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.

by issue
by title

YARF! logo
#67 / Jan 2003

Cover of the Wendy Lamb/Random House edition
Title: Dr. Franklin’s Island
Author: Ann Halam

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books (London), Jun 2001
ISBN: 1-858-81396-4
224 pages, £4.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children’s Books (NYC), May 2002
ISBN: 0-385-73008-X
247 pages, $14.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   The ‘About the Author’ page ends: Ann Halam says, “Readers may be interested to know that Dr. Franklin’s Island was inspired partly by H. G. Wells’s story The Island of Dr. Moreau.” I do not know whether the Animorphs novels by Katherine Applegate were also an inspiration, but Dr. Franklin’s Island reads like a cross between the two.
   Thirty-seven British adolescents, high school students or the equivalent, are winners of a competition by an educational TV program, Planet Savers. They win a trip to a wildlife conservation station in the Ecuadorian rain forest with a side visit to the Galápagos Islands. But their plane crashes somewhere off the west coast of Ecuador. There are only three survivors: Semirah Garson, Miranda Fallow and Arnie Pullman. After a couple of chapters of castaways-on-a-desert-island action, the three discover—and are captured by—the scientist whose laboratory is hidden on the island.
   Dr. Franklin is a modern-day Dr. Moreau; a brilliant scientific megalomaniac. …a few years ago Dr. George Franklin was famous, in science. He had all kinds of ideas about how humans might be changed, in the future, by genetic engineering. […] People listened to him, even though the things he was suggesting were completely impossible back then. And they still are, as far as I know… But he’s very rich, he inherited a huge fortune, so he didn’t need anyone’s approval. He ran his own projects and paid his own scientists to work on his weird ideas. I think he was even a futurology consultant or something to the U.S. government, for a while. Then he got prosecuted for doing some cruel experiments on chimpanzees. That was the end of his public career. (U.S. ed., pg. 77) Dr. Franklin has leased or otherwise taken over this entire small island, which he runs with a scientific assistant, Dr. Skinner, and a staff of locals who believe that they are being employed in some government secret project.
   The initial descriptions of Dr. Franklin’s island laboratory and theories of transgenetic research are convincing in the manner that James Bond’s villains’ super-lairs are superficially plausible. This soon gets exaggerated to the level of a comic-book Mad Scientist when his experimental treatments are able to change Semi, Miranda and Arnie into animaloid humans within a week or two.

   I looked up, and saw a great bird-shape gliding over my pool, with dark wings outspread, the flight feathers parted, fingering the air. The shadow left me as the creature banked and dived. I heard a thump, and the water rumbled with vibration. A thing like a big dark bird, big as an eagle, black as a raven, was standing by the edge of my pool. Its folded wings were covered in glossy feathers. The rest of its body was covered in a short pelt of shining black hair. Its legs were scaled and leathery like a bird’s, but jointed like human legs. Its feet were scaled like a bird’s, but its five powerful clawed toes looked as if they were built like human fingers. […] (pgs. 124-125)

   The plausibility of the human-to-animal conversions may be weak, but Halam does much better at describing their results: what it feels like to be able to fly like a bird or swim like a fish; to have a bird’s or a fish’s body; to struggle to keep your human intellect from being overpowered by your new animal instincts:

   I think animals without hands have different minds from animals with hands. Animals with hands that they can use to pick things up—like monkeys, humans, birds, mice, rats—tend to like being busy, and tinkering with things. Animals without hands, like snakes or fish, or cats, are happy doing nothing for long periods. I’d always been a thoughtful person. As a fish, I completely shared the daydreamer-animal attitude to life. (pg. 145-146)

   And to relearn how to communicate after losing human speech. Here the story shifts to the Japanese manga/anime stereotyped plot of the reluctant heroes who are turned into superpowered monsters by the villains, then escape and use the powers forced upon them to combat those villains. Can bird, fish (humanoid manta ray), and—it’s a mystery what the third is until just before the climax—reunite and fight effectively with their animal abilities against Dr. Franklin and his staff? Can their transformations be reversed? At the last moment, do they want to become human once more?
   Dr. Franklin’s Island is tense drama, starting with the plane crash in the first chapter, for those who enjoyed the Animorphs scenes featuring the characters in action in their animal bodies. Here the heroes are stuck in one form which is not to their advantage or, at first, liking; for example, how does a manta ray escape from an aquarium pool? Halam (a pseudonym used by British s-f author Gwyneth Jones for her children’s/young adult novels) sets up a situation so hopeless that she has to use a couple of dei ex machinæ to get the escape started. But once it is in motion, it picks up speed. This should be enjoyed especially by fans of Furry Transformation fiction.

