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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
by title

YARF! logo
#69 / Sep 2003

Title: Sims
Author: F. Paul Wilson
Publisher: A Tom Doherty Associates/Forge Book (NYC), April 2003
ISBN: 0-765-30551-8
414 pages, $25.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Sims may be a brand-new plot based on the latest headlines about cloning and immoral scientific experimenting as far as the general public is concerned (“It may seem like science fiction,” says Wilson in his Author’s Note, “but it isn’t. For right now, as you read these words, someone somewhere is altering a chimpanzee’s genome to make it more human. Right now.”), but for s-f and Furry fans, this is old stuff. The basic plot of winning legal equality for bioengineered chimpanzee laborers was used by Robert A. Heinlein back in 1947 (Jerry Was a Man, in Thrilling Wonder Stories). Practically every bioengineering plot twist and setup in Sims that is supposed to be a cutting-edge surprise can be found in some previous s-f novel or a story in some Furry magazine; Watts Martin’s unfinished In Our Image here in Yarf! between 1992 and 1994, or Lawrence Watt-Evans’ Foxy Lady in Zoomorphica over ten years ago, or… The suspenseful action of courtroom dramas and attacks by rogue political/military black ops teams are more standard to lots of mainstream Conspiracy novels and movies, although Wilson blends them into the bioengineering plot smoothly.
   I do not mean to dismiss Sims as nothing but a rehash of old ideas. There are no new basic ideas in Westerns, but skilled writers are still crafting tense new Western dramas from the traditional plot elements. I enjoyed Sims very much, and a part of that enjoyment was due to feeling that this ‘day after tomorrow’ drama about bioengineered intelligent animals (“… a science thriller that will come true. One way or another.”) is a mainstream affirmation of what we have been fictionally predicting ourselves for the past decade and more.

   [Sullivan] tried to organize what he knew about sims. They weren’t news anymore but they hadn’t been around long enough to be taken for granted. He was old enough to remember the uproar when Mercer Sinclair introduced the first sim at an international genetics conference in Toronto. […] As Mercer Sinclair, the brother who seemed to do all the talking, had tirelessly explained […] they’d settled on the chimpanzee because its genome was so close to a human’s—a ninety-eight-point-four percent match-up in their DNA. […]
   With so much shared DNA, it hadn’t taken a whole lot of germ-line engineering to produce a larger skull—allowing for a larger brain, greater intelligence, and the intellectual capacity for speech—and a larger, sturdier, more humanlike skeleton. That took care of functional requirements. Smaller ears, less hirsute skin, a smaller lower jaw, and other refinements made for a creature that looked far more human than a chimp, one that might be mistaken for a Homo erectus, but never for a Homo sap.
   The result was the sim: a good worker, agile, docile, with no interest in sex or money. Not an Einstein among them, but bright enough to speak a stilted form of whatever language they grew up with.
   To manufacture and market the product—Mercer Sinclair insisted from the get-go on referring to sims as a product—the brothers had formed SimGen. And SimGen got the government to agree that the creatures were just that: a product.
(pgs. 20-21)

   Patrick Sullivan is a yuppie labor lawyer more interested in advancing his career than in fighting for causes. When the sim caddies at a posh golf club (that has just rejected his membership) ask him to help them form a labor union, Sullivan agrees only to annoy the club’s stuffy members and to get himself some free humorous publicity. He is shocked when the news that he is representing ‘human rights for dumb animals’ provokes a more serious response than he expected. His law firm pressures him to drop the case. A TV Evangelist denounces him and all other sim-lovers as blasphemers mocking the Lord God. His home is fire-bombed by fundamentalists. Sullivan is torn between not wanting to sacrifice his professional career, and a reluctance to back down under fire. Then Romy Cadman, an attractive pro-sim activist, offers him a quarter of a million dollars to stay on the case. Next a professional commando squad, not drunken red-necks, try to arrange Sullivan’s and Romy’s deaths in a faked automobile accident—but when the two regain consciousness, it is the commandos who have been mysteriously slaughtered. Further dramatic developments make it clear to Sullivan and Romy that they have become caught up in a secret war being waged by powerful rival forces within Big Business, the government, the military, and the scientific community; and that each includes ‘cowboys’ who believe in violence as the simplest way of eliminating their enemies.
   There are many sim characters in the story, although most of them are subservient to the humans (explained as the sims being bioengineered for docility). Indeed, one of the weakest points is the novel’s opening: asking Sullivan to help them start a labor union is uncharacteristically non-docile. Also, if sims are smart enough to hire a lawyer, their human-level intelligence should have been plain for the world to see before Sullivan begins to publicize their cause. Another detail that is unconvincing is the apparent similarity between the novel’s society and our own (except for the presence of the sims), considering that there are occasional offhand references to ‘the genome revolution’ having eliminated most genetic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, cancer), and enabled cosmetic body modification (a briefly-seen ‘reptiled’ punk-goth freak has pointed teeth and a long, forked tongue that he waggles in people’s faces to freak them out). If biotechnology has reached that point, then the background of modern society seems disappointingly unimaginative. But this is supposed to be a mainstream suspense novel and ‘not science fiction’, so Wilson probably could not afford to change the social scene too dramatically. Sims is designed for readers who like Stephen King’s and Dean Koontz’s thrillers, with a fantasy menace that is high-tech rather than supernatural.

