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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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#62 / Nov 2001

Three from Plan Nine Publishing

Cover of Item 2
Title: Kevin & Kell: For the Birds
Author: Bill Holbrook
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Plan Nine Publishing (High Point, NC), Sep 2000
ISBN: 1-929462-18-2
142 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw
Cover of Item 2
Title: Ozy and Millie II: Never Mind Pants
Author: David Simpson
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Plan Nine Publishing (High Point, NC), Dec 2000
ISBN: 1-929462-20-4
154 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw
Cover of Item 2
Title: Tonight’s Top Story: a Newshounds Collection
Author: Thomas K. Dye
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Plan Nine Publishing (High Point, NC), Dec 2000
ISBN: 1-929462-10-7
156 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Since Yarf! #50, we have been reviewing Plan Nine Publishing’s collections of Bill Holbrook’s Kevin & Kell Internet comic strip. Plan Nine was created by two Kevin & Kell fans, David & Lisa Allen, to make the strip (the first comic strip created especially for Internet publication, in September 1995) available outside of computers. They were so successful that they have become the leading publisher of book collections of the rapidly swelling wave of Internet comic strips, including others that are anthropomorphic. Their first collection of John Robey’s The Suburban Jungle, starring Tiffany Tiger, was reviewed in Yarf! #61.
   Plan Nine is speeding up production. The last half of 2000 saw their publication of Holbrook’s fifth Kevin & Kell collection, plus the second collections of David Simpson’s Ozy and Millie and Thomas K. Dye’s Newshounds, as well as several non-’morphic strips. Anyone who enjoys good comic strips, anthropomorphic or not, needs to keep up with Plan Nine’s latest releases. The company has recently moved to a new address: Plan Nine Publishing, 1237 Elon Place, High Point, North Carolina 27263;
   Kevin & Kell: For the Birds is the fifth annual collection of Bill Holbrook’s soap-opera depicting life as it might be in a real funny-animal community where the carnivores prey on the herbivores. Kevin & Kell Dewclaw have a controversial mixed-species marriage—he’s a rabbit; she’s a wolf. After five years, the strip has built up the large cast and numerous plot threads of any highly successful comic strip. Those who are not familiar with Kevin & Kell are advised to start with the first collection, Kevin & Kell: Quest for Content, to get to know the characters: Kevin Dewclaw, a stay-at-home online sysop; Kell Dewclaw, a huntress employed at Herdthinners, Inc.; their teen children, Rudy (wolf, from Kell’s first marriage) and Lindisfarne (hedgehog, adopted) and their high-school friends; plus many more. Those who are already fans can dive right into For the Birds without needing any further introduction.
   For the Birds collects the daily strips from September 6, 1999 through August 19, 2000. Story sequences include the revelation (to the readers) that this world’s animal-&-insect civilization is really controlled by the birds; the accidental transformation of firefly Ray Flambeau into a super-genius by the birds’ intelligence ray, and the birds’ kidnapping of Ray and bat Fenton Fuscus (Lindesfarne’s boyfriend) to protect their secret; Kevin’s startup of an online ‘Flea-Bay’ grooming service to match animals with the right mates, and his rabbit ex-wife Angelique’s attempt to hostilely acquire it; how wealth affects the life of Rudy’s girlfriend, Fiona Fennec; Kell’s problems with office politics at Herdthinners (where everyone is a predator); and much more. As usual, the characters’ animal natures are an integral part of the story and the daily jokes. Wolf cub Rudy drinks out of the toilet, while Lindesfarne sheds her quills in inconvenient places, and she has to be especially careful when she babysits young skunks. Kevin & Kell’s fans know what to expect, and they will not be disappointed.
   Kevin & Kell has been a Monday through Friday black-&-white strip for most of its existence. This volume encompasses the transition in June-July 2000 when it became a daily full-color strip with a ‘Sunday newspaper page’ Sunday strip. Due to the expense and difficulties of printing color mixed with black-&-white strips, most of those in For the Birds are in black-&-white with a separate color section of just six of the Sunday pages. Bill Holbrook attended FURther Confusion 2001 in January, where he announced that since fans want the reprint collections to include all the color, their format will be adjusted to make this economically practical. Future collections will be in full color, but contain only six months’ worth of strips rather than a full year’s, at about the same price.

