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Category: Opinion

The Moons of Barsk, by Lawrence M. Schoen – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

The Moons of Barsk, by Lawrence M. Schoen.
NYC, A Tom Doherty Associates Book/Tor Books, August 2018, hardcover, $26.99 (430 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $13.99.

This is the sequel to Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, reviewed here in 2016. Barsk has such an unusual and unique plot that you should really read it before The Moons of Barsk. Both have interstellar settings and are set in the far future when humanity is extinct and has been replaced by the descendants of uplifted animals.

You also need to read Barsk first because there is no synopsis here. The opening paragraph is:

“Amidst torrents of rain and blasts of lightning, Ryne stepped from his boat onto the shore of the last island, the place where his life ended. The mental beacon that had guided him across the open water faded away. Clarity replaced certainty, composed of equal parts confusion and anger. Flapping his ears against the downpour he muttered a phrase heard by his students at least once a tenday for the past six decades. ‘The math is all wrong!’” (p. 11)

But Chapter One is titled “Nothing But Lies”. Pizlo, Jorl, and Ryne are Fant, elephant-men of the planet Barsk, looking like a human with an elephant’s head; great flapping ears and a trunk. That’s not why Fant is reviled as abominations throughout the galaxy, though. Of the eighty-seven races (species) of the Galactic Alliance, the Fant are the only ones who are not furred. The Yaks, the Prairie Dogs, the Giant Anteaters, the Hares, the Sloths; all the others have respectable pelts. Only the Fant, divided into Elephs (uplifted Asian elephants) and Lox (African elephants), are disgustingly nude, with wrinkly gray, hairless skin, plus those giant flapping ears and the huge mobile nose.

The Fant are not only known for their hairlessness, though. Barsk is the only planet where the wonder drug koph can be found. Koph enables rare individuals who take it to access the nefshons of the dead and to become Speakers to the dead. “He could see nefshons; the subatomic particles of memory and personality would come at his call. If he summoned enough of them that had belonged to a dead person he could even talk to them.” (p. 22) Barsk is partially about some Fant, and the attempts of some individuals of the other races of the Alliance (notably Nonyx-Captain Selishta, a Cheetah) to get more koph.

Barsk focuses upon a few individual Fant on their planet, and a few members of the Alliance, notably Selista the Cheetah and Lirlowil the Otter, a Speaker, who are especially dependent upon koph. The Moons of Barsk is about Barsk’s relationship with the rest of the Alliance, focusing on why the Alliance wants to destroy Barsk.

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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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Jack Wolfgang T.2, Le Nobel du Pigeon, by Stephen Desberg (story) and Henri Reculé – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

Jack Wolfgang. T.2, Le Nobel du Pigeon, by Stephen Desberg (story) and Henri Reculé (art).
Brussels, Les Éditions du Lombard, June 2018, hardcover, €13,99 (62 [+ 2] pages), Kindle €9,99.

Here is the latest installment in the Fred Patten and Lex Nakashima service to notify you of high-quality French-language animalière bandes dessinées that are not likely to be published in English.

This is album #2 in the Jack Wolfgang series. I said of #1, “The Jack Wolfgang series looks like it’s designed for the Blacksad market. The main differences are that John Blacksad is a private investigator, and his cases are crime noir with excellently drawn anthropomorphic animals. Jack Wolfgang is a C.I.A. secret agent, and his adventures are, well, too light and too exaggerated for the James Bond market. Say they’re Kingsman clones, with a mixture of funny animal and human secret agents saving the world from megalomaniac funny animal and human villains.”

The humans and the animal-people share the same society. The carnivores have not had to eat meat since the invention of super-mega-tofu several centuries earlier. The humans and animals are supposedly equals, but in actuality, the humans look down on the animals. Jack has to fight this in his CIA human superiors as well as among the world criminals he goes after.

