the medallion light that dappled down to the ground through the cover of the oaks and maples. (pg. 232) But other bears are stupid and brutish; besides, who wants to spend the rest of their lives shitting in the woods and hiding out during hunting season? His intellectual peers are those who share his understanding of the poetry of music, especially jazz; the current heirs of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and their brethren. But they tend to be alcoholics or dopers who burn themselves out early; besides, who wants to spend the rest of their lives in the overcrowded, polluted concrete jungle getting fucked over by the cold-eyed Corporate Suits who control the music industry? Also, does the Bear really have the talent as well as the appreciation to join the musicians as a true colleague? And if he does, will they accept him as an equal or as a mascot, a novelty act?
   All of these themes are explored at length, with many unexpected twists and turns, in Zabor’s flowing prose. Fans of Beauty and the Beast—the TV series with Vincent and Catherine—will appreciate the emotionally confused relationship and romance between the Bear and Iris. Fans of jazz will appreciate the realistic portrait of that world and industry, both cynical and idealistic. A word of warning: Zabor is a jazz musician and journalist, so there is a lot of jazz talk here. But The Bear Comes Home is a bona fide anthropomorphic story set within that milieu, and one that does justice to both to a much better degree than, say, Space Jam does to either funny animal movies or to sports movies.


   ‘Anthropomorphic novel’? Since there is no formal definition of that term, it is a matter of individual taste. I do not want to impose my tastes on Yarf!’s readers, so here are a couple of novels which are not anthropomorphic enough for me, but you may feel otherwise.

Title: The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat
Author: Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (NYC), Sep 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45474-8
166 pages, $18.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This diary of a housecat is basically a feline Black Beauty. The animals talk to each other, but otherwise they do nothing that real cats and dogs would not do.
   If Foudini’s story differs much from that of any normal housecat, it is in his origins. He is not a house- or kennel-born kitten; his mother is a feral alley cat who raises him in hiding in an apartment house’s laundry room, giving him street-wise advice:

   I said, “Tell me about dogs,” and my mother said, “You hear that loud voice barking? That is the voice of a dog. Some dogs are so big that you can run between their legs and never brush against their stomachs. And they have big teeth! Very big teeth! Stay away from dogs!”
   “Will they eat me up?” I asked her.
   “If they can,” she said.
(pg. 19)

   She disappears when he is just a few weeks old. Foudini is caught and adopted by an animal-loving young couple, who already have a large friendly dog. It takes the incredibly patient humans and wise old dog several months to gain the trust of the skittish kitten, whose ability to disappear in a locked room gains him the reputation of a feline Houdini.

   This is a mousey house, I thought as the woman carried my cage through the rooms. I like this house better than the city house. I will escape soon and hunt for mice.
   But the woman knew my intentions. She took me to a small blue room and set my box on the floor. I saw the door to the room and thought,
As soon as she opens my box, I will escape through that door.
   The woman pulled the door until it clicked shut, and then she opened my box. I looked around carefully before I was ready to climb out. The woman watched me. Then I saw the chest of drawers and scurried over to it and squeezed myself under it.
   “Not again,” said the woman.
(pg. 21)

   Foudini and Sam the dog begin to hold real conversations and plan some activities together. Foudini is kept locked indoors, and when Spring comes and the snow melts, he is fascinated by the green stuff that he sees through the window sprouting out of the ground and on bushes. He wants to see it up close.

   “If that’s all you want,” said the dog, “I can easily take care of that when I go outside. I’ll roll over and over, and the green things will stick to my fur, and when I come back in, you can pick them out with your tongue.” (pg. 67)

   About a year later, when Foudini is a more dignified adult, the man and woman get another kitten, Grace. It is now Foudini’s turn to be exasperated by the wild scamperings of a headstrong kitten who refuses to listen to his wise council.
   The narrative does grow exotically surrealistic when Foudini records his dreams and the dream cats whom he meets in them: Cleopatra’s cat, Snow White’s cat, and Freud’s cat. Since they tell him things which are beyond his experience (he does not know what they are talking about, but the reader will), they must be real supernatural cats and not just his subconscious.
   So this novel is a plausible anthropomorphization of the thoughts of an average suburban pet cat. It is enjoyable on that level, and is therefore successful on its own terms. It is not very exciting for readers looking for a more dramatic adventure than the life of a pampered parlor pussy.


Title: The Collector Collector
Author: Tibor Fischer
Publisher: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Co. (NYC), May 1997
ISBN: 0-8050-5118-X
221 pages, $23.00
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   The know-it-all narrator of this wittily erotic fantasy is a Mesopotamian clay bowl from 4500 B.C. being bought by a rich London art collector—the umpteenth collector who has owned the bowl during its existence:

   Everything. Been it. Seen it. Mean it. […]
   Now, I’ve been used: abused, disabused, misused, mused on, underenthused, unamused, contused, bemused, and even perused. Any compound of used, but chiefly used: shaving bowl, vinegar jar, cinerary urn, tomb good, pyxis, vase, rattrap, krater, bitumen amphora, chamber pot, pitcher, executioner, doorstop, sunshade, spittoon, coal scuttle, parrot rest, museum exhibit, deity, ashtray. If you’re quiet, don’t fuss and take it, it’s staggering what people will dump on you. If it’s vile, I’ve had a pile—and I know more than five thousand languages (even if you want to get dainty about what’s a language and what isn’t). (pg. 5)

