The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten
Note: This is a fraction of the entire listing. If youre on broadband, you might want to try the high speed version instead.
Welcome to the Pattens 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-knownand best in qualityof furry zines. Started in 1990 by Jeff Ferris, YARF!s roster of contributors reads like a Whos Who of furdom in the last decade of the 20th Century. In any issue, the zines 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 Stanleys Freefall
and Fred Pattens reviews of furry books and comics.
Unfortunately, YARF! has been thoroughly inactive since its 69th issue, which was released in September 2003. We cant 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. Pattens review columnsincluding the final one, which would have appeared in the never-printed YARF! #70.
Full disclosure: For each reviewed item, weve provided links you can use to check which of four different online booksellersAmazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and Powells Bookstorenow has it in stock. Presuming the item in question is available, if you buy it Anthro gets a small percentage of the price.
|Title:||The Ancient Enemy: The First Book of Arna|
|Publisher:||Penguin Putnam/New American Library: Roc Books (NYC), Feb 2000|
|436 pages, $6.99|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
The subtitle is a warning that this is just the first installment of an epic series, so the reader should not be surprised when it ends on a cliffhanger. Rowleys previous series, Bazil Broketail, ran for seven volumes over as many years, so The Book of Arna may have more than one or two more volumes to go.
Arna is a world, though whether it is a s-f world or a fantasy world is left unanswered. It is a preindustrial society roughly modelled upon 13th through 16th century Europe. The description of the main characterspeasants, fishermen, merchants, nobilityestablishes them as simian, approximately human but of chimpanzee size, with a spider monkeys soft fur covering all but the face.
He kicked off his boots, stripped off his wool trousers and shirt, and stood there; lean, hard-fleshed, covered in soft grey fur except for the center of his face and forehead. He was grown now, a mot entering his prime. (pg. 6)
The mots are not the only inhabitants of this land. Where you go, Thru? said Tucka dukka Tuckra, the leading chook rooster on the Gillo farm. Where Thru go on such a fine sunny day? (pg. 5) Intelligent chickens share a symbiotic rural society with mot farmers, living on their farms and eating the bugs that would infest the crops. The mots also have an amiable live-and-let-live relationship with the feral wolves. The wolves are offstage in The Ancient Enemy so it is not clear whether they talk or not, but they are intelligent enough to understand and respect the mots property and domesticated animals. The mots in turn respect the wolves rights to wild game.
Then, from below, he heard the howl of wolves. The fur on the back of his neck rose instinctively. Something about the howls expressed a sense of warning. The wolves were telling the world to beware. The wolves knew he was in their territory, but they would not object to a traveling mot. Between mots and wolves there had always been respect. But wolves always howled when they detected pyluk in their range. (pg. 18)
Pyluk, the green-skinned lizard men, are predatory tribal warriors from the mountains that eat anything they can kill, and they are ferocious killers. The mots have to patrol the plains to guard against spear-carrying pyluk hunting parties that sneak from the mountains to overrun farms and eat both livestock and farmers. The most enigmatic of Arnas inhabitants are the Assenzi.
The Assenzi themselves were amazing little beings, smaller and thinner than mots, looking almost like herons in their grey coats and black cloaks. But it was their eyes, twice the size of a mots eye, that were the most striking thing about their thin faces. They peered in at one with such intelligence and understanding that it was a little frightening at times. (pg. 21)
The Assenzi are the equivalent of scholars or a monastic order. They live apart except when they are asked to send a representative to serve as a royal or municipal advisor to one of the mot cities. They have some telepathic or similar mental powers which they use to help the mots fight the pyluk, and they are apparently immortal, claiming to personally remember events in the mots history back to the beginning of time, about 100,000 years ago. (This raises numerous questions. Are the Assenzi truthful? Do they reproduce? Are they natural or artificial creatures?)
What happened before the beginning of time is one of the mysteries:
Dont you ever have questions about it all? Who were the High Ones and all that? Like the question of the Ur-world, you know that one?
No, not really.
It is believed by some that this is not the Ur-world, the original Urth.
It is Arna.
But there was Urth before that.
Thru frowned. I have heard about this legend, from the Assenzi, but they said there is no evidence for it. Master Acmonides taught us that Man the Cruel poisoned the land, the waters, the body, and the spirit. That Man dwindled because his own seed was poisoned and became infertile. Then the ice scoured the world clean and the High Men raised us up from the animals.
But they never told us how they did that. We of the Questioners talk about that a lot. Was it by breeding technique? Or by some more subtle means?
