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The Passage Series, by John J. Sanders – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

The Passage series.

Rites of Passage, by John J. Sanders.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, September 2016, trade paperback, $11.00 (viii + 257 pages), Kindle $1.99.

City of Passage, by John J. Sanders.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, June 2017, trade paperback, $12.00 (v + 277 pages), Kindle $2.99.

Voices of Passage, by John J. Sanders.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, September 2017, trade paperback, $14.00 (vii + 326 pages), Kindle $3.99.

The Passage trilogy is set on Earth in the far future when humanity is turning much of it over to evolved AIs and new anthropomorphic animal clans that live like the pre-industrial native Americans.

Rites of Passage begins with the Otokononeko, the clans of the evolved lions and house cats living in the Great Sequoia Forests of West Coast North America. There are several offhand references to the humans, in San Francisco, Fresno, and other West Coast North American cities, but they are mostly offstage (at first).

“She dreamed of the dancing, songs sung, and stories told around the large fire. Dohi Aleutsi told a hilarious story about a young human male whose flying car was eaten by a Giant Sequoia tree. Her father and mother had undoubtedly heard the story before. Her father at one point in the story remarked that the car was still in the tree.” (p. 68)

The opening focus is upon Kaniko of the Otokononeko’s Anitsiskwa clan. The novel relates – or bogs down, for those who are not interested in such detail – the culture of the feline civilization in the Great Sequoia Forests. There are seven clans; the Anitsiskwa, Aniwaya, Anigilahi, Anikawi, Aniwodi, Anisahoni, and Anigalogewi. The symbol of the Anitsiskwa is bird claws; that of the Anikawi is antler-adorned leather vests; and so on. Kaniko’s parents and brothers are described, and the Otokononeko game of Stick and Rabbit is both described and played. It is around page 43 before the plot starts moving. Yet the first 42 pages are not boring. They are well-written and present the feline native civilization and characters’ personalities in great detail.

“She heard his crow calls and stopped her movement to listen to the forest. Jamel called two more times and silence. Her third-born brother, Domic, was much more patient and quiet. He was the kind of cat that would lie in wait for you to walk by before he’d pounce on you. She felt the summer breeze sweep through the trees and the tops swayed making the light in the forest dance. Still she waited for the slightest sound of movement. When she left her first-born brother on the ground, she had moved a little tangent to the point where she had heard his last call. She knew he had already moved, and she predicted he would move toward the inner parts of the arena. There the trees thinned until they opened up completely to form a loose circle around a small glade. Domic had long legs and could move faster when the trees were farther apart. They both knew this, and she knew he needed to get between him and the thinning trees,” (pgs. 18-19)

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Liberation Game, by Kris Schnee – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Liberation Game, by Kris Schnee.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2018, trade paperback, $8.99 (307 pages). Kindle $3.99.

This is both a sequel to Thousand Tales: How We Won the Game, 2040: Reconnection, The Digital Coyote, Thousand Tales: Learning to Fly, and all the other stories in this series, and an independent summation of all of them. It covers the years 2036 to 2040, from when the Artificial Intelligence Ludo was just starting to set up the Thousand Tales/Talespace gameworld, to when it – maybe – becomes a legally recognized independent country. It features new characters, although some previous characters appear in it. (Nocturne, identified in the first novel as a black-feathered griffin-girl, is described more fully; she’s not an eagle-lioness combination but a raven-lioness.)

Liberation Game features three main characters: Ludo, in “her” beautiful human woman form; Robin MacAdam, a young American, a member of the Latter Day Saints/Mormons helping to build a community in the Central American nation of Cibola; and Lumina, a centauroid deer robot (very shiny but metallic; not very “furry”).

As Liberation Game begins in 2036, Ludo has just begun her mission to help humans “have fun”. Lumina is one of the first independent AIs that Ludo has created. She was intended to become the android companion of a German doctor who Ludo hoped to encourage to become a supporter of Thousand Tales and one of its first uploaded residents, but he is killed almost immediately, leaving Lumina at loose ends. She drifts over to Robin’s project.

Robin, the assistant of Edward Apery, are the two Mormons/Americans helping the local natives of Cibola to construct a modern village, Golden Goose. The name is intended as both a symbol of what they hope to accomplish, and as a subtle hint to Cibola’s corrupt government that it can get more over the long run by letting the experimental village succeed than by taking all its assets as “taxes” immediately.