Jack Wolfgang’s cover identity is as the “more elegant than George Clooney, cooler than Tex Avery’s wolves” (vol. 1) leading food critic for the New York Times. This supposedly allows him to go to all the major cities of the world to check their top restaurants. In actuality, he goes to where the CIA sends him, or to where his leads take him. In vol. 1, Enter the Wolf, he met Mme. Antoinette Lavaux, a sultry panther-woman jewel thief who was not officially involved in his case then, so he did not have to bring her in. Since then, by implication, they arrange to meet in the top night spots around the world – Rome, Monte Carlo, the Côte d’Azur, Biarritz, San Francisco, etc. – when they are not “on duty”.

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Purrfect Tails, Edited by Tarl Hoch – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

Purrfect Tails, edited by Tarl Hoch.
Calgary, AB, Armoured Fox Press, February 2018, trade paperback, US$11.95 (164 pages).

Tarl Hoch’s Armoured Fox Press in Calgary, Alberta, is both a furry specialty press and an anime specialty press*. Its first book, published in 2018, emphasizes both specialties: it’s an anthology of nine cat-people stories, ranging from anime “nekos” with cat ears and tails but who look human otherwise, to full anthro cat people.

“Milk and Brass” by Madison Keller is set in a steampunk Victorian London with animal-hybrids. Carla is a cat-hybrid type neko, bred for lowest-class labor. Nellie Hanson is a pampered swan-hybrid bred to her rich father’s order, with delicate feathers on her arms and decorative but useless wings on her back. When Carla flees the London slum workhouses and docks, she is found and hidden by Nellie, who faces a loveless marriage at her father’s order. Carla urges that the two girls escape together to America and the Wild West, but Nellie is reluctant to abandon her duties and responsibilities. A Dramatic Event forces their hand.

In “Following the Tail” by Dark End, Jacqyl is bored and depressed in a society where almost everyone is mind-connected to the Internet and lets their bodies go. Then she sees The Tail:

“Everyone else [on the train] was jacked in, heads forward, drooling all over themselves as their brain played in the depths of the net. A few were on private servers, and Jacqyl amused herself by guessing what type of Sense-Scape they were in by the way their puppet-like bodies twitched. By the way their hips flexed, more than half of them were in erotic ones. Even the train’s conductor appeared to be in one – not like her job was that hard anyway.

[…]

The train jerked to a stop, causing several dull thumps as a few bodies, so limp while jacked in, smacked hard against walls or railings. A few people woke from the trance of their systems and made their way out.

And that’s when Jacqyl saw him – or rather, a fragment of him: a tail, an actual goddamn tail, flitting in the air as he stepped off. She jumped out of her seat and pressed her face against the window, but whoever he was, whoever he had been, was lost in the drab gray monotony of the mingling throng on the station platform.” (pgs. 16-17)

Jacqyl seeks the man with the tail for months. Why? What does she find? The description of what Jacqyl sees of society as she goes is so zany that I’m not sure whether “Following the Tail” is a comedy or a horror story about what to expect in the future.

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World Wild Fur Camp brings simply epic fun

by Patch O'Furr

World Wild Fur Camp – October 5-7, 2018

For Southwest Ohio (and everywhere) fandom

You know what’s an amazing drink? Blend watermelon chunks with tequila and lime. Nothing else! So fresh, so simple.

That’s what I brought to a visit at the fur house of Ratchet Fox, one of my closest neighbors.  Ratchet directs stage events at a bunch of fur cons, including BLFC. It has one of the fandom’s highest budgets for their eye-popping setup.  While I blended fresh fruit for the fabulous fox, he showed me videos of what they do with over a million dollars of equipment.

“One reason BLFC succeeds is the way they spare no expense on that main stage”, he told me. “Not every con understands how important that is.  Lots of furs go to party with their friends, and might not go to the dealer’s den or panels – but the main stage is the one thing that draws everyone.”