The Kevin & Kell strip for 24 September 1999

   Ozy and Millie, two eight- to nine-year-olds, are the featured mouthpieces for David Simpson’s views on modern society (notably on social pressures toward conformity) among the students and teachers of Seattle’s North Harbordale Elementary School. Simpson is not the first satirist to present social commentary as coming through the guise of childhood innocence (there was that boy who shouted that the Emperor was not wearing any clothes), but he is one of the few to do so in a funny-animal universe. Simpson’s main cast are Ozymandias J. Llewellyn (wolf arctic fox cub), a Zen philosopher; Millicent Mudd (red fox cub), an extrovert and challenger of authority figures; Avery (raccoon) and Felicia Laine (sheep), stereotypical followers of all the latest ‘cool’ trends; Jeremy Studley (rabbit), representative of sports jocks and school bullies; and Stephan Aardvarke, the ultimate computer geek.
   Ozy and Millie’s adults represent the conformity being commented upon. Their attitudes range from Millie’s mother’s practical willingness to put up with it, to the principal’s comically exaggerated belief that schools have a duty to tranquilize or hammer kids into conformity as part of preparing them for life. The major exception is Ozy’s adoptive father, a Welsh red dragon. Mr. Llewellyn and his dragon relatives represent successful nonconformity in adult life. They hold clan reunions in magic castles in Idaho; they run for president on bizarre third-party tickets; they are in charge of all the international conspiracies. They do not accomplish much, but they signify that it is still possible to have fun and imagination after you grow up.
   Broadly speaking, Ozy and Millie is like Calvin and Hobbes except that, where readers were supposed to understand that all the fantasy in Calvin and Hobbes was in Calvin’s imagination, in Ozy and Millie it is real. In Ozy and Millie II: Never Mind Pants (collecting the strips from August 23, 1999 through September 9, 2000 plus an original full-color ten-page story), there really is a whole fantasy world similar to Porky Pig’s Wackyland inside Ozy’s couch. Ozy really does, as a funny animal, get away with not wearing pants in public (and Avery’s little brother Timulty, a five-year-old raccoon child, is usually completely nude except for fur). Mr. Llewellyn really does breathe fire and, during the era of McCarthyism, he ate Senator McCarthy’s car. These fantasy aspects are only occasionally pertinent to one of the continued stories which run for a week or two; usually they are only used for individual gags. Otherwise, Ozy and Millie is a typical funny animal comic strip similar to Carl Barks’ world of talking ducks. There is plenty of fantasy in the stories, but little need for the characters to be talking animals instead of humans. This is a very minor quibble; it is more important that Ozy and Millie is a delightfully humorous and attractively drawn funny-animal strip.

