ANTHRO's index of anthropomorphic literature

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
by title

YARF! logo
#66 / Oct 2002

The Ferret Chronicles, written and illustrated by Richard Bach
Title: The Ferret Chronicles: Rescue Ferrets at Sea
Publisher: Ferret House Press/Scribner-Simon & Schuster, Inc. (New York), Jun 2002
ISBN: 0-7432-2750-6
139 pages, $15.00
Availability: Am / / Al / Pw

Title: The Ferret Chronicles: Air Ferrets Aloft
Publisher: Ferret House Press/Scribner-Simon & Schuster, Inc. (New York), Jun 2002
ISBN: 0-7432-2753-0
141 pages, $15.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Cover of Item 2

Title: The Ferret Chronicles: Writer Ferrets: Chasing the Muse
Publisher: Ferret House Press/Scribner-Simon & Schuster, Inc. (New York), Oct 2002
ISBN: 0-7432-2754-9
xiv + 189 pages, $15.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Cover of Item 2

Title: The Ferret Chronicles: Rancher Ferrets on the Range
Publisher: Ferret House Press/Scribner-Simon & Schuster, Inc. (New York), Feb 2003
ISBN: 0-7432-2755-7
? pages, $15.00 [prepublication information]
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Richard Bach writes Unusual Books. He is best known for his 1970 inspirational fantasy Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Like it, his The Ferret Chronicles (the first two, anyway) are about talking animals who have an obsession, and through a semi-religious revelation they are inspired to use that obsession to improve their lives and the lives of those about them.
   At first glance, it is hard to guess the intended readership of The Ferret Chronicles. They have an ‘All Ages’ advisory. They are published in the format of children’s novels, with large type, a low page count, and lots of big pictures (by Bach himself, who is not a good artist although better than some of the Furry fans who post their own art on their websites). Both begin with scenes of ferret mothers or guardians reading to or teaching young kits, as though to imply that The Ferret Chronicles might be read by parents to their own children. But the vocabulary is not simplified, and once the story starts the drama becomes too intense for children young enough to be read to. From Rescue Ferrets at Sea, about the animals’ Coast Guard:

   In four days, though, Deepsea Explorer wallowed not so far to windward of the rocks north of Maytime, pounded by force-eight winds and giant swells beyond the ship’s capacity to resist. From time to time, the bow of the ship was lifted and balanced aloft in empty air, till Explorer’s seams began to part forward and her pumps could no longer keep the ocean out. Not long past midnight, she called for escort, for a rescue ship to stand alongside for safety.
   Minutes later, her stern lifting clear in a sudden monster wave, came a thuddering screech of spinning, flailing steel that deafened the storm itself. Bent while turning nearly full speed, the starboard propellor shaft tore itself apart, shearing great holes in the ship as it did, water flooding forward.
   The call for escort changed. “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! This is
Deepsea Explorer, Deepsea Explorer. We have lost our starboard propellor shaft, we have lost our rudder, the forward hold and engine room are flooding. Our position is three-point-two miles on the two-six-two-degree bearing from the Moray Reef radio beacon. We have forty-four souls on board. Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! This is Deepsea Explorer…”
   At that moment the radio failed, its antenna shattered by flying debris. But the message was out, and at once the Maytime sirens wailed into the night.
   One second asleep in her hammock, the next second Lieutenant Bethany Ferret tumbled to the deck, coming awake as she raced to
Resolute’s bridge. Snapping the interphone on, she paused to calm her voice, then spoke as though this were just another practice.
   To the engine room she called, “Boa, start Engine One, start Engine Two.” She did not inquire whether the chief engine ferret was awake or ready with a quarter-minute warning from the sirens.
   She switched to the ship’s loudspeaker. “Topside crew, paws on deck. We have a vessel in distress, this is not a drill.” Her words amplified, echoed below, and the crew burst down the companionway to their posts.
(pgs. 68-69)