   The bowl has been a silent eavesdropper on 6,500 years of human history; a collector of its collectors: temple priests, merchants rich or poor, farmers, prostitutes, painters, ship captains, and more. And does it have stories to tell of what it’s seen! Mostly stories of sex: Amorous sex, exhibitionistic sex, neurotic sex, vengeful sex, sex as a power trip, kinky sex, sex facilitated or interrupted by frozen iguanas. (It’s amazing how these iguana-cicles keep popping up at the most unexpected moments down through the ages.)
   While the boastful bowl babbles incessantly to the reader, it is quiet as a quahog to the cast. However, the bowl is handed to Rosa, a 26-year-old art appraiser to authenticate; and Rosa turns out to be a type of human new to the bowl: A genuine psychic who can tell the true age of objects just by touching them. Rosa is fascinated by the past she can see by holding the bowl (she doesn’t realize that the bowl is sentient and is deliberately feeding her selected memories), so she keeps it longer than usual to ‘run tests’ on it.
   As Rosa observes the past through the bowl, the bowl observes Rosa and her acquaintances at their daily life. Rosa is desperately trying to get laid. Nikki is a nymphomanic/kleptomaniac who seems determined to fuck every Jehovah’s Witness (of either gender) in England; she can bedazzle them and have them undressed in under ten minutes, singly or in pairs. Lump, a muscular Amazon, claims to have returned from the dead (and considering the other fantasies in this novel, she probably has); she is now above sex, but not above gleefully embarrassing would-be macho studs whenever possible. Lettuce is a non-stop kvetcher who constantly whines about nobody loving her, but who still has better luck at finding bedmates than Rosa does.
   It gets wilder. One of the statements above turns out to be deliberately misleading, but which one can’t be revealed without becoming a spoiler. But one thing that The Collector Collector doesn’t get is anthropomorphic, except for the bowl’s constant back-patting monologue.
   If a novel about a talking bowl turns you on, here’s another book you may want to watch for. Science Fiction Chronicle, October 1997, pg. 20, reports the recent sale to the London publisher J. Cape of two novels by Bo Fowler, “the first of which is narrated by an intelligent supermarket trolley (Brit-speak for ‘shopping cart’), in a 6-figure deal…”.


Title: The Long Patrol: A Tale of Redwall
Author: Brian Jacques
Illustrator: Allan Curless
Publisher: Hutchinson Children’s Books (London), Jul 1997
ISBN: 0-09-176546-3
358 pages, £12.99
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   Jacques’ tenth annual Redwall novel plays up the Long Patrol, the ‘legendary army of fighting hares’ who loyally serve the mighty badger ruler of the rocky natural castle of Salamandastron.
   Tamello Tussock, the teen son of a retired Long Patrol Colonel, runs away from home to join the Patrol and win fame & glory as his jolly old pater did, sah! He is taken under the paw of Russa Nodrey, a hardbitten squirrel wanderer who teaches the naïve hare some basic woodcraft and scouting techniques so he won’t embarrass himself too badly when he reaches Salamandastron to enlist. In fact, they run into a scouting mission of the Patrol first, on the trail of Mossflower’s latest horde of invading savage vermin, the Rapscallions led by Damug Warfang (a Greatrat), their bloodthirsty Firstblade (king). Tammo and Russa find themselves serving with the Patrol in deadly guerrilla fighting much sooner than expected. Meanwhile, the evil Rapscallion army, looking for easy conquests and rich looting, is headed toward Redwall Abbey; and the peaceful animals of Redwall, now several generations older, discover that the entire south wall of their fortification is crumbling.
   The Long Patrol follows Jacques’ tried-&-true Redwall formula of feasts and riddles at the Abbey, treacherous backstabbing amongst the cutthroat villains, and desperate missions by this volume’s heroic animal fighters; with all the exaggerated British accents of upper-class silly twits (the hares), incomprehensible Yorkshire yeomen (the moles), rough Scottish bullies (the vermin), and so on. This is set a couple of generations after the previous volume, The Pearls of Lutra; its animal children are now Redwall’s wise elders. The investigation of their ancient walls by Abbess Tansy (hedgehog), Foremole Diggum, Craklyn the Recorder (old squirrel), Friar Butty (young squirrel), and Shad the guard (otter) gives some perspective as to how much time has passed since the events in the first two or three volumes took place.


