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The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten

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

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

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#58 / Jan 2000

Cover of Item 2
Title: Cat in an Indigo Mood: A Midnight Louie Mystery
Author: Carole Nelson Douglas
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates/Forge Books (NYC), Apr 1999
ISBN: 0-312-86635-6
381 pages, $24.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Cover of Item 2

Title: Midnight Louie’s Pet Detectives
Editor: Carole Nelson Douglas
Illustrator: Ellisa Mitchell
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates/Forge Books (NYC), Oct 1998
ISBN: 0-312-86435-3
350 pages, $23.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw


   Murder mystery series featuring ‘pet detectives’ have become extremely popular during the ’90s. However, as I have previously complained, most* of these “animal-lovers’ mysteries” (as one blurb dubs them) only nominally feature the animals (usually cats). Either the animals are normal beasts that unknowingly provide clues to the human amateur detective who is the real star, or they are fantasies in which the cats (with or without doggy ‘Dr. Watson’ partners) talk to each other in the background while their human friend solves the crimes. The animals may do their own investigating and discuss the suspects, but it is invariably the human detective who actually discovers the murderer’s identity.
   There are recent signs in the two major ‘talking animals’ series that this formula may be starting to evolve. One is the Mrs. Murphy series by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown (she gives her own cat a byline). The animal stars are Mrs. Murphy, a gray tiger-striped cat; her best friend Tee Tucker, a Welsh corgi; and Pewter, a shamelessly fat gray cat. All are pets of Mary Minor (Harry) Haristeen, the young postmistress of Crozet, Virginia. In Cat on the Scent (March 1999), the seventh in the series, the animals do more than surreptitiously move clues to where Harry will notice them. They fetch them and drop them right at her feet, in circumstances where ‘accidentally’ picking out the right clue at a messy scene is stretching good luck. Then at the climax, when one of Harry’s neighbors is shot in his car, the two cats and the small dog jump into the car and drive him to get medical help. Huh!? Is someone subconsciously crying out for attention here?
   Cat on the Scent was followed a month later by Cat in an Indigo Mood, the tenth novel in Carole Nelson Douglas’s Midnight Louie series. (Douglas reveals here that there will be 27 in this series.) Temple Barr is a young public relations agent in Las Vegas. She has adopted—or been adopted by—Midnight Louie, a large black cat-about-town who fancies himself as a feline private eye in the classic Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe style. In the first volumes, Temple stumbles over new corpses in the course of her latest public relations jobs. She also builds up a large supporting cast of friends and enemies, potential lovers and rivals. Soon she is investigating the corpses that they stumble over. Temple’s third-person narrative is occasionally interrupted by short chapters in which Louie, in the first person, tells the reader how he is helping Temple behind the scenes. Louie has his own supporting cast of cat and dog assistants; notably his daughter, Midnight Louise; Ingram, the encyclopedically knowledgeable cat at a mystery-specialty bookshop; and Karma, a spooky Birman with genuine psychic powers who lives with Temple’s landlady. The story ratio is about four chapters in the humans’ Las Vegas to each chapter set in Louie’s animal society.
   Louie enters in Chapter 5 of Cat in an Indigo Mood:

   It really began with a dame.
   But then, it always does.
   So there I am, lounging among the lilies trying to catch a few Zs when the leaves of the lily-next-door part, trembling.
   She is trembling too, all the way to the tips of her full-length fur coat.
   “Are you Mr. Midnight?” she asks in a soft, quavering voice.
   “On formal occasions, yes.”
   “I suppose this is a formal occasion,” she decides, mincing past the carp pond without a glance at the afternoon’s seafood selection.
   I realize that her pure-white coat, while not as fluffy as a Persian’s, declares her a purebred. I have seen a lot of good-looking dames in my time, but this little doll has made a career of it. She is a lean, fine-coated lady and from the look of her, she is in big trouble.
   “Have a seat,” I say, brushing off a flagstone with my second most useful appendage.
(pgs. 32-33)

