Exposterous Hossification

Albert of Adelaide – Platypus, wombat, dingos and roos

I haven’t seen a furry story set in Australia for many years, so this one certainly piqued my interest as soon as I found it. Albert of Adelaide is a full scale adventure novel in the manner of the traditional American Western, only it is set in the Australian Outback. The characters are endearing and well-developed, the setting authentic, and speciesism (to borrow a furry term) is a major theme in addition to the usual good and evil, friendship and loyalty elements.

Author Howard L. Anderson, though American by birth, does seem to have a good handle on the Australian environment. Or at least, he has an idea of what it was like a few decades ago. One hopes it has improved a bit in the modern era. His protagonist Albert is a duck-billed platypus, an orphan captured at a young age and raised in the Adelaide Zoo. When a chance to escape finally arose, young Albert decided to take his chances and set out to find “Old Australia,” a place of legend that is only whispered about among the zoo residents. He knows only that he has to travel north until he reaches this paradise where the animals are free and life is good.

Armed with little more than an empty soda bottle in which he carries his water supply,  the intrepid platypus strikes out along a railroad line that goes roughly north. He soon discovers that Old Australia is a dry and dusty place filled with desperadoes, criminals, retired heroes, pyromaniac wombats (well, only one of those,) kangaroos and wallabies who believe in the inherent superiority of pouched mammals, tribes of wild dingos, and, amazingly, one immigrant raccoon from America. None of these creatures have ever seen a platypus before, and it takes them a while to size Albert up and sort him into a stereotype they can understand.

When that stereotype (unfairly) ends up to be that of a wanted criminal with a price on his head, Albert finds his courage and wits. With the help of loyal friends, including Jack the pyromaniac wombat, TJ the American raccoon, and a retired Tasmanian devil prize-fighter known as The Famous Muldoon, the little platypus sets out to clean up the entire territory and put things to right.

The novel is a hilarious romp of mistaken identities and misunderstandings that nonetheless reveal the true spirit and loyalties of Albert’s friends and some surprising details about his apparent enemies. Once it gets rolling, the plot is fast paced and demanding, as a good Western should be, and odd individuals reveal their hidden hearts of gold or their blackened souls as the scene develops. Of course, the survivors emerge changed and strengthened while at least some of the wicked suffer an appropriate fate.

Anderson does a good job of using the special characteristics of the individual species, and creating a culture for each. The ongoing warfare between the marsupial roos and wallabies and the placental but culturally primitive dingos is a backdrop for hero, scalawag, and old timer alike. As you must expect, some of the good guys join the fallen before the story ends. That’s natural in this kind of tale, but they don’t depart this life without earning as we hope a degree of fame and the hope of a better life in the next incarnation or world, whichever suits their belief.

I strongly recommend Albert of Adelaide not only to furry audiences, but to mainstream readers willing to try something a little different. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it re-emerge as an animated feature some time in the future.

Rating: 4-1/2 of 5 possible apples appleappleappleapplehalfapple

Howard L. Anderson
Albert of Adelaide
Twelve, 2012 (ISBN 9781455509621, $24.99)
Also in audiobook and ebook formats, paperback due May 2013

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Breaking the Ice – Furry in a dystopia

[Originally posted September 17, 2006]

So… summer is over and it’s time to get busy again. I’d like to give a very strong recommendation to Breaking the Ice: Stories from New Tibet, the anthology edited by Tim Susman and published by Sofawolf Press. This group of six stories are all set in the same world, a remote mining colony known as New Tibet. The climate is subarctic, the economy is barren, and the world is run by corporate interests and organized crime. So why would anyone go there, you may well ask. The corporate managers attracted the original colonist population with promises of great wealth, creating a sort of gold rush environment. Travel to New Tibet was subsidized for the emigrant, quickly bulking up the population. Of course, the cost of a ticket off the world to anywhere else is grossly inflated, making it almost impossible for most to ever leave again. In this Siberian setting of dim and clouded light, where snow falls nearly every day and water is liquid only for a few weeks of the year, the victims of the New Tibet con artists must find a way to live their lives, working for the companies themselves or else for the two main organized crime groups, the Vishons (ursine moneylenders and usurers) and the Shivers (canine and feline drug dealers.)