Great magic, in arts long forgotten in the world. (pgs. 110-111)
So is Arna Earth in the far future, or a colony planet, or an alternate-history Earth, or just a fantasy world? These are background questions subtly scattered into the story which follows Thru Gillo, a young mot in the tradition of a Horatio Alger hero. A farmboy, a star player on his village sports team, and an aspiring artist, he helps his parents save their farm from a greedy landowner, he has adventures in sports tournaments, he saves a comrade in a vicious pyluk attack, he makes friends and enemies in the city, and he has romantic affairs. Thru is a charismatic, engaging hero and his story is enjoyable reading, but aside from an occasional mention of body fur or a brief appearance of a chook or an Assenzi, there is little to remind the reader that the cast is not human.
Suddenly, about page 180, legendary Man the Cruel appears and the novel swings in a completely new direction. The mots world is invaded by forty gigantic colonizing ships of human warriors and their families. The command structure seems 17th- 18th-century British Empire; the military structure seems Roman legion; and the religion is basically Mayan/Aztec, ripping bleeding hearts out of victims to offer to their god, He Who Eats. A carnivorous diet is a sign of religious devotion, and Man is not interested in the mots as anything more than succulent domestic beef. The entire mot society is mobilized to save themselves from extinction, and Thru becomes a rising young leader in the new mot armies. The last half of The Ancient Enemy tends to push Thru offstage as new human characters are introduced (notably Simona Gsekk, daughter of a surgeon in the colonizing fleet) and the politics within the human empire are laid out. Several mots and Assenzi pointedly wonder where Man has been for the past 100,000 years, and comment on the instability of a society based on ritual slaughter of anyone not strong enough to protect themselves, hinting that the human empire and its bloody religion are supported by forces not yet introduced. Scenes with large, hairless humans facing off against smaller, furry mots make Thru and his brethren stand out better as anthropomorphized nonhumans. The savage backstabbing among the human political and military elite plausibly excuses the humans failure to overrun the mots before they get their defense organized, and the clash of the human and mot armies enables Rowley to display his skill at plotting convincing Roman army-style battle tactics. The Ancient Enemy is definitely worth reading, but be prepared for the frustrating wait for The Second Book of Arna.
| On Her Majestys Wizardly Service,
aka To Visit the Queen,
by Diane Duane
|Publisher:||Hodder & Stoughton (London), Jul 1998|
|309 pages, £17.99|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
|Publisher:||Aspect/Warner Books (NYC), Apr 1999|
|xi + 354 pages, $14.99|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
This second novel in Duanes The Cats of Grand Central Station series, a sequel to The Book of Night with Moon (Yarf! #54), sends the cat-wizard guardians of the Big Apple to their Limey counterparts who maintain the worldgates that coexist with the London Underground system. The adult cats Rhiow and Urruah are tutoring their young new partner, Arhu, in the use of transdimensional hyperstring manipulation to teleport anywhere on Earth (including explaining why cats rather than humans or any other species are best-suited to be gate technicians) when the gate they momentarily establish to London refuses to close down. The NYC team is Divinely assigned to assist the London gating team in repairing the problem. Investigation reveals that the malfunction is not accidental but is a spinoff of the Lone Ones latest convoluted attempt, centered in London, to destroy all of Creation. This involves sending our worlds late 20th century scientific and military technology to a parallel worlds 19th century society which is not yet socially advanced enough to handle it, then triggering a nuclear devastation which destroys all life; then manipulating time warps to make this dead Earth the primary timeline. The trigger is the assassination of Queen Victoria, which is blamed on the new German Empire.
If this sounds confusing to you, it is much worse for Rhiow, Urruah and Arhu. The trio, who complacently consider themselves experts in New Yorks feline and human societies, must quickly educate themselves in modern Londons feline and human societies, our worlds Victorian Londons feline and human societies, and the parallel worlds Victorian feline and human societies. (Being able to recognize the subtle variations is crucial to awareness of the manipulations of the Lone One, SaRráhh, the Devastrix in her feminine feline form.) There are also problems with the London feline gating team whom they are to assist. Huff, the leader, is so deferentially self-effacing that he and his mate Auhlae basically demote themselves to serving as the New York visitors assistants. This not only adds to the responsibility and workload of Rhiows team, it embarrassingly creates a perception that they are arrogantly taking over, leading to dangerous friction with Fhrio, the London teams proud matrix technician. And a prickly romantic entanglement develops between Arhu and Siffhah, his counterpart on the London team, which threatens the concentration of the youngest and psychically strongest cats when it is most needed.
Like The Book of Night with Moon, this is an unusual mixture of feline culture and heavy quantum pseudotechnology. Practically every page is rank with reminders of the main characters catly nature and their ailurin language. Some of this is delightfully intriguing, while some feels overly ponderous.