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#52 / Apr 1998





Title: The Wolves of Time: II, Seekers at the WulfRock
Author: William Horwood
Illustrator: ? (maps)
Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers (London), May 1997
ISBN: 0-00-223678-8
489 pages, £16.99
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   Over two years after its first volume, the conclusion of The Wolves of Time has finally been published. In this two-volume novel, Horwood does for wolves both more and less than what he did for moles in his Duncton hexology. The six Duncton volumes comprise an awesomely sweeping epic of the politics, passions, and religious wars of the moles of the English countryside, unnoticed by the rest of the world. In The Wolves of Time, wolves regain dominance of the whole world from humanity. But, compressed into only two volumes, the epic seems shallow and unfinished, with gaping plot holes and unresolved questions.
   The Wolves of Time: I, Journeys to the Heartland establishes that humanity had virtually destroyed the earth during the Dark Millennium, and a rapidly approaching apocalyptic war would finish the job. It is time for the cosmic balance to shift back in favor of the more noble wolves, in harmony with nature. But wolves, along with practically all other wild animals, are virtually extinct. Nine wolves among the pitiful remnants of those barely surviving throughout Europe and Central Asia receive a supernatural summons to migrate to wolfdom’s mystical Heartland in the Carpathian Mountains and reform the legendary Master Pack, the Wolves of Time. There one of the cubs to which they will give birth will be the reincarnation of their god, Wulf, who will return from the Otherworlds to save them from the Mennen’s deluge of pollution and militaristic doom. The nine wolves have desperate adventures in their treks from Spain, Scandinavia, Italy, Khazaria (Kazakhstan), and elsewhere in Eurasia to the High Tatra mountains within the Carpathians, where they finally retake the Heartland from the evil Magyar wolf pack which already occupies it.
   Seekers at the WulfRock opens with a 44-page retelling of the last days of the Mennen by Matthias Wald, an elderly shaman of the humans of the new world who follow the wolves. I was born in Anno Lupi 12, or A D 2023 by the old Gregorian Calendar, which I believe some communities in Europe still cling to. But since the tribe in which I was raised honours the Wolves and not the flawed Christian god, we mark the passage of our rites and rituals, as we do our seasons, by respectful reference to the year when the God Wulf ended his last mortal life upon this earth and began his journey on the wolfway to the stars, so signalling the end of the Dark Millennium, and our survival. (pg. 7) Those last days were characterized by the spread throughout Europe of the chaotic civil strife which tore the old Yugoslavia apart in the early 1990s, intensified with nuclear and biochemical weapons, rather than formal warfare between nations; ending with a complete breakdown of society during 2011-2013.
   Shifting to the main story, the Wolves of Time under their leader and ledrene, Klimt and Elhana, have grown to fourteen strong since they seized the Heartland from the corrupt Magyar pack during the confusion after Klimt killed its dictatorial leader, Hassler. But the Magyars’ witchlike ledrene, Dendrine, has built them up again through an incestuous union with her own son, Führer, and an insidious propaganda campaign that has convinced other nearby wolves to join them. The Wolves of Time are now outnumbered and under siege. Klimt has sent three of his followers through the Magyar lines into France and Spain, to learn if they can gain any new recruits from the wolves there and to find out what is happening to Western Europe in the Mennen’s genocidal war. Five of the remaining eleven are cubs who have just reached maturity. One of them is presumably the reincarnated Wulf, but they are not yet sure which.
   The novel intermixes several stories: the Wolves under Klimt build a defensive position in the Heartland. Klimt’s emissaries, Aragon, Jicin and Stry, gain new packmates and have adventures in the Pyrenees. Klimt and his sons Solar and Lunar make an epic journey eastward into Khazaria, which rivals Frodo’s and Sam’s journey into Mordor. The Wolves, under Klimt’s loyal deputy Kobrin, are hard-pressed to hold the Heartland in his absence. The sadistic Mennen terrorist overlord, Huntermann, plots to leave no human or animal life in his wake.
   Seekers at the WulfRock is relentlessly dramatic and horrific, with a colorful lupine religion and folklore similar to that of the rabbits in Watership Down. But the action feels more manipulative than convincing. Disgusting events happen which seem more for shock value than because they are reasonable. Powerful characters are introduced who suddenly drop out of sight with little or no explanation. Humans are said to be evil because of the debauchery and collapse of Christianity, but nothing that they are shown doing is any worse than the perverted tortures practiced by Dendrine and her Magyar wolves. The Wolves of Time themselves are constantly sparring for alpha status within the pack; this is natural for wolves, but how does it make them morally superior to Christians? (And what is supposed to be happening outside of Europe and Central Asia? The story ignores the rest of the world.) If the different dates in the novel are correlated, “the year when the God Wulf ended his last mortal life upon this earth” is 2011 in one place and 2073 in another place.
   Is this Horwood’s fault, or the publisher’s? When Journeys to the Heartland came out in February 1995, it was advertised as the first of a trilogy, with Wanderers of the Wolfways as the second volume coming in 1996 and Seekers at the WulfRock in 1997. Wanderers of the Wolfways is now just the name of one of five parts in Seekers at the WulfRock. If Horwood’s story was drastically condensed and simplified by the publisher (as happened to Stephen King’s early novels), that could explain the characters who suddenly disappear; the buildups that do not lead to anything; the unreconciled discrepancies. Many of the questions might be resolved into one: Is this novel supposed to be a history of actual events starring anthropomorphized wolves and their gods, or is it the Bible of a new post-Holocaust wolf-worshipping religion written by Matthias Wald, a primitive fanatic? Divine revelations are notoriously lacking in logic and consistency, blind to their own flaws, and full of demonizations of prior and rival religions. But these questions are not answered, leaving The Wolves of Time incomplete and ultimately unsatisfying.