“The village of Golden Goose existed by a strange partnership. The Latter-Day Saints (or Mormons) had pumped money into Cibola in the hopes of winning over some of the local Catholics. The government had eagerly deeded them some land to start economic reconstruction. Robin himself had initially cared more about travel and adventure and damn good local coffee.

The village’s other partner wasn’t human: Ludo the gamemaster AI.” (p. 5)

At this point, Ludo is mostly a silent partner, helping to subsidize Golden Goose’s development for the long-range goal of building one of her centers of Thousand Tales and uploading human minds into Talespace. Edward/administrator and Robin/engineer are the tutors of the local natives, and their representatives to Governor Leopold, their Cibolan government official.

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Tomori’s Legacy, by Beryll and Osiris Brackhaus – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Tomori’s Legacy, by Beryll and Osiris Brackhaus.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2018, trade paperback, $15.99 (165 pages), Kindle $4.99.

Tomori’s Legacy is the Brackhaus’ Packmasters #3. I reviewed #1, The Relics of Thiala, and #2, Raid on Sullin, favorably. This #3 is the shortest, but it’s no less rip-roaring, space-opera fun. The cover, again by Darbaras (Dávid László Tóth), features Cat, the series’ narrator.

The Packmasters series is set in a far-future interstellar community. Cat (the narrator), Ferret, Bear, and Wolf are four bestiae, bioengineered anthro-animen in hiding, led by Ana, a young human with semi-suppressed Packmaster powers. The bestiae are considered beneath contempt by most humans, and were enslaved by an arrogant cult called the Packmasters who used them to try to conquer the galaxy. The Packmasters were apparently all killed by the rest of humanity in a bloody civil war a generation ago, and the bestiae were all slaughtered except for a few that powerful humans kept as pets. Ana, a mistreated adopted orphan now in her early twenties, escapes with the help of Cat. They gather three other bestiae and discover that Ana has Packmaster powers; but instead of her using them to dominate the others, they form a pack of friends with a telempathetic bond under Ana’s leadership, Cat’s guidance, Bear’s piloting, and Wolf’s muscle (plus the mostly-childlike Ferret). They steal a luxury space yacht, the Lollipop, belonging to a corrupt human Senator, Viscount Tomori, and flee to Vandal, a distant space station towards the Fringe of the galaxy that is (what else?) “a wretched hive of scum and villainy”. But Tomori comes after them. The Relics of Thiala ends with Tomori and Bear dead. In Raid on Sullin, the remaining four form a tighter family, Bear is replaced as pilot by Ferret, and they are joined by Ten, a battle-hardened gazelle who is no less deadly for being a herbivore.

To quote the beginning of the blurb for Tomori’s Legacy, “Viscount Tomori is long dead, but his affairs just don’t want to rest in peace.
[…] Now Ana and her pack are part of the power struggle among the crime lords of the Rim, and have to return to Darkside before things get out of hand.”

The climax of The Relics of Thiala is the bestiae and Ana stealing Viscount Tomori’s space yacht and fleeing to Vandal, a criminally-owned space station; Tomori’s coming after them; and the fight in which he and Bear are killed. Raid on Sullin begins with the authorities of Vandal ruling that they acted in legitimate self-defense, and “to the victor belongs the spoils”. Ana, Cat, Ferret, and Wolf are the new owners of the Lollipop. They are immediately sidetracked into the adventure of Raid on Sullin.

Tomori’s Legacy begins with their return (with Ten, the gazelle) to Vandal, where they are stunned to learn that they weren’t given only the Lollipop. They are the new owners of all Tomori’s property. Since he had run his clan as his personal possession, they now own his criminal businesses, including a shitload of thugs and schemers who each want to take over and become the new boss of Clan Tomori.

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Snow in the Year of the Dragon, by H. Leighton Dickson – Book Review by Fred Patten, who was born in the Year of the Dragon

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Snow in the Year of the Dragon, by H. Leighton Dickson.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2018, trade paperback, $19.99 (i + 335 pages), Kindle $2.99.

