Chakat in the Alley, by James R. Jordan – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Chakat in the Alley, by James R. Jordan. Illustrated.
North Charleston, SC, CreateSpace, June 2014, trade paperback $14.95 (318 pages), Kindle $4.95.
Chakat in the Alley is James Jordan’s third annual novel in what has become a regular series. It is a direct continuation of Jordan’s May 2012 Bound to Play, and his June 2013 The Cat’s Eye Pub; and it ends with “To Be Continued In: It Takes Two: The Story of Diamondstripe”, presumably coming around June 2015. Each novel is complete in itself, but for how long will the overall saga continue?
What’s more, Jordan’s novels do not exist alone. They are set, with permission, in Bernard Doove’s “Chakat’s Den” universe. Doove began writing about the chakats, his 24th-century hermaphroditic felinoid centauroids in an interstellar civilization, in 1995. By now Doove has six volumes of their adventures (one of which, Flight of the Star Phoenix, won the 2012 Ursa Major Award for Best Anthropomorphic Novel of the year), plus another set in their universe. Doove is writing My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction today (see his December 2013 Change of Life, his May 2014 Growing Up Dandy, and his December 2014 Conversations in a Canterlot Café), so Jordan (among others) is keeping his chakat universe alive.
By now, everyone in furry fandom should be at least aware of the chakats, foxtaurs, skunktaurs, Caitans, and other species (including humans, of course) of the Chakat’s Den universe. If you’re not, it’s easy enough to pick up within the first few pages. The chakats take the most getting used to, because of their hermaphroditic nature. Each chakat is both female and male. That makes family life among chakats a bit unusual, with each parent able to be both a mother or a father. Since chakats are neither a “him” or a “her”, they have their own pronouns of “shi”, “shir”, and “hir”. You’ll pick it up fast.
The chakats’ more open attitude to sexuality is more offputting to some readers, although Doove and Jordan present it in a rather clinical manner, not unlike a human explorer visiting an “uncivilized” tribe where clothing is minimal and adult sexuality is uncensored. There is nothing in Chakat in the Alley stronger than, say, a pole dance in a night club.
Bound to Play introduced the adolescent chakats Midsun and Grill in Melbourne on Earth, with their parents Midsnow and Blacktail in the background. In The Cat’s Eye Pub (set around 2350 C.E.), the parents became the protagonists, the family immigrated to Marpletown on the chakat homeworld of Chakona, and Midsnow & Blacktail opened a family-run restaurant with the help of several other characters, despite the hostility of a powerful local official. Now, in Chakat in the Alley, the reader follows The Cat’s Eye Pub as it goes from opening to becoming a success; the personal stories of the main characters in the previous novel; and, above all, Midsnow’s life story as a flashback.
“Midsnow nodded, taking a moment to catch hir breath. Shi had just begun to tell the story of hir life. It had come as a surprise to everyone that Midsnow had living family still, family who had been searching for hir after the fire that had killed hir parents. It was Detective Starpelt who had made the connection that Midsnow was Twoeyes, and who had reunited Snow with hir family. But it was still a mystery why Midsnow never been sought out by authorities or hir family asfter hir assumed death. How had the system failed to show that Twoeyes was alive and now named Midsnow, a co-owner of a pub?” (p. 3)
Chakat in the Alley is a human-interest melodrama, with chakats; accent on the melodrama. Midsnow, in the lengthy flashback, lives as a child through the arson that kills her parents, is kidnapped and sold to criminals who plan to skin her for her snowy pelt, meets a sadistic surgeon who mutilates his victims before grotesquely slaughtering them, runs into vicious street gangs, etc., usw., ktp., (“and so on” in as many other languages as you can think of.)
“Midsnow mistook the crying as simple gladness to have found hir, unaware that there could be more going on. ‘I …’ Before shi could continue, shi was interrupted.” (p. 39)
Midsnow’s tale is constantly interrupted by crying babies, visiting Star Fleet officers (the 24thth-century interstellar setting includes the Star Trek universe – yes, there are chakats in Star Fleet uniforms), some of the listening chakats having to go to their day jobs as exotic dancers (the six-limbed, hermaphroditic chakats can be both busty and well-hung, and are very popular as sports cheerleaders), and frequent visiting friends:
“Smokefoot was a white-furred chakat with darker grey markings from hir forearms to hir hands and halfway up hir legs. Hir bright blue eyes shone in the sun as shi skipped down the road, hir backup hanging just slightly off hir shoulder. Straight, wispy blonde hair swept down nearly to hir taur joint in the back and brushed against hir pink top in front.
‘Shi’s telekinetic, isn’t shi?’ The next voice to speak came from a skunktaur currently in female phase. Vrae brushed some of hyr white hair back before leaning hyr head back into hyr companion’s shoulder.” (p. 46)
Skunktaurs aren’t hermaphroditic, but they do rotate periodically between male and female. As I say, you get used to it pretty fast. The present-day scenarios are well-written but comparatively bland. All of the gory action and suspense are in Midsnow’s flashback, which seems so over-the-top that the reader is kept wondering how shi could possibly keep surviving from one scene to the next.
The present-day scenes may be bland, but there are lots of them:
“‘I suppose. Thanks, um … Blacktail, right?’ Rose was still trying to remember everyone’s name.. Hir cousin had a big clan, that was for sure!” (p. 86)
The reader is kept intrigued by all of the chakats, skunktaurs, Caitans, wolftaurs, and other fascinating furries who wander through the story. Chakat in the Alley ends satisfactorily but unexpectedly early, and is followed by a long preview of It Takes Two: The Story of Diamondstripe, the next novel (not a sequel) in the series.
My reviews of Jordan’s two previous novels were generally favorable, but were particularly condemnatory toward their lack of basic proofreading, with misspelled and missing words, floating punctuation, and other glaring errors on almost every page that interrupted the flow of the story. I am delighted that there is none of that here. There is a credit: “Editing by Charles Honeycutt”. Thanks, Charles, for improving the readability of Chakat in the Alley.
Jordan has confirmed in an e-mail that Honeycutt deserves the credit for this, and that, when he has time, he will go back and correct Jordan’s two previous novels as well. Jordan has also commissioned 17 interior illustrations by seven artists for Chakat in the Alley, plus the fine wraparound cover painting by ABlueDeer (Braulio Buendia Arrieta in Mexico) showing on the front the young Midsnow beginning her misadventures, and on the back the adult Midsnow telling her misadventures to her family and friends at The Cat’s Eye Pub.