Title: Razor’s Edge
Author: Lisanne Norman
Illustrator: Michael Gilbert (maps)
Publisher: DAW Books (NYC), Dec 1997
ISBN: 0-88677-766-6
652 pages, $6.99
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   This fourth ‘novel’ in Norman’s Sholan Alliance series is, like the second and third, simply a hefty chunk taken out of a single non-stop saga. The review in Yarf! #46 of Fire Margins, the third book, could practically serve equally well for Razor’s Edge. The story starts in the midst of one cliffhanger (and if you don’t remember who all the characters are and what they were doing when Fire Margins came out a year ago, you’d better skim it to refresh your memory), and it breaks off at another cliffhanger.
   The series starts in Turning Point. Carrie Hamilton, a young woman on Terra’s first colony planet, Keiss, encounters Kusac Aldatan, a handsome felinoid alien, in the course of a space war with a third species, the tyrannical reptilian Valtegans. An irresistable mating follows, which is partly voluntary romance à la Beauty and the Beast and partly involuntary bonding à la the ‘Recognition’ in ElfQuest. In Fortune’s Wheel, Carrie goes with Kusac to Shola, and the reader gets the politics of a whole planet of Cat People. Despite the belief by both Human and Sholan geneticists that such a mixed-species bonding is impossible, Carrie and Kusac have a cub. In Fire Margins, the reason for the bonding is discovered as the ‘Leska partnerships’ spread. In Razor’s Edge, more Sholans and Humans are instinctually compelled to become Leska mates, not only in pairs but in Triads. This creates havoc with existing marriages and social order, and sets up several scenes of romance-novel passion:

   As her tail snaked higher, its feathery tip flicking against the more sensitive parts of his anatomy, he moaned with pleasure. Burying his head against her neck, he pushed her tunic skirt aside. “Tell me later,” he mumbled. Her perfume enveloped him now, robbing him of any purpose other than pairing with her immediately. (pg. 101)

   But romance is only one of several interwoven themes. Humans and Sholans searching for the Valtegan homeworld find neutral planets where the reptiles have sold prisoners from both their species into slavery. This leads to training the telepathically-linked Leska pairs to carry out commando-raid rescues. Still more semi-’morphic alien species are encountered: the arboreal Chemerians; the U’Churians, like Sholans but with even shaggier fur.
   Norman’s authorial strengths and weaknesses are also interwoven. There is an emphasis on emotional tension, built through conversations between powerful characters seeking to psychologically dominate each other. This is good for establishing complex and interesting personalities, but it also creates a glacial buildup to the action scenes. Norman reveals more about the mysterious Valtegans, making them more repellently non-human yet somehow sympathetic rather than the cardboard villains that they had been. However, by comparison this makes the Sholans seem even more like humans in high-quality furry theatrical costumes rather than true anthropomorphs. The Sholan Alliance serial is still recommended, although—since it is now at 2,323 pages with no end in sight—readers had better allow at least a month to get through it.


Title: Run to the Wild Wood
Author: Tom McCaughren
Illustrator: Jeanette Dunne
Publisher: Wolfhound Press (Dublin), Sep 1996
ISBN: 0-86327-492-7
176 pages, £6.99
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   Run to the Wild Wood is the fifth novel in what the jacket blurb calls “Tom McCaughren’s classic wildlife series.” This seems to be a genuine popular classic. The first, Run with the Wind (1983), reads as though it was meant to be a solo novel, and the third, Run Swift, Run Free, was described in its blurb as the conclusion of a trilogy. This new novel is dedicated, For all those who asked me to write another fox book. It looks as though McCaughren’s readers will not let him stop.
   The Run… novels are a ‘realistic’ nature fantasy series, in the tradition of Adams’ Watership Down and Dann’s Farthing Wood novels. The main difference, besides the featured talking-animal species (foxes), is that the setting is Ireland rather than Britain.
   Foxes are usually solitary, except for mates who stay together only long enough for a litter of cubs to be born and mature. In Run with the Wind, Vickey, a vixen, becomes concerned that too many foxes are being killed by man as the Irish countryside becomes domesticated. She persuades several lone foxes to band together for their mutual survival and to seek a new home where man has not yet spread. In the next three novels the fox-friends find a remote valley and settle into it, raise their own cubs despite difficulties, and have to reluctantly see part of their community leave after Glensinna (‘the Valley of the Fox’ in Gaelic) becomes overpopulated with foxes. There are a few incidental talking animals of other species, notably otters.
   This new story is started by badgers. Human developers are tearing up an ancient forest that has been a badgers’ sett for centuries. The badgers know of the foxes’ successful settlement away from Man, so they send a message to beg the foxes of Sinna to lead them to a safe new woodland before they are all killed. Most foxes are reluctant to get involved in another species’ troubles, but Old Sage Brush, their blind elder advisor, volunteers to lead a party of yearling foxes to aid the badgers on their almost-suicidal trek. This will be valuable experience for the young foxes, barely grown out of cubhood. And, as Brush tacitly admits, he would rather risk his ancient life on one last adventure than huddle in his den waiting for death.
   The journey (and the novel) is in two parts. Old Sage Brush, three of the next generation (Fang, Hop-along, and She-la), and their cubs (Young Black Tip, Scat, Little Running Fox, and Twinkle) first must successfully cross the partly built-up countryside to the badgers’ Fragrant Wood. There are farmers with guns to avoid; human highways to cross without becoming roadkill; and all the natural dangers that make the lives of foxes risky even without man. The worst are a pair of giant Irish wolfhounds whose gentleman farmer/master (he also keeps peacocks, which freak out the foxes) allows them to romp about the fields and woods. Wolfhounds are frisky and friendly to humans, but they will playfully tear apart any foxes, badgers, or smaller game they can catch. After the foxes reach the badgers, the trek to their fabled new homeland becomes even more dangerous. The route to the Valley of the Dragon (an ominous name for a rumoured paradise) forces them to pass even closer to human communities; and those wolfhounds keep coming back.
   There are many dramatic scenes, but few that could be called fast-paced. Since their blind leader must have situations described in detail before he can offer wise guidance, the novel is often very expository:

   “Can we not go around it?” asked Old Sage Brush when Little Running Fox came back to report her predicament.
   “We could all right,” she replied. “But we might never find the next marker.”
   “What sort of farmland is it?” asked Fang.
   “Bare fields with cattle in them,” the little fox replied. “No cover at all.”
   “Any crops?” asked Hop-along, who, because of his handicap, always sought out any cover he could find.
   “Beyond the grazing fields,” replied Little Running Fox. “There are some barley fields.”
   “And beyond them?” asked the old fox.
   “A mountain,” she told them.
   The others waited expectantly as Old Sage Brush considered what she had told them. “What height is the barley?” he asked. “I mean, is it as high as a fox?”
   Little Running Fox stood up so that she could measure herself against Fang, who was the tallest, and said, “I only saw it from a distance, mind you, but I think it’s a bit taller than we are.”
(pg. 67)

   With a blind and elderly leader and another who is missing a paw, and a party of refugee badgers who are slow and almost blind themselves in the daylight, the foxes must rely more on guile and subterfuge than on their traditional speed and nimbleness in their latest Run. In addition to the talking foxes and badgers, they persuade a community of hares to help them in one dangerous situation. Run to the Wild Wood is also a good naturalists’ tour guide to the current state of the Irish countryside.


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#53 / May 1998





Title: Great Apes
Author: Will Self

Publisher: Bloomsbury (London), May 1997
ISBN: 0-7475-2987-6
xi + 404 pages, £15.99
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Publisher: Grove Press (NYC), Sep 1997
ISBN: 0-8021-1617-5
xi + 404 pages, $24.00
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   If this literary psychedelic satire had been published entre nous, there would probably be panic that it would get all Furry fandom censored as perverts and degenerates. As a mainstream novel, it has won critical acclaim from The Times Literary Supplement (London), The Observer (London), The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and the rest of the intellectual establishment for its savage putdown of humanity.
   Simon Dykes, a successful London avant garde artist, is undergoing an emotional crisis. His wife has divorced him, taking their children. He is consciously worried about losing his perspective, his artistic insight. Unconsciously, his work has been growing apocalyptically melancholy to an extent that is worrying his acquaintances. Dykes mechanically slogs his way through the arty-farty artistes’ community:

   Drugs, he sighed, drugs. Which drugs? The crap London barroom cocaine that managements turned a blind eye to the sale of, knowing that the only effect it had on its snorters was to make them buy more marked-up booze? Yeah, definitely some of that. He could already picture himself chopping and crushing, crammed into some dwarfish toilet stall. And he could already see how it would end up, Sarah and he fucking with the dismal end-of-the-world feel that the crap cocaine imparted. Like two skeletons copulating in a wardrobe, their bones chafing and stridulating. (pg. 9)

   After an evening of intense depression and chemical experimentation, Simon wakes up in a world in which everyone has turned into chimpanzees. He freaks out and is incarcerated in the emergency psychiatric ward at Charing Cross Hospital.
   The camera pulls back, as it were, and the world is populated by chimpanzees—not anthropomorphized as much as intelligent. Self has educated himself in detail on chimp social behavior, and he has redesigned civilization in its image. The main viewpoint of this chimpunified society is that of Dr. Zack Busner, clinical psychologist, medical doctor, radical psychoanalyst, anti-psychiatrist, maverick anxiolytic drug researcher and former television personality (pg. 28), the prestigious author of such best-selling books on psychoses and neurology as The Chimp Who Mated an Armchair. (Self is obviously pastiching Dr. Oliver Sacks, author of the famous mid-’80s pop-psych The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales.) Busner is called in as a consultant by the puzzled Charing Cross staff, who have never encountered a fixation like Simon’s: although clearly a chimp like themselves, he insists that he is a human and behaves as one might if humans were intelligent, acting out his delusion consistently down to the subconscious and instinctual level. Busner is intrigued—Simon’s dramatic pathology could lead to a new armchair psychological best-seller—and he adopts Simon as his personal patient.
   The reader observes this new world by following Busner and his medical colleagues at some length before the story returns to Simon. London is still London, but it has been redesigned for the smaller simian bodies. Dialogue is primarily translated hand-signs, with simian vocalizations inserted. The chimps wear clothing only above the waist, so they can proudly display their genitalia and engage in casual matings and groomings in the streets.