Snow in the Year of the Dragon is dedicated “To Readers of Infinite Patience”. I assume that’s because this is Book 4 of Dickson’s The Rise of the Upper Kingdom series; and it’s been five years since Book 3, Songs in the Year of the Cat.

Has it been worth the wait? YES!!

To summarize, it’s 5,000 years in the future. Civilization has disappeared. In the Far East a new Oriental culture is forming, the Upper Kingdom, a blend of ancient Chinese and Japanese customs with bioengineered animal peoples. To quote the blurb for Book 1, To Journey in the Year of the Tiger:

“This is a powerful, post-apocalyptic story of lions and tigers, wolves and dragons, embracing and blending the cultures of Dynastic China, Ancient India and Feudal Japan. Half feline, half human, this genetically altered world has evolved in the wake of the fall of human civilization.”

In Book 1, Kirin Wynegarde-Grey, a genetic lion-man (yes, he has a tail) is the young Captain of the Empress’ personal guard. While the rest of the great Palace is preparing the celebrations to mark the turning of the Year of the Ox into the Year of the Tiger, he is assigned to leave on a long mission with four others (and several guardsmen). The Upper Kingdom is guided by a Council of Seven, revered Seers whose visions have infallibly led the Empire in wisdom and peace for centuries. Now something, or someone, is killing the Seers, one by one, by unknown means, always in their beds at the close of the Second Watch of the night. Kirin and his companions must discover the cause and stop it.

The four others are Kirin’s adjutant, an aggressive snow leopard woman; the Empire’s Scholar, a young and naïve tigress; the Empire’s Alchemist, an older cheetah-woman of dubious loyalty; and Kerris Wynegarde-Grey, Kirin’s twin but silver-gray where Kirin is golden, the Empire’s Geomancer but a drunken ladies’ man. They have more adventures than they expect, and are led outside the Empire’s borders, into the unknown West (Europe) where they awaken surviving scientists of the forgotten human civilization from suspended cold-sleep. In Book 3, Songs in the Year of the Cat, Kirin and the others return to the Upper Kingdom, and Kirin becomes the Empire’s Shogun-General to mobilize a defense against the awakened Ancestors and their weapons of mass destruction.

Snow in the Year of the Dragon contains action scenes, but it is worth reading for all of Dickson’s writing:

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A&H Club, Volume 1, by Rick Griffin – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

A&H Club, volume 1, by Rick Griffin. Illustrated.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, April 2018, trade paperback, $18.29 (unpaged [82 pages]).

Popular furry writer/artist Rick Griffin has two Internet comic strips. Housepets! is the one that everyone is familiar with. Once a year he collects them and publishes a Create/Space album.

A&H Club is his other Internet strip. In one way it’s just more familiar high-class Griffin anthropomorphic art, and jokes about not wearing any pants. In another it’s the opposite of what Griffin does in Housepets! It’s serious, not comedic, even if it does view today’s society as semi-comedic. It’s realistic, not fantastic; aside from featuring anthropomorphic animals who walk about nude below the waist. Its two main characters are a pair of lesbian lovers (Adrian is really bi), one of whom is a single mother. It consists of full pages rather than strips.

Griffin first collected his A&H Club into three comic books of between 22 and 28 pages each. Now he has gathered those into a CreateSpace album of 82 pages including the three front & rear covers.

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Black Friday (The Valens Legacy), by Jan Stryvant – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Black Friday, by Jan Stryvant.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, September 2017, trade paperback, $9.99 (226         pages, Kindle $3.95.

Perfect Strangers, by Jan Stryvant.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, September 2017, trade paperback, $9.99 (240 pages), Kindle $3.99.

Over Our Heads, by Jan Stryvant.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, October 2017, trade paperback, $10.99 (252 pages), Kindle $3.99.

Head Down, by Jan Stryvant.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, November 2017, trade paperback, $10.99 (250 pages), Kindle $3.99.

When It Falls, by Jan Stryvant.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, January 2018, trade paperback, $10.99 (284 pages), Kindle $3.99.

Stand On It, by Jan Stryvant.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, January 2018, trade paperback, $10.99 (256 pages), Kindle $3.99.

