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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.

by issue
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YARF! logo
#65 / Jul 2002

The Stones of Fire series, by Rick Wilkinson
Cover of Item 2
Title: The Ancient Secret (book 1)
Illustrator: St. Leonards (map)
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Sydney), Jan 2000
ISBN: 1-86508-094-2
236 pages, $A16.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Cover of Item 2

Title: Teeth of the Storm (book 2)
Illustrator: St. Leonards (map)
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Sydney), Jan 2000
ISBN: 1-86508-041-1
[iv +] 208 pages, $A16.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This review is the result of a discussion on the OzFurry mailing list last November of Furry novels worth reading that have only been published in Australia or New Zealand and are unknown outside those countries. I would like to acknowledge Shadow 5-tails for recommending these two. They are still in print and, thanks to the global Internet, can be ordered online from the publisher ( or major Australian booksellers like Angus & Robertson.
   The first of these two was originally published in 1989 under the title The Stones of Fire. It was republished in 2000 under the new title, simultaneously with the first release of its sequel; and the original title has become the series title for both.
   The Stones of Fire is satisfactorily original, although it has clear aspects of Adams’ Watership Down set in the framework of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Like Watership Down, the animals are presented in realistic settings (the Australian Outback) and are supposed to be acting realistically except for the fantasy concept that they can speak with each other. Like The Lord of the Rings, the plot is a desperate quest to keep an artifact of awesome magical power from the possession of a semi-divine embodiment of evil.
   Mamaragan, the Rainbow Serpent (a demon-monster in Aboriginal mythology, similar to Norse mythology’s world-encircling Ouroboros) is seeking the magical Stones of Fire (opals), lost ages ago, which will give him the power to rule the world.
   Japara, a relaxed young jerboa living in an isolated animal community, is asked by his aunt to look for his uncle Kobor. Kobor is an eccentric wanderer, and the community is used to him frequently disappearing for a week or two on fortune hunting expeditions. This time he has been gone far longer than usual, and ominous strangers have arrived looking for him. Japara seeks advice from Guruk the bandicoot, the community’s testy hermit-mystic. Guruk knows that Kobor went looking for the legendary Stones of Fire, shortly before news that evil Mamaragan, who was killed in his last attempt to conquer the world, has been reborn and is also seeking the Stones. This implies that the Stones are real, in which case they must be kept from Mamaragan at all costs. Guruk offers to join Japara and his best friend Wahn (another jerboa) in a search for Kobor, but actually to learn whether Kobor has found the Stones. Japara and Wahn learn the truth when the three are attacked almost immediately by Mamaragan's cruel agents led by sinister Mamu the warragal (dingo) and Kuperee the kangaroo, out to kill any rival seekers.
   The search for Kobor becomes a quest for the Stones, with the three heroes forced to operate in secrecy to evade Mamaragan's more numerous henchmen. Since the adventure is told with Watership Down-level realism, it is played out as three tiny furry animals creeping through the sere Outback, having to avoid their natural predators as well as animals that would normally be indifferent to them but are Mamaragan’s vicious followers. Other Outback inhabitants are met such as Narina the water-rat, Kinitu the bower bird, Inua the brolga, Boora the pelican and Kulan the possum. Some become loyal friends while others turn out to be treacherous. Due to the nature of the landscape, there are few restful moments:   The Ancient Secret seems to come to a definite and upbeat conclusion, but since it is only volume 1 of two, it is not giving anything away to say that there is lots more of the story to come.