   This should show Louie’s hard-boiled P.I. style. The feline fatale, Miss Fanny Furbelow, wants Louie to investigate the disappearance of her gentlemen cat friend, Wilfred. Neither he nor his human companion have been seen lately. Meanwhile, Las Vegas homicide detective Molina (Temple’s regular antagonist) has discovered a new human murder victim, the first in what may be a series of serial killings. The reader will not be surprised when the human victim turns out to be Wilfred’s missing owner. Soon two parallel investigations are in progress: Molina’s (which Temple soon gets dragged into) for the killer of the humans, and Louie’s for the presumed human killer of Wilfred.
   Louie’s liberated-feminist daughter, Midnight Louise, has kibitzed him from the sidelines before, but Cat in an Indigo Mood is the first in which the two black cats team up for the whole novel as a gumpaw and sassy secretary team to solve the caper. This requires the aid of a new specialist: Nose E., a canine super-sniffer from the police’s drugs-&-explosives team who is persuaded to go AWOL with the cats for a few days for the good of all critterkind against an apparently psychotic killer.
   Douglas tries a couple of new tactics here. I will spoil one by warning that the story surprisingly ends on an infuriating cliffhanger instead of a neat wrapup as usual. And Louie, Louise, and Nose E. finally do something that the humans cannot dismiss as just some local pets coincidentally hanging around in the background of the investigation. Is this a throwaway scene, or will it lead to some more dramatic anthropomorphization in the seventeen novels to come? Another warning: These novels have turned into a convoluted soap opera, so readers who start out with this tenth novel should expect lots of back-story in the relationships between Temple, boyfriend/lovers Matt Devine and Max Kinsella, colorful landlady Electra Lark, homicide lieutenant C. R. Molina, Crystal Phoenix hotel manager Van von Rhine (Temple’s current employer), and many more.
   In addition to the novels, Douglas has written a handful of overly-cute Midnight Louie short stories for some of the Cat Crimes theme anthologies edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Ed Gorman. Now she has ghost-edited her own anthology in this genre: Midnight Louie’s Pet Detectives, a volume of seventeen stories by mystery and fantasy writers. Each is introduced by Louie himself: I may be the master of American Alleycat Noir, but when it comes to Victorian Noir, there is only one contender, Miss Anne Perry… (pg. 17). Louie’s Introductions and some of the stories are for readers who are into Concentrated Cute. Actually, only five of the seventeen feature sentient animal detectives: Daisy and the Silver Quaich, by Anne Perry (dogs and cats), Kittens Take Detection 101 by Jan Grape (kittens, who refer cutely to ‘Uncle Louie’), A Hamster of No Importance by Esther M. Friesner and Walter J. Stutzman (an Arabian Nights hamster meets Oscar Wilde and his coterie of Esthetic Groupies in a Wodehousian farce that is genuinely funny), A Baker Street Irregular by Carole Nelson Douglas (Louie’s British ancestor aids Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler), and Final Vows by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (Mustard, a ghost, must identify the human cat-killer in his neighborhood before he can be reincarnated in the next of his nine lives. This is part of Scarborough’s Master Mu Mao the Magnificent series appearing in Andre Norton’s & Martin Greenberg’s Catfantastic anthologies.) In many of the twelve others the animal is not a detective by any stretch of the imagination (e.g., a young woman who has just inherited a circus must prove that her star elephant is not a rogue that needs to be killed); and in some the animal is barely present (a woman investigating the suspicious death of a childhood friend in the countryside hears an owl hooting). Some of these stories are very good as detective puzzlers or suspense thrillers, but Midnight Louie’s Pet Detectives is extremely on the light size as ’morphic fiction.

*The notable, genuinely anthropomorphic exception is the Joe Grey & Dulcie series by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. The two cats, who have supernaturally gained human intelligence and speech, are the amateur detectives who investigate murders in a California resort community and deliberately provide clues for the police to find.