   The two chimps met in the middle of the asphalt apron at the crest of the hill and fell on each other’s necks with loud grunts, bestowing sloppy kisses on eyes, nasal bridges and mouths. They then settled down to groom. Wiltshire seemed to have an awful lot of sawdust in his armpit fur, Busner was trying to get the stuff out—while inparting tenderness—but finding it pernickety work, when Wiltshire pulled away and signed, ‘Let me get a “huh-huh-huh” good look at you, old chimp. I haven’t had my fingers in your fur for what… must be more than six months now—’ (pg. 87)

   Simon is convinced that he is human and that he has gone mad, seeing everyone turned into chimps. But since the story presents a panorama of a chimpunified London that is far more extensive than Simon’s viewpoint, the reader is deliberately left confused. Is Simon crazy? Has the unique blend of alcohol and drugs that he took projected his mind into an alternate world? And what will happen to him? Will he remain in a padded cell for the rest of his life? Will he return to the human world? Or, with Busner’s guidance, will he be ‘cured’ and released to blend into chimp society?
   The novel starts in the human world, and does not become totally chimpunified until Chapter 6. By midway through the book, the reader has become used to a society in which male friends fondle each other’s genitals in public; strangers casually fuck in elevators or during Underground commutes; parents who do not sexually caress their young children are considered guilty of emotional child abuse (not showing them sufficient love); and executives demonstrate their corporate dominance by dashing about their offices screaming, urinating, slapping and throwing shit at their underlings. Yet these gross activities are performed in an atmosphere of blasé rationality by sophisticated intellectuals.
   Self has taken a step beyond the usual anthropomorphized world peopled with funny animals acting in a totally human manner. He has created a radical culture that is simultaneously anthropomorphized and animalized; that is both shocking and almost boringly commonplace. The London Times compares Self’s vigorously raunchy satire to the style of the more outrageous standup comedians. “There is a Swiftian energy to Self’s scatology,” says The Independent. That’s true… Great Apes is not completely unique, then. Simon Dykes is to some extent following in the footsteps of Lemuel Gulliver through the Country of the Houyhnhnms.


Three four cartoon-art novels:

Cover of Item 2
Title: Harum Scarum (The Spiffy Adventures of McConey #1)
Author: Lewis Trondheim
Kim Thompson, editor & translator
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), Dec 1997
ISBN: 1-56097-288-2
48 pages, $10.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Cover of Item 2

Title: The Hoodoodad (The Spiffy Adventures of McConey #2)
Author: Lewis Trondheim
Kim Thompson, editor & translator
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), Jul 1998
ISBN: 1-56097-338-2
48 pages, $10.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   The McConey series may be hard to track down, but it is worth the effort. These wittily hilarious adventures should not be missed. They are American editions of French bande dessinée albums, published in the same high-quality format as the original albums. Unfortunately, American editions of French comic-art novels tend not to sell (Tintin and Asterix being notable exceptions). Attempts to bring popular, long-running series to America usually only get out two or three volumes before their publishers give up. So go out and order these McConey albums at your local comics shop right away; firstly, so you won’t miss them in case your shop doesn’t regularly carry odd items like the European-format albums, and secondly, because sales now will help Fantagraphics to continue publishing the series.
   Harum Scarum is set in a funny-animal generic large French city, which could be Paris in the 1930s. A rabbit (McConey, a medical student), dog (Inspector Ruffhaus, a plainclothes policeman), and cat (an unnamed tabloid journalist) are fleeing in panic from a tenement apartment from which horrific roars are heard. The apartment belongs to Martin Walter, a scientist who has discovered how to turn rodents into giant monsters. Both the government and two rival gangs of foreign spies want the formula, and also intend to kill our Odd Trio as inconvenient witnesses.
   Harum Scarum is a comedy-thriller along the lines of movies like Danny Kaye’s classic Knock on Wood, the most recent of which is probably Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little. The snappy dialogue could be taken from any Rocky and Bullwinkle adventure, but the situation is more ominous and the villains are more cruelly menacing than Boris and Natasha. The rabbit is a non-involved college student who just wants to get out of this mess in one piece (“The minute I walk through this door, I ain’t seen nuthin’, I ain’t heard nuthin’.”); the cat is a gonzo extrovert who dreams of getting a front-page scoop (“‘The Monster on the Fourth Floor’… No… I need more of a grabber… ‘The Hideous Monster of Terror!’ Naw… Gotta preserve that urban angle. Wait! Got it! ‘The Hideous Monster of Terror on the Fourth Floor’!”); and the dog is a not very bright but, er, dogged detective who is determined to do his job honestly despite his superiors’ heavy-handed attempts at cover-ups.
   The setup in The Hoodoodad is markedly different. ‘Paris’ has become 1990s current. The rabbit (still McConey), cat (Richie), and dog (Doug) are now three middle-class bachelor drinking buddies. McConey is the levelheaded member of the trio; Doug is playing around (he’s just learned that he has an 8-month-old daughter by a former girl friend; he shrugs it off as no big deal); and Richie is even more frenetic (the sort who is easily convinced that he is a flying saucer abductee). Early on, five whole pages are spent just showing an evening dinner and Scrabble game at Doug’s apartment. Trondheim’s sharp dialogue keeps what could have been a boring scene amusing, and the subtle establishment of the personalities is important. (Richie: “Hey! How ’bout we play Scrubble instead—dirty words only?”)
   The following synopsis should have a spoiler warning, although the story’s merit lies in how it is told rather than the plot itself. McConey accepts an ‘ancient cursed pebble’ from a crazed bum to keep him from committing suicide over it. Richie laughs, until he gets a couple of bruises, is chewed out by the police for goofing off in public, and can’t find his dictionary.