   The evening air was warm and still as the three made their way slowly towards the first of the Mingana dunes. A deep purple hue briefly tinged the sandy slope, and several early stars blinked palely overhead.
   The travellers moved in single file. Japara, bringing up the rear, looked back at the tall sentinel of the termite rock guarding the precious spring, and wondered whether he would see it again.
   Guruk was moving slowly ahead of him in the middle of the line, carefully testing the ground before each step. Wahn had been entrusted with finding the easiest path, since he had already crossed these first dunes several times. At the first dune he immediately took a gradual upward incline across the steep face. Once on top he waited till Guruk reached him before setting off down the gentle slope, following the zigzag path they had used before.
   They rested briefly halfway through the night. No one said much. The warmth had disappeared from the sand and in the cool night air it was almost a pleasure to be moving again. Through the remainder of the night Wahn held the trio on their zigzag course. The first rays of dawn saw them carefully scooping out a hollow in the lee of a high dune to shelter for the day.
(The Ancient Secret, pg. 196)

   The Ancient Secret seems to come to an upbeat and definite conclusion (it was originally a stand-alone novel). But since it is now Book One of two, it is not giving anything away to say that there is still much more of the story to come. There are about a half-dozen pages of Author’s Notes at the end of each volume in which Wilkinson describes both the real animals and the Dreamtime creatures from which his characters are derived. Some of the latter are syntheses of different versions of a mythical creature. Wilkinson points out that there is no single continent-wide Aboriginal language or mythology. The Australian natives have evolved into dozens if not hundreds of tribes with their own tongues, customs and beliefs; some recognizably based upon their neighbours’ and others quite different. This was why he chose one of the less common Aboriginal names, ‘warragal’, for the native dog rather than ‘dingo’ which was picked up by European settlers from a different tribal language and has become the recognized modern name. The two volumes of The Stones of Fire will introduce non-Aussie readers to a more varied cast than the stereotyped Aussie talking-animal quintet of kangaroo, koala, platypus, kookaburra, and wombat.

Is Print-On-Demand the Black Hole of Furry novels?

   Print-On-Demand (POD) publishing, a.k.a. on-demand publishing, and the very closely allied electronic publishing (ePublishing or eBooks), began in the mid-1990s. They are essentially an evolution of self- or vanity-publishing. Thanks to new electronic publishing technology, it is possible for companies with this specialized technology to print books one copy at a time, as orders come in. Simultaneously, books can be printed and sold in electronic format much more cheaply than printing them in the traditional hardcover or paperback formats. Writers who cannot sell their fiction to a traditional publisher can sign on with a POD publisher by paying the setup fee of usually a few hundred dollars (the price varies depending upon whether the author wants his manuscript proofread, wants a plain or an illustrated cover, and so forth). The publisher will print and ship a copy especially for each order that comes in, splitting the price with the author. It is estimated that over ten thousand novels have been printed by POD publishers during the past ten years.
   But unlike the books from traditional publishers, these exist outside the established publishing industry. They are not on the shelves of any bookstore, although they can be special-ordered if you ask for them. They are not announced, advertised, or reviewed in Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, or any of the literary or trade journals. The s-f specialty magazines like Locus and Science Fiction Chronicle which try to list every new s-f or fantasy book published in a monthly checklist, usually miss these.
   Are there Furry novels among these POD books? There certainly are! But how many, and how do you find them? The two major POD publishers, iUniverse and Xlibris Corporation, each have extensive online bookshops with hundreds of novels, not to mention their non-fiction books. They have automated subject indexes. But ‘Furry’ is not one of their categories, and to call up and read the summary of every one of their Science Fiction/Fantasy titles to see if any look Furry could take literally days. And some Furry novels are not even categorized as S-F, but as Literature or Fiction.
   It is easy to dismiss all POD novels as losers not worth reading, otherwise a ‘real’ publisher would have gladly bought them. But as Furry authors have found out, it is apparently impossible to sell Furry fiction to the mainstream publishing industry no matter how high its quality may be. POD publishing may be the only practical way to get a Furry book into print. So, how do we find out about them?
   I do not know. But to start, here are two examples both published by Xlibris. Books ordered over the Internet directly from Xlibris come with an automatic 10% discount for hardcovers and 15% discount for paperbacks. Hence the Pongo and Jeeves paperback edition is officially priced at $20.99 but only costs $17.84 from Xlibris. If you order it through or any other Internet book service, you will have to pay full price.

