The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten
Note: This is a fraction of the entire listing. If youre on broadband, you might want to try the high speed version instead.
Welcome to the Pattens 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-knownand best in qualityof furry zines. Started in 1990 by Jeff Ferris, YARF!s roster of contributors reads like a Whos Who of furdom in the last decade of the 20th Century. In any issue, the zines 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 Stanleys Freefall
and Fred Pattens reviews of furry books and comics.
Unfortunately, YARF! has been thoroughly inactive since its 69th issue, which was released in September 2003. We cant 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. Pattens review columnsincluding the final one, which would have appeared in the never-printed YARF! #70.
Full disclosure: For each reviewed item, weve provided links you can use to check which of four different online booksellersAmazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and Powells Bookstorenow has it in stock. Presuming the item in question is available, if you buy it Anthro gets a small percentage of the price.
|Publisher:||Pure Hubris (Victoria Park East, Western Australia), Apr 2003|
|283 pages, A$19.95|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
Smooth, impossibly sleek and slim, wearing a bridal veil that trailed behind her like a dream, a deer marched up the aisle on four dainty little hooves. She lifted her head, looked at the altar and lifted up her tail.
Alright, lets get this show on the road! The moons right, Im on heat in six hours, and times a-wastin!
Behind her stood four maids in waitingtall humanoid fox girls with pointed faces, elegant dresses and fluffy tails. Bunny girls strewed flowers before the brides flashing, dainty hooves. She was escorted by yet more humanoid animalsa badger in armour bearing a longbow, a pair of knights that were apparently wolves, and what looked like a sexy woodpecker woman with a red pony tail, blue feathers and (strangely enough) a cleavage you could ski down. The father of the bride was an anthropomorphic stag, walking on two back legs. His hands were tipped by hard, black nails, like little hooves. (pg. 142)
Fey is blurbed as A rip-roaring spoof of the High Fantasy genre. It is not specifically a Furry novel, but is set in a fantasy world subdivided into different realms each devoted to whatever fantasy themes or myths have been popular on Earth: pagan mythology with satyrs, centaurs and dragons; Christianity with angels versus demons; vampires, werewolves, ghouls and other Undead creatures; Celtic mythology; and so forth. The 20th century added its own new mythical characters: funny animals, dinosaurs (as popularized in movies and bad sci-fi thrillers, not scientifically accurate), movie monsters, outer-space aliens, and so forth. These different groups do not remain neatly segregated once they appear in Fey; they tend to mix together and get into all kinds of trouble.
But now the existence of Fey itself is at stake. Two tiny dragons, Rufus the Red and Caerulia the Blue, travel to Earth seeking a Champion to save their world. They are rivals: Rufus is looking for a traditional heroic knight pledged to support goodness, justice and the Established Order; while Caerulia believes in the diversity (and fun) of Chaos and Shadow. Only pure, innocent faith could see a dragon as it truly was, (pg. 14), so the first humans to recognize them for what they are are two adolescent fantasy fans; Kevin, a British wargamer in homemade polyethylene Samurai armor, and Theresa, an Australian hopeful writer posting her fantasy porn on the Internet and trying to sell her first serious fantasy novel. Both are overjoyed at the chance to travel to what they are sure is their true spiritual homes:
Sir Kevin, your guidance would be a Godsend!
So youre whatmedieval technology, swords and horses? No electricity? No gunpowder and stuff? Rufus dazedly shook his head, and Kevin felt a raw surge of excitement. This was a dream come true! YeahI can show you guys how to really kick some arse! How long have we got before we have to go? (pg. 32)
Ill take you to the beach! Or we can go up to Kings park lookout and pretend to snipe at all the sailboats. Theresa helped the dragon cut the cake. Godyoure the one I swapped all that mail with? When you said online that you were a dragon, I thought you meant in a role playing game!
No noreal dragon. Leathery wings, breathe fire. Caerulia gripped cheesecake with both hands and tried a bite. She took on a look of absolute bliss. The tip of her tail shivered in ecstasy. The twenty first century rocks untold! Have you tried medieval cooking? Jeezewe have got to bring your cuisine to Fey! (pg. 35)
Naturally it is not all fun and games. Theresa and Caerulia fall afoul of an outpost of knights of order that are as puritanical as the Spanish Inquisition combined with the Nazi SS, and are forced to flee their blood-lizard trackers (velociraptors) in a lengthy scene as seriously terrifying as any that Stephen King or Dean Koontz could write. Kevin and Rufus have never read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court. While the nobles and the military commanders claim to be delighted to be shown how to fight the Minions of Evil more efficiently, the last thing they want is to introduce new weapons into Fey that will make their armored knights and castles obsolete.