Huge and glitzy is one way to make magic. But sometimes you need a change of pace. Something laid back, less crazy, and more personal, where you don’t just have too-short drive-by meets with friends. And I love the idea of breaking out of the comfy but predictable hotel experience. (That’s why street fursuiting is my favorite thing.) How can it be more naturally furry?

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Furries vs. Evil: Habits in geek social spaces

by Patch O'Furr

This was written as introduction for a planned series. I edited it to stand alone in response to recent events of bad things being exposed. Expect to see it reposted in the future to fit a series. It’s kind of a thinkpiece to provoke open ended conversation. Let’s start with a weird question… (- Patch)

Q: How are furries like Catholic Nuns? 

Aside from silly headgear or being anthropomorphic penguins… this isn’t about being moralistic, but it involves contrasting black-and-white appearances.

Do nuns make you think nice thoughts about The Sound of Music or Mother Teresa, with harmless ladies playing guitar and taking care of orphans?

For a huge contrast, now think of scandals with abusive priests, where churches shift them from diocese to diocese to cover it up. It’s easy to assume nuns don’t do abuse like that. Until news comes out that they do, but the church hasn’t been accountable. This news may be loaded with a certain counterintuitiveness that increases the WTF factor. But in both cases, it’s dishonest to blame individuals for an institutional problem.

Furry fandom is made of loose federations of groups. Almost all of them are super positive and friendly and it would be gross exaggeration to suggest an institutional problem like above. It’s not a church with a pope. At worst, dramatic stories like a ring of abuse in Pennsylvania was limited to personal friendships that didn’t go as far as alleged. (Lupinefox, who was accused of hosting it at his house, was found not guilty on all charges in court.)

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Atlas & Axis [Volume 1], by Pau – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

Atlas & Axis [volume 1], by Pau. Illustrated.
London, Titan Comics, July 2018, trade paperback, $19.99 (unpaged [160 pages]).

I reviewed the original French editions of Jean-Marc Pau’s four hardcover albums of 80 pages each, La Saga d’Atlas & Axis, on Flayrah and here, from 2013 to 2017. Now here is a trade paperback graphic novel in English of the first two albums combined. (There’s no translation credit. Did Pau translate it himself? See his blog Escápula News. It’s mostly in Spanish, but there’s enough in English to show that he speaks fluent English.) This was published by Titan’s Statix Press as four comic-book issues from February through May 2018. This trade paperback graphic album has followed promptly.

Atlas & Axis is described as a funny-animal Astérix & Obelix, or in the vein of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo or Jeff Smith’s Bone. I can add Carl Barks’ and Don Rosa’s best Uncle Scrooge/Donald Duck stories, and some Japanese graphic novels by Osamu Tezuka or Shotaro Ishinomori. It’s both funny and adventurous/dramatic, with rich, lush art brightly printed on glossy paper.

Atlas and Axis are two dog adventurers, an Afghan hound (Atlas) and a terrier mix (Axis), in the talking-animal world of Pangea, apparently around 1000 A.D. (But events in volume 4, not yet published in English, completely disprove this.) They live near the village of Kanina, somewhere on the coast in what might be northern France. Atlas returns from a mission for their friend Canuto (translating a parchment with a clue to a bone leading to endless food), and he & Axis go to Kanina for a festival. They find it destroyed by Viking raiders, and all their friends killed or kidnapped. Their first adventure together is for revenge against the Vikings and to find Atlas’ kidnapped sister Erika. After that, as Atlas says, “Without our FRIENDS, there’s nothing to keep us here anymore. This is no longer our HOME.”, and later, “What do we do NOW?” They still have Canuto’s parchment with the clue for Chimera’s bone. Axis says, “Oh, yeah? Well, let’s go FIND it then. We’ve got nothing better to do.” And that’s their justification for one quest after another. This volume ends with them taking part (against their wills) in a war against the pirate nation of Escapula (an ingroup reference to Pau’s blog).

