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Avaritia: A Fable, by M.D. Westbrook- Book Review by Fred Patten

by Patch O'Furr

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

Avaritia: A Fable, by M.D. Westbrook
Wichita, KS, M.W. Publishers, April 2016, trade paperback $9.99 (200 pages), Kindle $1.00.

Usually the dedication of a book is not pertinent, but this one really sets the mood:

“This book is dedicated to rising taxes, broken promises, forgotten children, crime, starvation, war, death, and despair.

Thanks for the inspiration, guys. Couldn’t have done it without you.”

Avaritia has a very plain cover (by the author, credited as Mark D. Westbrook), but it turns out that there is a reason for this. The novel is grim and preachy, but fascinating in an Old Testament way. The only anthropomorphic novel that I can think of that’s remotely similar to this is the black comedy Play Little Victims by Kenneth Cook (1978). See my 2014 review of it on Flayrah: https://www.flayrah.com/5725/review-play-little-victims-kenneth-cook

But there is nothing funny about Avaritia. I read Play Little Victims almost forty years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. I don’t expect to ever forget Avaritia, either.

Avaritia begins in a house with a human father, a mother, and two brothers. The younger brother has three pet rats. The older brother has a bowl of mice, but Older Brother Human only keeps them to feed to his pet snake.

The characters in Avaritia are its mice and rats. The story begins with Older Brother Human lifting Radish, one of the mice, out of the bowl to feed to his boa constrictor while her mate, Cookie, pounds on the glass and squeaks, “Take me! Take me and leave her!”

“Cookie cried uncontrollably, watching as the snake slithered behind his mate.

In a blink, the snake struck. Radish released a final squeak as the constrictor wrapped around her lower abdomen.

‘Noooo!’ Cookie wailed.

Radish opened her mouth, gasping, and beat her tiny paws against the orange and yellow scales, but to no avail. Radish’s once soft pink eyes bulged, now a darker hue of red.

Older Brother Human laughed out loud. ‘Good boy, Petey. Eat ‘er up.’” (p. 2)

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Rats, Bats & Vats / The Rats, the Bats, & the Ugly – book reviews by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten

Fred writes: a few reviews of furry books that I wrote in 2003 or 2004 have vanished from the Internet.  I wrote them for the first version of Watts Martin’s Claw & Quill site, which he has apparently taken down. Here they are back online.

510BY7EKV5L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Rats, Bats & Vats, by Dave Freer & Eric Flint. Maps by Randy Asplund.
Riverdale, NY, Baen Books, September 2000, hardcover $23.00 (388 pages), Kindle $6.99; September 2001, paperback $7.99 (448 pages).

The Rats, the Bats, & the Ugly, by Eric Flint & Dave Freer. Maps by Randy Asplund.
Riverdale, NY, Baen Books, September 2004, hardcover $24.00 (391 pages), Kindle $6.99.

I had intended to review just the latter “sequel”. But it is such a close continuation of the former that to read RBU alone is like starting an 800-page novel in the middle. The introductory synopsis is adequate, but it is much more enjoyable to read the whole story.

Harmony and Reason is a colony planet founded on utopian ideals, which has evolved into a split between an elite upper class of founding Shareholders and an oppressed labor class of cloned “Vats”. Unknown aliens, the sea-urchinlike Korozhet, come to HAR to warn that it is about to be conquered by still other aliens, the brutal insectlike Magh’ empire. But the friendly Korozhet will share their superior technology with the humans to help them defend themselves. Among this technology are soft-cyber implants (brain chips) to increase the intelligence of animals. The two species of animal soldiers that HAR bioengineers are bats, for flying explosive devices into Magh’ camps, and “rats” (actually a bioengineered cross between rats and elephant shrews) which make fanatically vicious commandos.

It does not take long for the front-line troops to realize that the Korozhet are not the benevolent saviors they claim to be. They have engineered the Magh’ invasion to whittle down HAR’s defenses so they can safely conquer it for themselves. The creation of the bats and rats is to develop new cyber-controlled slave species. But by then, the Korozhet have gained psychological control over the incompetent Military High Command. To complicate matters, neither the Korozhet nor most humans realize that the bats and rats are more than just computer-guided cannon fodder. They are truly intelligent and are each planning their own revolt.

