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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.

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#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 / Al / Pw

Publisher: Aspect/Warner Books (NYC), Dec 1997
ISBN: 0-446-67302-1
viii + 390 pages
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is announced as the first novel in a new series, The Cats of Grand Central Station. But it can also be considered the fifth in Duane’s Young Wizards series. So You Want to Be a Wizard (1983) introduced 13-year-old Nita Callahan and her 12-year-old friend Kit Rodriguez. They are recruited into the secret brotherhood of wizards who keep the universe running, despite the machinations of the Lone One (a.k.a. the Old Serpent, Fairest and Fallen, etc) who invented Death and Pain at the beginning of time and is constantly trying to spread them throughout creation. Nita and Kit learn that all beings are intelligent (they talk with trees, automobiles, and a white hole) and have their own wizards, and that wizards of different species sometimes work together during emergencies. In Deep Wizardry, High Wizardry, and A Wizard Abroad, Nita and Kit occasionally work with (and are transformed into) some of these others, but their presence is too slight to qualify the series up to this point as anthropomorphic.
   The Book of Night with Moon is part of this world, but it focuses upon cats rather than humans. Rhiow (the main character), Saash, and Urruah are three wizards among New York City’s feline community. In addition to their regular work of secretly aiding and guiding the Big Apple’s cat denizens, and serving as liaison with the other species’ wizards (Nita and Kit make a walk-on appearance), NYC’s cat-wizards have the special guardianship of the transdimensional worldgates hidden beneath Grand Central Station which lead to all worlds and times. Of all wizards working on Earth, the People knew most about energy—being able to clearly perceive aspects of it that ehhif [human] and other species’ wizards couldn’t. (pg. 176) These portals are in constant need of adjustment since sunspots, magma flows deep in the earth, and even construction in nearby streets can cause them to drift out of alignment. But minor problems begin intensifying until it becomes clear that they are not due to natural causes. The Old Serpent is personally making another attempt to destroy the world. After the Gates briefly fall under the Lone One’s control and New York is flooded with dinosaurs (Luciano Pavarotti is eaten during a concert by a tyrannosaur), the three cat-wizards along with Arhu, a cynical street-waif kitten wizard-trainee who is potentially the most powerful of them all, must journey Downside into the heart of the enemy’s realm to keep the very nature of matter and energy stable.
   Broadly speaking, The Book of Night with Moon is a rewrite of So You Want to Be a Wizard. The focus is feline and the viewpoint is slightly older. Instead of two young teens who are tutored by adult human wizards, who interact to some extent with talking animals and objects, the protagonists are adult cat-wizards who become the tutor of a young cat and interact to a minor extent with humans. The social relationships among Rhiow, Saash, Urruah, and other adult cats of Manhattan are on a more mature level. As senior wizards, they initiate action rather than needing to sneak out when their parents aren’t watching. But both stories involve The Book of Night with Moon (the book of all knowledge), the discovery of an active plot by the Ancient Enemy, and the need to carry out a commando raid into a perverted demonic imitation of NYC to restore the cosmic balance.
   Duane develops a detailed feline culture for Rhiow and her friends, but it seems more artificially cute than convincing. Lots of cat-words are dropped into the dialogue, and there is a four-page glossary of Ailurin. This comes across as both affected and unoriginal; Richard Adams and others have already done it. Animal religion and folk-tales are also growing stale. Duane can claim originality in having her animals casually talking about quantum mechanics and hyperspace, but this gets heavy-handed:

   Again and again the symbol for the word auw, ‘energy,’ appeared in numerous compound forms. Most of the terms that Urruah was using here were specialist terminologies relating to auwsshui’f, the term for the ‘lower electromagnetic spectrum,’ which besides describing ‘submatter’ relationships such as string and hyperstring function also took in quantum particles, faster-than-light particles, wavicles, and subatomics. He was paying less attention, for this spell’s purposes, to efviauw, the electromagnetic spectrum, or iofviauw, the ‘upper electromagnetic spectrum,’ [etc., etc.] (pg. 176)

   Duane also tries to rationalize the basic inconsistency of talking-animal fantasies which authors usually just ignore: If all animal species—and objects—are equally intelligent, why don’t they show it? Granted, Rhiow’s own position was a privileged one […] Rhiow’s life with her ehhif was certainly made simpler by the fact that she could clearly understand what they were saying. Unfortunately, most cats couldn’t do the same, which tended to create a fair amount of friction. (pg. 67) And intelligence does not necessarily negate prejudice:

