Swift the Cat-Human, by Angelo Bowles – book review by Fred Patten

by Patch O'Furr

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

Swift the Cat-Human, by Angelo Bowles. Illustrated by Charlene Bowles.
Donna, TX, VAO Publishing, April 2013, trade paperback $13.99 (206 [+ 26] pages)

VAO Publishing, “A Small Press for the Río Grande Valley” in Donna, Texas, near the mouth of the Rio Grande, specializes in books for and about the Tex/Mex border region; from poetry by South Texans to ¡Arriba Baseball! A Collection of Latino/a Baseball Fiction. Swift the Cat-Human, an omnibus collection of the three books in this series, seems like an unusual juvenile volume for them, but Angelo Bowles lives in Donna. It’s still unusual: he was a 10-year-old 5th-grader in 2011 when he wrote Book 1.

If Swift the Cat-Human hasn’t been “tidied up” by some adult, then I’m jealous. I couldn’t write nearly this well when I was 10 years old. This is an excellent children’s novel in three parts for young furry fans or to introduce pre-teens to anthropomorphics.

Swift is a housecat belonging to Dr. Gonzalo Gonzales. Dr. Gonzales drops a test tube of an experimental virus on the floor, Swift licks it:

“And then the transformation started.

My tail got longer, my back legs got a little skinnier and started stretching, and my front legs seemed to be growing, too. My paws began to lose their pads, and I started to grow opposable thumbs! What good are opposable thumbs, anyway? And five fingers? What’s up with that?” (p. 2)

The transformation is simplistic, but this is a kids’ novel with comic-book science.

“‘Um,’ I said. The vet’s eyes got very big. ‘If you really know Dr. Gonzales, I think you should give him a call so he can get me the heck out of here!’

‘Y-y-you can talk?’

‘Well, I would twitch my ears at you, but I don’t think you’d understand.’” (p. 6)

Dr. Gonzales is afraid the government might take Swift away and keep him secret, so he decides to go public:

“‘I’m going to call all the newspapers and TV stations, Swift. I’m going to tell them about you, and you’re going to talk to them. That way no one can keep you a secret.’” (p. 11)

The government and a big company, ZooTek, argue over whether the cat-human transformation virus should be controlled, and by who. It ends up with Dr. Gonzales working for ZooTek, and ZooTek transforming more cats into cat-humans under close controls such as declawing and microchiping them. Cat-humans are the size of human 10-year-olds, and a lot of people want one. ZooTek wants to be ready to sell them. After two months, there are about fifty cat-humans; all of the “tame” cats held by Animal Control Services. When ZooTek transforms some feral alley cats that Animal Control has just caught, things start to go wrong. Three are transformed but escape before they’re declawed. Swift goes after them, but he’s not a fighter and he has been declawed, so he’s beaten and clawed pretty bloody. A man who just happens to be a former circus performer trains him in martial arts for two months. Swift captures two of the feral cats, but Reaves, the meanest and smartest of the three, has gone after Dr. Gonzales. Swift follows, frees Dr. Gonzales, and meets Kenmei (the black cat on the cover), the new cat-human that Dr. Gonzales has made to replace Swift. But Reaves escapes again, after injecting himself with another virus that will mutate him into something worse.

That’s Book 1, Mix-Up. In Book 2, Shutdown, Swift and Kenmei recruit three more cat-humans to help them catch Reaves; Fluffy, Chrysty (a girl; short for Chrysanthemum), and Mr. Cuddles. In Book 3, Creep-Out, Swift recovers from a six-month coma to find that the situation has deteriorated considerably. Among other problems, there is a giant cat-human monster, Anvill, giving all the cat-humans bad reputations.

Swift the Cat-Human is very much a novel by and for pre-adolescents. Swift has the physique and mentality of a 10- or 11-year schoolboy. His being a cat-boy with a tail and fur gives him, if not exactly super-powers, at least traits that most 10- or 11-year-olds will consider super-cool. There is a lot of schoolboy humor:

“We piled into the back of Enzo’s truck. Mr. Cuddles said, ‘The only time I ever got in a truck was when they took me to get neutered.’

Chrysty looked at him. ‘Thank you for sharing that,’ she said sarcastically.” (p. 60)

“He tried to rush off, and that’s when everyone else joined in. We noticed that we had no armor, so we all got branches, strong ones, and used them like lightsabers (I watched Star Wars with Enzo. It’s old, just like him, but the fights are cool.) (p. 72)

The book ends with several things unresolved. Angelo Bowles says in the unpaged Extras that Books 1 – 3 are just the beginning of a planned ten. There is a Coming in December 2013 announcement for Cat-Human Academy; Book One: Lock-Up; but neither Amazon nor the VAO Publishing catalogue list it. Too bad. Maybe Angelo Bowles decided to wait until he has attended middle and high school before writing those.

As I said, Swift the Cat-Human (cover by Charlene Bowles) is too young for most furry fans, but it is an excellent children’s novel in three parts for young furry fans or to introduce pre-teens to anthropomorphics.

There are other cat-humans, a total of eleven, all profiled in the Extras. Charlene Bowles is identified as the 15-year-older sister of Angelo Bowles. She has also illustrated books by David Bowles (including The Smoking Mirror, a Young Adult novel about shapeshifters), who is apparently their father. It sounds like there is a talented family there.

– Fred Patten