reWritten, by Jako Malan – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
reWritten, by Jako Malan
Plainfield, CT, Goal Publications, April 2017, trade paperback $15.00 (200 [+2] pages).
The setting of reWritten is a world from which humans have disappeared and been replaced with anthropomorphized Mammalœ.
It’s best not to dwell on the confusing background. The Mammalœ are aware of man’s past existence:
“We are, indeed, not the first to call this world our home. Bright-eyed and naive, our earliest ancestors wandered forth as the sun set on the age of man and rose for Mammalœ. The ruins of their magnificent civilization would be both the foundation and inspiration for our own.” (p. 1)
What happened to man? It doesn’t sound like man became extinct through war, unless it was a war that didn’t include blast damage – the Mammalœ consider man’s ruins to be “magnificent”. Have the Mammalœ (the narrator is an anthro jackal; others are aardvarks, meerkats, springboks, rats, rabbits, mongooses, servals, cheetahs, etc.) evolved to replace man? That would take millions of years. Surely there wouldn’t be anything of man’s left to seem “magnificent”. The Mammalœ civilization seems like a rundown funny-animal imitation of man’s; a smoky city that includes coal power, rickety electric trams, hand-cranked automobiles for the rich; most Mammalœ riding bicycles… The Mammalœ such as the rat and zebra are all the same size, presumably human. It’s easier to just accept that man was here but is gone now, and anthro mammals (Malan is South African; so is the setting – the Mammalœ currency is even rands, not dollars) have replaced him in early-20th-century-style cities.
Professor M. (for Makwassie) van Elsburg (a jackal), head of the Department of Anthropology and History at Mammalaœ University in Bridgend (apparently a major Mammalœ city), is approached at a reception by rich Mr. Oberholzer (a hyrax), the patriarch of the Bridgend Energy Cartel. Prof. van Elsburg recognizes him as one of the most influential and notorious mobsters in Bridgend. (He flaunts it; what’s the point of being influential and notorious if everyone doesn’t know it?) Oberholzer is also interested in the history and disappearance of man, and he has a private museum in his mansion. Five months earlier he and an associate had organized an expedition to the ruins of a human city that they hoped would provide more information. The expedition disappeared; simultaneously Oberholzer’s private collection was burglarized, and his servants began being followed. Oberholzer wants Prof. van Elsburg to lead a second expedition to the ruins, to find the hoped-for information and any clues to the vanished first expedition. Elsburg objects that he’s late-middle-aged and sedentary, without any experience in exploring, but Oberholzer’s request is similar to Don Vito Corleone’s offer that can’t be refused.
“‘Take the train to the Ashton precinct.’ Mr. Oberholzer’s last instructions interrupted my train of thought. ‘That is as far as the railways will take you. In town, I will arrange for my associate to meet you. He will brief you from there onwards. I have already contacted him with the particulars of the assignment. Be vigilant, Professor. Don’t discuss your task with anyone. And don’t disappoint me.’” (pgs. 31-32)
The reader will have already seen the book’s blurbs that describe it as “an existential horror story”:
“In a world only superficially similar to our own, it asks questions that have no easy answers, and answers questions that may have been better left unasked.”
Or in other words: There are things that Mammalœ were never meant to know!
reWritten is curiously like an Indiana Jones-type adventure with attempted assassination, creepy ruins, ominous visions, betrayal, cannibalism. mental programming, body possession, flying death machines, ferocious wild carnivores, etc., as narrated by an old-fashioned slightly stuffy college professor. Little touches in his narrative reinforce this:
“Opening the tent carefully, I peeked outside. I saw nothing out of the ordinary, but could smell the burnt residue from low-grade propellant above that of trauma,” (p. 53)
He’s talking about smelling gunpowder and blood. That’s a wordy way of describing the odor of burnt gunpowder and blood.
“Having dressed myself and finished my morning prayers, I stepped out of the tent again to embrace the fourth day away from home for a second time. My nose tingled with the characteristic aroma of burning coal, above that of chicory brewing in a pot.” (p. 55)
How many explorers start their days with morning prayers? Chicory is usually considered a poor substitute for coffee when coffee is unavailable.
Prof. van Elsburg heads into the Wastelands leading a squad of five mercenaries: Dunswart, a one-eyed honey badger; Marlboro, a stringy meerkat; Xanadu, a burly Cape Buffalo; Magalies, a crazy painted dog; and Isando, an adolescent kudu. Guess what will happen to them?
“The bartender [a bulldog] nodded again; clearly, they [he and Dunswart] had some form of mutual understanding. He appeared to be cut out for his job. An ancient scar stretched across his forehead and muzzle, his arms were muscular, and his dirty apron hid the outlines of a large revolver at his hip.
‘What can I get ye?’ he asked.
‘Something strong, please,’ I replied.” (p. 39)
Here is a description of starting the expedition’s truck on a freezing day:
“Pumping the accelerator, Marlboro opened a valve under the dashboard. The engine bulged with compressed air stored from the last time it ran. One or two bitter cycles later, it spat a tongue of flame before dying. Saturated black smoke poured from the exhaust pipe just beside and above the driver’s door. I was vindicated. It was not just I who did not like the cold!” (p. 48)
The writing is wordy and florid by modern standards. I do not know if this is Malan’s natural style, or he is trying to emulate a 1910s-era slightly pedantic academic. Some of the word choices seem peculiar. “The [railway] conductor, a brown hare, leered impatiently at his pocket watch.” Leered? “An oncoming train stormed past, its obnoxious horn clefting the night.” Not “cleaving”? “Smelt” instead of “smelled”. “‘Amazing,’ lamented Isandro.” “Three rifles and a revolver bayed for her blood, […]”
Here is one of the human ruins, of a railway station:
“The glass door had shattered. We stepped right through the naked steel frame into a dark lobby with a layer of sand and debris covering the floor. The ceilings were tall and adorned with dead light fixtures.” (p. 56)
It doesn’t seem like man has been gone for more than a few centuries at most; a very short time for Mammalœ to repopulate the world.
This review is saying nothing further about the plot, or about what the expedition finds. That’s for the reader to discover. There are some real surprises and, lest I appear to not have read the ending, much of what I say earlier is contradicted. What I have described is the old-fashioned writing style and the attempt to develop a horror-tale mood:
“‘Many strange and terrible things lay in wait on these plains,’ Anzac [a hyena] said. ‘Mother told me stories that would make your skin crawl. Who knows what terrible event ended her life.’” (p. 66)
“It was a buffet of misery, and there was only one guest at this feast.” (p. 96)
reWritten (cover by Tim Jardim) is a different furry novel; supposedly “an existential horror story”, but more mysterious and portentous (and science-fictional) than frightening and horrific (and supernatural), and with an elderly, non-heroic hero who dithers more than he reacts. It’s certainly a change from the in-your-face horror novels that scream and gibber at you. I liked it; I hope you will, too.
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