The masterful opening short, “Dead End,” by none other than Samuel Conway (known to many furry fans as Uncle Kage) sets the stage as a bartending vulture explains New Tibet society to a new arrival. Tim Susman’s “A Prison of Clouds” is a story of the love between two male foxes, one of whom is willing literally to sell his own soul in order to gain freedom for the other. “Nightswimming” by David Andrew Cowan is a tale of interracial love between a fox, daughter of a government official, and an otter who lives free of the colonial chains.

David Richards’ contribution, “Array of Hope,” is a heart wrenching tale of friendship, love, and loss between two foxes and an honest bear who is not one of the Vishons. “Touch of Gray” by Jeff Eddy shows us a ray of hope that grows out of a moment of bleakness, revealing that there are forces of mercy operating clandestinely, even on a desolate and isolated world.

The climax, and masterpiece in my opinion, is the novella length story “Skin Deep” by 2, in which Jaund, a depraved wolf assassin and member of the Shivers, is caught between his criminal past and his love for a beautiful and innocent arctic fox girl who unwittingly falls afoul of the Shivers plots. All the stories are tragic and painful, but beautifully wrought and, I think, very true to life. The symbolism of New Tibet, with its bitter barren environment, is really not so far from our own world, which can be hostile, unforgiving, and utterly without mercy. I strongly recommend this anthology to all furry readers. It contains nothing erotic and little cheer, but is filled nonetheless with romance, tragedy, and, in an odd and unexpected way, hope.

Rating: 4 of 5 possible apples appleappleappleapple

Breaking the Ice: Stories from New Tibet
Edited by Tim Susman
Sofawolf Press, 2001, $13.95
ISBN: 0-9712670-0-6

Pom Poko – Japanese badgers fighting development

[Originally posted May 21, 2006]

While I really don’t intend to make these pages a collection of animated film reviews, nonetheless animation is one of the important elements of the furry arts. Those of you who read my Livejournal pages regularly know that I’ve had a longstanding problem appreciating Japanese anime. Thinking perhaps that my problem was with Hayao Miyazaki specifically, or with stories that revolve around human characters, I made a point of watching Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko (1994) this week.

I will concede that it had a comprehensible plot, characters with believable motivations, and some interesting moments. However, even though I am entirely on the side of the tanuki (actually a kind of badger, not a raccoon as they are made out to be in the dubbed dialog) in their effort to save some of their forest home from the bulldozer of subdivisions and multiple dwellings for humans, the film just seemed to drag on and on with very little resolution or movement toward a conclusion. Two hours isn’t really that long for a film these days, though it is quite long for animation and in the case of this film, to me it seemed interminable. The characters are caught in a very real and desperate situation, one that could mean extinction for the whole of their tribe, yet they choose to defer to outside experts for a resolution and take weeks or months to bring those experts in from another island. Meanwhile, their homelands continue to be eaten away by the developers, and taken over by hordes of humans.

Once the experts in transformation arrive, these three “wise” elders attempt various solutions involving disguise, deceit, or subterfuge. None succeeds, and the credit for much of their effort is usurped by others. The badgers (or raccoons if you prefer) try to get humans to recognize their existence and needs, but without success. To my Western way of thinking, the ultimate conclusion is neither a happy one nor at all hopeful.  It probably does, however, speak a frequent Asian viewpoint: “Blend in, conform, do not stand out, and all will be well.”

Individual characters were entertaining enough, and many individual scenese were fun. Taken as a whole, however, I found the film draggy and depressing. Should you see it? (If you haven’t already done so, that is?) Yes, I think it’s a must for the furry fan. The film is definitely furry, filled with anthropomorphic badgers who can change between quad and biped forms, as well as sly foxes with the same ability. It is definitely anime, for the anime fan, and very Japanese both in conception and message. The English language dub, handled by Disney, is good for the most part and carefully enough written to match syllables with the characters’ mouth movement.

For me, though, I have to admit that Pom Poko still isn’t enough to sell the anime genre. As for the environmental message, I think I’ll take the animated version of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss instead.

Rating: 3 of 5 possible apples appleappleapple

Pom Poko (1994)
Isao Takahata, director and screenwriter
Studio Ghibli, available on DVD now, rated PG by the MPAA

Madagascar – Bizarrely hilarious fur & feather mix-ups

(Originally posted April 11, 2006]

It seems appropriate after the previous review to write a bit about an animated film that I really did enjoy. Madagascar (2005) is all CGI animation, but the script and voicing make up for that deficiency. It may not be as intensely humorous as Shrek, but I found the story much more engaging and entertaining than, say, Finding Nemo.