The first sentence of Black Friday is, “Sean looked both ways as he started across the street, not that there was much traffic during the day here at the University of Nevada, Reno campus this late in the day.” The third sentence is, “Mid-terms had just finished and he was pretty happy with his grades this semester, he’d finally gotten the hang of this whole ‘college’ thing, so what if it had taken him nearly three years!” Sean may be a college student, but I’ll bet he hasn’t been taking any writing courses.

Black Friday is the first novel in the six-volume The Valens Legacy. It is one of the five novels on the 2017 Ursa Major Awards ballot for Best Anthropomorphic Novel of the Year. It has 506(!) customer reviews currently on Amazon (most books are lucky to get 10 customer reviews), mostly five-star and 4-star reviews, although I agree more with the first cited, a two-star review: “Entirely avoidable grammatical mistakes, misuse of terms and DEAR LORD the treatment of adjectives!”

The other four Ursa Major finalists for Best Novel are Always Gray in Winter by Mark J. Engels, Otters in Space III: Octopus Ascending by Mary E. Lowd, Kismet by Watts Martin, and The Wayward Astronomer by Geoffrey Thomas. I have seen all four of these discussed on furry-fandom websites. I have not seen any indication that anyone in furry fandom has been reading Black Friday. Where did its nominations come from?

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Mythic Transformations, by Kris Schnee – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Mythic Transformations, by Kris Schnee
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, December 2017, trade paperback, $7.99 (189 pages), Kindle $2.99.

This collection of fourteen short stories by Schnee is about transformations rather than anthropomorphic characters. “In this story collection, people not only encounter these beings but become them.” (blurb)

“Guardians of Mistcrown” is set in a traditional fantasy world. Darius, a young mapmaker, is looking for a new caravan route through the Mistcrown mountains. He finds a cave guarded by Zara, a griffin, who is compelled to kill anyone who comes too close to a hidden source of magical mana. Darius and Zara trade bodies, to Darius’ dismay. But he finds that there are advantages to being a powerful, flying, ageless griffin – if he can just break the wizard’s spell that binds him to the mountain cave with the mana.

“The Petlyakov-15 Amusement Engine” is for video-game geeks.

Devjn, a hard-core video-gamer, finds an old 1980s Eastern Bloc video game in a yard sale.

“He called the saleslady over from her busy work of rearranging battered stuffed animals. ‘Is this some kind of custom case on a Nintendo?’

She shrugged. ‘It was my cousin’s, but then he moved out all of the sudden. Wasted all of his time playing video games.’” (p. 27)

Devin is intrigued by the “PE-15” Cyrillic lettering, and amused by its apparent imitation of old American/Japanese video games.

“The next day he dug up a copy of ‘The Legend of Zelda’ and blew dust out of it. He smiled at the shine of the classic golden cartridge. The PE-15 came on and showed him … ‘The Legend of Svetlana’?” (p. 28)

Devin plays deeper and deeper into the PE-15. Since Mythic Transformations is a collection of stories of “people not only encounter[ing] these beings but become[ing] them”, the only question is what will Devin turn into? Hint: it isn’t a fairy-tale princess.

“Little Grey Dragons” takes place in a classic poor Russian village. Washerwoman Alexi’s brother Petrov, the blacksmith’s assistant, finds two strange warm eggs in the forest.

“They turned at a noise from the egg that Alexi had touched. It was cracking. Alexi stared as the cracks spread for several long minutes, and finally a creature’s head emerged. Grey flesh, a grey snout, and a grey eye watching her. She stood there frightened and confused. ‘Petrov,’ she whispered, ‘what is this?’

Petrov murmured, ‘Not Firebirds. Zmei.’ He stared at the other egg, obviously willing it to crack, and it began to do so.” (p. 37)

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Housepets! Let Instincts Do Their Thing (Book 8), by Rick Griffin – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Housepets! Let Instincts Do Their Thing (Book 8), by Rick Griffin
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, November 2017, trade paperback $13.95 (52 pages).

Ta-Dah! Here is the latest annual collection of the Housepets! online comic strip by Rick Griffin. Housepets! has appeared each Monday-Wednesday-Friday since June 2, 2008. It has won the Ursa Major Award for the Best Anthropomorphic Comic Strip for every year since! – for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and now 2016.