   “There are ehhif wizards?” Arhu laughed out loud at the idea. “No way! They’re too dumb!”
   “Now who’s being ‘stuck up’?” Urruah said. “There are plenty of
ehhif wizards. Very nice people. And from other species too, just on this planet. Wizards who’re other primates, who’re whales… even wizards who’re houiff.”
   Arhu snickered even harder. “I wouldn’t pay any attention to them
. Houiff don’t impress me.” (pg. 80)

   This forces Duane to create explanations for why these sophisticated and proudly independent species are so dependent upon one ‘stupid’ species for their meals, whether served in doggie & kitty dishes or elsewhere. “All right,” he said, and he brightened. ‘It’ll be ehhif lunchtime soon, and they’ll be throwing lots of nice leftovers in that Dumpster around the corner. […]” (pg. 47) Or why they constantly fight among themselves, or dash into the streets and become roadkill. Duane tries to play these as either the baneful influence of the Lone One or for humor; even deliberately creating new inconsistencies to show that the cat-wizards aren’t as all-knowing as they believe, as when they are trying to figure out the purpose of the ehhif’s ‘opera’:

   “So after they sing, are they going to fight?” The word she used was sth’hruiss, suggesting the kind of physical altercation that often broke out when territory or multiple females were at issue.
   “No, it’s just
hrui’t: Voices only, no claws. They do it everywhere they go.” (pg. 72)

   While the attempt at rationalization is admirable, it is usually less than convincing; but it demonstrates the novel’s ambitious nature. The cover blurb makes an obvious comparison with Williams’ Tailchaser’s Song, the other epic fantasy about heroic cats who challenge the Ruler of Darkness and its demonic minions. The Book of Night with Moon is a complete story, so The Cats of Grand Central Station seems as though it will be a genuine series of separate adventures rather than a single adventure in multiple volumes.

The Wild Road, by ‘Gabriel King’ (Jane Johnson & M. John Harrison)
Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd. (London), Nov 1997
ISBN: 0-09-924252-4
Photos. 463 pages, £5.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Publisher: Ballantine/Del Rey Books (NYC), Mar 1998
ISBN: 0-345-42302-X
No photos. x + 365 pages, $24.95
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   This is also announced as the first novel in a new series; “…the gorgeous first volume in a magical quest fantasy—a Watership Down for cat-lovers,” says a blurb quoted from The Daily Telegraph (London). It could equally well be described as a Lord of the Rings for cat-lovers, since Watership Down is too ‘naturalistic’ to have animal heroes who defend animal royalty while animal wizards battle a human evil necromancer who seeks to corrupt and enslave the world. The Wild Road is actually even closer to Williams’ Tailchaser’s Song than is The Book of Night with Moon.
   All three are adventures featuring domestic cats who lead a secret life unsuspected by the humans who consider them to be mere dumb animals. The Wild Road has the broadest scope, encompassing both the realistically harsh world of (talking) feral urban cats and the Celtic/British fantasy world of ancient ruins and spirits, of natural Earth magics and malignly twisted sorceries.
   Tag, a carefree London pet kitten, is recognized by Majicou, the cat wizard, as one who is Destined for Great Deeds. Unfortunately for Tag, Majicou is in desperate need of a hero Right Away. So Tag is lured from his comfortable home before he is really ready, and bewilderedly prodded to undertake a quest to find the King and Queen of Cats and escort them to Tintagel before the spring equinox.
   The Wild Road has some problems. The first is that of Tag’s dour personality, which ranges from grimly determined at his most cheerful to gloomily convinced that he is doomed to fail. Granted that, from his Oliver Twist-like back-alley adolescence of starvation and brutalization by bullying tomcats, to his semi-delirious trek toward Tintagel as the necromantic Alchemist’s minions pick off his companions one by one, he hardly gets a moment’s rest. His companions are in the same situation, yet their attitudes range from steadfastly optimistic to wittily sarcastic. The Wild Road is really carried by its supporting cast. The reader gets depressed and exhausted with Tag, then relaxes when the scene shifts to Sealink, Ragnar Gustaffson Coeur de Lion, Mousebreath, Cy for Cypher, or one of Tag’s other companions.
   An allied problem is Tag’s early inexperience. This is realistic, but it is carried to exasperating length. Even his companions get tired of it, as when Sealink, a calico New Orleans-raised world-traveler, chews him out over his lack of direction: “Why, kitten, you got no plan! Until you met my old mate, you didn’t even know where Tintagel was! This whole trip so far, you just got pushed from pillar to post. Every way the wind blowed, you went! A traveler’s at the will of the journey, hon. No one accepts that more than me. But you got to learn that will, then use your skills!(pg. 83) The reader is wishing that Sealink had taught him that lesson at least twenty pages earlier, so that the quest would stop drifting and finally get organized.
   Another serious problem is the arbitrary way Tag’s companions are or are not killed. A quest needs situations of mortal danger every so often. But there is one scene where—well, to avoid spoiling it, let’s say that it would be like if, in Disney’s The Lion King, when Scar pushes Mufasa off the cliff and he is falling into the stampede, the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio suddenly appears and waves her wand to save him. The scene in The Wild Road is beautifully described, but it leaves the reader feeling “What!?!” The result is that it quickly becomes hard to take any of the dramatic scenes seriously, even when they do result in death. The naturalistic flow of the story has been interrupted by the obvious hand of the author. No matter how desperate the situation is, a companion in mortal danger may be saved at (or after) the last minute—or a seemingly-safe character may suddenly die just to have an unexpected tragedy.
   If those are the problems, what are the advantages? Mainly, the writing. The novel is filled with excellently evocative scenes and dialogue:

   [Tag and an ally, a black cat, are in a bloody fight in an abandoned housing project with a pride of feral cats led by a marmalade tom.]
   Suddenly, everything had slowed down again. Tag found himself crouched in the center of the ring with the black cat. He was out of breath. There was fur all over the serviceway. In front of Tag stood the marmalade tom. It didn’t even look angry. And it wasn’t breathing hard at all.
   “Oh dear me,” it said. “Beginners.”
   It raised a front paw and studied its own claws, which seemed to have become clogged with black fur. Behind it, from the staircases at each end, more and more cats were slipping down the serviceway. They hadn’t come to watch.
   “I think we’ve had it,” Tag told the black cat.
   “I think you have,” agreed the marmalade tom.
   Tag launched himself at its face. It welcomed him with a powerful embrace.
(pgs. 41-42)

   It had turned out to be one of those sunny winter afternoons that appear tantalizingly between the sleet and frost. Sharp, still air and a cloudless sky made distances look magical and gray. Birds, surprised into activity by the sudden sunshine, were competing by opera for the available space—“My little territory!” “Oh no, I don’t think so!”—as Sealink led Tag up onto the derelict railway track that stretched in both directions like a country lane. Sunlight fell across the old gravel roadbed through dense growths of hawthorn, young birch, and elder. The sounds of the city seemed to recede. (pg. 83)

   There were men everywhere.
   Men on the quay; men down on the moored boats, handing up plastic crates of lobsters and cod, crabs, herring, mackerel, and sea bass; men heaving great sacks of ice and huge wooden boxes over to waiting lorries and vans; men packing the open-sided market building, where the fish were displayed in labeled piles and on pallets. There was so much activity that no one noticed the two cats cross the cobbles, slip through the shadows at the side of the building, and insinuate themselves behind a stack of piled wooden pallets.
   “Men!” said Pertelot, her ears flattened to her head and her spine raised in knobs all the way to her lowered tail.
   The calico cat, though, was in her element. She opened her mouth to capture the rich aroma of fish. Her eyes were narrowed with pleasure. Her toes kneaded the damp cobbles with unashamed sensuality.
   “Ain’t it great?” she breathed, more to herself than her charge. “Man, I love this place.” And, tail high, she sashayed out into the confusion.
(pg. 149)

   The characters are charmingly varied in their personalities and accents. The fantasy scenes would practically all make magnificent paintings, even when they do feel overly set up by the author. There are many unexpectedly imaginative surprises, such as the real identity of the mad Alchemist. The Wild Road is one of those novels which, despite its flaws, is definitely worth reading. It is also similar to The Book of Night with Moon in being a complete story by itself, even though it is the first in a planned series. (The second novel has been announced as The Golden Cat.)