Four residents of the Central Park Zoo find themselves off an an adventure of improbable scope when Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) begins to yearn for more than just the limited vistas they can see from their enclosures. His best friend Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) is the star of the zoo, popular with children and adults, and not easily convinced that there could be anything better out there. But when Marty disappears from his pen one night and heads off to Grand Central Station hoping to find “The Wild” (which he assumes is somewhere out in Connecticut,) Alex and two of their other friends, Melman the giraffe (hypochondriacally played by David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) decide that he is unsafe out there by himself and they set out to find and retrieve him.

At the same time, four male penguins have been conspiring to escape and, apparently, swim back to Antarctica if they must. Their dubious tunneling attempts are stolen right from The Great Escape. Wait, where have we already seen that parody? Chicken Run, of course. 

It all comes together after Alex, Melman, and Gloria succeed in locating Marty at the train station, only to be recaptured, tranquilized, and shipped off because they are now considered too dangerous for the zoo. They awaken in crates on shipboard, and assume they are being transferred to Los Angeles or some other larger zoo, rather than to preserve in Kenya which is their actual destination. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) for them, the penguins have arrived on the same ship, which they proceed to hijack. 

Penguin navigation is doubtful at best, and the large crates end up being knocked overboard, drifting in the tide. Cast ashore somewhere in “The Wild,” Marty is soon making the best of it while Alex grows homesick and then discovers his instincts as a natural, zebra-eating carnivore. Of course, this must be explained to both by the local tribe of party mad lemurs.

I won’t put any more spoilers here. If you haven’t seen it, I think any fan of furry fantasies will find it at least worth the cost of rental. Stiller, Rock, and Schwimmer were all Saturday Night Live regulars, and they have an effective chemistry together even when hidden behind the animation. Smith gives superb voice to big mama Gloria, whose orders are rarely disobeyed. The plot may be far-fetched, even for a cartoon, and one may wonder  how even confused penguins could end up on the coast of Madagascar while trying to navigate from New York to Antarctica, but hey, it’s all in fun. And it’s genuinely funny. 

I’m not a big fan of CGI, and much prefer traditional hand drawn characters. Nonetheless, the work in Madagascar is energetic and sophisticated. A lot of effort was put into the backgrounds, and the character gestures and expressions are lively and appropriate. It’s not just kid stuff, though the kids will enjoy it too. Adults with an interest in things furry can’t help but be caught up in it, I think. I recommend it for all audiences. (Don’t skip the extras on the DVD. The obligatory “making of” shorts are fascinating, and the Penguin Christmas story is a heart warmer.)

Rating: 4 of 5 possible apples  appleappleappleapple

Madagascar (2005)
Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, directors
Mark Burton and Billy Frolick, screenwriters
Dreamworks, available on DVD now, rated PG by the MPAA

The Cat Returns – Felines run amok in anime-land

[Originally pubished April 9, 2006]

At a friend’s suggestion I got The Cat Returns (Neko no ongaeshi, 2002) from Netflix and watched it last night. Directed by Hiroyuki Morita and released by Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, this 75 minute anime-style adventure is rated G and qualifies as amusing entertainment but not as anything stellar, at least in my opinion.

I will be honest here, I’m simply not a fan of anime. While I really enjoy full motion animated features and even short cartoons, the abbreviated style of Japanese animation leaves me cold. This is not to say that the artwork itself is bad, because it isn’t. I appreciate the cultural elements and background of Japanese art, and some of the drawing in both anime films and printed manga is of the highest quality. But I am very sensitive to the difference between the full motion animated films of Disney or Dreamworks and the typical short cuts of anime productions.

The story line of The Cat Returns is good at the beginning, but I felt it became rather disjointed before the end. As usually happens when I try to watch anime, I felt as if the writers and artists started by thinking up cute gags and scenes that they wanted to do, and only then tried to put them together into a story. The resulting product has some fun moments but just doesn’t hang together as a story.

