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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
#34 / Jan 1995

   ’Morph fandom is doing just fine in its own little world. However, it often seems as though it is unknown and/or misunderstood by the broader society of ‘fandom in general’, which has the notorious stereotype of us as a group of mental adolescents who slaver over funny-animal pornography.
   Two articles have just appeared which present a much more favorable and accurate description of us. Both are written by major practitioners in our field, and are probably as comprehensive as they can be without getting so detailed as to become boring to general readers.
   File 770 #105, August 1994, published by Mike Glyer (5828 Woodman Avenue, apt. 2, Van Nuys, Calif. 91401; no individual price listed, $8.00 for 5 issues) is a 22-page issue of Glyer’s Hugo-winning fanzine of general commentary on s-f fandom. This issue includes a three-page survey of furry fandom, Essential Refurance, by Taral Wayne.
   Taral mentions the creation of the ‘funny animal’ apa Vootie, by Reed Waller and Ken Fletcher in 1976, but he feels that furry fandom wasn’t really established until 1984, when two things happened: (1) Vootie died and was replaced by Rowrbrazzle, a more successful ‘fanzine club’ for funny-animal artists to socialize in and nurture their common interest; and (2) furry independent comics became a self-aware separate category, with Reed Waller & Kate Worley’s Omaha, the Cat Dancer, Joshua Quagmire’s Cutey Bunny (in his Army Surplus Komikz), and Jim Groat’s Equine the Uncivilized.
   Taral’s brief survey covers the existence of furry fanzines such as Yarf! and Bestiary; the furry BBSs and Furry Muck; and the social gatherings at our own ConFurences and other conventions, such as the San Diego Comic-Con, which have become unofficially established as where furry fans should congregate. However, after noting the successful establishment of these, he adds, “The one area of the funny animal field that once led and perhaps lags now, is the black and white comic.” He then devotes a whole page—a third of the article; the largest single portion—to a history of the ’morph independent comics since 1984.
   It seems strange that the bulk of this survey concentrates on what Taral feels may currently be its least successful aspect. The roll call of evanescent titles implies that furry fandom is always on the brink of expiring. But there is a point to this. Taral editorializes that, while we may not be growing, we are not losing ground. Cancelled titles are always replaced by an equal number of new ones. Furry fans are loyal to the genre, and determined to not let it die. But is this enough? “Can [furry fandom] grow far without more development of its public face, the comic book? Or is a professional side in fact irrelevant?” How do we feel about this? Do we want furry fandom to expand, or to remain cosa nostra, our own small, private thing?
   (There are a couple of minor errors. Equine the Uncivilized ought to be credited to Richard Konkle as well as to Jim Groat. Taral says that the final appearance of Vootie was in 1984, and that, “At almost the moment Vootie passed away, Marc Schirmeister brought into being a new apa, called Rowrbrazzle.” Vootie #37 was published in February 1983 and Rowrbrazzle #1 was published in February 1984, so they were actually a year apart; although Taral is correct in that Schirmeister, a Vootie member, tried for several months to keep Vootie going before giving up and creating Rowrbrazzle as a replacement for it. So there was a direct continuity between the two.)
   This favorable survey would be noteworthy if it were not overshadowed by the almost simultaneous publication of a 12 1/2 page analysis in a ‘Special Furry Fandom Issue’ of Phlogiston (#40, the 42-page 4th 1994 issue; published by Alex Heatley, P. O. Box 11-708, Manners Street, Wellington, New Zealand; $NZ3.00 or $U.S.6.00). The File 770 survey is for those who want only a brief description of furry fandom. The Phlogiston in-depth article is for those who want to know what furry fandom is really about. (And Phlogiston #41 includes additional discussions of Furry Fandom in its letters column.)
   This is actually two articles, by Jefferson Swycaffer and Craig Hilton. Swycaffer’s article is itself in two parts. He first defines ‘Furry Fandom’ as “the organised appreciation and dissemination of art and prose regarding ‘Furries,’ or fictional mammalian anthropomorphic characters.” After briefly tracing its fascination back to prehistoric tribal shamanism and the mythology of Egypt and Greece, Swycaffer analyses its attraction in three psychological and behavioristic motifs: the desire for communication with animals, the release of the instinct for sexual attraction, and the release for a kind of parenting instinct, with the latter two effects being triggered by visual cues. The second part is a survey, which is almost as long as Taral’s entire piece in File 770, of the more notable characters and titles in anthropomorphic comics of the past 15 years.
   Craig Hilton’s even longer Insider’s View from the Outside is a masterful description and history of furry fandom, especially since Hilton keeps apologizing for his lack of knowledge due to his isolation in Western Australia. The only gap that I see is in his admitted ignorance as to exactly when & how the tradition of furry room parties with those notorious black sketchbooks got started at fan conventions; and that is covered in the discussions in Phlogiston #41. Hilton has facts here that I didn’t know, such as that the specific term ‘Furry Fandom’ was being used in fanzines as early as 1983. As good as Taral’s and Swycaffer’s articles are, they are almost superfluous next to this seven-page history, which generally gives the same information in greater and more succinct detail. In general, this could appear in the Encyclopædia Britannica as a definitive summary of the entire scope of Furry Fandom.
   It’s nice to know that there is a favorable review of ’morph fandom in File 770 #105, but unless you’re collecting every publication with even a slight reference to our genre in it, you don’t need this. Phlogiston #40, on the other hand, should be read by everyone who is seriously interested in a comprehensive and intelligent depiction of furry fandom—or who wants one on hand to show to acquaintances who ask, “What do you see in that Furry sex stuff?” In addition to the writing, Phlogiston is well-illustrated with a dozen examples of the art of such leading ’morph cartoonists as Hilton himself, Taral Wayne, Ken Fletcher, Chris Grant, Steve Gallacci, Tommy Yune, and others.
   Incidentally, the use of the term ‘Furry Fandom’ by both File 770 and Phlogiston is a strong argument that this has become the standard name for our genre, whether we like it or not—although there is not yet any standardization as to whether the words should be capitalized.