   The Mayday call from the Deepsea Explorer’s human crew reported the 44 humans aboard. The Ferret Rescue Service’s mission is to save all animals that may be aboard human ships, which in this case includes one calico cat, a Shetland sheepdog, an Indonesian parrot, seventy-six ship’s rats and thirty-five mice who had crept aboard seeking adventure where they could find it. (pg. 67) The rescue scene runs for fifty suspensefully detailed pages, with the tiny ferret J-boat trying to secure a lifeline to the foundering large human ship in the dangerously pitching gale and remove the panicked animals, being shoved into a rescue cage by two of the ship’s rats, before the Explorer either sinks or is driven onto the Moray Reef off the Washington coast.
   The equivalent scene in Air Ferrets Aloft has Captain Janine ‘Stormy’ Ferret, a cargo pilot for Air Ferrets, trying to fly an old FDC-4 SkyFreighter from Seattle to Salinas through an unexpected storm that has every sensible pilot diverting to safer airports; growing increasingly stubborn as her autopilot fails, the wing de-icers cannot keep ahead of the ice buildup, cargo pallets break loose in the hold, the number four engine starts sputtering… Bach has a veteran’s knowledge of the air turbulence patterns and weather conditions along the Pacific Northwest, and his pilots’ and air controllers’ radio conversations are detailed and convincing—and, I would think, over the heads of the children who read the usual books designed as The Ferret Chronicles are.
   Rescue Ferrets at Sea and Air Ferrets Aloft are completely separate stories, except for some allusions in both to the pop singing group Zsa-Zsa and the Show Ferrets, and an offhand comment that one of the characters in Air Ferrets is a friend of Boa, the chief engine ferret of the Resolute; so the two novels are set in the same world. Rescue Ferrets is vague as to the relationship between animals and humans, but Air Ferrets makes it clear that they share a joint civilization similar to that in the Stuart Little movies. The humans and small animals politely acknowledge each other. In some cases the animals seem to live within the humans’ cities and ride in their large vehicles with human permission; in other cases the animals seem to have their own miniature towns, roads, vehicles, and other accouterments of civilization openly adjacent to the humans’.
   Rescue Ferrets at Sea is, except for the talking animals, a fictional realistic description of a Coast Guard-type maritime service and one of its dicier rescue operations. Air Ferrets Aloft is a more ethereal fantasy. Stormy Ferret is accompanied, without her knowledge, by three tiny ferret guardian angels who are trying to maneuver her into meeting her divinely intended soulmate, Captain Strobe Ferret, chief pilot of the MusTelCo megacorporation. Both novels contain scenes where the protagonists undergo a profound religious experience, stylistically similar to those in 1940s movies like Stairway to Heaven. In Rescue Ferrets it could be a psychological hallucination, but in Air Ferrets there is no doubt that Someone Up There is looking out for Stormy and Strobe. Both novels are clearly intended to be morally uplifting, with strong female role models, but Bach is a skilled enough author that the message does not get in the way of the story for those who are only interested in the suspenseful drama.
   According to Simon & Schuster’s publicity website, Rescue Ferrets at Sea is a best seller. The Ferret Chronicles are officially published by Ferret House Press, Bach’s own imprint within Simon & Schuster (which is a division these days of Scribner, now owned by Macmillan). S&S’ bio of Bach is, A former USAF fighter pilot, gypsy barnstormer and airplane mechanic, he flies a seaplane today. He writes this series with his ten ferret advisors. The two books are also each available in a $20.00 two-cassette audio edition, read by Bach himself.
   P.S. This review was written in June 2002 when Rescue Ferrets and Air Ferrets were just published. Since then the third novel was published in October, and the fourth has been announced for February 2003. In an in-depth interview in Ferrets, July-August 2002, pages 20-23, Bach reveals that he has titles for well over fifty novels already chosen; some include Teacher Ferrets in the Classroom, Samba Ferrets in Salinas, Archaeologist Ferrets at the Dig, and Billionaire Ferrets in the Boardroom. The relationship between ferrets and humans is much more mystical than I had realized. Bach is not writing these stories as much as channeling dictation from the ferret world. “It’s true that, at the moment, most humans haven’t seen the parallel world of the ferrets, existing on a dimension close alongside our own,” he says in Ferret. “[…] day by day I saw farther into the ferret culture, as though some sunlit fog was lifting, as I watched, from over their land. […] Ferret society, I was shown, is ancient and far-flung, long predating our own civilization, born in a different galaxy from ours. Ferret values capitvated me: their love of action and adventure, their choice to decline the idea of evil, to live each of them to their highest sense of right, without malice or crime or war. […] The ferrets who have crossed over from their world to ours, the ones who chose to be born on Earth and become friends to us, are extraordinary brave animals. They are just as courageous as we would be, choosing to share our lives with a world of creatures who have not yet renounced violence and anger and cruelty. […]” Far out, man!

Two novels of courtship and changing species:

Cover of Item 2
Title: Zuntig
Author: Tom LaFarge
Publisher: Green Integer (Los Angeles, CA), Nov 2001
ISBN: 1-931243-06-9
338 pages, $13.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Zuntig takes place in the same animal world as LaFarge’s previous The Crimson Bears and A Hundred Doors (reviewed in Yarf! #38); but where that adventure was limited to the tumultuous city of Bargeton, where bears and cats fought for political supremacy, Zuntig is spread throughout the globe: from swamp to parched desert, from swift-flowing brook to verdant highland vale to gale-swept cliff-face. Each is home to Zuntig, who begins life as a Swamp Ape but is cursed (or blessed) to Change into many new shapes as each life ends but Life goes on.