Title: Pongo and Jeeves
Author: R. N. Varhaug
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation (Philadelphia, PA), May 2000

ISBN: 0-7388-2110-1
Trade paperback, 168 pages, $20.99 ($17.84)
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

ISBN: 0-7388-7102-8
eBook, 168 pages, $8.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   The DNA of chimpanzees and humans are 98.5% identical. A mutation in only a few genes can give a chimpanzee a human-sized brain. Such a mutation would have little effect in the wild but if chance puts two such chimpanzees in a primate research center where they learn sign language and see educational TV…
   What would you do if you were a chimpanzee with a human brain? A really smart human brain? Pongo and Jeeves accepted that chance had played a joke on them and they laughed right along with it. Not everybody joined in. The pompous and similar degraded specimens found that their encounters with the chimpanzees usually proved more entertaining to bystanders than to themselves..
   Making the best of things, Pongo and Jeeves led full lives that included visiting Roswell as aliens, producing syndicated columns and even writing speeches for a presidential candidate. Along the way, they were able to thwart bad guys and generally do good. All told, lives well spent and justly rewarded.
   Join Pongo and Jeeves. You’ll enjoy their company.
(cover blurb)

   Pongo and Jeeves are two exceptionally intelligent experimental-lab chimpanzees at a Primate Research Center to cross their paths. who secretly
   All Furry by watching eserving targets instead o novels require the reader to accept ryone unlusome realicky enoughstic implausibilities, and Varhaug does a better job than do many Furry writers in knowing where to anthropomorphize and where not to. Pongo and Jeeves cannot speak, because chimpanzees do not have human larynxs no matter how intelligent they may be. Instead they cPongo and Jeeves is essentially a Heckle and Jeckle novel with two chimpanzees instead of magpies. The main differences are that they live in a realistic human world instead of a cartoon funny-animal one; they are two British-accented Jeckles instead of one British twit and a Brooklyn heckler; and they only play pranks on bullies, thieves, the haughty, and other deserving targets instead of everyone unlucky enough to cross their paths.
   All Furry novels require the reader to accept some realistic implausibilities, and Varhaug does a better job than do many Furry writers in knowing where to anthropomorphize and where not to. Pongo and Jeeves cannot speak, because chimpanzees do not have human larynxs no matter how intelligent they may be. Instead they communicate at first by sign language. Later they get a pair of those electronic voice boxes made for people who lose their vocal chords. This enables them to operate over the telephone and plan hoaxes involving Mysterious Voices. Here they are discussing a practical joke involving chimp poop they have just played on the Research Center’s pompous Dr. Randolph Sidonberry:

   “I must say, Jeeves, that the results of our little jest greatly exceeded my most sanguine expectations.”
   “Indeed they did, my boy. You don’t think it might have been a trifle juvenile, do you?”
   “Well, perhaps just a trifle,” signed Pongo, “but the effect was most gratifying.”
   “Yes, indeed. Most gratifying, but shouldn’t we stop picking on our Randolph?”
   “Oh, I don’t know. You have a kind heart, Jeeves, and it does you credit. But our Randolph brings it on himself. He makes himself such a large and inviting balloon that I can’t help reaching for a pin. When it comes to resisting temptation,” Pongo’s voice took on a melancholy tone, “I’m not strong, you know.”
   “Yes, I’ve noticed,” answered Jeeves, “We couldn’t be expected to be strong. After all, as our Randolph so often says, we’re only animals.”
(pgs. 18-19)