Title: Rover’s Tales
Author: Michael Z. Lewin
Illustrator: Karen Wallis
Publisher: St. Martin’s/Dunne (NYC), Mar 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18169-8
viii + 230 pages; $21.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Change Rover’s name to the Tramp, and this could very well be the adventures of the star of Disney’s 1955 classic movie (one for which the appelation ‘classic’ is not just sales hype) before he met Lady. This attractive volume is a collection of 38 brief tales, of five to eight pages, narrated by Rover, a streetwise masterless city dog.
   Rover makes it clear at the start that he enjoys his life as a wanderer, without any ties. However, he is a ‘knight of the road’ in the honorable sense of that nickname for a hobo. He is always willing to stop long enough to help those in need, whether just to give advice to a younger pup or to lure human aid to a dog baking to death in a locked car. In one tale he makes sure that evidence to a human murder is dragged from the killers to where the police will find it. Usually he helps out dogs against human cruelty, although sometimes other canines are the villains, as when he exposes one dog who is stealing food from another. And when he runs into a pack of stray dogs with a join-us-or-fight attitude, he has to use his wits to decline without a bloody battle.
   The stories are short and relatively undramatic realistic city-dog behavior, so a plot summary does not do them justice. What makes Rover’s Tales enjoyable is Lewin’s brisk writing, which gives Rover a breezy, wry personality with a sardonic quip. He’s a canine Davy Crockett; a noble gunslinger who rides through town, stopping just long enough to right some wrong; a Robin Hood in the original sense, not involved in court intrigue but robbing the rich to help the poor—occasionally using a scam which would be nasty if the victim weren’t so obviously deserving of it. Sometimes his aid or advice is appreciated; sometimes the recipient is too dense or arrogant to acknowledge it, in which case Rover just shrugs and moves on. In a couple of cases, it is Rover who learns the lesson. (He’s not too proud to admit his own mistakes.) Each tale is a brief incident, quickly told; Rover/Lewin does not try to stretch it beyond its story-value.
   There is enough of a sameness about Rover’s Tales that you will probably not care to go through all thirty-eight at one sitting. But it is a book just made to be read in small bits, easy to put down and return to until you have finished them all in a few days.

YARF! logo
#55 / Sep 1998

Title: Reading the Rabbit: Explorations in Warner Bros. Animation
Author: Kevin S. Sandler
Illustrator: ?
Publisher: Rutgers University Press (Piscataway, NJ), Jul 1998

ISBN: 0-8135-2537-3
Hardcover, x + 271 pages, $49.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