One of the quests is started by two academics debating in Mrs. Honey’s Tower Bar over the origin of dogs. One argues that dogs have evolved from wolves, while the other argues for a divine creation by Toby, the dog god. Atlas and Axis go on a quest to far northeastern Sabakistan to look for a tribe of nomads who are rumored to be half dogs and half wolves; “the MISSING LINK in the evolutionary chain between wolf and dog.” They do it because they’re bored. “We’re going on another ADVENTURE!”

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Ragged; or, The Loveliest Lies of All, by Christopher Irvin – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

Ragged; or, The Loveliest Lies of All, by Christopher Irvin. Illustrations by Conor Nolan.
Boston, MA, Cutlass Press, October 2017, trade paperback, $16.00 (250 [+1] pages).

“Cal sat along the riverbank atop a wind-swept pile of dry, dead leaves. Bare feet at the water’s edge, pea coat buttoned to his chin. The ancestry of his mixed breed had been lost to time, but if you’d been fortunate to be in the company of a variety of the Canis lupus familiaris, you might think his facial features resembled that of a beagle: dusty white from nose to top of skull blending with a reddish-brown along the sides of his face and lower jaw, eyes sharp with a tinge of sadness, and long ears that dangled near his shoulders, that at first glance might cause one to mistake his nature for more playful than it was. Cal would deem himself a proud mutt, but when you’re head of the sole family of dogs to make their home in the Woods, you become the dog; the definition your face, your actions. All in all, it was a mixed bag – especially considering his past. When you grow up with an exiled raccoon with a penchant for poaching for a mentor, life in the Woods is an uphill battle. Cal clutched a makeshift fishing rod loosely in his paws – a slightly gnarled branch with a bit of moss-dyed twine […]” (p. 11)

Well, this paragraph goes on for another half-page. Author Irvin describes Ragged as like “Fargo meets Wind in the Willows”. The back-cover blurb begins, “In a feral twist on crime fiction, Cal, a mutt with a criminal past, must avenge the death of his wife and protect his pups from the inherent darkness of nature and the cold cruelness of the looming winter.”

As you can tell, Irvin has a laid-back, wordy writing style. Considering the rural backwoods setting, and the animal cast – Duchess, the old hedgehog who runs the General Store, Roderick rabbit with his 26 children (he’s almost immediately killed), Gil the argumentative catfish, Maurice the sly raccoon, head of the Rubbish Heap gang, Billiam Badger the officious town bureaucrat (“I’m the elected official of the Woods […]”), Nutbrown Squirrel the matronly schoolteacher, Ted and Helen Pig, Hugo and Mol Otter, Hank and Myrtle Tortoise, and many more, Ragged at times seems more like Walt Kelly’s swamp community in Pogo. But then:

“Old Brown [a bear] burst from the river, paws outstretched for Cal, who was tense and ready this time, yet Old Brown’s reach was too long and he snatched Cal by his coat as he tried to back away, popping a button loose, wrenching him to the river’s edge, face-to-face. As Old Brown pulled him in, Cal ripped the pistol from his pocket, pulled back the hammer and pressed it into the side of the bear’s skull. The rivals snarled, bared their sharp teeth with clenched jaws.” (p. 21)

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Dissident Signals, Edited by NightEyes DaySpring and Slip Wolf – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

Dissident Signals, edited by NightEyes DaySpring and Slip Wolf.
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, July 2018, trade paperback, $19.95 (349 pages), Kindle $9.95.

“Everyone wants to create a perfect world.

Whether crafted by benevolent computers or drafted in the boardrooms of corporations that own all we ever know, shining cities and indomitable Empires have risen to reveal the very best of us. The leaders we choose, and those forced upon us, can create hell or paradise. Sometimes they create both at the same time.” (blurb)

Of course, things don’t go as intended. This anthology contains “sixteen dystopian stories about greed, power, and control from worlds like ours but not ours. Stories about hope, despair, and those willing to stand up to their oppressors to resist.” (blurb)

The frame, created by the editors and illustrated on the cover by Teagan Gavet, is of a nameless individual holed up in a ruined building, broadcasting sixteen accounts of what went wrong all over the world.

