ANTHRO's index of anthropomorphic literature

The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten

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

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

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

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#63 / Jan 2002

Title: Kingdoms of Light
Author: Alan Dean Foster
Publisher: Aspect/Warner Books (NYC), Feb 2001
ISBN: 0-446-52667-3
372 pages, $24.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Alan Dean Foster is one of the major authors of modern anthropomorphic fiction, both for his s-f novels featuring animaloid aliens (Quozl, the Icerigger trilogy, and his Commonwealth series, among others) and for his fantasy novels featuring talking animals. The latter category has been dominated by his Spellsinger series (1983-1987 and 1993-94) starring human Jon-Tom Meriweather in a world of clothes-wearing anthropomorphized ‘funny animals’, notably his raunchy sidekick Mudge the otter.
   With Kingdoms of Light, Foster introduces a new fantasy universe with talking animals. The story starts in a very tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top stereotypical FRP-gaming world full of good and evil human warriors, knights and wizards, plus ogres, trolls and the usual lot of fantasy monsters. The evil Totumakk Horde, driven by the much-feared malign necromantic Khaxan Mundurucu, is just about to overrun the civilized Gowdlands. Only the great wizard Susnam Evyndd is powerful enough to stop him. Unfortunately, Evyndd is killed in Chapter Two.
   To flaunt its power and dispirit any remaining resistance, the Khaxan Mundurucu sorcerously hexes all color out of the world. With the light went every suggestion, every hint of color, until all the known world found itself existing in a state of enduring grayness, permanently somber and sad. When on the following morn the sun rose, it would not shine, but instead cast only a cold ashen glow on a world cast down into an abiding melancholy. (pgs. 28-29). But Susnam Evyndd was a cautious man who tried to prepare for every eventuality. His death activates a posthumous spell that transforms the pets in his isolated forest home—Oskar the terrier; the cats Mamakitty, Cocoa and Cezer; Taj the canary; and Samm the python—into human form, and bids them to a quest to accomplish what he could not: Stop the Khaxan Mundurucu. To do this, they must bring color back into the world from the magical Kingdoms of the Rainbow. The humanoid dog, cats, bird and serpent have to learn to set aside their instinctual rivalries and work together as they pass through the six monochromatic kingdoms, each of which has its own magical wonders and dangers—not to mention that the questers are being followed by Khaxan Muncurucu’s own team of a vicious quoll and two vampire bats transformed into human assassins.
   Kingdoms of Light invites comparisons not only with Foster’s Spellsinger series but also with Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. Whether the latter is good or bad depends upon how you feel about Xanth. This is definitely a ‘Spellsinger Lite’. Instead of concentrating upon two strong protagonists like Jon-Tom and Mudge, who stand out amidst a large supporting cast, Kingdoms of Light features a half-dozen main characters who are distinguished more by their animal traits than by their personalities. Instead of dominating the quest, the travellers seem more like gawking tourists, inviting the reader to accompany them as they marvel at the imposing magical natural features and denizens of the crimson, orangey, golden, emerald, azure, and lavender kingdoms through which they wander. Like Xanth, the characters are subordinate to the colorful fantasy landscape, which is largely shaped by the heavy-handed jocular wordplay.
   The anthropomorphism is similarly overtly manipulative for comic relief. Oskar, Mamakitty and the others immediately have normal human bodies, a perfect instinctual command of human speech and reading, and even a good working knowledge of swordsmanship; but they have to keep making guesses as to, “Hey, should we put human clothing on before we go outdoors?” and “No, you can’t just piss on the nearest tree anymore!” Throughout the novel the band compare their new human bodies with their previous animal forms. All agree that hands are, er, handy, but Oskar and the cats are nervous about teetering so far off the ground on only two legs instead of having the stability of four legs, and Taz complains about having to plod on the ground instead of being able to fly swiftly over it. They constantly ask each other whether they prefer their original animal natures or being human, obviously challenging the reader to guess which they will choose at the story’s end. This is intellectually amusing, but it keeps characterization subordinate to authorial wit.
   Occasionally a crisis develops in which being human is not the best way to avoid trouble. These are unexpectedly resolved by one or more of the characters suddenly regaining the right animal trait to combat the menace. “This is the work of Master Evyndd.” Cocoa had come to stand alongside her sister feline. “Once more, the essence of our real selves has saved us.” (pg. 222) This is more satisfying than having each magical rescue be a complete deus ex machina. Nevertheless, stating outright that the companions can count on the spirit of their dead master to save them from any serious danger further reduces them from interesting, individualized characters to a group of chaperoned students.
   ’Morph fans will enjoy the constant references to the human sextet’s original beastly natures. Some of their adventures have them turning back into their true animal forms while retaining their human intelligence and speech. And most of the inhabitants of the Kingdoms of the Rainbow whom they meet are decidedly non-human. …the proprietress in question differed from anyone they had yet encountered. […] her countenance was not in the least humanoid. Spinelike whiskers protruded at least a foot from the sides of her huge, dark mouth. This somewhat intimidating maw was lined with slender, needle-like teeth that made those of the quoll look blunt. Her eyes were wide and wild, with enormous dark pupils. In contrast, the dress and apron she wore were pure homespun. (pg. 130) The other rider spoke for the first time. Oskar noted that he had four horns protruding from his head, a third eye in the center of his forehead, and only three long fingers on each hand. (pg. 141) One kingdom is populated solely by anthropomorphic trees, while in another, Humans who wash up on the beach or otherwise make their way here are reduced to their animal natures. (pg. 299) (Many ’morph fans would undoubtedly love to move there.)
   On the whole, Kingdoms of Light offers more plusses than minuses for the ’morphic reader. The novel comes to a definite conclusion, but leaves the companions undecided whether to retire as heroes or continue on to new adventures. “Perhaps, with time and careful perusal of Master Evyndd’s restored store of knowledge, we can learn how to switch more efficiently between our animal natures and our human selves.” (pg. 371) In other words, buy this book if you want to read sequels.