   “Say… what if I ended up with your curse?”
   “Yeah, right… Point A: There’s no such thing as a curse. Point B: I was the one who accepted the stone…”
   “I know, but Point C: The cops stopped me, I got hurt twice in the same spot, and I couldn’t find my dictionary—coincidence or something more?”

   The cat grows increasingly hysterical as his ‘ominous bad luck’ imperceptibly builds up. His pals shrug it off as just Richie being Richie, until they realize that the weirdness has become too blatant to be ignored or explained away. By this time the cat is practically a basket case from trying to convince them that he’s not imagining it this time; it’s REALLY REAL!! Okay—so how do you exorcise a genuine hoodoo?
   A biographical profile, Short Road, Many Turns: Lewis Trondheim, by Bart Beaty in The Comics Journal #201 (also published by Fantagraphics), January 1998, pgs. 27-33 is illuminating in describing Trondheim’s career and his McConey series. Trondheim treats his funny-animal cast as actors. Their personalities remain basically the same, but there is little or no continuity between the four albums produced so far. (One is a Western.) Fantagraphics is publishing them out of order, because the self-taught Trondheim is an artistic perfectionist who cannot bear to let the public see anything besides his most recent work. He insists on redrawing his first albums rather than allowing them to be reprinted, even though the oldest was originally published as recently as 1993. The art is colored by Brigitte Findakly, Trondheim’s wife, who “us[es] a palette composed primarily of dirty browns” and similar earth/grime colors which “evoke a naturalistic sense of color that acts as a counterpoint to Trondheim’s simpler anthropomorphic characters and deliberately spare drawing style.” Beaty does not need to define Trondheim’s art style since the article’s sample panels speak for themselves; but it is roughly similar to Sergio Aragones’ or Harvey Kurtzman’s rather than Disney-cute. (Primitive? Stylistic? It’s an art critic’s call.) Beaty approves the quality of Kim Thompson’s translation, although he criticizes Thompson for taking extreme liberties in Americanizing idioms and jokes. The protagonist’s name is really Lapinot rather than McConey, and the series is Les formidables aventures de Lapinot. (One would have to look hard to find any dictionary that would translate ‘formidable’ as ‘spiffy’ rather than ‘tremendous, terrific,’ but the stretch to trendy, less elegant synonyms like ‘groovy’ or ‘bitchin’’ is clearly there.) Dialogue references to such American pop-culture icons as Fred Astaire, the I Dream of Jeannie TV series, and Cap’n Crunch cereal do seem a bit jarring in the artistic context of such a French setting. But this approach doubtlessly keeps both the brisk humorous pace and the common touch much more successfully for American readers than would a more intellectual translation retaining the proper French names.
   If you cannot get these through your local comics shop, order them directly from Fantagraphics Books at 7563 Lake City Way, N.E., Seattle, WA 98115; (206) 524-1967.


Title: Xanadu: Across Diamond Seas (Xanadu #2)
Author: Vicky Wyman
Publisher: LX, Ltd. (Granada Hills, CA), Jan 1998
ISBN: 0-9662574-0-5
136 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the compilation of Wyman’s second Xanadu five-issue mini-series (inked by Monika Livingstone) published by MU Press during 1994; the companion volume to Xanadu: Thief of Hearts, published by MU in December 1993. The two will make an attractive matched set in any fan’s bookshelf.
   Vicky Wyman created Xanadu a decade ago to bring swashbuckling romance to the genre of anthropomorphic comics. This world is divided into three social classes: the hereditary ruling magic-working nobility (mythological and practically immortal animals such as unicorns, dragons, griffins and pegasi); a middle class of freeborn merchants and soldiers (wild animals such as lions, bears, foxes and wolves); and the lower-class domestique servants (cats, dogs, the standard barnyard livestock). There are two empires: Xanadu, modelled upon Renaissance Europe, ruled by the young unicorn Empress Alicia since the death of her father Allynrud three years earlier; and the Golden Realm, modelled upon feudal Japan, ruled by the wise Queen Mother of the Golden Dragons. During Allynrud’s long reign the two empires did not associate much beyond the exchange of proper diplomatic formalities. But Alicia, young and enthusiastic, wants to shake up the old order. She shocks her court in Thief of Hearts by socializing with the lower classes, and starts establishing closer relations with the Golden Empire.
   Across Diamond Seas is a direct sequel to Thief of Hearts. The adventure stands on its own, but the reader is expected to be familiar with the main characters and their relationships. The Golden Realm sends Empress Alicia an invitation to attend the celebrations for Queen Mother Joo-sama’s Golden Millennium. To accept the invitation and personally visit the court of Oriental dragons seems like an excellent next step to Alicia. She selects an escort consisting of Fatima, her lady-in-waiting (fox); Fatima’s lover, Tabbé le Fauve (cat); Tabbé’s friend Jonathan (mule), and Kinomon, a young dragon guard from the Golden Empire, to accompany her on the long sea voyage.
   The Xanadan court’s unfamiliarity with the Orient and the Southern Seas route there is the excuse to introduce both them and the reader to exotic new lands and perils. There are vicious pirates, and fierce but honorable aboriginal seafarers who are funny-animal dinosaurs. The real danger, however, comes from this world’s rarest but most magically-powerful nobles, the kyryn.
   These hermit-like wizards usually lead a solitary, monastic life. But Tzu Kai and Tzu Li, the first kyryn born in centuries, are adolescents bored with nobody but elders to associate with. They escape to roam the world and have some fun. When Tzu Kai spies the Xanadan galleon, he decides to make the lovely Alicia his toy, while his sister develops a crush on Kinomon. Alicia, herself young and headstrong, finds herself at the mercy of a handsome but petulant almost-god. Kinomon’s determination to remain faithful to the memory of Firepetal, his martyred fiancée, is sorely tested by Tzu Li’s magically enhanced seductiveness. Tabbé and the others must fight to rescue them before it is too late.
   Alicia, the dynamically regal unicorn, has become established as one of the most popular of the Xanadu cast in the ten years since the first comic-book issue appeared. Across Diamond Seas will please her fans by giving her a more personal and dramatic role than that of the imperious figurehead to which she was largely limited in Thief of Hearts. But the nation of Xanadu has itself emerged as a star. Fans have shown their curiosity for more information about Xanadu’s unique noble/freeborn/domestique society; what the Empire consists of beyond the Ever-Changing Palace and a couple of huts in the slums; and the cryptic allusions to such unexplained events as Emperor Allynrud’s violent death. Unfortunately, this second novel shifts the setting to almost literally uncharted waters, answering none of those questions. Readers will have to await future volumes to learn more about Xanadu’s history.
   Xanadu was first published by Steve Gallacci’s Thoughts & Images company, and this latest graphic novel is also available from there; $12.95 + $3.00 shipping to Thoughts & Images, P. O. Box 19419, Seattle, WA 98109. (But make cheques payable to LX, Ltd.)