Title: Best in Show: Fifteen Years of Outstanding Furry Fiction
Editor: Fred Patten
Illustrators: Dave Bryant, Margaret Carspecken, Jennie Hoffer, John Nunnemacher, Conrad Wong, Vicky Wyman, etc
Publisher: Sofawolf Press (Saint Paul, MN), Jul 2003
ISBN: 0-9712670-1-4
455 pages, $19.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Consider this an announcement rather than a review. Since I am the editor, it would not be proper to review my own book.
   Best in Show is an anthology of 26 short stories originally published between 1987 (1989 actually; I could not find any stories from 1987 to 1989 that were good enough) and 2002 in the Furry small press. Authors include Brian W. Antoine, Gene Breshears, Robert Carspecken, Mick Collins, Jeff Eddy, Phil Geusz, Ben Goodridge, Craig Hilton, Brock Hoagland, M. C. A. Hogarth, Allen Kitchen, Kim Liu, Watts Martin, Elizabeth McCoy, Charles Melville, Michael H. Payne, Matt Posner, Axel Shaikman, Tim Susman, Todd G. Sutherland, Jefferson P. Swycaffer, Tom Turrittin, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Mel. White, and Conrad Wong. Ten are illustrated with art from their original magazine publications by Dave Bryant, Margaret Carspecken, Jennie Hoffer, John Nunnemacher, Conrad Wong, Vicky Wyman and others. The stories are reprinted from the magazines Anthrolations, The Ever-Changing Palace, Fang, Claw & Steel, Fantastic Furry Stories, FurryPhile, Furthest North Crew, FurVersion, HistoriMorphs, Morphic Tales, North American Fur, PawPrints Fanzine, Rowrbrazzle, Tales of the Tai-Pan Universe, Yarf! and Zoomorphica; the website Raven’s Lair; and Brock Hoagland’s book Tales of Perissa. Yarf! is represented by three stories; How George Miles Almost Saved the World by Watts Martin from #14 (July 1991), Mercy to the Cubs: A Tale of the Furkindred by Chas. P. A. Melville from #37 (July 1995), and Rosettes and Ribbons by M. C. A. Hogarth from #58 (January 2000).
   I grew up reading science fiction books from the public library, including such great short-story anthologies as The Omnibus of Science Fiction and A Treasury of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin, Adventures in Time and Space edited by Healy & McComas, and dozens if not hundreds of others. These included lots of ‘best of the year’ anthologies which collected the best stories each year from Analog, Asimov’s SF, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Galaxy Science Fiction, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, Worlds of If and all the other commercial s-f magazines. Obviously our own Furry small-press magazines (which began with FurVersion in 1987), usually with circulations of only 200 copies or less, were not being considered by the editors of these volumes. This has been a sore point with me for years. Sofawolf Press recently offered to publish a collection of the best short stories from all the Furry magazines if I would select them. Best in Show is the result.
   These stories were not selected with any particular quotas in mind, but they naturally fell into a very broad range in many respects. There is at least one story from just about every major Furry magazine that has published text fiction since Furry fandom developed in the mid-1980s. Most of the major Furry authors are represented. There is hard s-f about bioengineered intelligent animals and how human society adapts to them; interstellar s-f about alien felinoid ’taurs; fantasy about magically talking animals; transformation stories about humans who become animals; and more. There are dramas and comedies; action stories and mood pieces. Many of the major shared-world fiction series such as Xanadu, the Tai-Pan Universe, The Furkindred, and Tails from the Blind Pig have one of their stories included. I am unhappy that not every top-quality author and story series could be included, but Best in Show is as packed as Sofawolf Press could make it; so thick that it should have a cover price of $25 or more.
   There are plenty more Furry short stories in the fanzines and on authors’ websites. If Best in Show sells well, there will be incentive for Sofawolf Press and other publishers to assemble more Furry ‘best’ anthologies as well as collections of individual authors’ stories. It is up to you, the reader.