Arhu was washing now, with the quick, sullen movements of someone both embarrassed and angry. [ ] But Arhu turned back to the gate-weave and began hooking his claws into it again, in careful sequence. [ ] Rhiow switched her tail in agreement. They watched Arhu reconstruct the active matrix and pull out the strings again, two pawfuls of them: then he leaned in and carefully began taking hold of the next groups with his teeth, pulling them down one by one to join the ones already in his claws. The gate shimmered. (pg. 22)
Rhiow sighed at that. Urruah was nonalignedwithout a permanent den and not part of a pride-by-blood, but most specifically uncompanioned by ehhif, and therefore what they would call a stray: mostly at the moment he lived in a Dumpster outside a construction site in the East Sixties. Arhu had inherited Saashs position as mouser-in-chief at the underground parking garage where she had lived, and had nothing to do to keep in good odor with his employers except, at regular intervals, to drop something impressively dead in front of the garage office [ ] (pg. 31)
Noses were bumped all around: Rhiow was privately amused to note how shyly Arhu did it. He was apparently not immune to physical beauty in a queen. And this is Fhrio, Auhlae said.
Rrrh, Fhrio said, a sound of general disgust, and dropped back down to all fours again, turning to the others. Yeah, hunts luck to you, hello there, well met. He bumped noses peremptorily, then sat down and started in on a serious bout of composure-washing [ ] (pg. 68)
In addition to the feline sociology, at one point the team needs important assistance from the Ravens at the Tower of London. Ravens have their own species talents in Duanes cosmology; they can See through time:
If youve been here that long, Arhu said, you must have seen a lot.
Even if we hadnt been, Hugin said, we would still be Seeing it now. William the Conqueror: I See him walk by a puddle, right over there, and a cart goes through it and gets his hose wet, and he swears at the man driving the cart and pulls him out of his seat, throws him into the water, too. The Romans: I See them walking their city wall, looking at the cloud of dust as Boudicca and her chariots come riding. [ ] But we knew it would be all right. We Saw it then, as we See it now.
Thats why Ive come, Arhu said. It may not be all right, soon, in a very large-scale sort of way. We need help to find out how to stop what we think is happening from happening. He looked around him. All this could be gone
No, said Hardy, of course it wont. This will still be here. He squinted up at the pale stones of the Tower. It will be dead, of course. No people and eventually, even no Ravens. No nothing, just the dark and the cold, and the thin black cloud high up that the Sun cant come through. The wind crying out for loneliness and nothing else. (pgs. 180-182)
The cats mission to forestall this nuclear winter requires that they prevent both the Evil Ones introduction of industrial technology into this timelines early 19th century, and the murder of Queen Victoria later in her reign which ignites the final war. Actually, the former by itself should eliminate the main danger, but the story emphasis is on the latter since it provides a more dramatic adventure. The cats become feline secret agents who must search through time from the present to the moment of the queens death, then backtrack through the preparations for her assassination to learn the details and plan the right moment to step in and short-circuit itwhile fighting off the Evil Ones countermanipulations to eliminate them.
To Visit the Queen (the U.S. title) is an admirable sequel to The Book of Night with Moon. It stands nicely on its own, although there are enough references to the first novel that it would be helpful to read it first. Rhiow, Urruah and Arhu are the same appealing feline personalities, while the new adventure has enough originality that it is more than a mere rewrite of the same plot. Recommended.
|The Golden Cat, by Gabriel King
aka Jane Johnson & M. John Harrison
|Publisher:||Century (London), Nov 1998|
|350 pages, £16.99|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
|Publisher:||Ballantine/Del Rey Books (NYC), May 1999|
|287 pages, $24.50|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
This sequel to The Wild Road (also reviewed in Yarf! #54) may complete that magical quest fantasy. It seems to end with a definite conclusion. But so did The Wild Road, and The Golden Cat begins with a cruel shattering of its happily-ever-after ending. That was a Lord of the Rings for cat-lovers. Tag (Bilbo), a carefree London pet kitten, was drafted by Majicou (Gandalf) to journey into a perilous realm of brutal feral cats and human vivisectionists, all under the spell of the evil Alchemist (Sauron) to be as callous and sadistic as possible. Tags mission was to find the King and Queen of Cats before they were slaughtered, and escort them past numerous dangers to Tintagel where the Queen would give birth to the Golden Cat, the redeemer of all Felidae. This Tag and his brave companions accomplished, although some gave their lives to protect Tag and Queen Pertelot. The Wild Road ended with the Alchemist dead, Pertelot giving birth to three kittens, and the surviving questers relaxing.
The Golden Cat begins a few weeks later. The kittens (Isis, Odin, and Leonora Whitstand Merril) have reached the scampering about stage. Pertelot, her mate Ragnar Gustaffson Coeur de Lion, and Tag are waiting for one of them to develop into the Golden Cat. Tags companions are ready to return to their individual lives. Sealink, the world-roaming American cat, has been made homesick by Pertelots kittens to find out whatever happened to her own litter of kittens that she left in New Orleans. But no sooner do the companions separate than two of Pertelots kittens disappear under sorcerous circumstances, and the individual companions find themselves in greater danger than ever.