Book 8 contains the strips from June 8, 2015 to June 3, 2016; story arcs #91, “The Plot Against Spot”, to #100, “The 4 Animals You Meet In Heaven”, plus the one-off gag strips between these.

Housepets! presents the adventures of the dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and other pets of Babylon Gardens, a typical residential suburban neighborhood – in an alternate universe. The animals are larger than in our universe (but not human-sized), can talk, are usually bipedal, and address their human owners as “Mom” and “Dad”. Their status is somewhere between pets and children. Points established over the years are that humans can bequeath their belongings to their pets, who do not need a human guardian; human storekeepers are not allowed to sell catnip to cats; human police forces have an auxiliary of Police Dogs who are not all police dogs; the pets comment sardonically on how they can go naked in public but their human “parents” can’t; and – lots of other stuff.

But in Book 8, the housepets’ adventures often take them outside their suburban locale. Story arc #92, “All’s Fair, part 2”, is set in the huge back yard of the Milton ferrets’ estate, which Keene Milton has turned into a big amusement park and “Annual Foodapalooza Jamboree!”; maybe in Babylon Gardens but hardly part of a typical neighborhood scene. Arcs #93 to #95, “Housepets 5000 BC, parts 1-3”, introduce the large jackal Satau of the Merimde, Dragon’s second avatar, who gets sent from Ancient Egypt into the future and is drawn to Tarot the Pekinese dog, the demigod Dragon’s current (150th) avatar. Their attempt to send Satau home lands all of them (Satau and the dogs Peanut and Tarot, and the cats Grape, Maxwell, and Sabrina) in 5000 BC, the Neolithic Era, long before the building of the Pyramids and the Sphinx (to Max’s disappointment). There are rival kingdoms of the dogs and cats, and Grape is kidnapped by Ptah, the chief-king of the cats, to be his queen. (That’s Ptah and Satau arm-wrestling on the cover, with Grape and Peanut in the background.) #98, “Flip That Den!”, is in the forest outside Babylon Gardens, and #100, “The 4 Animals You Meet”, takes place in Heaven. Or a dream. Or somewhere.

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The Animal Guild Series – Book Reviews by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

The Animal Guild Series

The Animal Guild, by Jennifer Sowle. 2nd Edition.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, May 2015, trade paperback, $11.97 ([5 +] 307 pages), Kindle $0.99.

Monsters in the Territory, by Jennifer Sowle. 2nd Edition.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, February 2015, trade paperback, $12.99 ([5 +] 340 pages), Kindle $3.99.

The Marrhob War, by Jennifer Sowle. 2nd Edition.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, February 2015, trade paperback, $12.47 ([5 +] 320 pages), Kindle $3.99.

The Nhorn, by Jennifer Sowle. 2nd Edition.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, March 2015, trade paperback, $11.97 ([5 +] 278 pages), Kindle $3.99.

Sowle’s Amazon “About the Author” says that she has been writing this Young Adult series since the age of 13. (Wikipedia says she was born in 1977.) Book 1 was published by CreateSpace on August 22, 2012, with this Second Edition on May 13, 2015. Book 2 was published on August 15, 2013 with this Second Edition on February 8, 2015. Book 3, March 6, 2014 and February 26, 2015. Book 4, June 8, 2014 and March 10, 2015. Book 5, January 26, 2015 and April 13, 2015. Further books are first editions.

What is the Animal Guild, and who is in it? The story is deliberately murky at the beginning:

“Corto dove between the mesquites and just missed the spiny cholla they cosseted under their branches. It was exactly how he’d cut his forepaw an hour ago and started the blood trail. Drok take every piece of cactus in this desert and chuck it over the white gates of Hell.

He didn’t continue the puerile curse because coyote scent wafted toward him again, stronger and closer. He hadn’t shaken his pursuers, attracted by the blood, and until he could hole up and stop the bleeding, he wouldn’t. The cairn terrier ran past the offensive cholla, which had been lurking in wait behind the mesquite, and wished again that he was a bit taller. […]” (The Animal Guild, p. 1)

In the opening pages the reader learns that Corto is a cairn terrier fleeing from coyotes through a desert. He is on a lone-dog mission, but he is resigned to being eaten by the pursuing coyotes, until he is unexpectedly saved by a fox. But wildies don’t associate with guilders like Corto, do they?

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