Title: Kevin & Kell: Seen Anything Unusual?
Author: Bill Holbrook
Publisher: Online Features Syndicate (Norcross, GA), Apr 1998
ISBN:
140 pages, $11.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the second annual trade paperback collection of Bill Holbrook’s Internet-exclusive ‘newspaper’ comic strip. Kevin & Kell: Quest for Content, the first collection (reviewed in Yarf! #50), collected the strip from its beginning on September 4, 1995 through August 29, 1996, with a couple of omissions. Seen Anything Unusual? presents the 260 Monday-Friday strips from September 3, 1996 through September 1, 1997, plus five undated larger ‘Sunday-format’ strips.
   Kevin & Kell is a family situation-comedy set in a funny-animal community which is more beholden than most to the Law of the Jungle. The main characters are recently-remarried Kevin Dewclaw, a brawny rabbit; his wife Kell, a demure wolf; Lindesfarne, a mid-teen porcupine who is Kevin’s adopted daughter from his first marriage; Rudy, Kell’s twelve-year-old son from her first marriage; and Coney, Kevin & Kell’s year-old baby (a carnivorous rabbit). Kevin works at home as the sysop of the Online Herbivore Forum. Kell is a staff predator at Herd Thinners, Inc., a corporation of carnivores who handle necessary population control. Kevin & Kell’s mixed marriage (a herbivore and a carnivore) is highly controversial.
   The strip’s humor emphasizes the animal nature of the cast as applied to such situations as Internet sociology, mixed marriages, (step) sibling rivalry, and high school romances. Examples include the ‘corporate jungle’ office politics (literally ‘eat or be eaten’) at Herd Thinners, Inc.; Santa’s reindeer appearing on Kevin’s ‘Online Celebrity Chat’ during the Christmas season; and Rudy’s Predator Studies 102 high-school class, taught by Ms. Catherine Aura, a vulture (she doesn’t mind cleaning up after the class).
   Some of the strips feature stand-alone gags, but most present short weekly/five-strip story arcs. In addition to generic social themes and those tied to seasons or holidays, there are a few which parody topical pop-culture icons such as The X-Files.
   One of Kevin & Kell’s main attractions is its appealing characters. Most of the supporting cast who briefly appeared during the first year are back, and there are new friends and neighbors such as Ms. Aura; and Lindesfarne’s high-school beau, Fenton Fuscus (a bat—he sees her “in a different way than everyone else!” by ultrasound waves). There have been a few unlikeable characters introduced for conflict, but they tend to appear only briefly. Kevin’s stupid brother-in-law, who always tries to eat him, makes only one appearance during this year; and Kell’s abusive personnel director at Herd Thinners only lasts a week before becoming a mounted trophy head. The entire regular cast is intelligent and likeable.
   It is difficult to tell after only two years whether Kevin & Kell is a ‘real time’ strip or not. Lindesfarne and Rudy seem to maintain their same ages from 1995 through 1997, but Coney was born during the strip’s second month and she celebrates her first birthday in October 1996. It will probably take another year or two to tell whether the characters are growing older or not.
   The only complaint about these two annual collections is that each leaves out a couple of its year’s worth of Monday-Friday strips. This is apparently necessary due to the paperback format. Two strips missing from 262 is not much, but it is still annoying. Both volumes are self-published by Bill Holbrook, and can be ordered directly from him at his Online Features Syndicate, P. O. Box 931264, Norcross, Georgia 30093. Add $1.75 for postage & handling.


YARF! logo
#54 / Aug 1998





Two new transAtlantic series about cats!

Title: The Book of Night with Moon
Author: Diane Duane

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (London), Jul 1997
ISBN: 0-340-69328-2
404 p., £17.99
Availability: Am / BN /