Title: Dark Inheritance
Authors: W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear
Publisher: Warner Books (NYC), Mar 2001
ISBN: 0-446-52606-1
519 pages, $25.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   “Come sit,” Umber said through her keyboard. She patted the blanket nest on her bed.
   Brett climbed into the nest and curled up next to Umber’s side. “What’s happening?”
   Umber stroked Brett’s shining blond hair with her long black fingers. With the other hand, she tapped her keyboard.
   “Tory came today. She, Jim, Dana run tests. Use calipers for measurements.”
   “What did they measure?”
   “Measure Umber's head. Umber used her fingers to show all the places on her head that they had placed the calipers. “Jim is nervous. Dana is nervous. They made Umber nervous.”
   “But they didn’t say anything? Nothing about Dad taking another job?”
   Umber stared thoughtfully into Brett’s eyes, then typed, “No. Jim not problem. Umber problem.”
   Brett’s heart skipped. “You? How could you be the problem?”
   Umber made a futile gesture with one hand. “Do not know. I try to be very good today. Smart. Made Jim worse.” She paused, worried brown gaze on the keyboard. Then, as her long black fingers touched the keys, the speakers stated: “Umber frightened.”
   “Yeah,” Brett whispered. “Me, too. And I don’t know why.”
(pgs. 57-58)