The Ozy and Millie strip for 13 September 1999

   In Thomas K. Dye’s Newshounds, struggling KPET-TV owner Laura Dilbrook puts her pets to work as the station’s staff. This amusing setup makes Newshounds similar to descriptions of the concept of The Frostbite Falls Review, Alex Anderson’s & Jay Ward’s early 1950s unsold pilot for a TV cartoon series about a North Woods radio station run by animals. (Two of those, Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, later achieved stardom in a different series.)
   This staff consists of Renata Fayre and Wolfram Blitzen (dogs), the co-anchors of KPET Action News; Sam Shepherd (dog), physical fitness coach and sportscaster; Alistar Katt, social commentator; Kevin J. Dog, cameradog; and Ferris the Rat, janitor. The four dogs look considerably different, but their breeds are not nearly as important as their personalities. Renata and Wolfram are photogenic TV personalities, but Renata is a sharp investigator (and feminist-activist) while Wolfram is all looks and no brains. Sam is a sexist sports jock, while Alistair is as much a social activist as commentator, chaining himself to trees and campaigning for gun control. Kevin is the practical sort who gets things accomplished behind the scenes. Ferris is a TV junkie who believes everything he sees in commercials, and he has an obsession for Tori Spelling.
   Sequences in Newshounds vary between several days’ worth of individual gag strips, and stories that run for a couple of months. The plots bounce back and forth between those in which the KPET staff are treated just like humans (they have to take a DMV test and get a license to drive vehicles, like everyone else) with nobody surprised by their being talking animals, and those in which their animal natures are important. In Tonight’s Top Story, the second Newshounds collection (and the first published by Plan Nine), presenting the strips from January 11, 1999 through March 30, 2000, Ferris gets an invitation to a ‘Vermin Nation Dance … for rodents only’ that turns out to be a trap to kidnap animals for dangerous scientific research experiments. (“What’s this experiment supposed to be about?” “It’s to see how much Stephen King one can read before their eyeballs go on strike.”) When Kevin gets sick from overeating at a party, he decides against taking human stomach medicine and goes out to the lawn to chew some grass. (This begins a story in which KPET’s lawn is discovered to have been sprayed with toxic chemicals.)
   The KPET staff are not the only funny animals in this world. Two talking fish try to get Alistair Katt to publicize their plan to block off the Panama Canal’s entrance locks with a chain of fish. Kevin has Strong Feelings for Stormy, a dog-girl fan of Blackadder whose dog boyfriend is a clerk at a Starbucks. The relationship between the human and funny-animal cast contains mixed signals. Sam Shepherd goes to a baseball game and has to buy a ticket to get in. When a psycho ‘Son of Son of Sam’ tries to kill an umpire during a baseball game, Sam is arrested for inciting the crime because of his name and witnesses hearing him yelling “Kill the umpire!” in the bleachers. Alistair Katt serves as his defense attorney, which the court has no objections to, but they had to settle for Alistair because a human attorney refused to “degrade himself to represent a smelly, toilet water-drinking dog”.
   If you have a favorite Internet anthropomorphic comic strip, the odds are good that Plan Nine Publishing has recently published a book collection of it or is in negotiations to do so soon. (They have been talking with Mark Stanley about a first Freefall collection.) Their books are not carried in most of the bookshops that stock the collections of newspaper comic strips, so take a look at their online catalogue.