   So I was happy. What else was there to be? Who could want to live anywhere but a swamp? Ours was the Swamp, the very big one at the mouth of the Flood. Yes, your river Flood that rolls past Bargeton. Before it reaches the sea, it divides into channels, swift and sluggish, loopy and straight. So a kingdom of reedy muck is sliced into islands. Swamp Apes live on these; to my clan there fell the largest and nicest island. […] No, I never wanted to live in any other place or be anything but an ape. We have small bodies but long arms and legs—good for standing in the shallows and groping for clams. Our fur is short, like a seal’s; we come in every color of dried leaf, but our faces are white as the moon’s. No, we have no tails. I never missed one. (pgs. 11-12)

   Swamp Ape society is an elaborate matriarchy, ruled by the Dispenser. She had the best bower and kept all our treasure there; everyone else took the quarters she gave them. She assigned husbands and mated where she liked. (pg. 12) The Apes’ Dispenser at this time is Nildwize, an elderly tyrant who happens to be the aunt of Zuntig and her many sisters. When Nildwize finally admits it is time to step down, a complex rite of succession begins to select the new Dispenser from her kin. The first hundred pages follow Zuntig’s and her sisters’ plottings, with or without their desired mates among the lowly males, to outmaneuver each other to win the Dispensership in the Contest which the crafty and sadistic Nildwize has loaded with humiliating and deadly traps for her own amusement.
   Well, it is not giving away much to say that Zuntig finally succumbs to one of these traps, or she would be reigning in apely luxury instead of cast into a journey from one species to another. Some of her adventures, such as life as a blue skink in the Biljub Desert or as a large fish owl upstream from the Swamp, are straightforward and brief. Others are elaborate and lengthy. Zuntig’s time as an alewife herring is submerged both in a literal stream and in a Joycean stream of consciousness:

left-world right-world    aboil in sluice and eddy    no companionable slime to ease the rush    a river in my mouth    leaves me behind my eyes    unloads tastes of many many homes none mine    not one stands clear as guide    they parcel out my fever and if not twined in the Flood’s rope would burst me
   left-world    right-world    river-rope runs through me    only follow choose    hurry feel roe ripen    hope I put Leg among them
[…] (pgs. 166-167)

   As refined lemmings, Miss Zuntig Lemming and her neighbors and cousins spend all their time in courtships in the mannerly style of Jane Austen:

   Not in the memory of the oldest Lemming living (old Mr. Bob’s mother Mrs. Arabella Lemming) had there been such a Spring. As by steady feeding Zuntig’s cousins were grown sleek and plump, so they came ever more awake, as they called it, in which term was comprised a vast deal of giggling, chittering, flirting, and presenting of backsides to eligible noses. Zuntig herself caught some of this fever. While the gallantries of suitors left her far from indifferent, however, the family conversation was grown dreary dull. It consisted now of nothing but rumors of matches made or making. A Lemming with eyes had little need of such report. Why stay to be told that “Miss Hester Lemming is married to Lieutenant Jem Lemming,” when by raising her gaze she could see, across the room, Miss Hester being busily made a mother of by the ardent young officer? (pg. 185)

   A dovekie (auk) has little to do but stare out over the blank grey sea, so this section is related in Shelleyan blank verse:

   To such a party, dashed against the cliffs
   By that same storm that blotted out the moon
   The night gone by above the Heights of Hyver,
   And mustering courage for their homeward flight,
   Zuntig now joins, nor doubt nor quarrel starts
   A single dovekie of that company.
   They hardly know she’s not been always there.
(pg. 225)

   But when she transforms from dovekie to skua gull, the style shifts to—well, need you be told?:

Set to melody she knows,
More like psalmody than song.
Tap and wheedle, bowed out long—
Up she floats as music grow
Twining like a maddened snake—
Cloth-head hammer raps a skin,
Quaver weary voice and break—
Tune forget all origin,
Stray into strangeness, and awake.

At the core of the
Maelstrom, a known
music accompanies her
or shape-loss.

The hammer taps, the bow nor grieves
Nor gladdens Zuntig’s mind.
She rises through the viewless deeps
As through the dreamer’s deepest sleeps
The bubble of his dream still keeps
A climbing way, though blind.
(pg. 239)

She begins to ascend
from the bottom-
place of Ocean.

