Fey; Waiting for Gertrude; Cat Cross Their Graves; and Rakkety Tam

reviewed by Fred Patten
©2005 Fred Patten

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Fey Waiting for Gertrude Cat Cross Their Graves Rakkety Tam

Cover of FEY
Cover of United Publications edition
Title: Fey
Author: Paul Kidd
Illustrator: Jerry Verschoor
Publisher: United Publications (Keston, Kent, UK), July 2005
ISBN: 0-9537847-2-X
Trade Paperback, 244 pages, USD $14.50/Brit £8.50

   This review is a bit of a cheat, because it is mostly a rehash of my review in Yarf! #68 of the extremely limited and almost immediately sold-out April 2003 Australian first edition. My opinion of Fey has not changed, so now that it is available again—and in a slightly expanded version—this review is worth repeating.

   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, let’s get this show on the road! The moon’s right, I’m on heat in six hours, and time’s a-wastin’!”
   Behind her stood four maids in waiting—tall humanoid fox girls with pointed faces, elegant dresses and fluffy tails. Bunny girls strewed flowers before the bride’s flashing, dainty hooves. She was escorted by yet more humanoid animals—a 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, grey muzzled and sporting a great rack of antlers, dressed in mail and walking on two back legs. His hands were tipped by hard, black nails like little hooves as he rested them upon the hilt of his sword.
(pg. 122)

   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. 13), 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 you’re what—medieval 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! “Yeah—I can show you guys how to really kick some arse! How long have we got before we have to go?”
(pg. 28)


   “I’ll take you to the beach! Or we can go up to King’s Park lookout and pretend to snipe at all the sailboats.” Theresa helped the dragon cut the cake. ‘God—you’re 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 no—real 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? Jeeze—we have got to bring your cuisine to Fey!”
(pg. 31)

   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 Arthur's 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 really 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 don’t want characters, we don’t want ideas! Ideas are thinking, and thinking means no sales! We want books with no thinking. We want books that are fast—you read them, you say ‘hey—we want more’! We don’t want classics—classics you keep, you re-read, you pass to friends! We don’t 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.

   The above is what I said in 2003. For those who care about publication data, the book says, ‘Second Printing January 2005’; but in fact United Publications’ 2005 edition was delayed until July and it is a true second edition, not just a reprinting. It has been reset (the Pure Hubris 2003 first edition was only 184 pages) and has added a few phrases here and there, plus some sketchy illustrations by Jerry Verschoor. The changes are not so extensive that you need this new version if you were lucky enough to get the first edition. But if you missed that one, do not miss it this time.

Fey Waiting for Gertrude Cat Cross Their Graves Rakkety Tam

Cover of the latest edition of WAITING FOR GERTRUDE
Cover of Douglas & McIntyre edition
Title: Waiting for Gertrude: A Graveyard Gothic
Author: Bill Richardson
Illustrator: Bill Pechet
Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre (Vancouver), Oct 2001
ISBN: 1-55054-892-1
Hardcover, 184 pages, CDN $19.95

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press (NYC), Oct 2003
ISBN: 0-312-31868-5
Hardcover, 184 pages, USD $21.95

   If a list is ever compiled of The Ten Weirdest Furry Novels, Waiting for Gertrude is sure to place high on it; a literary erotic fantasy about the high-society social posturing among some of the last two centuries’ most famous writers, composers and actors, reincarnated as the lusty tomcats and queens who prowl through Paris’ tourist-attraction Pére-Lachaise Cemetery.
   Pére-Lachaise was created in 1804 at the start of the French Empire, reportedly because Napoleon wanted Paris to have a prestigious burial place comparable to London’s Westminster Abbey. It was inaugurated by the removal there of the remains of the poet La Fontaine and playwright Molière. Many of the celebrities of the past two centuries who have lived and died in Paris are interred there, including such composers as Chopin, Rossini, Bizet, Poulenc and Dukas; such writers as Balzac, Daudet, Proust and Oscar Wilde; such artists as Delacroix, Modigliani, Corot, Seurat and Daumier; and such performers as actress Sarah Bernhardt, dancer Isadora Duncan and singers Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison. (There are also scientists, financiers, politicians, military heroes, and filmmakers among others, but they do not appear in this novel. Parisian tourist-information websites provide more complete information.) Like Los Angeles’ Forest Lawn Memorial Park, it is a spacious cemetery where hundreds of tourists come daily to visit the final resting places of the famous, or more likely to gawk at the more imposing memorials that their families or admirers have placed there. Pére-Lachaise has a particularly high concentration of 19th century marble cenotaphs and mini-mausoleums in exaggerated florid bad taste.
   In recent decades, Pére-Lachaise has also become notoriously infested by feral cats, who have made themselves so much at home among the various tombs that they stare haughtily at the tourists as though they are intruders. The cemetery is closed to the public at night, but anyone standing outside after dark can tell by the caterwauling all night long that when the humans are away, the cats lead an active social life.
   Canadian popular author and radio host Bill Richardson’s postulate is that the cemetery’s cats are actually the reincarnations of the humans buried there. They have updated their talents to create a modern society that blends their human intellects with their new feline instincts. As the leaders of literature and art of their day, the most famous also strive to set the styles among the upper classes of the cats—in a very catty manner, of course. The singers put each other down in posturing to become the premier prima donna with feline vocal chords.