Title: Dela the Hooda Treasury 1: A Nice Place to Visit
Creators: Style Wager and Greg Older
Publisher: Jarlidium Press (Federal Way, WA), Jun 2000
118 pages, $7.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Plan Nine Publishing is not the exclusive publisher of collections of Internet comic strips. Jarlidium Press was recently started by fan-roommates James ‘Tibo’ Birdsall and Dan ‘Flinthoof’ Canaan, two of the main staff of the Seattle area’s ConiFur Northwest conventions. Flinthoof is the artist-author of the online Roomies strip, so we may expect a collection of it soon.
   According to the introduction, Dela the Hooda got its start around a decade ago when Wager & Older, two Canadian college buddies and gaming fans, started brainstorming a scenario inspired by Howard the Duck: what would really happen to an intelligent animal person from an alternate dimension suddenly transported to our world? Originally conceiving of this as an epic new role-playing game, they began several years of development of the fantasy universe from which this character would come. Much of this 22-page introduction consists of excerpts from this background to the world of Mhâr: its history, geography, politics, and position in a 25th century interstellar civilization; and the physical characteristics of its hood (basically funny-animal foxes) inhabitants. This is still under construction. Meanwhile, Older attended the 1997 Anthrocon where he learned about Internet comic strips. Since they were looking at several more years before their Mhâr: the Final Frontier game would be finished, they decided to introduce its basic concept right away as an Internet strip.
   A Nice Place to Visit contains the first couple of years’ worth of Dela the Hooda. (A hooda is a female hood.) Dela (Cordelia Aldershaw). Born on Farawrath, a Genesis (Terra-type) planet located roughly 50 ly from Mhâr, the UIC [United Interstellar Council] homeworld. […] Dela received a post-grad scholarship at Eben Monacron University on Mhâr and moved there […] (pg. 23). After a dozen strips which introduce the main cast on Earth, Dela gives her flashback origin story beginning as a part-time computer programmer at the university on Mhâr. Since Dela is a humorous fantasy strip despite the nominal s-f premise, the campus features a multispecies student body and faculty from planets throughout the UIC including humans, various funny animals, and halflings from Middle Earth; and the classes cover a technological range from hard science to magic. Dela is programming a computer for a professor notorious as ‘Dr. Zap’, the university’s mad scientist, when ‘the energy to the Temporal Warp’ spikes and she is blown through a dimensional Limbo to Peabow, a suburb of Toronto, Canada in our world. Fortunately Dela immediately meets Sue Chan, a young lesbian Chinese-Canadian teaching assistant at one of Peabow’s universities. Sue, an anti-establishment activist, is understanding of ‘unusual’ women and she needs a house-mate to help pay rent.
   This leads into the main continuity. At first Dela tries to remain hidden in Sue’s duplex in case Sue’s fears about government dissection of any aliens they catch might be true. (They aren’t; Canada’s Men In Plaid have Seen It All before.) This leads to looking for ways to earn a living without being seen (telemarketing). Dela soon gets cabin fever and ventures outside the duplex. The gradually growing supporting cast include Sue’s acquaintances who can keep her secret, notably raunchy sexist photographer Jake McRoss; a little girl who treats Dela as an Imaginary Friend (and threatens to turn her in to the police if she will not be a playmate); a grumpy next-door-neighbor who cannot convince anyone that he really sees a ‘giant fox creature’, and others. Eventually Dela begins to take risks; she is not a lesbian, and she wants a social life beyond Sue’s preferences. (Are hood and humans non-interfertile, or does Dela need Protection?) This first collection ends with brief hints of later developments: Dela is not the only furry alien in hiding on Earth; and Dela’s friends and parents on Mhâr are trying to find what dimension she was blasted to, as they sue Dr. Zap for damages.
   Many of the jokes relate to the life and concerns of the youth/counterculture society that normally develops around a college campus. Dela, as an ultimate stranger to Canadian (and U.S.) society, is a natural mouthpiece for ‘outsider’ commentary on the non-logic of such things as TV talk-shows and the news coverage of the Bill Clinton sex scandals. This collection ends with a mini-folio of guest drawings of Dela by seven other well-known ’morphic cartoonists. The Dela the Hooda Treasury is another book that will not be found in regular bookstores. Order it through one of the Furry specialty book sources, or from Jarlidium Press, 2406 SW 308th Place, Federal Way, WA 98023;