   ‘Our Randolph’ stops being so funny when he notices that the two chimps show wildly varying indications of intelligence (they occasionally overdo playing stupid) and wants to have them killed and their brains autopsied. Pongo and Jeeves take the risk of revealing their intelligence to a couple of the lab’s employees who are more friendly and sympathetic to animal rights, Patricia and Thor. The latter agree to smuggle the chimps out and allow them to hide in their apartment. Although Pongo and Jeeves try to behave themselves, two chimpanzees shut in a small urban apartment all day will quickly get cabin fever and have to do something to relieve the boredom. They surreptitiously study the apartment building’s other tenants, who soon find themselves the recipients of mysterious curses or blessings depending upon whether they have been naughty or nice.
   Soon Pat and Thor get married and move to a ranch inherited from Thor’s parents. The wide open spaces, and the drive across America to get there, give the two chimps opportunities for many new adventures: impersonating a couple of Roswell-type aliens with their obviously non-human bodies, being captured and escaping from a roadside zoo, having to care for a young baby whose grandmother is felled by a stroke, and more. At the ranch, they start several successful businesses by Internet, including writing doctoral theses and political speeches. They also undertake some public-service projects for their own amusement such as exposing phony charities.
   Some of the episodes do not really require non-human characters, but there are plenty where Pongo and Jeeves take full advantage of their animal natures and abilities. Varhaug throws in many little touches of plausibility; for example, when Thor invites the chimps to join him and Pat in their cross-country drive, he gets a couple of top-quality human masks from a friend in the movie FX business that will enable the chimps to pass as humans from a distance while riding in a car. A couple of the setups do stretch plausibility a bit, but since this is a fantasy-comedy it feels boorish to nitpick it too far. Varhaug tells a good, low-key story (Pongo and Jeeves actually abort a couple of their pranks when they realize that things are getting out of hand and someone could get hurt), and he brings it to a graceful conclusion when it has rambled on for long enough.
   Varhaug obviously paid Xlibris its minimum fee to have Pongo and Jeeves published. The cover is bare typesetting on a white background with narrow brown & ochre strips at the top and bottom; and there are many sentences that begin with lower-case letters, indicating a lack of proofreading.

Title: Earth Light
Author: Tracy Pierce
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation (Philadelphia, PA), Nov 2001

ISBN: 0-7388-6627-X
Hardcover, 325 pages, $32.99 ($29.69)
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

ISBN: 0-7388-6628-8
Trade paperback, 325 pages, $22.99 ($19.54)
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

ISBN: 0-7388-6629-6
eBook, 325 pages, $8.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Earth Light is basically a Chronicles of Narnia Lite’ with a thick overlay of Oz. 12-year-old Karen Anderson, an orphan living with her aunt and uncle in rural Missouri, becomes friends with two exotic hippie-like wanderers, Fleetwood and Cassandra. Karen is a devout Christian, but Cassandra asks if she has ever considered that God may have created more than one Earth, and that the eternal struggle of Good versus Evil may be going on on other stages with other casts. Karen and her pet cats Kip and Diana are soon transported to the world of Ralactia, where the cats can talk. They learn that they are a prophisied trio of heroes who will lead Ralactia’s zoman inhabitants in their battle against Komora, demon ruler of Darkness, and his foul hordes.
   Karen, Kip & Diana meet Fleetwood, revealed to really be Prince Fleetfoot, a silver winged unicorn; Lady Swiftwing, a pastel-blue pegasus; Cassandra, really a vixen; General Singe, a giant black dragon with fur instead of scales; Councilor Jago, an elderly leopard; Dal and Dalwyn, two Robin Hood-like cougar foresters; Rachel Pinebreeze, a young rabbit palace servant; Princess Laura, the lioness teen heir to the throne of Faunuvin; and many, many more including some non-Earth animals such as ithgannae and cataroons. There is a cinematically exotic scene on practically every page:

   [Karen is riding on the back of General Singe, commander of a dragon aerial army flying over Faunuvin’s capital to a conference of Ralactia’s defenders]
   Rising to her knees, Karen watched the zomans in the streets as Singe soared to the palace. Among them, a dark panther woman was examining a length of red silk from a cart piled high with fabrics and tended by a blue heron. Two coyotes emerged from a shop, each with a package under his arm. Four small children—two bears, a squirrel, and a tiger—laughed and skipped as they pointed at the dragons. The adults glanced up but showed little concern. (pg. 91)

   Unexpectedly, Princess Laura smiled, and then laughed. “I’m a zoman of the line of Chyren of the White Mane. I don’t need a mount.” Squaring her shoulders, the princess closed her eyes as her body began to shimmer gold, blue, and green; her figure grew and altered into a four-legged shape. When the shimmering disappeared, a huge, winged lioness stood in Laura’s place.
   Karen stared, dumbstruck, and for a moment she held her breath. Although the cats had told her that zomans were shape-shifters, and Swiftwing had said that Princess Laura was a winged zoman like her father, it was still a shock to watch a comely girl suddenly turn into such a beast.
   Kip chuckled. “Now you know how we felt when Dal and Dalwyn did that.”
   “Farewell, everyone,” Fleetfoot neighed. “Our world will be free.” His translucent swan’s wings manifested at his flanks as he broke into a canter before launching into the air.
(pg. 152)

   Ginger delved into her pouch. “I hope I brought enough to satisfy your stomach.”
   “This is a joke, isn’t it?” Diana said. “You couldn’t fit enough to satisfy a mouse’s stomach in there, let alone all nine of us. I’m surprised you had room for that satchel and the blanket.”
   “Oh, really?” Ginger chuckled as she proceeded to pull tied sacks and bundles of various sizes from her pouch and lay them on the blanket. Vic quickly unwrapped each one, revealing scones, corn cakes, muffins, cheeses, several varieties of fruit—the contents of Ginger’s pouch seemed as endless as its capacity.
   “How…” Diana faltered.
   Fleetfoot shook his mane. “It’s no use asking. All female cataroons can do this. I don’t understand it, and neither do they, really.”
(pg. 157)

   This overpowering prettiness is both an asset and a problem. It keeps you reading to see what spectacular imagery will appear on the next page. But it is all so darn nice that it undercuts any serious aura of menace or suspense. Pierce seems to want the reader to take Komora as a personification of evil as deadly as Sauron (or at least as Tash in the Narnian Chronicles), who will plunge the whole world into eternal darkness if he is not stopped. Instead he comes across as more like the Nome King in the Oz novels. Baum may say that he is really, really wicked, but it is impossible to believe that he is a serious threat to Dorothy and Ozma.
   Pierce actually seems less interested in writing a drama than in constructing the world of Ralactia as an alternate Earth which God decided to populate with animal people. Tidbits of information are scattered throughout the adventure. All zomans can shape-shift between their natural animal form and a humanoid form, but only the royalty become winged in their animal forms. The zomans are descended from Earth animals who came to Ralactia before the Flood. The zomans (those who have not become followers of Komora) are all… well, not exactly Christians because God did not reveal himself in Ralactia in the form of Jesus Christ; but that same God, yes. Earth Light ends like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with its child (and cat) hero(es) returning safely home. But we all know that they did not stay there, because there are many more adventures to come.
   Tracy Pierce apparently bought Xlibris’ fancy package with all the trimmings. Earth Light is printed on high quality paper, with no typographical errors that I spotted. The hardcover edition has sewn-in binding, and a beautiful dust jacket that I assume is printed onto the cover of the trade paperback edition. The illustration is by Pierce herself, who ought to be a Hallmark greeting card artist if she is not already one; her animal characters are all adorable. The book’s only technical flaw is the printing of its interior illustrations. The POD technology of storing the entire book in electronic form, artwork included, and squirting it onto paper a copy at a time, has resulted in a very low resolution printout of what were obviously extremely detailed and finely-shaded drawings. Let’s hope that the technology improves before Pierce’s planned second adventure in Ralactia is finished.

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