The main character, Haru, is a Japanese teenager who seems just a little too American to me. (Maybe teenage girls are the same all over the world and I just don’t realize it.) Awkward, distracted by crushes on unattainable people, dissatisfied with her life, she has a talent she doesn’t quite recognize: the ability to speak to cats and understand them. After she risks her own life to keep a cat from being hit by a truck, the cat thanks her and promises that she will be repaid. The reward first arrives in the form of a Japanese procession of rather anthropomorphic cats, including their emperor (voiced in English by Tim Curry) who promises many rewards. The rewards start arriving the next day in the form of catnip, gifts of live mice, and other things that might well appeal to a feline but aren’t exactly thrilling to Haru. When she expresses her displeasure, the reward is upped to include adoption into the Cat Realm and marriage to the emperor’s son, who just happens to be the cat Haru saved from death. 

That’s hardly what Haru would like either, she realizes, and a mysterious voice from a drain pipe tells her to look for the Cat Bureau to obtain help. She follows the directions to find a large (fat, actually) white cat “at the crossroads” and starts off the downhill decline of the plot by sitting on him as she mistakes him for a cushion. He nonetheless leads her on a difficult route over rooftops and railings to the Cat Bureau, where she asks for help. The Bureau and the Cat Realm are at odds for reasons never made clear, and the rest of the film consists of various escapades in the style of The Man from Uncle as the Bureau’s Baron (voiced in English by Cary Elwes) tries to extricate Haru from the enchantments of the Cat emperor and his court.

I’m a long time fantasy fan and obviously love a furry tale as much as anyone, but this one was just too stilted and disjointed for my imagination. The cats are cleverly drawn and some have imaginative character and personality. The backdrops are Japanese and urban, well-designed and interesting even if the situations are sometimes oddly American. The humor was good and certainly the film is worth watching if not worthy of purchase for repeated viewing. Serious anime fans will probably see more in it than I did, and children (especially preteen girls who like cats) will probably like it immensely.

Rating: 3 of 5 possible apples appleappleapple

The Cat Returns (2002)
Hiroyuki Morita, director
Studio Ghibli, DVD distributed in the US by Disney/Buena Vista 

Hermux Tantamoq – Mouse watchmaker and adventurer

[Originally posted April 7, 2006]

Author Michael Hoeye has created an enchanting and reluctant detective in his character, Hermux Tantamoq, the mouse watchmaker. There are three Hermux Tantamoq adventures to date: Time Stops for No Mouse (2000,) The Sands of Time (2002,) and No Time Like Show Time (2004.)

An accomplished watchmaker and clock repair expert, Hermux lives in the town of Pinchester. The area is populated by squirrels, mice, rats, moles, and other small animals, many of whom are among his customers. His orderly life is changed, though, on the morning when Linka Perflinger, elegant and attractive aviatrix and explorer, leaves her watch at his shop to be repaired. Hermux is quite taken with this mouse lady, and as he works on her timepiece, he fantasizes about getting to know her better.

Unfortunately, when the appointed time comes for Linka to retrieve her watch, a rather suspicious rat appears instead to try to retrieve it. Hermux is puzzled, and reluctantly becomes entangled in an effort to find his attractive customer and return her wrist watch to her. Before long he is embroiled in a plot that includes the eccentric cosmetics tycoon, Tucka Mertslin, a sinister plastic surgeon named Mennus, and a ruthlessly wicked crowd of lab rats. Caught in a race against time, he must test his own mettle in order to save Linka Perflinger and, of course, return her property to her.

Hoeye’s stories are told with sharp wit and considerable satire and parody. He certainly has a jaundiced (or at least bloodshot) eye focused on the superficiality of modern human society as he builds the settings in Pinchester and other locations. Few characters are really evil, but many are selfish, shortsighted, or have seriously misplaced values. Of course, Hermux himself is a paragon… or is he? One wonders whether he is sometimes more of a busybody than he is motivated by pure goodness, but in the end things always seem to come right. Readers will recognize real people, more or less, in these rats, voles, and occasional cats. 

Hoeye has a particular cleverness with names. He has explained that the unusual character and place names in his stories grew out of a game of anagrams he played with his wife, Martha, one morning in 1997. They drew letters and had one minute to arrange them to spell the name of a character and then describe the character and his motivations. Thus he created Hermux Tantamoq, the ordinary but likable city mouse whose occupation was watchmaker. A few weeks later he began writing the story that would become Time Stops for No Mouse. 

Eventually he was daunted by the scope of the task, writing an entire novel. He set it aside for months, only to take it up again when Martha left on a long business trip to Asia. They stayed in touch by e-mail, and he began writing bits of Hermux’s story in his messages in order to avoid the “everything is fine here, hope you are well” banalities. Soon he was sending each chapter to her by e-mail, and she would respond with questions about what was going to happen next. Thus the novel grew until it was ready for final editing and completion.