Title: The Iron Star
Author: Brock Hoagland
Illustrators: Terrie Smith, Carla Speed McNeil, Roz Gibson, Steve Corbett, Sara Palmer, Sarah Wheeler, Briona Campbell, Heather Miranda, Michelle Latta, and ‘Giacomo’
Publisher: Shanda Fantasy Arts (Greenbriar, AR), Jul 2003
ISBN: 0-7500-1744-9
160 pages, $19.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Brock Hoagland has been writing anthropomorphic fantasy adventure short stories for several years, usually in series. Yarf!’s readers may recall his Hanno and Loris stories about a mouse mage and a leopardess swordsfur around 1996-1998. Other action series notably include his Leiberesque Perissa stories about a young leopardess assassin-for-hire in a decadent Furry Byzantine empire, the first five of which were published as Tales of Perissa in 2001.
   Now Hoagland’s first novel is out. The Iron Star enjoyably ‘fulfills the promise’ of his shorter works. It also presents a much more lusty and erotic subplot than is usually found in sword-&-sorcery. It is set in a Bronze Age (3000 B.C.-1000 B.C.) Aegean culture, a thousand years earlier than the Romano-Judaic society that is usually summarized as ‘Christian’. It is a world where public nudity is much more casually accepted; where most gods are fertility gods to some degree; where prosperous ‘kingdoms’ consist of one city with its surrounding lands to maybe a fifty-mile radius; and where the king must ceremonially usher in each Spring by copulating with a young virgin on a field ready for planting—and when the king becomes too old to do his duty, he is ritually slaughtered and replaced by a virile new king. Hoagland adds an anthropomorphic bonus: the different species are not interfertile, so an equine lad and a feline lass, say, can enjoy bed sports without worrying about inconvenient offspring.
   Brennus is a ‘tall Cougar youth’ from the Northern lands who has ‘come south seeking adventure even more than wealth.’ (pg. 9) His ‘garish, woolen garments that marked him a barbarian: blue-and-yellow checked trousers, red tunic and russet-and-green plaid cloak’ are typical of a Celtic chieftain’s son, and Brennus is a considerably more witty and sophisticated conversationalist than the stereotypical ‘barbarian warrior’. Most of the southern sights which Brennus eagerly takes in are prehistoric Minoan and Greek, including the bare-breasted, full-skirted matrons and priestesses, and the totally nude slave girls.
   Brennus accepts a mission from Zenobaen, the Rabbit Mother Goddess, to obtain a rare black stone that ‘fell from Heaven’ from the heavily guarded treasury of a nearby king before it can ‘destroy the world’. The priests of rival gods are already pestering the king for this stone of the gods, as is the Metalworkers Guild which wants to study the new metal. Brennus enlists the aid of an arrogant young female thief, the Serval maid Tazia, to help him break into the treasury. What Brennus does not know is that Tazia has already accepted a commission from Yanosh, the Hyena high priest of the god Ashkar to steal the sky stone for him. Brennus and Tazia get the stone (defeating a demon guard), but she then steals it from him. Brennus is determined to both get it back and, since he respects anyone who can outwit him, make the fiercely independent Tazia his wife. Brennus’ chase gradually turns into a full-fledged quest, adding Tazia, two saucy slave girls (Jackal and Ewe), a Badger mage, and a group from the Metalworkers Guild (Bull, Ram, and two Boars) to retrieve the stone from Ashkar’s distant high temple before Yanosh can deliver the secret of the sky metal to his bloodthirsty god.
   There is plenty of witty dialogue, especially between Brennus and Tazia (“I’m not going to marry you!”), and a well-planned action scene every few pages. The Iron Star is a lot of fun. If there is any problem, it is that it is low-key compared to those fantasy novels that create an atmosphere of suspense and terror. The menace of the sadistically cruel Ashkar cult gradually growing more powerful is intellectually threatening, but is too distant to be really exciting. The reader knows that the advent of iron will mean bloodier wars and the end of the Bronze Age, but it is hard to feel that this is a horrific doom of the immediacy of what will happen if Sauron gets the Ring. Hoagland nicely justifies why the ‘good Gods’ need Brennus at the beginning of the story. (“There are constraints placed upon those of us of power lest the world fall into anarchy due to our caprice. […] Fate decreed that the sky stone should fall to Earth and I may take no direct action in this. An agent to fetch it and bring it to me so that I may return it to Heaven is the most I can do.” pg. 17) Hoagland justifies just as nicely why the Gods may personally materialize after all for a spectacular battle at the end of the story. But it feels more like the author saying, “Okay, it’s time for a big climax,” than it does that the Gods really needed to appear on stage. Hoagland may be channeling L. Sprague de Camp, who did this sort of ‘travelogue of prehistoric Europe’ where the sorcery was mostly superficial decoration more than once (The Tritonian Ring, The Goblin Tower).
   The Iron Star has about two dozen full-page illustrations by Terrie Smith, Carla Speed McNeil, Roz Gibson, Steve Corbett, Sara Palmer, Sarah Wheeler, Briona Campbell, Heather Miranda, Michelle Latta, and ‘Giacomo’. Practically the first one that you will see is a model sheet of the main characters, posing full-frontal nude. This is an erotic novel, with a sex scene every few pages. The sex is between consenting adults (even with a slave girl, the male always politely asks permission), is tastefully described and is ‘non-kinky’, but there is a lot of it. Read according to your taste for such Adult Behavior.