Title: Here Comes a Candle
Author: Mary Hanson-Roberts
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Shanda Fantasy Arts (Greenbrier, AR), Jul 2000
215 pages, $24.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the first book publication of Hanson-Roberts’ long story originally serialized (slightly out of order) in Furrlough, from #17 (May 1994) through #35 (November 1995). It is much too good a novel to go out of print, so SFA’s attractive graphic novel edition is especially welcome.
   Here Comes a Candle is a thinly disguised fantasy saga of the French Revolution, covering roughly the twenty years between Louis XVI’s coronation and the Reign of Terror. The fact that it is set in a fairy-tale world inhabited by animals does not keep it from being as accurate a historical overview of the causes of the Revolution and its first bloody excesses as the best historical novels such as Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities or Sabatini’s Scaramouche. The world is wide, begins the Introduction, and the population of that portion of it known for the time being as the Peaceable Kingdom may be of good cheer. At last there is no irony in the name. The religious wars are over, and the conflicts between furfolk and featherfolk are merely a memory. The times are civilized— (pg. 3)
   ‘Civilized’ means indolent and socially stagnant. The Peaceable Kingdom is a great place to live for the aristocracy, who spend their lives in luxury, but not so nice for the commoners and peasants who are taxed to pay for revelry and ‘support of the arts’ such as new palaces. One of the noblest estates is Carabas Hall, home of Lord Puss-in-Boots, the effete eighth descendent of the vigorous founder of the line. The three main characters in Here Comes a Candle are Thomas and Nedwin, his two newborn twin sons and heirs, and Galen Birch (owl), their adult tutor. Over the twenty-year span of the novel, Thomas and Nedwin grow to maturity, separate, and are reunited in a manner that neither expect. Both are good-hearted, but Thomas, raised in the isolation of the nobility, is completely out of touch with the reality of the social forces overwhelming the land. The more adventurous Nedwin, who runs away from home to find Adventure (and finds more of it than he had wanted), builds a new life for himself, not returning until the climax to attempt to rescue his brother. Master Birch represents the high-minded founders of the Revolution. An academic philosopher who idealizes Reason and Justice, he favors forcing a new form of government to establish Equality and Justice for rich and poor alike. He is soon swept aside by those more interested in Revenge against the upper classes, soon to be replaced by an attitude toward their fellow Reformers of, “I’d better behead him before he beheads me!”
   These three lead a cast of dozens, with hundreds of background characters. Other major players are Doctor Lucky (duck), whose patients only sometimes recover due to his fondness for prescribing bloodletting to cure all diseases, and his assistant Igor (beaver); the Marquis of Brickmanor (swine), an overelaborate expansion of his ancestor’s house of bricks; Lady Beulah, the ferret who becomes the new Lady Puss-in-Boots and Thomas’ & Nedwin’s stepmother (not evil as much as an overly-haughty example of everything wrong with the upper classes); Thomas’ future bride, the Lady Felice Angora Malkin; Blackboots, the pirate wench, captain of the Bobby Shaftoe; Tinker, the skunk inventor; Mayor Hubbard (dog) of the village of Tuffet-on-the-Green; and Sir Jack, an ass. As can be seen from some of these names, the story is full of wordplay. There is even more in the dialogue, such as referring to a cowardly rooster sea captain as “the chicken of the sea”, or dismissing the elderly Hubbard with “The old gray Mayor, he ain’t what he used to be.”
   My main complaint with many popular Furry artists is that they do not bother to draw backgrounds. That is certainly not a fault of Mary Hanson-Roberts. Her panels are so full of detail that one could spend five minutes looking at each page to take it all in. This often means a dozen or more clearly detailed ’morphic characters in crowd scenes. Yet while her panels may be crowded, they are excellently designed. The reader’s eye is always drawn first to the central subject, then allowed to drift to the rich background.
   This review has been more of technical details than of plot. That is because the plot is as complex as the French Revolution itself. There is bravery, cowardice, reason, foolishness, love, treachery, and more spread out over more than a generation. The narrative is beautifully drawn (most fans will be familiar with Hanson-Roberts’ art from s-f and Furry convention art shows; she also designs greeting cards) and full of witticisms. Here Comes a Candle deserves to be considered along with Art Spiegelman’s Maus as Literature in cartoon-art form with a funny-animal cast.