Cover of CHORUS SKATING, by Alan Dean Foster
Title: Chorus Skating
Author: Alan Dean Foster

Warner Books/Aspect (New York), Oct 1994

ISBN: 0-446-36237-9

344 pages, $5.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Authors—and reviewers—of long-running series have the problem that when new titles are too similar to previous volumes, the reaction tends to be, “Ho, hum; the same old stuff.” But when they are too different, there are complaints that, “This isn’t the series that everybody knows and loves!”, rather than congratulations for originality.
   Chorus Skating is the eighth* of Foster’s Spellsinger novels. The first six, published between 1983 and 1986, related the adventures of Jon-Tom Meriweather, a human wanna-be rock guitarist, in a funny-animal universe where music has magical powers. Each novel featured Jon-Tom and his lovably grumpy sidekick, Mudge the otter, on a quest to save the world from some dire menace. There were plenty of colorful supporting characters, such as a rabbit riverboat gambler and a parrot pirate. The series was a skillful blend of humor, light adventure, and a threat of serious danger. Foster apparently decided that he was finished with the series with the sixth volume, because he very pointedly wrapped up all the loose ends and gave it a happily-ever-after conclusion.
   When Foster revived the series in 1993, he got around that conclusion by setting Son of Spellsinger eighteen years later, and starring the teen-age children of Jon-Tom and of Mudge. (Reviewed in Yarf! #26.) It was nice to see the series back, but the teens just didn’t have the charisma of their parents.
   Now Foster has returned to his formula, with all of the plusses and minuses that this means. He has found an amusing and plausible excuse to bring Jon-Tom and Mudge back: they are having a mid-life crisis, and want to prove to themselves that they are not too old to go adventuring any more. Their goal is to have just a little adventure; not much more than a camping trip. But before they realize it, they are joining in the rescue of a beautiful princess—make that a whole bevy of beautiful, headstrong ’morph princesses—from a brigand lord. Events escalate from there until, once again, they must save the whole world from an ominous disaster.
   The parts of Chorus Skating are greater than the whole. Jon-Tom and Mudge are their old selves, and Spellsinger fans will delight to have them back. There are colorful new characters, such as the half-dozen richly-dressed princesses (mongoose, lynx, gorilla, etc.) who are not used to roughing it during their rescue; Lieutenant Naike, the harried commander of the mongoose royal guards who finds himself expected to return each of the princesses to her own kingdom; Silimbar, the tamarin traveling merchant; and many more. There are exotic new locales, like the delta city of Mashupro, consisting of self-aware houses on stilts that can walk about at their dwellers’ commands. And the individual adventures that Jon-Tom, Mudge, and their companions encounter are reasonable and well-handled.
   However, the overall tone of Chorus Skating makes it a comparatively weak novel. The basic premise, of two middle-aged heroes coming out of retirement to convince themselves that they still have what it takes, may be heart-warming but it lacks the drama of the earlier adventures. The world-threatening—nay, universe-threatening—disaster that eventually materializes is the most implausible in the whole series. As a serious menace, it ranks with Dr. Soran in Star Trek: Generations. It also feels like it was tacked on just because Chorus Skating wouldn’t be true to the Spellsinger formula if it didn’t end with a threat to the whole world. As a result, Chorus Skating doesn’t build to a climax as much as it fizzles out.
   It’s been nice to be with Jon-Tom and Mudge once again, but maybe it would be best to leave them in happy retirement now.