   Q: Madame Callas, what was your reaction when you discovered that you had been reborn as a cat?
   A: Initially, surprise, of course.
[…] However, astonishment soon gives way to willing acquiescence. And why would it not? If there’s one thing one learns from a life in the opera, it’s that destiny will not be denied. […] You merely accede to the fact that this life, like any other, is nothing more or less than a costume party: un ballo in maschera, as Verdi would have it. Did you ever see my Amalia, by the way? I can recommend my 1957 La Scala performance, Gianandrea Gavazzeni conducting. (pg. 59)

   Gioacchino Rossini continues to relax “in retirement” (while implying that he could out-compose anyone else if he felt like it), while others busily adapt their former works for cats. For instance, Georges Bizet’s new version of his Toreadors’ chorus from Carmen:

   Tom cats of Paris,
   Strong and stiff and proud,
   Out on the prowl,
   Ready to howl;
   We’re at your service ma’am we’ll waste no time,
   All our cannons are primed.
   We’re eager and we’re preened,
   We’re fairly clean;
   We’re here to serve our queen.
[etc.] (pg. 63)

   La Fontaine adapts his rollicking 18th century versifying to 20th century travel guides for the feline tourists visiting the cemetery:

   It always seems to happen, friends,
   As past these tombs one slowly wends,
   A certain
gravitas descends:
   A mood of melancholy.
   Inevitably, graveyards spawn
   The fear that when we’re dead and gone
   We’ll never see another dawn.
   But that’s the food of folly,
   Snack not thereon! Instead, be wise,
   Just look around, believe your eyes.
   The buried do not claim the prize
   Of lulled, sepulchral boredom.
   One lapses, then one goes to seed,
   But soon one howls, and soon one breeds.
   In other words, the life one leads
   Is full, not dull,
post mortem. [etc.] (pg. 48)

   Famous males court famous females (and notoriously homosexual Oscar Wilde chases after ‘Lizard King’ Jim Morrison) in the uninhibited manner of randy cats. But one of Pére-Lachaise’s more famous foreign residents is conspicuously missing. Mid-20th century American writer/poet Gertrude Stein has not been reincarnated yet. And after a few decades of waiting impatiently, Stein’s inseparable companion Alice B. Toklas (the novel’s narrator) decides to take matters into her own paws. Toklas, who was usually the organizer/hostess of Stein’s literary salons, has become one of the cemetery’s leading caterers at their top social events. She plots to spike the refreshments at the Annual Renaissance Revue with an aphrodisiac that will put all the females instantly onto heat, and cause an orgy that will result in so many new kittens that Gertrude will surely be among them—won’t she? Unfortunately, Toklas does not take into account the mysterious cat-thief who has recently arisen among the felines, stealing such priceless objets d’art as Bernhardt’s wooden leg, Rossini’s glass eye, and the exaggerated genitalia from the nude marble statue of Wilde over his tomb. This thief has their own agenda, and the conflict between the two has a bizarre result.
   Richardson’s witty novel is by turns spritely, pretentious, and almost impenetrably esoteric as he mimics the writing styles and known personality traits of Parisian celebrity authors, entertainers, philosophers, and society leaders from 1806 to the present. Fortunately, he minimizes the ‘quotations’ from those celebrities who were notoriously boring, and emphasizes the sophisticated but lively social infighting among the toms and queens which is the prominent background to Alice B. Toklas’ ongoing search (including resorting to black magic) for the super-aphrodisiac that she needs.