Title: Sleepers, Part IV
Creators: Vito Bianca & Kevin Vetrone
Publisher: Rocksoup Studio (Newhall, CA), Jan 2001
56 pages, $5.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Sleepers, ’morphdom’s leading political thriller, started in 1990 as an announced ten part graphic novel. Is that still the plan? Part III came out in March 1997. It’s good to see Part IV at last, but will we live long enough to reach Part X?
   Sleepers is ’morphdom’s contribution to conspiracy fiction about plots to subvert the American or British government by Nazis or similar totalitarian dictators, in the tradition of the James Bond franchise or Levin’s The Boys from Brazil. Mac Talons (eagle) is an F.B.I. agent, a reckless daredevil who got his post mostly through the agency’s respect for his grandfather, a top government investigator of the World War II period. Now his grandfather has just died of old age, and the bureaucrats would like to get rid of Mac because his work, although successful, is too high-profile for the bureau’s preferred anonymity. But Mac, who is currently working on a case against Organized Crime (the Don Keleone Mafia family; donkeys), finds documents in his grandfather’s files about a conspiracy that the F.B.I. never took seriously; a cabal of elderly Nazis and new American right-wingers working with Japanese ultra-nationalists to take over the American government and then help a restored Japanese military government to take over Asia. Mac is soon dodging bullets while his girlfriend Evey (vixen) is kidnapped. In the ensuing hugger-mugger between Germans, Japanese, ex-Soviet agents and American gangsters, Mac (and the reader) is hard-pressed to figure out who is gunning for him, and which of the hidden conspirators are allied with each other, or double-crossing each other, or trying to use him to eliminate their adversaries. The possibilities extend to agents of the conspiracy within the F.B.I. itself.
   A nice touch has been the occasional use of actual newspaper clippings about missing records on Nazi war crimes, Nazi war criminals believed still hiding in South America, Emperor Hirohito’s personal guilt in World War II, extremist right-wing groups in America, and the like to buttress the plausibility of the political conspiracy that is secretly taking over more and more of the American government. There have also been a few brief flashbacks to the military adventures of Mac’s grandfather during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
   Unfortunately, this has gotten out of hand in Part IV. Another World War II flashback runs on for 13 of the 56 pages; a major interruption in the flow of the story. The use of newspaper clippings has not only increased, it now specifically identifies Bill Clinton with the hidden conspiracy taking over the U.S. government. There are seven pages (many from conservative editorial columns rather than news articles) about Clinton’s Whitewater coverup, the growing popularity of Fascism among Americans, and Bill & Hillary’s replacement of honest government employees with their own loyalists. Some of the clippings seem so far-fetched as to destroy rather than increase the atmosphere of suspicion, such as one on the Columbine High School massacre (a deliberate step in Clinton’s plot to trick America into adopting gun control laws?), and another on the incident of flashing lights in an episode of Pokémon sending 700 Japanese children into seizures (the Japanese conspirators’ experiments on controlling the public with subliminal broadcasting?). There are two whole pages of comparisons of Clinton’s record with Adolf Hitler’s. Hitler used the burning of the Parliament building as an excuse to pass controversial laws that reduced German freedoms. Clinton used the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building as an excuse to pass controversial laws that reduced American freedoms. […] Hitler was despised by most of his military officers. Clinton is despised by most of his military officers […] Hitler didn’t smoke, and prevented others around him from smoking. Clinton sued Tobacco companies and wants to prevent others from smoking. (The implications that the Clinton administration is rigging the government to keep itself in office permanently would have been more effective if this had been published before the 2000 elections.) Mac’s adventures get dangerously bogged down in all this.
   Several pages do flow nicely and the plot does advance some. A promising new character is introduced, sexy F.B.I. agent Hamilton (pigeon?). So Part IV is certainly worth reading. But this is the weakest of the albums so far. Let’s hope that the wait for Part V will not be nearly as long, and that it will return to the story and the action with just a little of the mood-setting supporting material.

