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Imagining tomorrow's world, today.

Review: 'Mindline', by M. C. A. Hogarth.

Your rating: None Average: 4.5 (2 votes)

Mindline by M.C.A. HogarthThis is the conclusion of M.C.A. Hogarth’s The Dreamhealers Duology. I reviewed the first book, Mindtouch, here on September 1, 2013.

In that novel Jahir Seni Galare, the colorless elflike Eldritch esper, has just entered interstellar Seersana University. His roommate is Vasiht’h, a short, skunk-furred centauroid winged Glaseah. They are both espers, but Jahir is an involuntary telepath to whom the impact of other minds is painful. In the course of Mindtouch, the two aliens develop a strong friendship, Jahir learns to control his talent – somewhat – and the two graduate.

Jahir intends to use his telepathic talent to become the galaxy’s first xenotherapist, reading his patients’ minds to help heal them. The question is whether there is any danger of the esper medic’s becoming overwhelmed by his patient’s mind.

It would be just his luck to begin his residency by reporting to the hospital as a patient. Jahir Seni Galare, nascent xenotherapist, Eldritch noble and apparently complete lightweight, sat on a bench just outside the Pad nexus that had delivered him to the surface of the planet Selnor. He had his carry-on in his lap and was trying to be unobtrusive about using it as a bolster until the dizziness stopped. (p. 1)

Tampa, FL, Studio MCAH, January 2014, trade paperback $15.99 ([1 +] 341 [+ 7] pages), Kindle $5.99.

Review: 'The Face in the Mirror' and 'Chained Reflections', by T. R. Brown

Your rating: None Average: 4 (2 votes)

The Face in the Mirror These are the first two volumes of T.R. Brown’s Reflections series. Amazon.com has a special subcategory for them: Genetic Engineering Science Fiction. They should be required reading for every furry author who plans to write human-into-anthropomorphized-animal fiction. They are also good reading for everyone else.

The two are narrated by the protagonist, Todd Hershel. The setting is an unspecified future, but there are automatic/robot cars, artificial islands (“Libertarian Colonies”) for dissidents, personal computers that unfold from pocket-size, artificially-grown organ harvesting, references to a second American Civil War in the recent past and “the Vatican in exile” and bioengineered animal people grown for soldiers in wars. For legal reasons, these humanoid “neos” are required to look like the animals they are based upon.

I was driving back from a meeting with a supplier and there was a semi pulling a load of scrap metal slightly ahead of me in the next lane. My car alerted me to be ready to take over manual control, pulling me away from the e-mails I had been working on. I saw the reason immediately. An accident a couple of miles ahead. An ambulance and other emergency personnel were already on site. That probably saved my life. […] the semi next to me had a blowout in the front wheel. […] Autopilots are good, but they can’t handle an emergency like that and, before the operator could take over, the semi jerked into my lane […] (p. 1)

Todd wakes up in a hospital two months later. His body was completely crushed by the scrap metal. Since this was an unplanned medical emergency, no substitute body has been prepped for him. The only suitable usable body that can be found on emergency notice is a brain-dead felis neo – a female, at that. Todd’s wife Colleen is not happy about that, but she agrees that the important thing is to save his life. They can worry later about getting a new human body, or at least a sex-change operation back to male and cosmetic surgery to make him look more human, later.

The first 50-odd pages are filled with the details of Todd’s exploring his new body, bioengineered from a panther to be a brawny feline soldier.

“We considered just putting your head on the new body,” Walt [a doctor] continued, “but, in addition to the aesthetic problem of a human head on a felis body, there would also have been tissue rejection to deal with.” (p. 9)

The Face in the Mirror; A Transhuman Identity Crisis, by T. R. Brown, Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, August 2012, trade paperback $17.40 (501 pages), Kindle $2.99.
Chained Reflections, by T. R. Brown, Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, August 2013, trade paperback $19.99 (558 pages), Kindle $2.99.

A Science Fiction Classic, Illustrated

If you’re not familiar with Larry Niven, you should be. For one thing he was Guest of Honor at Further Confusion once — largely for his creation of the brutal tiger-like aliens known as the Kzin. In 1970 his novel Ringworld received both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. Now, many years later, Tor Books is creating a series of black & white manga-style graphic novel adaptations of the book. “Two-hundred-year-old human Louis Wu is recruited by a two-headed alien named Nessus to join him, a felinoid warrior alien named Speaker-to-Animals, and the infinitely lucky human Teela Brown to explore an alien artifact. They find a Ringworld, a ribbon millions of miles long built around a distant sun. The civilization has fallen into savagery, though, and after crashing into the Ringworld, Louis must come up with a clever plan to get back to known space, hundreds of light years away.” Adapted by Robert Mandell (script) and Sean Lam (illustration), Part 1 is available now in paperback at Amazon.

[And with that, we'll see you after Comic Con!]