   Dark Inheritance is a mainstream thriller in the Stephen King-Dean Koontz school of technohorror; of science out of control and creating monsters—maybe.
   Smyth-Archer Chemists (SAC), a British-based multinational leader of the pharmaceutical industry, prides itself in all aspects of medical and psychological research. One of its major projects is to raise bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees) among human families as though they were human children, to study the psychological effects of rearing non-human primates in a technologically advanced environment and outside their own species. SAC also maintains a Primate Preserve in the African jungle, to study bonobos and chimpanzees in the wild, and as a public-relations-friendly retirement community for laboratory apes no longer useful for experiments.
   Dr. Jim Dutton is an anthropologist at Colorado State University in his mid-thirties; the single father of thirteen-year-old daughter Brettany, and foster father of Umber, a bonobo a year younger. SAC supplied Umber to Jim when Brett was two. The human and bonobo girls have been raised as sisters. As Umber has matured, Jim has become aware that she does not match the standard bonobo profile. She is more precocious and intelligent than merely being raised exclusively among humans can explain. Now physical differences are beginning to develop, notably a more humanlike skull. Jim learns that other anthropologists raising SAC-supplied bonobos have noticed similar developments. SAC management refuses to answer any questions except to remind the researchers that their contracts require strict secrecy and that they must not communicate with each other. But Jim learns that the specialty of SAC’s reclusive company owner Geoffrey Smyth-Archer is genetics, not behaviorism.
   The novel begins with four parallel stories which gradually merge. The primary one is that of Jim, Brett and Umber. The second is that of what is going on at SAC. Smyth-Archer is an obsessed experimenter; a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein. He spends all his time in a secret laboratory in SAC’s primate compound in Africa. SAC’s business empire is run by Richard Godmoore, who has over fifteen years built up SAC’s ruthless dominance of the global pharmaceutical industry, and enabled Geoff to conduct his experiments without interruption. It has also let Godmoore skim several million pounds personally. But SAC’s bioengineering of superintelligent apes has grown too prominent to remain hidden. Godmoore’s choices are to either wait until the apes become known to the world in the very near future, and risk a public furore over ‘creating monsters’ which could destroy the company (and his secret personal fortune)—or to see that all the intelligent bonobos and all humans who know about them quickly disappear.
   The third plot follows Brett’s mother, Valerie Radin, a correspondent for the Triple N TV international news channel. She goes after drug kings in Colombia, and on an assignment in Algiers she was on-camera herself with the AK-47 […] taking shots at the snipers that pinned down her camera crew. (pg. 37) She and Jim were lovers in college, but she refused to wed and dumped their child on him because a married life would have trapped her. Jim is still in love with her, while Brett has mixed feelings about the mother who is a famous TV personality but who rejected her. Valerie is becoming too old to continue globehopping into danger spots, and is looking for a mega-scoop that can win her promotion from foreign assignments to a permanent news anchor position. Uncovering SAC’s secret project could be that scoop.
   The fourth is what is going on at SAC’s African Primate Preserve in Equatorial Guinea. Some of SAC’s earliest enhanced bonobos, considered dangerously violent failures, are smarter than the scientists realize. SAC believes that they have been successfully readapted to the wild and are living in natural feral bonobo family groups. But one of these groups has begun to experimentally kill humans, starting with local poachers who will not be missed. They are practicing for a massacre of all humans.
   Halfway through the novel, all the separate plots come together at SAC’s African Preserve. SAC has ordered Umber transferred there, ostensibly to study how an ape raised among humans for twelve years reacts to being returned to the jungle, but actually to get her away from the press in America. Jim and Brett accompany her, supposedly to help her transition back to a feral life, but actually to free her from SAC’s control. Valerie arrives while investigating SAC’s secret, which now includes two killings in America. The unexpected meeting of Jim, Brett, Valerie and Umber is a violent shock when all four need to be at their most alert. Some of the Preserve’s personnel are honest scientists while others have orders to make sure all the troublemakers disappear. The feral bonobos are ready to strike. The key to the climax are the two girls, best friends and almost twins: Umber, raised to understand the feelings and culture of both species; and Brett, her spiritual sister who is so emotionally attuned that the two are almost telepathic.
   For ’morphic fans, Dark Inheritance is primarily Umber’s story. W. Michael Gear holds a master’s degree in physical anthropology, is a member of the American Association of Physical Anthropology, and has conducted studies in the areas of human osteology, paleoanthropology, forensics, and primate evolution (dust jacket biography), so the laboratory scenes and technical discussions are convincing. Umber is a sympathetic character, a consciously confused blend of human intelligence and bonobo instincts, unsure herself just who the ‘real Umber’ is. She has two ‘mirror images’ for comparison: Brett, her human sister, and Sky Eyes, the leader of the Primate Preserve’s rogue group of violent bonobos. Which does she really belong with? She would like to be more like Brett, but is this wishful thinking? Even if Umber is psychologically more human than bonobo, which will the public see her as after the story of the killings makes the news? Can Jim and Brett protect Umber from the other humans? Can Umber protect Brett from the other bonobos? Fans of mainstream thrillers about intelligent lab animals on the run and looking for their place in the humans’ civilization will enjoy Dark Inheritance.