Fey Waiting for Gertrude Cat Cross Their Graves Rakkety Tam

Title: Cat Cross Their Graves:
A Joe Grey Mystery
Author: Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers (NYC), Jan 2005
ISBN: 0-06-057808-4
Hardcover, 305 pages, USD $24.95

   This is the tenth Joe Grey mystery novel. The first three were original paperbacks published six months apart between July 1996 and July 1997. There was a pause, presumably to study sales results, and the series resumed in February 1999 with a hardcover novel at the beginning of each year since. Joe Grey & company are obviously popular.
   So are all ‘cat detectives’ stories, but Murphy’s Joe Grey novels are the only annual series worthy of being called ‘cat detectives’, in my opinion. Others usually cited are Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series (13 novels since 1990), Carole Nelson Douglas’ Midnight Louie series (16 since 1992), and sometimes Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who… series (27 since 1966).
   Braun’s Koko, the “Cat Who”, may be psychic but he is not anthropomorphized. His unusual feline behavior during his human companion’s amateur investigations is never interpreted correctly as clues until in retrospect after the murder has been exposed. Mrs. Murphy and Midnight Louie are certainly anthropomorphized; they have long intelligent conversations with numerous animal friends (not only cats), and they constantly snoop around the murder scenes behind the human amateur detectives’ backs. However, their snooping seldom results in solving the crimes before their human companions do, or in their materially advancing the investigations. At most they may nudge a clue hidden under furniture out where their human friend can find it, which is always dismissed as just a lucky coincidence. The Midnight Louie novels imply that all animals are deliberately hiding their intelligence from humans (no convincing reason is given); while in the Mrs. Murphy novels, the cats, dogs, horses, foxes, etc. may display college-level knowledge as they talk among themselves about such human topics as jurisprudence and American political history, but it is specified that despite this, they have never figured out how to communicate with humans.
   Murphy’s Joe Grey novels feature cats who not only talk to each other, they talk with humans; and they solve crimes by investigating in places where humans cannot go. No reason is given for the cats’ intelligence (they think Celtic magic is somehow involved, but they are not sure), but aside from that bit of fantasy to get the series going, the logic is consistent and the animal nature of the detectives is necessary.
   The first novel, Cat on the Edge, starts the series by suddenly bestowing intelligence and speech upon two housecats, Joe Grey and Dulcie, in northern California’s small resort town of Molena Point. Joe’s human companion (don’t call him ‘owner’), Clyde Damen, is the business partner of the murder victim, and Joe learns he is being set up to be framed as the killer, so Joe has to expose the real murderer if he wants to remain Clyde’s pampered pet. Both cats are forced to reveal their transformation to their human housemates; but aside from them, they want their human intelligence to remain unknown so they can keep the freedom of being ordinary cats rather than freaks constantly examined (and maybe dissected) by scientists. This is a plausible reason for hiding their ability to talk, and for not talking with other animals which aren’t intelligent.
   The cats have three reasons to become detectives: sometimes the murder victims in the small town are cat lovers or friends of their human friends; it pleases their feline sense of superiority to solve crimes that the police cannot; and it can get boring having to play ‘dumb animal’ all the time. Molena Point’s police chief Max Harper has gotten used to receiving anonymous phone tips to where the police can find hidden evidence.
   Over the ten volumes there has been some story evolution. A few more humans have learned Joe’s and Ducie’s secret. Two more talking cats are introduced; the tiny tortoiseshell kitten Kit who becomes a regular cast member in the fifth novel, and the villainous Azrael who is only in two novels. Sometimes Joe and Dulcie seem just about to learn the secret behind their magic intelligence, but they never do. This tease seems like Murphy’s way of acknowledging that readers are asking her but she wants to leave the reason mysterious.
   Cat Cross Their Graves is unusually depressing because it involves child abuse and the apparently senseless murder of a particularly nice person. But it presents nice suspense. The cats combine their human intelligence with feline abilities to track suspects. Kit wriggles into the sealed underhouse space beneath a cottage, cannot get out, and is in danger of starving. For readers who want a ‘cat detective’ mystery where the cats really do the detecting, the Joe Grey series is the one to pick up—although for new readers, I recommend one of the earlier novels to start with.