ISBN: 0-8135-2538-1
Trade paperback, x + 271 pages, $19.00
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   Books of animation studies are not reviewed here because they usually do not discuss the cartoon actors as funny-animal characters. However, Reading the Rabbit does this to an extent sufficient to make it worth calling to our attention.
   This anthology of a dozen scholarly essays ‘follows the intellectual tracks laid down’ by several collections of academic writings on animation since the early 1980s. But it is the first study to focus upon the Warner Bros. cartoons rather than upon American animation in general or the Disney cartoons in particular. In fact, it tends to look upon Disney as the animation industry’s Evil Empire. Reading the Rabbit has two purposes. It documents the history of the classic WB theatrical cartoons and their Looney Tunes stars, and it Points With Alarm to how the WB Management of the 1990s is evolving into Disney’s Corporate Twin, to the detriment of its characters’ popular and lively personalities.
   Judging by Kevin S. Sandler’s Introduction: Looney Tunes and Merry Metonyms, he is more concerned with rallying the fans of Bugs and his gang to speak out for their future than with mummifying them for history. Sandler notes that the Looney Tunes characters have two public images today. One is as the sassy, irreverent animal stars of the 1940s and ’50s, now famous through several classic studio-approved titles such as Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century and What’s Opera, Doc, plus other Politically Incorrect but still available (if you know where to find them) cartoons like Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips and Tin Pan Alley Cats. This image is reinforced by idolized director Chuck Jones’ stories of the Termite Terrace animation staff’s uninhibited creative freedom, thanks to the contemptuous neglect of their management. The second image is that which WB’s management is creating today, of Bugs Bunny and Michigan J. Frog as dignified corporate symbols; of Bugs and his pals appearing on USPS postage stamps, not to mention on a flood of family-friendly merchandising items pouring from Warner Bros. Studio Stores throughout the nation. Let’s hope that Warner Bros. animation does not lead Termite Terrace to the Magic Kingdom, stressing civility over impertinence; pleasantries over hilarity. The lukewarm success and critical failure of Space Jam raise the important question: Are the Looney Tunes characters headed in the right direction? (pg. 28)
   For an academic study, Reading the Rabbit goes after the current WB management with some sharp skewers. Sandler compares the Looney Tunes cast’s past freedom to engage in one-upsmanship and satirizing of their bosses with the present attitude. When WB revived its theatrical animation in the late 1980s, new directors Greg Ford and Terry Lennon got out barely two cartoons. Management’s ire was raised by their portrayal of the Looney Tunes stars in Blooper Bunny, a parody of WB’s Bugs Bunny 50th Anniversary celebrations. This backstage view of the leading WB cartoon characters showed them as ‘actually’ temperamental and egotistical actors who try to savagely upstage each other. Finished in 1991, Blooper Bunny was put on a shelf for six years (it was finally seen on the Cartoon Network in 1997) while Management polished its own completely-opposite scenario, as seen in Space Jam (1996), of the whole Looney Tunes ‘community’ as the best of friends who only pretend to be adversaries in their movie performances.
   Fans will doubtlessly be most interested in the next-to-last essay, Bill Mikulak’s Fans versus Time Warner: Who Owns Looney Tunes? This cites the Hollywood Reporter’s November 1, 1995 story about Warner Bros.’s discovery on the Internet of fan-drawn pornographic cartoons featuring its characters, and follows it up. The essay is rather one-sided since Time Warner’s legal department had little to say publicly whereas Mikulak downloaded plenty of fannish comments. He also obtained copies of two of Time Warner’s cease-and-desist letters from the fans, and he quotes these to present WB’s official stance. Mikulak notes that the ‘appropriation’ of popular copyrighted characters by their fans for their own non-commercial, and often erotic use has a long tradition (he cites Star Trek fandom), and that WB’s charge that erotic depictions are a ‘perversion of [WB’s] innocent cartoon characters’ is belied by the obviously lusty nature of much of the humor and innuendos basic to such personalities as Pepé le Pew and Minerva Mink, which build upon an established public acceptance of exaggerated cartoon sexual humor going back to Tex Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood (1943).
   In demonstrating his point, Mikulak quotes from numerous fannish Internet open conversations. These require his defining for the academic record of such terms as ‘furvert’, ‘spooge’, ‘anthropomorphics’, ‘furries’, ‘FurryMUCK’ and ‘Drooling Babs Fanboy’. Furry fandom isn’t being discovered by only the sensationalistic tabloid media any more; this book is from Rutgers University Press.
   Other essays which emphasize the Looney Tunes stars and their personalities include Kirsten Moana Thompson’s “Ah Love! Zee Grand Illusion!”: Pepé le Pew, Narcissism, and Cats in the Casbah, and Kevin S. Sandler’s Gendered Evasion: Bugs Bunny in Drag. Linda Simensky’s Selling Bugs Bunny: Warner Bros. and Character Merchandising in the Nineties is less concerned with the characters’ personalities than with how WB’s marketing experts are trying to spin the image of those personalities to achieve maximum merchandising potential, with the bland Looney Tunes Family in Space Jam as the result.
   Fans should also be interested in Gene Walz’s Charlie Thorson and the Temporary Disneyfication of Warner Bros. Cartoons. Thorson, a mid-’30s Disney character designer famous among animators for his ‘cute’ style, was hired by WB in 1937. He is probably the least-known of Bugs Bunny’s ‘fathers’. He was assigned in 1939 to design a rabbit for a cartoon to be directed by Ben ‘Bugs’ Hardaway, and he labeled his model sheet as “Bugs’ Bunny”. Thorson’s design was considered too cute for the sarcastic personality wanted for the character, but the name stuck. Fans who especially like adorably cute funny animals will appreciate the illustrations which include Thorson’s original model sheet designs for Bugs, Sniffles the Mouse, and others.
   The rest of the book is of more interest to the animation fan than to the funny-animal fan, although even such essays as Michael Frierson’s The Image of the Hillbilly in Warner Bros. Cartoons of the Thirties and Donald Crafton’s The View from Termite Terrace: Caricature and Parody in Warner Bros. Animation describe numerous cartoons which feature Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and others, as well as animalized caricatures of human celebrities such as Crosby and Sinatra. The writing is generally brisk and most of the essays are well illustrated. (Not Fans versus Time Warner, unfortunately.) Reading the Rabbit is one of those books which, if you do not want to keep it, you should be able to donate to your local library for a tax deduction (keep your sales receipt) after you finish reading it.