The real problem is the nature of the menace threatening Fey. Due to modern marketing techniques on Earth, the latest wave of fantasy is being pounded into so many people so relentlessly that it is sweeping away all former types instead of coexisting with them. And it is all grim and depressing. Movie fantasy is now dominated by zombies and ghouls, chainsaw-slashing killers, human-exterminating robots and carnivorous space monsters. The publishing industry has become controlled by a few mega-publishers that reject all stories that do not fit the fantasy formula of grim warrior maids hacking and slashing hordes of undead fiends, or the sci-fi formula of grim commando teams blasting and slashing their way across devastated landscapes. Kevin, Theresa, Rufus, Caerulia, and the friends they make on Fey (including talking dinosaurs like Emily Brontosaurus, Gnargnaxx the manticore, Rumblestaad the black furry giant troll, Lurien the satyr, Snick-Snack the crocodile-headed kobold, Taka-shida and Taka-shima the two ninja white mice, Princess Cervine the sexually frustrated deer maid, and others) must figure out how to block Fey off from the relentless surge of mass-produced, unimaginative, soul-stifling formula fantasy.
Kidd obviously has a personal axe to grind against the nicotine mummy publishers and literary agents who reject manuscripts because they are different. We dont want characters, we dont want ideas! Ideas are thinking, and thinking means no sales! We want books with no thinking. We want books that are fastyou read them, you say heywe want more! We dont want classicsclassics you keep, you re-read, you pass to friends! We dont want them passed to friends, we want the next book moving off the shelves. (pg. 5) If the nature of popularized fantasy was really as Kidd describes it, the world of Fey would be in as much danger of being Harry Potter-ized as of being Warhammer-ed. But, hey, it makes for a fun story. And while the 100% Furry characters in Fey might be comparatively few, there are plenty of talking dragons and half-animal mythological beasts.
For ordering information, contact Pure Hubris Ltd., 11A Westminster Street, Victoria Park East, Western Australia 6101, or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Paul Kidds website, http://www.warpedtime.com/squeee
|Author:||John Reed, w/ foreword by Alexander Cockburn|
|Publisher:||Roof Books (NYC), Nov 2002|
|137 pages, $19.95|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
Pastiches of and/or sequels to George Orwells 1945 Animal Farm come along every few years. (See Yarf! #40 and #46 for reviews of Animal Planet and Anarchist Farm.) Here is another. Animal Farm is generally considered one of the finest allegories of 20th century literature; an animal fable portrayal of the Russian Communist Revolution of 1917 and the betrayal of its ideals by its own leadership. Where does a sequel go from there?
It emigrates to America. Snowballs Chance converts Snowball from a surrogate of Trotsky to a composite of all the American presidents of the past quarter century. He seems to have a split personality as he shifts from Carter to Reagan to Bush to Clinton to Dubya. Animal Farm is more successful at seeming detached and objective, as though the author is merely reporting what the characters are doing on their own initiative. Snowballs Chance is more heavy-handed, as though the animals are being manipulated to act out parodies of recent American events.
There is a foreword by Alexander Cockburn denouncing George Orwells reputation as a foe of totalitarian oppression and a champion of individual freedom. Yes, Orwell came to hate Communism (or the hypocritical Soviet bureaucracy). But he was as much a right-wing totalitarian by the time he wrote Animal Farm and 1984. A declassification of fifty-year-old British Military Intelligence files in 1998 has revealed that Orwell was sending them the names of anyone he met whom he considered to be unreliable to British society and values; not just Communists but also Jews, blacks and homosexuals. It may be true that Orwell as a literary idol has clay feet, but this is irrelevant to Animal Farm itself, and is a mean-spirited note upon which to open John Reeds novel.
Snowballs Chance begins as a straightforward continuation of Animal Farm. The pigs under Napoleons leadership control everything and have become indistinguishable from man. After several years Napoleon and the original revolutionary pigs start dying off of unrestrained gluttony and indulgence. There are no strong leaders among the next generation of pigs. Suddenly Snowball returns! He had not been killed offstage by Napoleons savage guard dogs (as Orwell strongly implies but never states), but had escaped.