   *More specifically, it is the eighth paperback volume. The first two books are actually a single novel in two parts, and they were originally published as one title, Spellsinger at the Gate. So it is debatable as to whether Chorus Skating is the seventh or the eighth novel.

YARF! logo
#35 / Apr 1995

Cover of DUN LADY’S JESS, by Doranna Durgin
Title: Dun Lady’s Jess
Author: Doranna Durgin

Baen Books (Riverdale, NY), Aug 1994

ISBN: 0-671-87617-1

343 pages, $4.99

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Camolen is a stereotypical medieval-looking magical world gearing up for a war between wizards. Carey is a courier, a rider who delivers important messages for the wizard Arlen. Dun Lady’s Jess is Carey’s favorite horse, a six-year-old mare who is exceptionally fast, spirited, and reliable.
   When Carey is trapped by agents of a power-hungry sorceress, he triggers a last-ditch defensive spell that transports him and his horse to a different world; a place of theoretical safety. Unfortunately, one of the enemy agents is swept along with him. And one of the effects of the transition to the new world (ours) is that it turns their horses into humans.
   There are two main characters: the horse—called both Lady and Jess, depending upon whether her equine or human personality is uppermost at the moment; and Jaime Cabot, the owner of The Dancing Equine Dressage Center in Marion, Ohio. Needless to say, it is Lady/Jess’ story in which ’morph fans will be most interested. Yet Jaime is the easier character with whom to identify, as an animal-loving woman who helps to educate the frightened horse/woman into developing her human personality.
   The rules of magic are that the people from Camolen automatically think and speak English while they are in Ohio, but they otherwise know nothing about 20th-century Earth technology. The horse finds herself with a strange body, and a suddenly increased intelligence. She not only has to learn human speech, she has to learn to think of herself as a human rather than a horse.
   In a very narrow sense, Dun Lady’s Jess is not truly anthropomorphic. Lady/Jess is never a blend of horse and human, at least physically. She is either one or the other, all the way. The only blend is mental, at the beginning, when she is born with a blank adult human mind and a horse’s memories. The outstanding facet of the novel is the believability with which Durgin describes a horse’s normal thoughts, and then expands them into human terms. Lady’s world was one of simplistic instincts, and of pride in understanding her ‘leader’’s instructions to her. Jess’ world is much more complex and confusing, but also exciting as she suddenly realizes that she understands the meanings behind things that she had always observed but had never thought about. As her comprehension increases, her feelings about Carey also shift from a sort of herd loyalty to desire for a closer intimacy—while, at the same time, she feels a need for a more distinct identity. She is a person with a right to her own interests and feelings, rather than a cypher whose only goal is to do whatever her ‘friend’ wants.
   There are a half-dozen important human characters. Carey’s main concern is to get back to Camolen to complete his urgent mission. He looks at first upon Lady’s transformation as an embarrassment and as the temporary loss of his best horse, until they return home and she becomes a horse again. Carey’s gradual awareness of Jess’ developing human mind leads to correspondingly confused feelings of his own. Is she only an enchanted horse, a magical mockery of a human; or something more? If she has truly become a person, what will happen to her intelligence and human personality if she reverts to a horse?
   Most of the others are those who discover Jess and gradually become her friends. I will not describe them, or the story, in any detail because they are complex enough that it would turn into a very long description. The plot does contain some surprises which should not be given away.
   There are a few ground rules that the reader must just shrug and accept as the laws of nature that make this romance work. We learn in the first chapter both that Arlen has to send messages by Pony Express, because messages transmitted magically may be intercepted magically; and that all the riders before Corey have been waylaid by the enemy sorceress’s hired assassins. In such a no-win situation, the former reason sounds like a weak excuse for why a wizard needs an old-fashioned courier. There is no reasonable (or even unreasonable) explanation as to why horses turn into humans, and back again, while humans moving between the worlds are unaffected. Durgin clearly put some effort into rationalizing why average Americans who find a naked woman who obviously thinks that she is a horse, would bring her home to educate her themselves, instead of taking her to the nearest police station or hospital. Unfortunately, it’s not really convincing. Neither is the justification of why Camolen’s good wizards must remain scattered all around the countryside, vulnerable to the enemy’s concentrated attacks, instead of gathering together for mutual defense. Carey is skeptical, and so is the reader. If you will accept that there are reasons for these situations, however (and all ’morph fiction is dependent upon a pretty generous suspension of disbelief), the rest of the story is logical and intelligent. Durgin keeps the plot balanced evenly enough that it is impossible to guess whether Lady/Jess will finally remain a horse or a human, and whether that result will be happy or tragic.