Title: The Complete Wraith!
Author: Michael T. Gilbert
Publisher: MU Press (Seattle, WA), Apr 1998

ISBN: 1-883847-34-6
Hardcover [250 signed & numbered copies], 96 pages, $20.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

ISBN: 1-883847-33-8
Trade paperback, 96 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   There are differences of opinion as to just when ’morph fandom got started, but few will put it as early as the 1970s. However, some major influences that would lead to our fandom were building up in the ’70s, starting with R. Crumb’s Fritz the Cat and Disney’s funny-animal version of Robin Hood. In the comic-book field, 1976-1977 saw the meteoric six-issue career of Mike Friedrich’s Quack!, a brilliant (well, we thought so at the time) funny-animal semi-Underground anthology. It featured some of the earliest comics work of such later notables as Frank Brunner, Mark Evanier, Michael Gilbert, Steve Leialoha, Ken Macklin, Scott Shaw! and Daves Sim and Stevens. Quack! is sadly forgotten today. A single-volume reprint collection of its six issues would be a Good Thing.
   Quack!’s biggest stars were Leialoha’s Newton the Wonder Rabbit and Michael Gilbert’s The Wraith. Of the two, The Wraith was the more impressive. He was the only character to appear in all six issues. His stories were more varied in mood, ranging from light comedy to mordant sardonicism to straight drama and human-interest. He had a growing supporting cast. When the end came in December 1977, it was The Wraith who stepped forward as Quack!’s Master of Ceremonies to lead all of its characters in a holiday farewell to the readers.
   We may not have a collected Quack! yet, but MU Press has now given us Gilbert’s The Complete Wraith! In some ways this is even better, because it is more than just the stories from Quack! Gilbert wrote a final Wraith tale five years later for a one-shot, Michael T. Gilbert’s Strange Brew. That is included, along with trivia like Gilbert’s personal Christmas cards during this period featuring The Wraith and Ivory.
   For this collection, Gilbert has written an introduction to each of the stories describing how it came to be written and what he was trying to accomplish. Gilbert is known today for his Mr. Monster series and his graphic adaptations of Michael Moorcock’s Elric novels. But in 1976 he had just moved from the East Coast after college to San Francisco to break into its underground comix scene. These introductions scattered through The Complete Wraith! provide a nostalgic autobiography; a personal critical analysis of his Wraith series (which can also serve as practical tips for amateur cartoonists who want to create their own series); and a simplified description of the self-published comics field in the 1970s, when it was in the process of evolving from the underground comix through the ‘ground level’ alternatives (including Quack!) into the independent publishers of the 1980s and today.
   What about the Wraith stories themselves? In the ’70s we loved ’em. Today—well, Gilbert himself chuckles at his youthful naïvete, but their earnestness and determination to be the best work that he could produce still stand out. The Wraith was conceived of as a funny animal spoof of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, but Gilbert quickly turned serious about using Eisner’s design and storytelling technique as a model to study. And The Spirit is such a powerful icon that a tribute by a talented student is worth reading in its own right. Here they are: The Wraith, Cyanide City’s masked crimefighter (Doberman); Ivory Snow, his perky flower-child assistant (lioness; Gilbert’s tribute to the underground comix culture he had come to Haight-Ashbury to join); Inspector Mulchberry, his cynical police force contact (rhino); Prof. Izzy Kabbible, mad scientist (squirrel); Maria Theresa Silver, Gilbert’s attempt at both an Eisneresque femme fatale (generic animal-woman) and innovative page design; and numerous others in briefer parts. The Wraith stories may be early works, not as original or polished as Gilbert’s later and better known Mr. Monster series, but they contain enough humor and imagination to remain enjoyable to today’s readers.

Lucasfilm’s Alien Chronicles, by Deborah Chester
Cover of Item 2
Title: The Golden One (Book 1)
Publisher: Ace Books (NYC), Feb 1998
ISBN: 0-441-00561-6
344 pages, $5.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Cover of Item 2

Title: The Crimson Claw (Book 2)
Publisher: Ace Books (NYC), Oct 1998
ISBN: 0-441-00565-9
344 pages, $5.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw
Book 3: forthcoming