And with that, Snowball stripped himself of his blazer, his tie, his cufflinks, and his shirt. This was not the chest of any pig that any of the animals had seen in a long, long time. Few remembered having ever seen an old pig so muscular and lean. Where the pigs of the farm were fat and decrepit, Snowball had a body that every animal in the barn recognized as his own bodyhard with years of hard sorrow and hard work. (pgs. 20-21)
Snowballs dynamic charisma sweeps the animals into proclaiming him as their new leader, to restore their Revolution to its goals of equality for all animals. Snowball promises to do this with increased efficiency, thanks to what he has learned about the way the world really works while living in exile among the humans. He will show the animals how to improve their creature comforts through making more money!
Abruptly Snowballs Chance is no longer a pastiche of Communist Russia but of Capitalist America. Snowball and his new close circle of cronies and advisors now look like the Rockefellers, the Bushes, and the CEOs of the biggest megacorporations. All animals are equal, and Snowball is all in favor of equality as long as some animals are more equal than others with greater tax-breaks and stock options.
Snowballs idea to enable all animals to live in luxury is to turn Animal Farm into Animal Fair; a big amusement park where the humans will pay for the privilege of seeing the cute animals caper around. Fun for all! and the animals will earn a fair and decent living from it. Of course, as anyone who has worked in the entertainment industry knows, performing is inevitably hard (and often demeaning) work. Also, the performers are far outnumbered by the number of menial laborers needed for grunt-work maintenance and cleanup. It is only the executive management (pigs again; no surprise) who can relax all day with guaranteed enormous salaries and benefit plans.
The copious trash that an amusement park produces leads to the Fair becoming surrounded by unsanitary landfills. The need for resources for new attractions and raw materials for souvenirs forces the Farm to expand into the nearby Woodlands to cut down and strip-mine wantonly. This brings the Pig Farm into conflict with the forest animals led by the beavers. The beavers espouse a similar concern for animal equality and living in balance with nature, but it is quickly evident that they are an amalgam of every fanatically self-righteous cause that opposes the Capitalistic status quo: eco-terrorists, pro-Lifers who murder abortion-clinic staffers, the Muslim Fundamentalists who attack the Great American Satan. Long before the dramatic climax which ends this novel, it is clear that if the message of Animal Farm was that the pigs are no better than the human masters whom they replaced, the message of Snowballs Chance is that Everybody Is No Damn Good.
|Publisher:||Macmillan Childrens Books (London), Oct 2001|
|[iv] + 503 pages, £12.99|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
|Publisher:||Dutton Books (NYC), Mar 2002|
|465 pages, $21.99|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
Mid-15th century Transylvania is being turned into a vast graveyard of Christians and Turks bloodily slaughtering each other. Unnoticed by the humans, the Carpathian wolves have a similar problem. Since ancient times, the wolves have worshipped the lupine gods Fenris and Tor. The rich lupine religion also teaches of the demonic Wolfbane who brought cruelty and misery into the world; and there is a legend that in days gone by [
] in the times when magic and witchcraft ruled their lives and darkness dominated, some wolves possessed the gift of the Sight [
] the power to see far-off visions beyond ones own body. (pg. 8, U.S. ed.)
Morgra, a witch-like wolf who had been exiled from the packs for murder and practicing black magic, has recently managed to win control of the Balkar, which in the wolfs language meant Night Hunters, a group of six wolf packs made up entirely of fighting males that had been formed to defend the borders of the land beyond the forest. With the leadership of these guardian wolves came the title of First of the Wolves, and never before had a she-wolf laid claim to it. (pg. 7) Nobody is more familiar with Morgras cruel nature than her sister Palla, so as soon as Morgra seizes the leadership and begins performing sacrificial rites to revive the cult of Wolfbane and to gain the Sight, Palla persuades her mate Huttser and a small group of friends to flee into exile. Morgra and her lackey, the raven Kraar, order the Balkar to find and slay them because she believes that Pallas newborn cub, Larka, is the wolf in whom the Sight is destined to be naturally renewed, which could forestall her plans to gain the Sight by witchcraft. To add to the bloody confusion, the wolves opposed to Morgras tyranny have been gathering in a rebel pack to destroy her and her Balkar army. But the leadership of the rebels has been won by Slavka, a female equally dominant and merciless toward any dissent among her followers. Slavka, an arrogant skeptic, declares all witchcraft, religion and superstition to be outlawed. Since the growing Larka is showing definite signs of the Sight (she has bonded with her own flying familiar, the eagle Skart), she and her family are also marked for death by Slavkas pack of free wolves.
The Sight is a tense supernatural tale of grim, bloody, depression and despair. However, it has serious problems as either a horror novel or a thriller. Clement-Davies tells instead of shows, using overly florid prose that gives away too much and sabotages the suspense.