Title: The Courageous Princess: Masterpiece Edition
Author: Rod Espinosa
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Antarctic Press (San Antonio, TX), Jul 2003
ISBN: 0-9728978-6-0
240 pages, $24.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   “Once upon a time…”
   Those magic words are supposed to conjure up a childhood world of wonderful fairy tales. For a half-century or more, from the late Victorian era to about the 1960s, they did. That was the period when folk tales were sanitized and condensed for safe bedtime stories for mothers to read to their infants, and for six- and seven-year-old beginning readers to discover fairyland for themselves. From Andrew Lang’s late 19th-century colored compendiums (The Green Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, etc.) to the mass-produced children’s picture books of the mid-20th century, and of course the Disney movies: every child grew up knowing Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, Red Riding Hood, Thumbelina, and their magical enemies and saviors.
   Is it still that way, or has the world gotten more jaded? Today everyone seems to be writing cynical parodies of these fairy tales, or new ones which are much more sophisticated. Many of these are clever and excellent, but they lack the simple innocence of the classics.
   Of course, it is not easy to create a new tale that combines the innocent charm of a story for young children with the sophistication needed to hold the attention of grown-ups.
   Rod Espinosa has done it. The Courageous Princess was an Eisner Award nominee for ‘Best Story for Younger Audiences’. Older audiences will enjoy it, too.
   Comic-book writer/artist Espinosa originally created this story as three graphic novels: The Courageous Princess (April 2000), The Courageous Princess 2: The Quest for Home (March 2001), and The Courageous Princess 3: The Kingdom of Leptia (September 2002). Now they are reprinted in a heavy, thick hardbound book, beautifully colored and printed on glossy coated paper. Anyone who missed them originally should definitely get this collected edition.

   Long ago, there was a place called the Land of the Hundred Kingdoms. It was a magnificent world filled with great nations, diverse people, and touches of true magic here and there. It was a land where fairy godmothers abound; where dreams came true and love was plentiful.

   And evil, of course.
   New Tinsley is a tiny kingdom on the edge of the Hundred Kingdoms, small enough that everyone knows everyone else. Princess Mabelrose has grown up with the children of the castle servants and commoners as her playmates. As a result, she is considered rough and uncouth by the haughty nobility of larger neighboring kingdoms. When she is an adolescent, she is snatched by the greedy dragon Shalathrumnostrium whose cruel hobby is kidnapping young princesses to serve as his helpless guests until he tires of them. (“You will come when I command you, leave when I dismiss you. Eat what I give you. Wear what I want you to.”) But unlike other princesses, Mabelrose has not been raised to be decorative but useless, helpless to do anything but wait to be rescued. She determines to rescue herself. After sneaking past the dragon’s goblin guards and meeting a friendly talking porcupine named Spiky, she finds that wherever the dragon’s castle is is so far from home that nobody has ever heard of New Tinsley. And so begins The Quest for Home.
   A bare synopsis does not give the full flavor of the quality of the presentation. Espinosa’s art is beautiful, combining a simple cartoon style with exquisite detail. The dialogue is sparse (no bloated speech balloons here), but always compactly intelligent. A minor subplot shows that Mabelrose’s father, King Jeryk, is constantly searching for her; he eventually learns that Shalathrumnostrium’s realm is about as far from New Tinsley as it is possible to be, with all hundred realms to pass through. Mabelrose and Spiky are pursued by the dragon and his horrific minions, and escape them by brave and risky tricks. They also are aided by the peasants and townsfolk whom they meet. Some of these have problems of their own, and Mabelrose feels obligated to help them in return for the friendship they have shown her. Mabelrose’s age is not given, nor does the story say how much time passes, but she looks about 15 at the start of her adventure and about 18 on the final page. The Courageous Princess does not end “…and they lived happily ever after.” There is a satisfactory resolution to Princess Mabelrose’s adventures so far, but she is still far from home.
   The anthropomorphic aspect of The Courageous Princess is slow to start. Spiky, the first talking animal, does not appear until almost the end of the first third. But there are several talking animals in the middle third, and the Kingdom of Leptia is inhabited entirely by talking animals, divided between ‘anifolk’ (anthropomorphized bipedal, clothes-wearing animals) and ‘speaking beasts’ (animals who are intelligent and can talk but are otherwise natural). Part of the plot of this third is the political conflict between the two and how Mabelrose helps them to resolve it. There are more than enough ’morphic characters in these 240 pages to please a Furry reader.