   Since dovekies and skuas are ancient adversaries, prey and predator, Zuntig’s life as a dovekie is further related in the form of opera seria; or, allowing for the physical limitations of a paperback book, a 23-page detailed critique of La Madra skua, the least popular work of Porcosueño, grand master of the Bargeton Pig Opera. From Act Two, Scene Two:
   Zoontica, however, is silent. She hovers round her Egg’s jagged mouth and peers within. She starts back. A head timidly advances into the light. It is downed in ghastly bone-white down! In a quavering voice the uncanny chick sings Estuschéri formí (“I cry out in fear at this world of ruin”). Indignantly the Ten Neighbors cover their chicks’ ears. Loudly they seek to drown her out with joyful peeping. Zoontica soothes her Child, but just when it seems she has succeeded, and some harmony has been restored, Filarbara is marched on by a crowd of angrily chanting dovekie husbands. […] (pg. 273). The birds are all played by costumed pigs, of course.
   And with this, LaFarge returns to his animal metropolis of Bargeton, home of the Bats’ Basilica, of mole booksellers and mink courtesans, of the All Kinds Café where all species of mammals and avians may congregate together; where Zuntig may Change daily or hourly in what has become blasé routine. Is there an end to all this? Yes, but it seems less convincing than it does tacked on because LaFarge has run out of literary styles to pastiche. Zuntig is certainly anthropomorphic, but it is more for lovers of intellectual divertissements than for Furry fans.

Title: You’re an Animal, Viskovitz!
Author: Alessandro Boffa
Translator: John Casey, with Maria Sanminiatelli
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (New York), May 2002
ISBN: 0-375-40528-3
viii + 176 pages, $18.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   From Italy, a wildly modern riff on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, begins the cover blurb. The Metamorphoses tell what happens to humans who have been transformed into animals, trees, or other objects by the gods. Viskovitz is a collection of twenty-one vignettes, each (with one exception) narrated by Viskovitz himself, about what happens to him and a small group of companions who are born as animals; a different species in each tale. Viskovitz; his male siblings-pals-rivals Zucotic, Petrovic and Lopez; and the women—beautious, alluring Ljuba; ugly, viperish Jana; and naïve Lara.
   Penguins, dormice, finches. Dung beetles, elk, parrots. Pigs, dogs, bees. The longest vignette is 22 pages; most are five or six pages; the shortest are only three. At first it looks like the stories are only about sex; Viskovitz’s attempts to couple with the desirable Ljuba, and everything that goes wrong. The plots and courtship rituals eventually grow more elaborate, but sex continues to dominate them in one manner or other. The gender relationships and some biological traits are authentic to the species, but heavily overlaid with fantasy; sometimes in an obvious manner (as a praying mantis, Viskovitz’s goal is to get it on with Ljuba without getting eaten), and sometimes in unexpected ways. As bull-elk, Viskovitz and his studly rivals mix head-butting with martial-arts throws. As snails, Visko is as interested in Zucotic, Petrovic or Lopez as he is in Ljuba. In some stories the creatures are more anthropomorphized, but their animal natures still predominate. The scorpion sequence is cast as a Western, with Visko trying to live the role of the lone hero who protects the town’s women and children and gets the girl. The reality is that as scorpions, all the males, females, and infants are trying to viciously kill and eat each other. The dog sequence has Viskovitz as a cynical ex-cop working with rookie Detective Lara from Narcotics to track down missing Detective Zukotic and a fortune in heroin—not easy when Visko has to keep stopping Lara from running out into the middle of a busy street to chase a fleeing suspect’s car, or protect her from all the tough hoodlum strays in Chinatown when she goes into heat. Some chapters are more imaginative, but cannot be described without spoiling the surprise twist.
   The writing is full of wordplay based upon intellectual scientific terminology. Boffa considers it amusing to have unsophisticated animals using big words, or intermixing erudite terms with their rude Anglo-Saxon equivalents. My den was the former nest of a woodpecker hollowed out of a sessiliflore oak, says Visko as a dormouse (pg. 7). As a dung beetle, Visko is dazzled by his first glimpse of Ljuba: How to describe her? Her beauty was simultaneously adelphagous and polyphagous. Every part of her body, emimeron or episternum, prothorax, mesothorax or metathorax, ureters, stigma or scutellum was for my ocelli both joy and torment. She was the queen of scarabaeids, and I couldn’t live without her. (pgs. 56-57) This is witty, but it also becomes tiring rather quickly.
   There is no overlying plot to lead to a climax. In fact, the book ends so abruptly at the bottom of the last page as to leave the reader wondering whether the publisher accidentally left out a final page that would wind down to a more traditional conclusion. You’re an Animal, Viskovitz! (smoothly translated from the 1998 Italian original edition) is not really a novel, and should not be judged as one. It is a collection meant to be read a few vignettes at a time over a week or so. To read them all at once would be like trying to eat a box of rich chocolates at one sitting.

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