   It would be interesting to know how much of this trilogy—actually a single novel in three volumes—is the result of Chester’s own imagination, and how much she was working within guidelines supplied by Lucasfilm Ltd. In any case, Lucasfilm got its money’s worth. If it weren’t for the company’s name in the title, this space opera would seem as dramatic and, yes, original as any other s-f paperback adventure series published today (too many of which are even less thinly-disguised Westerns or Vietnam war novels).
   With that ‘Lucasfilm’ calling attention to its participation, we can see the similarity between this saga of rebellion in an oppressive interstellar empire, and both the famous Star Wars plot and its origins. Virtually every ‘making of…’ book about Star Wars has described how George Lucas studied such sociological analyses of mythological heroes as Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. So at the same time that Alien Chronicles is an original adventure about Ampris, a courageous Aaroun slave who wins freedom for herself and her people from their Viis overlords, it goes back at least as far as the story of Moses in the Bible. Its more obvious modern parallels are the sword-&-sandal dramas set in the Roman Empire, about a young slave (usually of Nordic barbarian stock notable for his blond beauty) who is raised in a patrician’s household as a pampered pet, who is eventually thrown out to discover the harsh reality of his people’s status, and who toughens himself as a gladiator in the arena to win his freedom.
   It is also worth comparing Chester’s style of space opera plotting with that of Alan Dean Foster in his interstellar series such as his Thranx novels and his Icerigger trilogy; and remembering that Foster was the now-acknowledged ghostwriter of the novelization of Star Wars, by George Lucas.
   What makes Lucasfilm’s Alien Chronicles a ’morphic novel is the fact that there is not a human in it. The first page inside the cover of paperbacks is usually a blurb summarizing the plot or quoting an exerpt from an exciting scene. Alien Chronicles has chosen to tempt readers by describing the colorful species they will meet: THE VIIS… A race of seven-foot tall, beautifully reptilian creatures. […] THE AAROUN… The race of Ampris are powerful, golden-furred carnivores with sharp teeth. [Roughly a cross between the larger felines and mustelids.] THE KELTH… A submissive, doglike race with stiff, bristly coats and simian hands. [Hyena/jackals.] The Golden One populates the Viis Empire with eight alien races that range from marmosetoid to tortoiseoid appearances, and The Crimson Claw adds two more. This trilogy is Set in a completely new fictional universe, so don’t expect any Wookies.
   These descriptions are not entirely superficial, either. If it is costumery, it is well-designed and consistent costumery. Ampris as a young Aaroun:

   Lately Ampris had been collecting scents. Her nostrils were filled with a bounty of fragrances, some exhilarating and some pungent, some simply awful. She had to trace each smell to its source, so she could identify and learn.

   Tossing back her head, she threw up her hands to the sky and tried to roar. The cry came out thin and guttural, embarrassing her. Israi glanced back.
   “Stop that. Why are you making such an ugly sound?”
   “I don’t know. It felt natural.”
   Her bottom lip trembled, and she sank her incisors into it to make it stop.
[…] Ampris sniffed and licked away the tears dampening her muzzle.

   Elrabin, a Kelth street thief:

   His fur was short and dense, brindled a pale gray-brown color, and his eyes were a light, golden brown filled with mischief.

   Elrabin swallowed, flicking his ears back …

   A burning sensation filled his throat. He wanted to tip back his head and unleash the grief howl, but he choked it back.

   The Kelth yipped softly in amusement.

   Israi, the Viis princess, and her father, the Emperor:

   Israi flicked out her tongue. She was wearing a bright green satin tunic lined with velvet that reached to her knees, worn open over a pair of golden trousers the exact color of her skin. Pretty pendants dangled from the spines of her rill in the latest fashion.
   “Mother?” Israi said with a dangerous flash of her tiny, razor-sharp teeth.
   Towering above his daughter, he stood there with his air sac inflated, his rill at full extension, and his tail switching from side to side beneath his robe.

   Lucasfilm’s Alien Chronicles are published as adult s-f paperbacks, but the advertising in The Golden One is all for the Star Wars Junior Jedi Knights and Young Jedi Knights young adult series. This is another indication that they are comparable to Alan Dean Foster’s s-f adventures, which are published as adult novels but are designed for a teen readership as well. The basic plot is formulaic, but Chester does a good job of making Ampris a strong and likeable ‘heroine’ rather than a ‘female hero’. She may be forced by the Viis to become a gladiator because of her species’ natural predatory attributes, but she is determined to never lose her intellectualism or her feminine nature and become just another brawny brain-dead swordfighter who happens to be a woman. The adventures of this furry, scaly, feathery and tentacled interstellar alien cast should please ’morph fans as much as any fantasy novels about talking animals.

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