Title: The Linnet’s Tale
Author: Dale C. Willard
Illustrator: James Noel Smith
Publisher: Scribner Paperback Fiction/Published by Simon & Schuster (NYC), Apr 2002
ISBN: 0-7500-1744-9
204 pages, $12.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This curious little trade paperback will be easy to overlook. In format, it is very similar to a novel for young children; A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books, for example. The blurb’s description of a village of cute British woodland animals with names like Peebles Carryforth the Mayor and Opportune Baggs the inventor suggests a comparison with Beatrix Potter’s similar characters such as Timmy Tiptoes and Jemima Puddle-duck, also for young children. Yet the author’s Acknowledgements close with a thank-you to the friend who reminded me at the right moment that this is, after all, a story for grown-ups. (pg. 9) And the vocabulary in the first chapter, full of words like ‘pertinacious’, ‘molossus’, and ‘versification’, makes it clear that this tale is not for any young readers. There is nothing in it that is unsuitable for children (unless possibly the after-dinner scene of the gentlemen mice at the card table with their port and cigars), but an adult reading the story to them would be all night explaining the words on any two pages.
   The Linnet’s Tale is basically a funny-animal version of a Regency Romance a la Jane Austen, as told by an enthusiastically gossipy and rambling linnet (house finch) who lives in their village. There is more to it—the finch, Waterford Hopstep, has literary pretensions and his three-page ‘novel’ is a parody of the Tarzan stories about a baby mouse raised by insects (The leafhoppers taught him their ways and this meant that Greystreak could fairly fly through a thicket of goosefoot, say, covering great distances by swinging from weed to weed and never a paw touching the ground. He also had a mysterious bond with all insect life and was able to communicate with lower creatures by various means, not the least of which was an astonishing and unnerving yell at the top of his lungs which would bring many types of strange multi-legged creatures to his aid wherever he might be. pg. 46); and the reader will also recognize a touch of Robert Louis Stevenson—but mostly this is a Regency Romance told in florid and convoluted (but always grammatically correct) paragraphs like this.
   A sample: the attractive daughters of Mr. Glendower Fieldpea, proprietor of The Bookish Mouse—Tottensea Burrows’ finest mousebook shop, have reached the age that they are being courted by suitors.

   In summary, suffice it to say that Grenadine, Almandine and Incarnadine Fieldpea were much sought after. One or the other of them was often chosen ‘queen’ of these or those games, or ‘princess’ of this or that fair, and they attracted many suitors—not all of which they wanted. Grenadine had, for example, at one point, a most distressing and unwanted suit pressed upon her by an unusual personage who went by the name of Mr. Langston Pickerel.
   There was, I think, no more remarkable sight in all of Tottensea Burrows than Langston Pickerel dressed up. Should he wish to impress, he had but to appear in, say, his Italian blue doublet with the military braid, worn over a waistcoat of crimson, probably, and overslung with a woolen sash filled absolutely to the full with badges and medals and other such brightware—all of this to be girded at the waist by a silver buckled patent leather strap from which would hang, in most cases, his splendid Saracen dagger with the three tourmalines worked cleverly among the carbuncles along the hilt. At such times, I’m afraid, he was utterly rakish without competition. And he knew it.
   On an afternoon, there appeared at the Fieldpea door a mole, dressed quite to the nines in black livery and holding, in one paw, a modest but courtly bouquet of heliotrope and, in the other, a small silver tray—a salver, as it’s sometimes called—on the surface of which rested a white envelope addressed to Miss Grenadine Fieldpea. The envelope was sealed with a dollop of wax which was stamped with an ornamented figure of some type which they finally decided was the letter ‘P,’ but it was adorned with so many scrolly lines and what-have-yous that it was impossible to be certain.
   “For Miss Grenadine Fieldpea,” the mole said, stiffly, without looking at Mr. Fieldpea.
   “Thank you. I’ll see that she gets them,” Mr. Fieldpea said.
   “An answer is requested,” the mole said, solemnly, keeping his eyes straight ahead and moving not a hair, so far as Mr. Fieldpea could tell.
   “Very well,” Mr. Fieldpea said, “I’ll see if that can be arranged. Would you care to come in?”
   The mole elected to stand pat, and Mr. Fieldpea went off to find Grenadine, who, as it turned out, was working in the kitchen with her mother. After drying her paws, then, Grenadine placed the heliotrope in a vase, studied the envelope for a bit, opened it and read out, for her parents to hear:
(pgs. 94-95)