Kipcha had come to a stop below the looming castle. There was an air of loneliness and violence about that craggy place, of some profound mystery, too, that even the bats wheeling above its battlements could not fathom with their piercing senses. (pg. 12do you get the impression there is some secret there?)
What I heard about the legend, Pallait cant begin here. Not in a place where we were safe and happy as cubs. They say that the legend could only happen in a place where some great crime or injustice had been committed. The wolves trotted on, though Brassa kept looking back down the river. In her old eyes there was a terror stirring. And a secret too. (pgs. 62-63do you get the impression that Brassa knows something about the place that the others dont?)
But as Larka began to run, her paws felt like stones, and she knew that every step was bringing her closer to her doom. (pg. 403do you get the feeling that something really bad is about to happen to Larka?)
You know those horror movies where characters wander away from the group to be killed, one by one? Here they do not wander away as much as they are dragged to their dooms by the author. In one scene, Larka, Khaz and Kipcha come into a clearing dominated by a great tree from which a chunk of raw flesh is dangling over a patch of ground thick with dead leaves, though the tree hadnt shed, with something else in the odor filling the air that reminded the wolf of humans they had recently encountered. (pg. 95) Even though a three-day-old cub should be able to recognize a trap, Khaz couldnt hear Kipcha. An extraordinary feeling had just come over him. It was as though he were traveling along a deep ravine he could not escape, at the end of which lay he knew not what. He wanted to pull up, but the fear consuming his mind kept him running. (pg. 96) After the first three or four wolves perish from obvious deathtraps that they suddenly have no free will to avoid, there is no longer any suspense as to whether any will ever be intelligent or lucky enough to survive. The only question is which order they will die in, and what the manner of each agonizing death will be.
There is far too much use of the ploy of the good guys just happening to overhear the enemy discussing major secrets:
Palla, with Fell at her side, was searching desperately for her daughter on the other side of the forest when they, too, heard a sound. The ground dipped suddenly toward a deep hollow and there were two wolves standing in the clearing below them. They were strangers.
Balkar? whispered Palla immediately, backing behind a tree and grabbing hold of the skin around Fells neck to pull him after her. The wolves were whispering, but the air was still and the sound came clear and true through the wood.
If the legend is true, growled Gart nervously, it is not Wolfbane we should fear, but what comes after Wolfbane. His pact with the flying scavengers and the final power of the Man Varg.
Tell me the verse again.
Palla strained forward immediately, but his companion had paused.
Im not supposed to know it, and if Slavka heard me reciting it I would pay dearly. But since were here I suppose itll be safe. Let me see, if only I can remember it properly. (pgs. 91-92)
Accidentally stumbling upon such an important conversation seems awfully convenient, but such things do happen. But by the third or fourth time this happens (pgs. 125-127; 153-155; 168-169), it not only becomes wearily repetitive, it stretches good luck past all suspension of disbelief.
As in Watership Down, the featured animals are supposed to be realistic except for the conceit that they have their own language and religion. The first dozen pages swamp the reader in wolf vocabulary, always capitalized: Varg = wolves, Dragga = alpha male, Drappa = alpha female, Sikla = omega wolf, Lera = wild animals, Putnar = predators, etc., etc. The result feels less like Watership Down than the nursery tale about high cockalorum and cold pondalorum where nouns are given humorous replacements just to be silly. These wolves sweat, respect their elders (Wolves, more than most animals, value age in the pack ), have instincts hitherto unknown ( a wolf fears nothing more than death by water ), and otherwise act in ways that seem less realistic than convenient for the author. There is an extended subplot in which wolves rescue a human baby and must care for it through a freezing winter. This begins practically within sight of an ancient Roman statue of the she-wolf suckling two infants, presumably to assure the reader that wolves nurturing human babies is realistic. But these wolves realize that since this is a human baby, he needs clothing, which the legend of Romulus and Remus seems to have missed: she had understood the need to cover up its furless skin. So the young she-wolf had sat there, gnawing away [at a deerskin], until her teeth had cut an opening in the hide, and together Jarla and Tsarr had managed to lift it in their muzzles over its head. They had felt the need to bind it somehow (pg. 222). There is commentary on almost every page about how realistic and governed by instinct the wolves are, which makes the frequent contradictory evidence especially stand out. There is also a secret whose solution is hidden in a lengthy riddle-verse, just like in all the Redwall novels. All of the obvious comparisons to Watership Down and Redwall are of a nature which illustrates how inferior The Sight is to them.
If you feel that you have to read The Sight, borrow it from your local library. It is not worth the cover price.