If The Wild Road had a Tolkienish air, The Golden Cat is closer to a horror novel. The story is in three main alternating parts. Tag and the remaining kitten, Leo, search for her siblings in a British countryside that seems to have been overwhelmed by an aura of ancient magic; the sinister, cruel power of witches and haughty elfin lords. Carefree Sealink returns to New Orleans, the city of good times and good living, to find it made over into the likeness of Lovecrafts Arkham; a gloomy, ominous nightmare through which creep the starving shadows of her once-jaunty feline neighbors. The third plotline introduces a new character, Animal X, helplessly caged in a sadistic experimental laboratory as bad as any in The Wild Roador, to continue comparisons, with the diabolical National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments in C. S. Lewis That Hideous Strength. Tags other companions from the first novel have more briefly described but even stranger adventures, journeying back through time to Pharaonic Egypt or riding on the back of a gigantic manta ray to the Moon.
As with The Wild Road, the main asset of The Golden Cat is the marvelously evocative writing which brings scenes to vibrant life. (Some of the horror scenes are so disquieting that you may wish the writing was not so effective.)
Tag brings Leonora to meet the Reading Cat in an abandoned house:
The empty house murmured with traffic noises, as if a decade of passing cars lived in its peeling wainscots and half-open cupboards. Leo followed Tag up narrow flights of uncarpeted wooden stairs varnished years ago a sticky brown color. Each landing was lit by a small dirty window. Off the landings, doors opened into rooms empty and broken looking: rooms with stale charred grates like open mouths, rooms that looked as if birds had taken up residence in them.
What is that smell? asked Leonora, wrinkling her nose.
When Tag advised, You shouldnt ask what? but who? she stared over her shoulder as if the walls had quietly sprung to life behind her as she passed.
She was unprepared for the top of the housewhere everything had been knocked into one huge room, now lighted by the dull gold-and-orange wash of a setting sun, which ran like hot metal through a series of skylights and onto the scene belowor for the animal who greeted them there.
Uroum Bashou had once danced and scampered in the alleys of Moroccoor so he claimed. Now he lived in some state, albeit in the cold north; and books surrounded him. Books large and small, books bound with green and brown leather or orange paper, books in drifts, books in rafts. Closed books, open books, books swooning into piles, books whose wings and backs seemed broken. Books had slipped from the walls and slithered across the floors like the moraines left behind by some strange retreating glacier from a vanished age of print. Among them, like a pasha on a cushion in a souk, sprawled the Reading Cat, a browny-black, short-haired, skinny, long-legged old thing, who nevertheless exuded the dignity of the expert, the confidence of the emeritus professor. (U.S. edition, pgs. 71-72)
The boredom of imprisonment in the experimental laboratory:
The cat known only as Animal X passed his time with four other cats in a five-chambered metal cabinet that left only their heads free to move. There were other cabinets nearbythough Animal X couldnt see themand other cats in those cabinets. Some of them had been afraid when they were first brought here. Some of them had been angry. Now they accepted their situation. The only thing they couldnt get used to was not having enough mobility to groom themselves. The strain of this left them dull eyed. Their necks were chafed into sores by the enameled edge of the cabinet. In an attempt to relieve the irritation this caused, they stared outward away from one another all day while human beings came and went around them, treating them as if they werent there and saying things like Hanson wants the workups as of yesterday, but he wont say why. Or We can do the blood now, on its own, but it wont show anything. Doesnt he know that? These people never touched the cats in the cabinets. They didnt need to.
A window was set high up in the room somewhere behind Animal Xs head. He had never seen it, but he knew it was there by the parallelogram of sunlight projected onto the white-painted wall in front of him. He knew that shifting, flattened lozenge by heart. He had watched as it changed shape stealthily, hour by hour, across more days than he could count. At the end of the long afternoons the light from the window warmed each object it found, making everything, even in that place, seem friendly and familiar. The air became a rich, creamy-golden substance, less like air than pure color. You forgot the ammoniacal smell of the trapped cats around you. Light fell through the air in a single slanting bar; dust motes fell gently through the light like dandelion seeds. (pgs. 51-52)
Also as with The Wild Road, the main flaw of The Golden Cat is the overly obvious authorial manipulation. Characters disappear and reappear for no real purpose other than to justify nicely-written passages about how eerie things are getting. The supernatural menace is convincingly chilling, but is never much better defined than is the Dark Side of the Force. The story does not flow naturally to its conclusion as much as it seems to be an accumulation of graphically stunning scenes until a books worth had piled up, with a climax tacked on to wrap it up neatly.