A ‘Lost Classic’

Title: Guardians of the Three: Volume II, Keeper of the City
Authors: Peter Morwood & Diane Duane
Publisher: Bantam Spectra (NYC), Aug 1989
ISBN: 0-553-28065-1
x + 309 pages
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   The Guardians of the Three is a shared-world fantasy series of four novels published during 1989-1990, written by different authors to guidelines created by Bill Fawcett. To quote the cover blurb:

   For centuries the feline people of Ar and the powerful Lords of the East have been at peace. Legends surround the Eastern Lords and their servants, the liskash—lizard warriors—but few have ever seen them. This series tells the exciting story of the sudden rise and devastating assault of the Eastern Lords against the people of Ar, the catlike Mrem.

   Frankly, with the exception of the novel by Morwood & Duane, this series is so bad as to be an embarrassment. None of the first, third or fourth novels have much more plot or characterization than a very amateurish game of Dungeons & Dragons. And only lip-service is paid to the fact that the cast is supposed to be feline. Aside from a few superficial descriptions such as ‘strikingly unusual gray-blue fur’ in the first couple of pages, the characters are regularly described in such standard human terms of appearance and clothing that the reader quickly forgets that they are anything else.
   But the second novel, Keeper of the City, by the husband-wife writing team of Diane Duane and Peter Morwood, is unexpectedly excellent. It does not deserve to be dragged into oblivion with the others.
   Reswen is Chief of Constables of the small independent city-state of Niau, at the edge of the great desert separating the mrems’ lands from the territories of the Eastern Lords. His office combines the duties of a city police force and a Secret Service. (Reading between the lines, Reswen is the head of a Gestapo. Fortunately for the citizens of Niau, Reswen is a benevolently paternal secret dictator who believes in keeping the peace with as light and unobtrusive a paw as possible.)
   It has been so long since Niau and its neighbors have been troubled by the Eastern Lands that many believe that the reptilian liskash are extinct, and were probably mythological anyway. When a trade mission overflowing with exotic Middle Eastern pomp crosses the desert after several generations to establish friendly relations and lucrative commerce, Niau’s wealthy Council of Elders is eager to take advantage of the occasion. Reswen is willing to give the Easterners the benefit of the doubt, as long as he can keep a close surveillance on them. Then a deadly crime wave starts in Niau, while relations between Niau and a nearby mrem nation turn inexplicably hostile. The more that Reswen’s agents fail to find any evidence that the Easterners are behind this, the more sure he becomes that they are, somehow, and are laughing at him as they prepare to destroy Niau altogether. The mystery is cunning and subtly developed. Believable characters are established through clever dialogue. Both heroes and villains are intelligent, and the menace is much more slowly and sinisterly built up—and therefore is more suspenseful—than having an unending horde of screaming, sword-waving desert bandits spurred on by black-robed evil wizards attack the city walls, as the other novels do.
   More importantly, Morwood & Duane make Niau convincingly feel like a city of cats:

   He put the parchment slip aside and yawned leisurely, all rough pink tongue and sharp white teeth. “You said… ? Oh yes. Time. I don’t know, but if it’s enough time for the city to get onto a defensive footing, then I’ll petition the Arpekh for a standing guard out there at all times.”
   Sithen’s whiskers twitched. “They won’t like it.”
   “Who? The Arpekh or the guard?”
   “Neither, probably. I wouldn’t like that posting myself, and as for our sage Council of Elders—’
   “—‘It’s too expensive, it’s not necessary, and we didn’t need such a thing in my sire’s time anyway.’” Reswen laughed softly, but the throaty purring trill that was
mrem laughter sounded sour even to his own ears. (pg. 6)

   Yet Reswen’s reputation also said that his nature was even more full of ginger than his orange-tawny pelt suggested—but here he was, smiling right to the tips of his whiskers and being just as nice as a piece of fish. Probably, Reswen thought with mild satisfaction, Creel was quite confused. (pg. 8)

   Reswen yawned before he bothered to answer, yawned, and stretched, and flexed so that sinews clicked in his back and neck and his claws slid involuntarily from their sheaths in his pads to leave small, pale parallel gouges in the surface of the desk. None of it was to insult Sithen, or to show superiority of rank of birth or anything else, and both mrem knew it from the set of ears and tail and whiskers; it was just so that Reswen could work the slow tide of tension out of his muscles and ready himself for whatever came next. Whatever that might be. “Oh, nothing much,” he said, far too calmly. “I’ve just given the Easterners something to see that I greatly hope they’re not expecting. And won’t like.” (pgs. 11-12)

   And that is in just Chapter 1. Keeper of the City is not merely the only one of the four novels which makes frequent references to the mrem having tails, but actually features the characters using their tails as an extra limb.