Fey Waiting for Gertrude Cat Cross Their Graves Rakkety Tam

Title: Rakkety Tam
Author: Brian Jacques
Illustrator: David Elliot (illus. & map)
Publisher: Philomel Books (NYC), Sep 2004
ISBN: 03-99237-25-9
372 pages, USD $23.99

   Have you read a Redwall novel lately?
   Rakkety Tam is Jacques’ seventeenth almost-annual Redwall novel since 1986. The first couple were fresh and exciting. After that, they became boringly formulaic. The riddle to the hidden treasure—the ghost of Martin the Warrior sending a dream of impending disaster—the naughty Dibbuns—the thick accents of the various districts of Britain assigned to different animals—Redwall’s constant feasts—any one of the novels is great reading on its own, but more than a couple quickly become a surfeit.
   But if you have not read any Redwall adventures in the last half-dozen years, you may be surprised by how grim and violent they have become. They have always presented dramatic suspense. The peaceful Abbey animals (mostly mice, squirrels, moles, hedgehogs, shrews and similar British forest herbivores and insectivores) are menaced by a wandering army of fierce ‘vermin’ (mostly foxes, wildcats, ferrets, weasels, rats and similar carnivores) under the leadership of some cruel scoundrel with a name like Cluny the Scourge or Ferhago the Assassin. There is the threat of the Redwallers’ being tortured—and eaten—by the carnivores, and there is often offstage torture. There are casualties among the vermin’s footsoldiers, then the villain’s chief henchmen die in the later chapters and the villain himself is slain by the hero at the climax.
   However, the most recent novels have raised the level of violence considerably. There are now numerous fatalities among the Abbey animals and their allies, notably the hare Long Patrol troopers of the badger fortress of Salamandastron. The reader can count upon one of more of the main supporting cast of the hero’s friends being tragically slain. The villain’s lieutenants die off so quickly that none last long enough to build up a major supporting cast among the bad guys.
   Rakkety Tam ups the ante still more. Rakkety Tam MacBurl and his comrade Wild Doogy Plumm are two Northern red squirrel warriors (Doogy with a thick Highland accent; Tam with a milder Borderer accent) “with a sense of adventure” who have drifted south into Mossflower Country just as new invaders arrive: Gulo the Savage, a wolverine warlord with a hundred white fox and ermine warriors from “the lands of ice and snow”. Gulo has come searching for his brother Askor to kill him in a blood feud, although the reason is basically irrelevant; their horde is now in Mossflower and they intend to eat everybeast they meet. In previous novels the carnivorous villains may have enslaved the forest animals and threatened to eat them, but the would-be victims had always escaped or been rescued first. In Rakkety Tam, Gulo and his band fall upon a squirrel festival as soon as they arrive and chow down without wasting time with theatrical posturing:

   Striding off along the fringe, Tam came upon his companion some distance away. Doogy was swatting flies from the grisly site. Holding a paw over his mouth, he muttered, “Och, the poor beasts, ah reckon there’s little more than their heads left. ’Tis an awful thing tae see, Tam.”
   His friend paced carefully about, identifying the remains. “There’s Chamog an’ Eltur, Birno an’ Rofal, this one could be Girtan. Well, that’s the other five captains. The rest look like singers and flute players. See these two, Doogy—they couldn’t have had more’n fourteen summers between ’em. We’re dealin’ with the lowest kind of barbarian brutes here. These squirrels have all been eaten! See, there’s bones’n’fur scattered everywhere!”
(pgs. 35-36)

   Less than ten pages later, Gulo’s horde similarly slaughters a patrol of hares from Salamandastron. So, unlike the earlier novels in which the heroes fight for justice and freedom, here they are warring for survival and revenge. “Take no prisoners!” is their marching orders.
   The violence is not all aimed at the enemy, either. Jacques has always described the Good Guy warriors as embodying such martial virtues as bravery, loyalty to comrades, and so forth. Here they carry machismo to the extreme of loving a good brawl among themselves. When Doogy and Ferdimond De Mayne, one of the Long Patrol hares, rub each others’ fur the wrong way, the only manly way to settle their dispute is by fisticuffs with their mates cheering them on…

   They pounded away relentlessly, footpaws never leaving the line. Doogy’s right eye was almost swollen shut, and Ferdimond’s nose looked like an overripe damson plum. The hare whipped out a pile-driving left, but the squirrel ducked it, looping a superb right to his opponent’s chin. (pg. 85)

   …after which the two and Tam are the best of friends. All very Kiplingesque.
   If you decided several years ago that the Redwall novels are too cute for you, it may be time to see what they are like today. Rakkety Tam may be more to your liking. It also continues the Redwall tradition of small but excellent chapter-heading illustrations (now by David Elliot) focusing upon the anthropomorphized cast.

Fey Waiting for Gertrude Cat Cross Their Graves Rakkety Tam

Anthropomorphic books for review should be sent to Fred Patten, at:
Golden State Colonial Convalescent Hospital, 10830 Oxnard Street, North Hollywood, CA, 91606

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