This may sound dramatic, but the two-volume novel is mostly a military-political s-f comedy. Much action revolves around the evasions that the front-line troops use to get around the stupidly suicidal orders from the pompous High Command so they can effectively battle the Magh’.

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Shadow Walkers – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

Shadow WalkerShadow Walkers, by Russ Chenoweth.
NYC, Charles Scribner’s Sons, April 1993, hardcover $13.95 (153 pages).

Shadow Walkers is one of those unillustrated novels that make it very difficult for the reader to decide whether the talking animals are supposed to be natural, unclothed quadrupedal animals or bipedal, clothes-wearing funny animals. Set on Cape Cod during winter, and featuring two rat children, Sara and her brother Peter, the different scenes imply both situations. Cover artist Gregory Manchess has prudently avoided depicting any of the characters.

“Rats are good climbers, but rats are good at many things that they are ordinarily too sensible to do. If Sara had told her parents what she planned, they would have asked her not to do it because it was dangerous and unnecessary. So she hadn’t told them, and that troubled her. […]

The trunk rose above her like a wall for thirty feet before the first great limb jutted out, as large itself as a good-sized tree. […] Sara climbed, carefully and surely, stopping every few feet to listen. She was exposed here and nearly defenseless, but still nothing moved in the woods. She felt safer when she had reached the limb and could stretch out for a moment on the rough bark and look and listen. […]

Two feet below the highest leaf, she had to stop. The branch had shrunk to less than half an inch and bowed slightly with her weight. It was high enough. […]

She never knew what made her glance down in time to see the shadow glide among the dim trunks with the silence of a moth and settle on a limb below her. It was an owl, a very big one, and he had decided for some idiotic reason to change his daytime perch and come to join her in her tree. […]

He couldn’t see her against the light – he or she. It didn’t matter – she’d get no concession either way. Owls had little sense of smell, but they could hear a seed drop on the forest floor. She’d better not shake off any acorns. He would hear her move or cough. […] He might wait all day, knowing she was there, and then in darkness come and pick her off the branch like a ripened peach.” (pgs. 2 and 4)

That certainly sounds like a natural rat and owl in a tree. But then:

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Fledger by Nicholas Barrett, Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

fledgerFledger: a Novel, by Nicholas Barrett.
NYC, Macmillan Publishing Co., September 1985, hardcover $13.95 (207 pages).

Ever since Adams’ Watership Down was published in 1972, just about any “realistic” nature fantasy centered upon one particular species has been “high profiled” as a “Watership Down for” (whatever species is featured). Fledger is certainly a Watership Down for puffins.

A flock of puffins is returning to Land (specifically a bleak, rocky shoreline) to dig burrows and lay eggs after three years of living at sea upon ice floes. Rock Samphire, a hen, is distraught and insulted because her mate, Sorrel, will not listen seriously to her dreams of impending disaster if they continue to build their rookery as puffins always have; on the Land and upon a small island just offshore. Ringleader, the flock leader, dismisses her dreams because the Golden Lord only sends true dreams to flock leaders like himself, and he has not had any nightmares. Rock Samphire stops protesting, but she builds a secret burrow for her egg on the other side of the island, apart from the other puffins. This just removes her from their protection, and she is eaten by the swaabies (great black-backed seagulls) just after laying their egg. Ringleader orders Sorrel to raise the chick, Goldie (Golden Samphire), in secrecy.

Goldie is predisposed from birth to believe in the puffins’ doctrine as revealed by Ringleader:

“‘And you must be Ringleader, sir,’ chirped the little bird. [No, it’s Sandpiper.] ‘And you have come to give me the Faith that I shall need to leave this strange burrow on the day when the Golden Lord calls me and the other fledger puffins down to the sea together to swim away from the Land.” (p. 33) Read the rest of this entry »

Typewriter Emergencies, Edited By Weasel – Book Review By Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

Typewriter EmergenciesTypewriter Emergencies, 2015 Edition [edited by Weasel]
Manvel, TX, Weasel Press, October 2015, trade paperback $16.95 (179 pages), Kindle $3.99.