Cover of FOREST WarS, by Graham Diamond
Title: Forest Wars
Author: Graham Diamond

Lion Press (Forest Hills, NY), Jan 1995

ISBN: 0-9641740-4-9

416 pages, $21.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Diamond’s first novel, the anthropomorphic thriller The Haven (“A Novel of Bloodcurdling Horror”), was published in 1977. Since then he has written fifteen more books, including some modern Arabian Nights sequels. These have mostly been paperback originals. Now Diamond has become a serious novelist with Forest Wars, a $21.95 hardcover on high-quality paper, attractively and sturdily bound with a dignified dust jacket by Dionisios Fragias.
   However, this is not exactly a new book. Forest Wars is a completely rewritten expansion of The Haven, which was only 347 pages.
   It is not unusual for authors to want to improve their early writing, to retell their first plot ideas with the benefit of years of later literary experience. This allows their fans to get those early stories (and the author to continue to get royalties from them), without the embarrassment of keeping their adolescent, most amateurish writing in print.
   So is Forest Wars a better version of The Haven? Again, not exactly. Diamond has turned what had been merely a forgettably bad novel into a veritable Plan Nine from Outer Space of ’morph fiction, a horror probably not in the sense that he intended.
   Although Forest Wars is 69 pages longer than The Haven, the story has few significant new scenes. Instead, the writing has been padded with extra descriptions of pompous verbosity. For example, an old warrior merely named Rolf in the first version has become Crafty Old Rolf who always carries a mighty weapon, his club of spike. Crafty Old Rolf, top sergeant of the 9th.; a wily ingenious soul with well over twenty years of active service behind him. (p. 8) First came Crafty Old Rolf, heaving his massive club of spike. […] A club of spike could cleave a mongrel’s innards into chopped liver with a single properly-aimed heave. (p. 53) Crafty Old Rolf kneeled beside the sleeping figure, his fearsome club of spike at his side. (p. 223) This kind of writing easily fills pages.
   In this tale of the far future, mankind has been reduced to only one nation on Earth, the Empire of Civilization. In the center is its magnificent capital city, The Haven. The sages had recounted tales of this powerful city, but in his wildest imagination he had never conceived of anything as breathtaking as this. Massive, soaring bulwarks of solid stone, buttressed by parapets and prominent towers, each taller than the last, seemingly reaching into the clouds. Atop these fortifications were complexes of embrasures and casements, and castellated battlements. On either side of Great Gate the walls stretched almost as far as he could see. (p. 198) This city is surrounded by a large nation of parks and fields of happy farmers which stretches for nearly twenty leagues (p. 20) to its farthest border. (About sixty miles. Some empire.) Surrounding the Empire in all directions is the Forest, an endless, impenetrable thicket filled by savage animals of all sorts, but dominated by packs of ferocious, bloody-fanged killer dogs.
   For as long as anyone can remember, the hordes of killer mongrels, in packs up to 2,000 strong, have poured from the fringes of the Forest every year to attack the Empire, which has been defended by the military might of The Haven. It was known as the War Room of Central Command, General Headquarters, and it hummed with activity even in the small hours before dawn. GHQ staff went about their various assignments with quiet military efficiency. […] Security at Central Command, CeCom as it was called, remained the top priority, and was followed by the most rigorous inspection. (p. 24) Can’t have those slavering mongrels sneaking in disguised as janitors, you know.