In “0.02%” by Faora Meridian, 0.02% is the amount of the world population that is immune to Core’s brainwashing additive to the air, called Whimsy, making everyone happy and peaceful and docile. Since Core can’t Whimsy-fy the entire atmosphere of Earth, people are brought inside enclosed Colonies all around the world. The 0.02% of the population who are unaffected by Whimsy are considered unmanageable and warlike, and are regretfully euthanized. Jordan Mulley and her brother Blake are freedom fighters among the 0.02%, trying to infiltrate Core Colony Sixty-Two to rescue a youth about to be tested for his susceptibility or resistance to Whimsy. The characters debate whether a world where 99.9998% of people are happy and peaceful in a idyllic setting is bad, if the other 0.02% are killed.

“Chasing the Feeling” by Mog Moogle is like the previous story, but much bleaker. Mirra is also inside an enclosed dome, but the entire world outside is uninhabitable:

“The reddened sky dissipated over the wall. Behind the emitters, the deadly cloud was repulsed and the original shades of night stretched on in its place. With a hiss, the access hatch opened and the vixen crawled in.” (p. 39)

Again, everyone is brainwashed, but the regimentation is much harsher. Mirra also fights against the system, but subconsciously rather than deliberately, and it is implied that it is too late to oppose the system if any life is to survive. “Chasing the Feeling” is better-written than “0.002%”, but more depressing. Both “0.02%” and “Chasing the Feeling” are funny-animal stories. Their characters are described as anthropomorphic animals, but they might as well be humans.

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Cottons [1] The Secret of the Wind, by Jim Pascoe – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

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

Cottons [1] The Secret of the Wind, by Jim Pascoe. Maps, illustrations by Heidi Arnhold.
NYC, First Second, July 2018, hardcover, $19.99 (242 [+ 22] pages), Kindle $9.99.

Watership Down is known for its creation of a language and religion for its rabbits. Cottons, a deluxe hardcover graphic novel trilogy, has a rabbit history, religion, geography, industry, currency, and “magic”. This is mostly presented as background information in the unpaged epilogue to this first of three volumes.

The story takes place in the Vale of Industry, one of two vales in the World of Lavender (which is much less realistic for rabbits than the rabbit world in Watership Down). The Vale has two main species of inhabitants, the prey rabbits (called cottons) and the predator foxes.

The main protagonist is Bridgebelle, an apparently ordinary doe working in Wampu’s carrot factory. The Industry page explains:

“Sometime during the Tooth Age, an industrious rabbit named Rekra had a wild idea: if rabbits eat carrots for energy, then there should be a way to extract the energy out of carrots in a more pure form. After many failed experiments, he discovered a method of refining carrots into a light orange powder called cha.” (p. [255])

“Wampu Industries”, where most rabbits work, refines carrots into the cha that powers all rabbit materialism. Also rabbit art, but creating art is considered a waste of needed cha. Due to the need for more and more cha, there are less and less carrots for food, leading to a growing hunger problem. Bridgebelle would rather be free to use cha to create objects of art (called thokchas), but this gets her a reputation of being lazy, frivolous, and wasteful of cha.

In addition, the foxes (all shown as evil villains) are trying to force the rabbits to turn the carrot factory over to them. They want the factory and the cha for different reasons: Marrow Winterborne to kill the rabbits and gain a supply of endless power; Sylvan to enslave the rabbits and use the cha to lead the foxes to the Black Sun and summon the Broken Feather King, the ruler of Empyrean, the cottons’ Hell (but it is in the sky); and Vor for the cha as an opium-like drug to which he is addicted.

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