   Alas, this excerpt has gone on for long enough without adding Mr. Pickerel’s eccentric and overly forward missive to it. Suffice it to say that Mr. Pickerel is not the sort of person to recognize gentle hints, while the Fieldpeas are too polite to tell him bluntly that his attentions are unwanted. Grenadine, who is headstrong, is tempted to accept his invitation just for a lark (after all, an exotic evening with a mysterious and chivalrous stranger might provide at least an interesting diary entry for the evening pg. 107). But Mr. Pickerel has already demonstrated that his extravagantly excessive mannerisms are not those of a true gentlemouse; and if he is not a true gentlemouse, just how safe may she be with him?
   Most of The Linnet’s Tale is a witty but sedate pastiche of the social scene of an upper-class English community of the Georgian period. But Waterford the linnet has dropped Pretentious Hints in his Prologue that the entire village of Tottensea Burrows will come to a Shocking and Unexpected but Not Really Tragic End, so the reader is assured of some drama eventually; which, by the time it comes, really is unexpected but not inappropriate, and brings the tale to a satisfactory conclusion. The Linnet’s Tale is very clever, but its true audience are probably less Furry fans than connoisseurs of literary whimsy or of Regency Romances with enough humor to appreciate the lengthy descriptions of field mice in colorful waistcoats and elegant gowns dancing the quadrille at The Tottensea Burrows Midsummer’s Night Fancy Dress Cotillion Ball.

Cover of the 2002 Canadian edition
Title: Firewing
Author: Kenneth Oppel

Publisher: HarperCollinsCanada (Toronto, ON), Apr 2002
ISBN: 0-00-639194-X
262 pages, CND $15.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (NYC), Feb 2003
ISBN: 0-689-84993-1
270 pages, USD $16.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Firewing, labelled ‘Book 3 of The Silverwing Saga’ on author Oppel’s website, will be a shock to any fans of Silverwing (1997) and Sunwing (1999) who thought that those two were as dramatic as it was possible to be. Shade, a young Silverwing bat, became personally responsible for saving the peaceful bat species from a war with owls and other birds who wanted to destroy all bats; from human soldiers who wanted to use bats as suicide weapons with bombs strapped to them; and from the brutal Vampyrum bats who want to enslave all other bats and sacrifice them to their bloody god Cama Zotz. Sunwing appeared to have a ‘happily ever after’ ending.
   This third novel, which begins a year later, is primarily the story of Shade’s son Griffin. Silverwing females separate from the males and migrate to their northern forest breeding grounds to bear their children, who mature quickly enough to return south with their mothers in the winter. The adolescent Griffin is looking forward to meeting his famous father for the first time, and worried that he will not measure up to the legendary bat champion. Suddenly there is a massive earthquake, and Griffin falls from his breeding ground’s underground tunnels into a vast, eerie cavern which is almost a whole underground world. The reader will realize before Griffin does that there is no ‘almost’ to this when he meets Luna, recently his best friend—whose death he accidentally caused.
   It is not giving anything away that is not revealed on the jacket blurb that Firewing takes animal fantasy to new limits in this Furry modernization of Orpheus in the Underworld (although Oppel’s nudge-nudge-wink-wink clues are more to Dante’s Inferno). This huge, blacklit chiropteran Underworld is modelled upon that of Roman mythology. There are no sun or moon, but there is a ‘starry sky’ of luminous minerals embedded in the cavern’s dome. There are ‘Elysian Fields’ oases of lush fruit forests full of tasty insects for the ghosts of good bats, and desolate wastelands for the ghosts of evil bats. But the fruit and insects are ectoplasmic themselves, without nourishment to a live bat who has fallen into the Underworld before his death. Unless Griffin can find an opening to the surface world before he starves, he will become a permanent resident of the Underworld before his time.
   This is only the first of the subplots. Griffin has been crushed with guilt since causing Luna’s death. He hopes to restore her to life by taking her with him back to the surface world. But the Underworld is now her natural home, and she wants Griffin to stay there with her. Unknown to Griffin, his father has followed him to rescue him; but in the supernaturally world-sized cavern, how will Shade ever find him? Goth, who has been deservedly suffering the tortures of the Damned since his death in Sunwing, is freed by Lord Zotz to capture these intruders. Goth is determined to not waste this unexpected new chance for revenge against his hated enemy, either by killing Shade himself or, more sadistically, letting him go after killing his son.
   Firewing cannot be called completely unique since it is so derivative of Roman mythology, but this is a detailed supernatural setting that is rarely seen in Furry fantasy. Oppel creates dramatically phantasmic landscapes and situations. Griffin and Shade are never sure which of its ghostly aspects are harmless to living beings, and which are traps that can hold them until they starve to death—or until Goth catches up with them. Can Griffin save Luna, or is she now a ‘hungry ghost’ which can unknowingly or deliberately doom him? Shade is now a strong adult warrior who can approach his adventures guided by experience, while Griffin is a resolute but nervous young bat who has little to rely upon but his common sense. His dialogue is realistically adolescent:

   “I was in the tunnels under Tree Haven, and there was an earthquake and I got cut off by a cave-in kind of situation, and the only way out was down. Through a crack in the rock. There was a breeze, and I thought it would take me back to the surface but it just went down and down some more, until I fell … well, really, I got sucked down by the wind. I couldn’t stop, and I came out really fast from … this hole, I guess … and into your, um … sky.” (pg. 59)

   Firewing offers suspense, pathos, horror, and drama. It features strong characterizations of both adolescent and adult characters. However, readers who have not yet read Silverwing and Sunwing should start with those two. Firewing is complete in itself but you will also enjoy the first two novels, and they should be read first.
   One of the FAQs on Kenneth Oppel’s website ( is whether there will be any more adventures in The Silverwing Saga? “Absolutely. Just as soon as I get a great idea for a fourth book, I’ll be sure to write it!” A 13-episode Silverwing TV cartoon series has also been announced, animated by Bardel Entertainment in Vancouver for Canada’s Teletoon channel, to premiere in September 2003.

Title: Blue Road to Atlantis
Author: Jay Nussbaum
Publisher: Warner Books (NYC), Jul 2002
ISBN: 0-446-552821-8
140 pages, $16.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Blue Road to Atlantis is enjoyable on its own. But appreciation will be increased a thousandfold if you are familiar with Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1952), because it is a pastiche of that tale told from the viewpoint of the fish.
   Fishmael, the narrator, is a remora or marlinsucker who has spent his life as the symbiotic companion of the great marlin who is the champion of the sea. All fish in the Atlantic revere the Old Fish’s strength and wisdom. Thus when the news reaches the Gulf of Mexico that a Red Tide is spreading from the coast of Africa (Panic sweeps through the crowd. Red Tide is a rare phenomenon, said to originate with the ripening of a mysterious coastal plant. It drifts relentlessly forward for hundreds of miles before dispersing, carrying a deadly bacteria that suffocates every fish in its broad path. The last Red Tide killed twenty million, approaching as a lovely pink bloom and leaving a wake of silence behind. pg. 17), all the fish are sure that only the Old Fish can save them. He promises to swim (with Fishmael) to legendary Atlantis, whose all-wise Great Spotted Dolphins must know how to stop the Red Tide. But before he can leave, he is hooked by El Campéon, the notorious human fisherman.
   In some respects Blue Road to Atlantis is a very close pastiche of The Old Man and the Sea. Both novels are 140 pages long, and written in Hemingwaylike prose. Fortunately, Nussbaum has not followed Hemingway’s text slavishly. He elaborates imaginatively upon it.
   Hemingway’s story predominantly relates the thoughts of the aged fisherman alone in his skiff as a great marlin pulls him through the sea. Nussbaum’s story has a larger cast of fish so there is much more dialogue. Not only are the Old Fish’s and Fishmael’s lives at stake, but those of all the fish in the Caribbean. Hemingway’s old man is pulled through the sea for two days before the unknown fish comes to the surface. Nussbaum’s story reveals what has been happening underwater during this time. The Old Fish and Fishmael are looking for help from other fish to remove the hook. A Hardheaded Catfish is said to have answers to all questions, but he turns out to be a piscine preacher of the Church of the SubGenius:

   The brown barbels of the catfish’s mustache arch as he scoffs. “Easy. Just pray.”
   “Pray? To whom?”
   “To Bob.”
   “Who’s Bob?”
   “He’s the one,” the catfish says. “The one the humans pray to. Anything you want, you pray to Bob for it.”
   We are confused. “And that helps… how?”
   “Atheist!” the catfish accuses, pointing a fin at the Old Fish. His mustache stands on end.
(pg. 53)

   When the old man cuts his hand and bleeds into the water, the Old Fish and Fishmael think this is a deliberate attempt to attract sharks to intimidate them. Hemingway has a casual paragraph: ‘He remembered the time he had hooked one of a pair of marlin. The male fish always let the female fish feed first and the hooked fish, the female, made a wild, panic-stricken, despairing fight that soon exhausted her […]’ This becomes a key event in the past of Nussbaum’s fish: It has been many years, and much water has since passed beneath our fins, but I still remember the day the Old Fish lost his beloved Migdalia to a fisherman’s hook. A fisherman who proclaimed himself El Campéon, who dragged our poor Migdalia brutally from the water […] (pg. 3)

   “Fishmael, we are doomed.”
   The Old Fish has come nearly to a full stop in the water.
   “What is it, Old Fish?”
   “It is him.”
   “I know the voice now,” he shudders. “It is El Campéon.”
   “Old Fish, you are imagining things.”
   “No, Fishmael. You too recognized the voice. Do you not remember how El Campéon talked to his hands all the while as he slaughtered Migdalia? He is the only fisherman I have ever heard do such a bizarre thing.”
   “No, Old Fish,” I argue, though I already know he is right. “Your memory falters. He had another with him that day. It was that other human to whom he spoke.”
   “It is him,” he repeats. “The most powerful fisherman in the world. We are doomed.”
(pg. 74)

   In The Old Man and the Sea, the ancient fisherman prays that the great fish will not accidentally dive or jerk the line hard enough to break it. In Blue Road to Atlantis, the Old Fish has become fatalistic. He is sure that the old man is destined to destroy him as he destroyed Migdalia, that he is fated to die with his mission to Atlantis unfulfilled; and so he creates reasons to ignore all practical advice to save himself.
   As the Old Fish approaches his end, he sees Hidden Meanings in every comment the old man makes while talking to himself. The story grows increasingly mystical and metaphysical after they finally meet a Spotted Dolphin, who seems to be from Jamaica rather than Atlantis:

   “Spotted Dolphin, surely you know that I am dying?”
   “So how can I achieve the sky after I die?”
   “You should try knowin’ less, Old Fish. You been wrong so many times since even I meet you, ’ow can you t’ink you know anyt’ing anymore? First you say, me ’ooked, very bad. But ’ook ’as brought you to me and I am very wise, a Great Spotted Dolphin, doncha know? From Atlantis, the dream of your life and ahl. So maybe ’ook was good news. I show you ’ow easy for big fish like you to run and snap a little fishin’ line. Of course, in starvin’ for two days, you too weak to do it. Bad, dat. But I say, good news, you can still jump, and see what a puny animal you up against. So you jump and see a tired old mon. In fact, now dat I t’ink of it, soundin’ don’t take no energy. Why not sound and snap de line?”
(pg. 105)

   Nussbaum fills his tale with clever references (look for the titles of other Hemingway novels like The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms worked into the text), but he never lets them get in the way of the basic job of telling a fascinating story.

Home-=- ANTHRO\'s Library
-= ANTHRO =-