I recommend Michael Hoeye’s mysteries to readers of all ages, provided they enjoy anthropomorphic characters. Adults may find the occasional cuteness, such as Hermux talking to his pet ladybug, Terfle, a bit too sugary; but they will enjoy the personalities of the villains and eccentrics who come into each tale, and the unusual twists of the plot in which tiny selfish choices by unthinking individuals are clearly shown to have far reaching consequence.

Rating: 4 of 5 possible apples appleappleappleapple

Michael Hoeye
Time Stops for No Mouse: a Hermux Tantamoq Adventure
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2000, ISBN 0-399-23878-6
($16.95 hardcover) Other editions available

The Forest of Forever – Thomas Burnett Swann and anthropomorphics

[Originally posted April 6, 2006]

One of my favorite authors of anthropomorphic stories was a well-known name in science fiction fandom 40 years ago but has been almost forgotten today. Thomas Burnett Swann (1928-1976) was an American poet and critic who first ventured into published fiction in 1958 with a story called “Winged Victory.” Most of his fantasy stories and novels focus on the decline of magic in the ancient world, beginning with early Egypt and working up through classical Greece and Rome. In the same way in which Tolkien chronicled the passing of his elves from the mortal world, Swann related the gradual disappearance of the ancient gods and demi-gods from our daily lives. His dryads, minotaurs, centaurs, satyrs, and silkies know they are doomed by the coming of technological civilizations and Christianity, though they often try to put the best face on it and keep going forward as if it weren’t happening.

Swann published many short novels during the 1960s and 1970s, but the one I consider to be the peak of his work is The Forest of Forever (1971), which tells some of the loves and adventures of the last minotaur, Eunostos. Set on the island of Crete, the story is populated with beautiful dryads, bear-girls, bee-people, and panisci (sort of small satyrs.) Eunostos is a young bull just coming into his maturity, a poet and a carpenter, and an orphan who has been largely raised by his aunt Zoe, a dryad who serves as narrator of the tale. Illustrations by George Barr, who provided art work for many of Swann’s later novels, help establish the atmosphere.

Eunostos is in love with the young (well, young for a dryad) Kora, and writes poetry and makes gifts to try to win her. Unfortunately for both, the courtship is doomed by a double interruption: the arrival of a human male who distracts Kora and breaks her heart, and the arrival of a queen bee with designs on Eunostos to fulfill her need for a mate of another species. Inevitably, tragedies ensue, typical for Swann’s pessimistic view of change, but Eunostos comes out stronger and a grown and wiser bull in the end.

In general, Swann’s characters are classically frank about sexuality or nudity and unabashed in their accounts of activities and desires. Some of his work was subject to censure if not actual censor at the time he was writing, though today it may look fairly tame. There is plenty of innuendo, but nothing explicit.

Eunostos’ encounter with the queen bee, Saffron, in which he declines to die the way a proper drone should but succeeds in ravishing her beyond her expectations (even though she set out to seduce him from the start) is typical of such incidents.

The author is also often at pains to make it clear that his characters are really anthropomorphic, usually hybrids of some sort. So it is with Eunostos, who is described in detail as having cloven hooves and hands both, a bull’s horns and pointy, mobile ears. He has a tail, of course, and a noble mane. Barr’s drawings do present him as handsome, fit, and very sensual.

The Forest of Forever is actually the second of three novels Swann wrote about the decline of the minotaur race. They were published in reverse chronological order, but are only loosely linked and can be read in any sequence. The other two are Day of the Minotaur (1966) and Cry Silver Bells (1977). The author had declared his intention to go back and revise, correcting inconsistencies for a second edition, but his untimely death by cancer prevented that eventuality.

For the fan of furry tales, especially anyone who appreciates classical or Egyptian themes, Swann’s novels are well worth pursuing. I don’t think any of them are now in print, but used copies are readily available. Most were published as inexpensive paperback editions by Ace or DAW Books and can be found through used booksellers such as abebooks.com or in larger libraries.

Rating: 3-1/2 of 5 possible apples appleappleapplehalfapple

Thomas Burnett Swann
The Forest of Forever
Ace Books, 1971 (original price, 60 cents)