Title: Cigarro & Cerveja: Round 1
Author: Tony Esteves
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Tony Esteves (Edmonton, AB), Jul 2003
ISBN: 0-9732995-0-9
127 pages, USD $14.00/ CND $20.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   When I was in elementary school, I visited a friend’s home. One of his brothers had a cute rabbit (or hare?) he had caught, in a cage. I asked if I could pet it. No, I was warned; the rabbit was wild and would bite and scratch. I looked at the rabbit again, and imagined that its expression said, “Come near me and you die!”
   That attitude is immediately evident in the surly, chain-smoking hare Cigarro, the co-star (with beer-guzzling Canada goose Cerveja) of Tony Esteves’ college newspaper comic strip. Cigarro & Cerveja has appeared in the University of Alberta’s approximately-twice-weekly The Gateway since September 17, 1998. Round 1 collects the first 145 of these strips, plus a few more ‘mailing list’ comics which presumably appeared only on Esteves’ website.
   WARNING: book contains foul language. Well, sure; it’s a college campus comic strip. Whaddya expect? Cigarro smokes. (“You see,” she tells a doctor, “I don’t believe that I have been experiencing the full pleasure of smoking. So I thought that maybe implanting 50 cigarettes through my ribs directly to my lungs will do the trick.”) Cerveja—well, Cerveja has too much class to make a spectacle of himself, but he is usually seen holding a beer. In fact, Cerveja is so laid back compared to the in-your-face Cigarro that Esteves has to remind readers that he is a co-star rather than a supporting character.
   Since the two appear au naturel in fur & feathers, and Cigarro is usually glowering, smoking and swearing, it took some time to convince readers that she really is female.

   Cerveja: “Ooooh cheesecake! Can I have a bite?”
Cigarro: No! Keep your grubby wings off my cake. … I’m sorry! I can’t help it… the temptation of cheesecake is too much for me—its creamy texture and luscious taste—[imagine ominous Satanic reverb] I know that cheesecake is made by the Devil himself because its fatty sweetness goes straight to my thighs—[cut reverb] So screw off, you castrated elephant spanker.”

   They are off-and-on roommates but not lovers. Cigarro does not seem interested in sex at all, although she exasperatedly offers Cerveja advice on his infatuations.
   Although Cigarro & Cerveja is about two college students, there do not seem to be any strips with a campus setting. The two are usually seen at the college town’s saloon. The next favorite locale is their dorm room, where studying and complaining about having failed tests does keep the strip pertinent to its setting.
   C&C are not the only regular cast. Cerveja’s hand-puppet Murray has a personality so different from the goose’s (imagine Chucky with a hand up his ass) as to be a completely different character. Dr. Inteligência, ‘the smartest monkey alive’, is a cross between Mojo Jojo and the Brain (of ‘Pinky and the…’). Assorted other squirrels, raccoons, turtles, chickens, beavers and even humans show up frequently in supporting roles such as players in a stud poker game, but no others are regulars.
   Oh, hell! You know what raunchy student newspaper comic strips are like. If you like ’em and do not want to miss one of the best, get Cigarro & Cerveja: Round 1.
   When I first saw this book, I thought it was from the regular publisher of the Calvin and Hobbes strips, the Mutts strips, the Far Side strips, and all the other professional comic strips. It is of that degree of professional printing, far better than you usually get from a self-published book. You can order it from Esteves’ website or from Tony Esteves, Box 165, 12855 97 Street, Edmonton, Alberta T5E 4C5 Canada.

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