ANTHRO's index of anthropomorphic literature

The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten

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

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

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

by issue
by title

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#46 / Jan 1

Title: Top Dog
Author: Jerry Jay Carroll

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

ISBN: 0-441-00368-0

330 pages, $12.00

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   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)

III Publishing (Gualala, CA), Aug 1996

ISBN: 0-886625-01-8

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

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   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

Doubleday (New York, NY), Oct 1996

ISBN: 0-385-48428-3

306 pages, $22.50

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   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)

DAW Books (New York, NY), Nov 1996

ISBN: 0-88677-718-6

758 pages, $6.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   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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