The blurb says, “Welcome to the first release of Typewriter Emergencies, a collection of psychologically damaging and hard hitting furry literature.” The implication is that this is the first of an ongoing series of furry stories that the blurb goes on to describe as “gut-wrenching”. “Weasel Press is proud to have our first furry collection on the books and we hope you will enjoy every moment this intense anthology has to offer.”

The 13 stories, with a cover by Kala “Miryhis” Quinn, are a quality mixed-bag of tales by furry veteran authors, non-furry writers who are nonetheless experienced authors, and at least one new writer. Several are examples of experimental writing.

“The Dying Game” by Amethyst Mare shows this in its second line. “Great Britain crawled into December like a raindrop tricking down glass.” (p. 9) Heather Rees, a “young, two-legged palomino equine”, seems determined to be miserable. “The bridge was crusty with moss and lichen, the green and yellow reminding her of disease ridden flesh, something that ate away at the outside of a fur while the inside lost the will to live.” The writing emphasizes a “gut-wrenching” vocabulary. “Cars on the road to her right snarled past, lifting her straightened mane up from her neck and into her face in a rush of angry air.” (p. 10) Heather is on her way to see Mikey, a young cat lover who has been horribly maimed by a passing train. “Michael had done no wrong. He had only been spraying graffiti. Where was the harm in that?” Well … “Michael had to be all right for her. He could live without an arm or a leg. He had to.” Notice that Michael has to be all right for her. The story is a blend of poetic wordplay (“Outside, the sky dipped its paintbrush into the grey-blue that was twilight, drawing a fresh scene across its daily canvas.”) and “psychologically damaging” descriptions, such as Michael’s hospital bed’s “sickly green curtain”, his husky nurse’s “clinical smile permanently fixed on her face [that] never reached her eyes”, and Heather’s mare mother screaming at her (ignoring the hospital’s rule for quiet) for wasting her time at Michael’s bedside instead of earning money at her job. Read the rest of this entry »

The Cat, by Pat Gray – Book Review By Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

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

“Here is another of my reviews that was published ten years ago, edited in a manner that I didn’t like.  This is my original review, so it’s a bit different from the printed version.”

USThe Cat, by Pat Gray.
Sawtry, Cambridgeshire, UK, Dedalus Ltd., March 1997, trade paperback £6.99 (124 pages).
U.S. edition: Hopewell, NJ, The Ecco Press, November 1998, hardcover $19.00 (124 + 1 pages).

“A dark comedy with universal appeal, The Cat is the Animal Farm of the post-communist 1990s,” says the American dust-jacket blurb, while a Scottish review of the original British edition says that, “Gray’s reworking of the Animal Farm concept brings in a post-Thatcherite twist.” Animal Farm may live forever, but is The Cat really a modernization of Animal Farm for Britain of the 1990s?

“Chez Maupassant” is the typical British suburban home of the Professor and Mrs. Professor, their pet the Cat, and the presumably unnoticed Rat and Mouse. All live very comfortably, since the Professor is a gluttonous slob who leaves rich food everywhere.

“The cheesecake seemed to glow, luminous and fantastic, as the Professor skillfully slid it off its plate and cradled it in his large hand to prevent it breaking apart as his mouth closed in upon it. A look of childish pleasure crossed the Professor’s face, then a look of guilt, then he rammed the entire cheesecake into his mouth and began to eat.” (pg. 11)

The pampered Cat, the brash Rat, and the peevishly ineffectual Mouse (the latter two living under the house or within its walls) are best friends. Unfortunately, the Professor dies of a coronary three pages into the story (though leaving the fridge open). The animals are mildly distressed, but see no reason to fear a change in their lavish lifestyle — until Mrs. Professor moves to Brighton, leaving the Cat behind. Read the rest of this entry »