Title: Worlds of Honor
Editor: David Weber
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Baen Books (Riverdale, NY), Feb 1999
ISBN: 0-671-57786-7
343 pages, $21.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Weber’s Honor Harrington series of military s-f novels, high-concept-summarized as ‘Horatio Hornblower in outer space’, is one of the publishing success stories of the 1990s. Despite writing eight novels in six years (starting with On Basilisk Station in 1993), Weber literally cannnot produce new Honor Harrington books fast enough to satisfy the fans. He has had to call upon his friends to help write stories set in Honor Harrington’s universe, to elaborate and fill out its background history and astrography. This includes finally giving the real story about the six-limbed treecats of Sphinx, one of the three inhabited planets of the Manticore Binary star system.
   Harrington is introduced on the first page of On Basilisk Station with her inseparable treecat companion, Nimitz. Nimitz is a colorful ‘pet’ whose ability to sense emotions has more than once saved Harrington’s life by unmasking assassins and disguised enemies. There are plenty of hints scattered through the novels that treecats are much more clever than humans suspect. But Nimitz plays the role of a dumb animal (a feline/mustelid version of a pirate’s parrot constantly riding on Harrington’s shoulder) too well for the novels to qualify as anthropomorphic at all.
   Baen’s publicity says, His hordes of voracious fans clamor for more and more Weber. […] they call the Baen offices several times a week demanding more from their main man. One of the things that they have demanded is more information about the treecats. It is in the new series of “Honor’s universe” novellas that Weber is letting the treecats play a bigger role.
   The first of this spinoff series, More Than Honor (Baen Books, January 1998), contains three novellas; by Weber himself, David Drake, and S. M. Stirling. Only Weber’s story features treecats (A Beautiful Friendship, pages 3-132), but it reveals all their hidden intelligence. It is actually a Young Adult story, set 500 years before Honor Harrington’s era and barely fifty years after the first human settlement of Sphinx (around 3400 A.D.). It relates the first meeting of treecats and humans—specifically, between the young treecat Climbs Quickly and 11-year-old Stephanie Harrington, Honor’s ancestor. This adventure gives the story behind the treecats’ true cleverness and their society, and how and why they decide to enter into a symbiotic relationship with selected humans while hiding their intelligence. ’Morph fans will enjoy it; but since A Beautiful Friendship is only one-third of the book, it is not enough to qualify More Than Honor as a ’morphic volume.
   Worlds of Honor, however, consists of five novellas of about ninty pages each, and treecats play important roles in four of them. The Stray, by Linda Evans, is set only 15 years after Stephanie Harrington’s and Climbs Quickly’s mutual bonding. Scott MacDallan, a frontier doctor among Sphinx’s expanding human settlers, has also acquired a treecat companion.

   Scott had to look closely, but he spotted the treecat near the trunk, sitting up on its haunches like an old Terran ferret, longer and leaner than one of those ancient weasels, yet with a head and certain other characteristics far more feline—except, of course, for the six limbs, a trait it shared with the massive and deadly Sphinxian hexapuma it so closely resembled in all but size. (pg. 4)

   Scott and his treecat partner, Fisher, get involved with the first deadly human criminal that the treecats have encountered. It creates a potential crisis in how the treecats evaluate humans, and a problem in how Fisher is to get information to Scott without revealing his intelligence.
   What Price Dreams?, by David Weber, and the immediately following Queen’s Gambit, by Jane Lindskold, sound too similar in synopsis, but their individual tellings fortunately make them stand apart. Both have treecats playing guardian angels/secret agents to protect the royal family of the Star Kingdom of Manticore. The former tells the story of the first ‘adoption’ of a member of the House of Winton, Crown Princess Adrienne, by a treecat, Seeker of Dreams; and how he saves her from assassins. The latter starts with the murder of King Roger III and tells how treecats save his heir, the young Elizabeth III (the older queen in the main series). The Hard Way Home, also by David Weber, is the earliest story featuring Honor Harrington and Nimitz, when she is a young Lieutenant Commander just beginning her career in the Royal Manticoran Navy.