   The thought faded out as Reswen found those blue, blue eyes trained on him again from across the room. The courtesan was extremely beautiful, but that was to be expected, or she would hardly have been brought along. She was wearing hardly anything—which was also to be expected—nothing but a wonderfully made harness of linked silver ornamented with aquamarines and sapphires, over sea gray fur darkening to charcoal gray on face and ears and paws and tail. A dusky loveliness, hers, in which those eyes burned blue as sky; and a lanky loveliness, long-limbed, graceful, and cool. Reswen let his eyes widen as if he were what he looked to be, a minor functionary of some sort, unused to being gazed at by fine ladies. Very hurriedly he gobbled the last of the fish cake, put the wine cup down, and headed toward the front door like a mrem caught doing something he shouldn’t.
   A few heads turned as he made his hasty exit, and Reswen was careful to notice which ones. One of the priests, a great gross creature splotched in muddy orange and white, wearing ornate robes and bizarre symbols in lead and gold strung on a silver chain around neck and girdle. One of the merchants, a round-eyed gray tabby in divided robes of white silk and cotton, his markings blurred, his eyes green and oblique. And another of the females, a dark and subtly patterned tortoise-shell with golden eyes, modestly dressed, some servingmrem perhaps. Just now, when they had no idea who or what he was, such reactions were of interest.
(pgs. 32-33)

   Reswen resisted a sudden urge to wash. He had thought he was fairly inconspicuous when he went out in townsmrem’s dress, or servant’s harness, to see whether his people were doing their jobs, and to make sure none of them were on the take in neighborhoods they were supposed to be protecting. (pg. 52)

   … “Meanwhile, whether they are friends or enemies-to-be, and the latter I much doubt, we must act like a united body to these mrem, not a bunch of squabbling dodderers fit only to lie in the sun. Hold your tongue, you were best, and act to these people as if you were gently bred, or I’ll toss you out by the scruff like a kit that’s been ripping up the furniture, I swear I will, uncle or no uncle!”
   There was something of a shocked silence at that. Aratel stared, his tail bristling, and then very deliberately put his head down and set to washing one paw in a cool and reflective manner.
(pg. 57)

   Other feline attributes such as their night vision are key elements of the plot. To give one away (spoiler warning!), the Siamese courtesan described in the page 32 citation can go into heat at will and direct her seductiveness, to bedazzle any desired male in a crowd. (And in this novel, unlike the others, the she-mrem do not have ‘bosoms’.) Keeper of the City is an excellent anthropomorphic novel which really makes its setting feel like a city of humanoid cats, rather than of humans who are only inconvincingly described as looking like cats.
   It is truly unfortunate that Keeper of the City is tied to a minor, forgotten series which does not even give the authors cover credit. The other volumes are not worth reprinting, but they make it extremely unlikely that Keeper of the City could be reprinted on its own. You will have to look for it in the s-f paperback sections of used bookstores, probably under Fawcett since the cover reads: Guardians of the Three: Volume II, Keeper of the City, created by Bill Fawcett. Diane Duane and Peter Morwood are given credit inside, where their biographical blurb describes them as both cat-lovers. It shows.
   (In case anyone wonders why a review of a novel so long out of print, this was a rejected submission to the Program Book of FURther Confusion 2001, where Duane and Morwood were guests of honor.)

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