Title: Alysha’s Fall
Author: M. C. A. Hogarth
Illustrators: M. C. de Alarcon H., Eugene Arenhaus, Conrad Wong, Dave Bryant, Phil Morrissey, Mike Raabe, & Richard Bartrop
Publisher: Cornwuff Press (DeKalb, IL), Sep 2000
ISBN: 0-9702805-0-5
xvi + 141 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   M. C. A. Hogarth (well-known in fandom as Maggie de Alarcon before her recent marriage) has been writing the adventures of Alysha Forrest, a ’morphic galactic starship commander, in fanzines since 1996. Alysha’s Fall is a ‘fix-up’ novelization of Alysha’s origins. It consists of a heavy revision of five short stories that appeared in Mythagoras, Pawprints and Yarf! during 1997 and 1998, plus two new stories/chapters. Each has one or two illustrations from among seven artists. In an Afterword, Hogarth traces the development of her protagonist along with her own maturing, from a juvenile’s cartoon character through a romantic feline during adolescence to the self-assured, quietly feminist commander of today. Alysha is featured in some twenty-three separate stories: two of which were published in semi-professional magazines, and another of which, Sword of the Alliance, is one of my unpublished novels. (pg. 137) The seven stories here are the first seven of Alysha’s biography, not the first seven to be written.
   Compared to the earliest versions of the character, the s-f setting of the series was crafted recently, influenced by the galactic civilizations of such authors as Larry Niven and C. J. Cherryh. Genetic engineering of human-animal hybrids starts in 2007, as part of a government-subsidized effort to populate the thus-far empty universe with other intelligent (and human-friendly) life. The genetic technology is soon abused to create Pelted ‘companions’ for the growing demands of the moneyed elite. By 2047 the social situation is so tense that when spaceship technology finally enables the interstellar generation ships to be launched, all the Pelted are sent in them; those designed as hardy colonists and those designed as simple-minded sex toys alike. A devastating war keeps Earth from following up on its stellar colonization for centuries. By the time Earth sends its own human representatives to the stars, it finds a galactic government already established among the worlds settled by the different species of humanoid animals. Once the Pelted lived among Men; now Men live among the Pelted, one world of the multitude encompassed by the Alliance. Even after four hundred years, the irony escapes no one. (pg. xiv)
   This sounds like a setup for a drama of human-Pelted conflict, but that is overly simplistic. This is an unpleasant novel in which almost everyone is no damn good. Hogarth thanks a friend for encouraging her to submit her stories despite her fears that they were too dark and ugly for publication. Her galactic federation is a brotherhood on the surface, but riddled with hatred. Many parties would like to blame it all on human-Pelted rivalry, with arrogant humans considering themselves better than the animal peoples. In fact, there are secret supremacist societies among most of the Pelted species, and just as much prejudice between themselves as there ever was among the human races.
   This is still mostly background. Alysha Forrest is a Karaka’An graduating from high school. She has always dreamed of going on to the space Fleet’s Academe, but after her father’s death her mother degenerated into a cheap whore. Alysha spends all that she has to journey to Terracentrus and the Academe, hoping to qualify for a merit scholarship. But they are a farce; officially for the gifted needy, but in fact all given to students whose parents have enough influence to grab a free pass when they could easily pay the tuition. Alysha is determined to earn enough to enter the Academe, no matter what; and after years of watching her mother spread her legs for whoever had enough money, she knows what to do. Alysha’s Fall examines whether it is possible to keep a high moral standard while submitting to physical degradation for a worthy goal—even when, the more that Alysha learns about the true nature of the Alliance and its Fleet, the less worthy that goal looks.
   Alysha’s first acquaintances on Terracentrus are from the various Pelted worlds. Her own Karaka’An are furred and tailed digitigrade felinoids. The Asanii are also felinoid, but plantigrade. There are the foxine Tam-illee, the wolfine Hinichi, the tigerine Harat-Shar, the Aera who ‘did not owe a majority of their appearance to any single Terran animal,’ the winged but flightless Malarai, and others. And humans, all of whom are among the upper class cadets and faculty/officers at the Academe. Alysha makes friends and enemies among both her classmates and her fellow employees at the notorious Phantasies bordello, and they are not always whom they appear to be at first. Much of her origin story is grim and depressing, but she is a very strong character. It is not giving anything away to those who have read some of Hogarth’s other stories, set after Alysha has graduated and won her command, to say that the conclusion is uplifting and positive.
   For the story to work, the reader must be convinced that a cadet living in a military academy could sneak out every night over many months to work at a whorehouse, without getting caught. Hogarth works hard at making this whopping implausibility believable. It does not entirely work, but it works better than might be expected due to some clever setups. It may be more important that Hogarth clearly has recognized the problem and does something about it, so the reader is willing to cut her some slack. This is, after all, a first novel. Hopefully her next will not be long in following it.