   But mankind is not alone in defending the Empire. Humanity has become partners with the fierce talking birds: eagles, hawks, falcons, who have thrown in their lot with humanity for mutual protection against the dogs. They will slaughter your species as they once did mine, Antonious the parrot says to Lord Nigel (p. 47). Vandor, king of the hawks, tells the Council, For countless years my species has relied heavily upon friendship and alliance with your Empire. Long ago, when we were cruelly chased from our homes within the wood, we learned we’d find safety within your boundaries. (p. 119) Just how the maddened dogs chased the raptors from their nests is never explained.
   Now a cruel Messiah has arisen among the dogs to unite them into an organized army 50,000 strong! Worse, he has formed an alliance with the hideous vampire bats. These foul aerial monsters were not birds at all. Rather, they were a category of disease carrying, flying rodents. Bats. Nocturnal vampire bats. Their bite inflicted a poison so awful, so repugnant, that victims suffered an indescribable, agonizing torment until, fortunately, they died and found peace. (p. 141) Rodents? Well, at least Diamond knows that bats aren’t hairy giant bugs. Actually, he seems to have a thing about rodents. A warrior mongrel, disparaging the wolves, describes them as, They’re no better than rodents, eternally alert, slinking around with their noses sniffing. It’s uncanny, I tell you. (p. 221)
   Up to now, there has been no love lost between the dogs and the wolves, but they have remained in an uneasy peace. But his majesty, King Dinjar, scion of Perseus the Unifier, king of all wolves (p. 130), knows that if the dogs succeed in overrunning the Empire and slaughtering mankind, they will next turn upon the wolves and reduce them to slavery. So Dinjar proposes that the wolves move into the Empire and join the men and birds—a decision which throws all the dogs into a maddened frenzy. The mongrel army barked so loudly, so cruelly, the earth shuddered beneath their paws. (p. 156)
   There are attention-grabbers throughout the book. Bones cracked loudly as the already decimated body collided forcefully against the trunk of a tree. (p. 224) Can you decimate a single body? With vulture-like squawks the eagles hovered above him, circling, constantly circling while the hapless dog flayed his paws at the air. (p. 4) Shouldn’t that be ‘flailed’, not ‘flayed’? Without a word the hawk-king fluttered his wings. His lieutenants chirped commands to their subordinates. (p. 73) Hawks chirping? An elite champagne ball in The Haven is attended by the priprimrose cream of Emp aristocracy. Dowagers and matrons wore sublime billowing gowns of white and pastel satin, drenched in exotic eau-de-cologne. (p. 55) That ballroom had better be well-ventilated. Caught by surprise, frightened Westland farmers had chosen to burn their fields rather than leave even a single grain of food for the advancing mongrel army. (p. 75) Just picture those bloodthirsty carnivores stopping to harvest the grain and bake it into bread.
   These are only some of the gems from the first half of the novel. The main action—gruesome battles, political treachery, the discovery of a new world, and more howlers (literally and figuratively)—are all in the second half! If you’re the kind of geek who can’t give a party without a TV showing an Ed Wood video in the background, you really need Forest Wars for your guests to read aloud at each other. Remember, it’s the result of almost twenty years of writing expertise.

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