   Nimitz made another sound, softer this time, with a dangerous edge of darkness. Honor had never been certain exactly how deep into her own emotions he could see. She suspected that his sensitivity went deeper than even most “’cat experts” believed, just as she felt stubbornly certain that there were times when she hovered on the very brink of sensing his emotions in return. She never had, of course. No human had ever been able to duplicate a treecat’s empathy, not even those fortunate few who, like Honor, had been bonded to and adopted by one of them. (pg. 253)

   Humans are the predominant cast members in Worlds of Honor, but there are enough treecats and enough scenes (especially in the first two stories) of treecats behaving with open intelligence in the privacy of their own society to make this a satisfactory introduction for ’morph fans to the Honor Harrington interstellar naval-action series.

Title: Kevin & Kell: Accepting Domestication
Author: Bill Holbrook
Publisher: Online Features Syndicate (Norcross, GA), Jun 1999
ISBN: 0-9660676-6-5
147 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This third annual ‘Dead-Tree Edition’ of Holbrook’s online comic strip presents the daily strips from September 2, 1997 through August 28, 1998. For nitpickers, this is missing two strips; 12/2 and 12/3/97. But it includes one of those missing from the first collection, 11/13/95 (between 10/3 and 10/6/97). There are also four of the full-page ‘Sunday-format’ strips, plus an original 12-page Accepting Domestication handbook just for this collection.
   Kevin & Kell just keeps getting better. (See Yarf! #50 and #53 for reviews of the first two collections.) Kevin (rabbit) and Kell (wolf) Dewclaw still have social problems in their woodland community over their herbivore/carnivore mixed marriage. Their children from their first marriages, Rudy (Kell’s wolf son) and Lindisfarne (Kevin’s adopted porcupine daughter), are still facing adolescent angst. But the situations are humorously new.
   Rudy, who was such a klutz that it was affecting his high school grades in classes like Sneaking Up On Prey 101, has improved so dramatically that he is now eligible to try out with his girlfriend Fiona Fennec for Caliban Academy’s hunting team. But this puts him into potential conflict with the school’s jock types like steroid-stuffed Vin Vulpen. It also brings him to the attention of Fiona’s snobbish fennec parents, who rule that they must win the city’s school mixed doubles hunting championship or they will not be allowed to date any longer. Kell’s case of ‘Spontaneous Domestication’ (an affliction among carnivores which carries a severe social stigma, introduced briefly in the second collection, Seen Anything Unusual?, when an office rival at Herd Thinners, Inc. tried to ‘out’ her to get her fired) grows worse. She becomes psychologically compelled to wear a collar and fetch sticks. Kevin’s marriage to a wolf makes him a bad insurance and bank-loan risk. Lindisfarne has a hard time getting together with her boyfriend Fenton Fuscus, a bat, since porcupines are diurnal and bats are nocturnal. The family takes a brief job at Animal Kingdom theme park, which requires them to strip naked (hey, it beats wearing clothes in a humid Florida Summer!) and pose as wild creatures for the tram tours. Bruno’s sheep friend Corrie trims her fleece into a poodle cut to pass as a carnivore. Kevin & Kell continues to take full advantage of the animal natures of its cast. There are also plenty of computer jokes, tied to Kevin’s at-home job as sysop manager of the Herbivore Forum.
   S-f and anime fans will also discover that Holbrook is One Of Us, as they run across ingroup Ray Bradbury and Hayao Miyazaki references. Full value for your $12.95? You’d better believe it! For full ordering information, contact or write Online Features Syndicate, P. O. Box 931264, Norcross, GA 30093-1264.

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