Title: Breaking the Ice: Stories from New Tibet
Editor: Tim Susman
Illustrator: Odis Holcomb
Publisher: Sofawolf Press (Falmouth, MA), Jan 2002
ISBN: 0-9712670-0-6
ix + 206 pages, $12.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Sofawolf Press, the Furry small press which started with the semi-yearly magazine Anthrolations in January 2000, has just published its first book. Breaking the Ice is an attractive trade paperback original fiction anthology, containing six stories by different authors written around a shared-world theme. These are the tales of New Tibet, an arctic world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals struggling against poverty, organized crime, and the bleak weather to find a spark of hope. Escape is nearly impossible, and even those who get close find that it is sometimes no more than an illusion… (cover blurb)
   Dead End, by Samuel C. Conway (Anthrocon’s ‘Uncle Kage’) is a brief vignette in which a vulture bartender describes the planet and its social setup to a new arrival (and to the reader). In Susman’s own A Prison of Clouds, an office worker desperate to get himself and his gay lover (both foxes) offplanet makes the mistake of trying to scam a crime gang (polar bears) for the price of two spaceship tickets. Nightswimming, by David Andrew Cowan, is a Romeo & Juliet tale of young lovers (a vixen and a boy otter) forced into life-threatening risks to stay together. Array of Hope, by David Richards, is similar to A Prison of Clouds, but here Lon (fox) is faced with a choice between escaping alone from New Tibet or giving up his dreams to stay with his lover, Raph (bear). In Touch of Gray, by Jeff Eddy, Jecin (snow leopard) is a doctor whose idealism is eroding under the planet’s endless depression. When he is recruited by unseen telepathic ‘gods’ to start killing people who are ‘agents of The Dark’, he neither knows nor cares whether he is really acting under outside guidance or he has gone mad. It is up to his daughter Harmony to learn the truth. Skin Deep, by ‘2’, makes the others seem like light comedies. All the stories are very nicely illustrated by Odis Holcomb.
   The stories are all admirably well-written for fan-fiction. Two of the six are identified as their authors’ first published works. Susman explains in his Foreword, “Depressing worlds are rich cultures for heroic tales; it’s an old cliché that sometimes it takes the worst to bring out the best in us. Even in a bleak, impoverished arctic wasteland, there is sometimes beauty, and it can take many forms. This idea apparently had a lot of appeal: after reading A Prison of Clouds, several other writers said they would love to write stories in the world of New Tibet, and so this collection was born.” (pg. viii)
   But the reader had better have a taste for downers. The other five authors may have followed Susman’s lead too closely. Heroes do need adversity to become heroic, and a gallery of nothing but winning over overwhelming odds would be monotonously simplistic. But so is a collection where everyone (with one exception) is beaten down; or at best a victory is partial and bittersweet. Susman says in a personal letter that this was not intended. The story guidelines make it clear that it should be difficult but not impossible to triumph. It just happened that these authors all decided to avoid what they felt would be an expected happy ending.
   “Even the people who couldn’t get stories done for the original deadline told me that they still want to write stories, and half the people who did get stories done now have new ideas, so it seems inevitable that there will be another volume.” (pg. viii) I will look forward to reading it, but I will also hope for more imagination and variety in how the thick-furred inhabitants of New Tibet react to their icy home.

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