Review: 'Claws and Starships', by M. C. A. Hogarth

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

Claws and Starships by M.C.A. HogarthWhen the results of Earth's genetic experiments fled their makers, they took their own name as they left humanity behind; centuries later, the Pelted have spread into a multi-world alliance of cultures and languages, cribbed from Terra or created whole-cloth. Claws and Starships collects six stories of the Pelted, ranging from the humor of a xenoanthropologist on the wrong side of mythology to more serious works considering the implications of genetic engineering in a far-future classroom seeded with the children of those laboratories. Come stamp your passport and visit the worlds of the Pelted Alliance in all their variety! (back-cover blurb)

If you want to say that I have a conflict of interest reviewing this collection as I wrote the afterword to it, go ahead. I have been a fan of M.C.A. Hogarth’s “Pelted Alliance” furry science fiction stories since I discovered them in YARF! and other furry fanzines in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I included one, “Rosettes and Ribbons” from Yarf! #58, January 2000, in Best in Show, the first anthology of furry fiction. I was glad to see this first collection of Pelted short fiction, along with six illustrations by the author, in an e-book in December 2011, and I felt honored to be asked to write this afterword, for this new trade paperback edition in June 2013.

Claws and Starships consists of the novella “A Distant Sun” and the five short stories “Rosettes and Ribbons”, “The Elements of Freedom”, “Tears”, “Pantheon” and “Butterfly”. These are the Pelted stories that do not feature Alysha Forrest, Hogarth’s feline-based Karaka’An woman, the main character in the series. The first Alysha Forrest stories were rewritten into Hogarth’s novel Alysha’s Fall (Cornwuff Press, September 2000), and she has starred in most of the Pelted short fiction since then.

But there have been these six other stories that show the Pelted universe is more than just Alysha’s adventures. Claws and Starships packages them together neatly for the fans of the Pelted universe, and of really good furry interstellar science fiction.

Illustrated by M.C.A. Hogarth, afterword by Fred Patten, Tampa, FL, Studio MCAH, June 2013, trade paperback $12.99 ([2 +] 203 pages), Kindle $3.99.

Review: 'Rise of the Penguins' and 'The Warlord, the Warrior, the War', by Steven Hammond

Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

Rise of the Penguins The War of the Species has begun. An ancient race of penguin has reemerged. From this race a powerful leader declares himself Overlord and unites the penguin clans of the world. His goal: to drive the human presence away from Antarctica and to exact revenge for the atrocities of the past against penguinkind. (Rise of the Penguins blurb)

Killer penguins are rising up in a war against humans for world domination! Is Steven Hammond serious? Judging by his hilarious Facebook page, hell, no! But his Rise of the Penguins series (published through CreateSpace, no matter what he says about Rockhopper Books), is so straight-faced that it is a good example of Rambo-type take-no-prisoners military fiction. With spear-carrying penguins.

Rise of the Penguins, December 2012, trade paperback $19.99 (8 + 722 pages), Kindle $3.99.
The Warlord, The Warrior, The War, September 2013, trade paperback $6.99 (6 + 112 pages), Kindle $1.99. Both by Steven Hammond, Clovis, CA, Rockhopper Books.

Review: 'Songs in the Year of the Cat', by H. Leighton Dickson

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Songs in the Year of the Cat This is Book 3 of the Tails from the Upper Kingdom; the direct sequel to To Journey in the Year of the Tiger and To Walk in the Way of Lions. In those two, Captain Kirin Wynegarde-Grey, a genetic lion-man (yes, he has a tail) and commander of the Empress’ personal guard in a far-future post-apocalypse dynastic China (with touches of feudal Japan) that has forgotten its past, leads an expedition consisting of his geomancer brother, his snow leopard-woman adjutant, a young tiger-woman scholar, a cheetah-woman alchemist, and a mongrel-man (mixed feline) priest into unknown western lands. They encounter canine nomads in what was Mongolia, and really exotic animal-peoples in what was Europe; and they learn the true history of the world and the apocalypse that destroyed it. The expedition is much smaller when the survivors return to the Empress’ court in the Upper Kingdom two years later, just as the Year of the Tiger has ended.

In the Oriental Zodiac, the Year of the Tiger is followed by the Year of the Rabbit – except in Vietnam, which recognizes the Year of the Cat. (True; look it up.) In this novel, the future Vietnam is called simply Nam, and there is no word for rabbit. (In the real world and the present, the Vietnamese word for rabbit is ‘tho’.)

And so, we begin our story with the birth of a baby, the weeping of a dog and a cup of hot sweet tea, naturally in the Year of the Cat. (p. 1)

CreateSpace, July 2013, trade paperback $14.99 (i + 312 pages), Kindle $2.99.

Furry anthology 'Anthropomorphic Aliens' to debut at Anthrocon 2014

Your rating: None Average: 3 (3 votes)

Fred Patten will have a new anthology, Anthropomorphic Aliens, on sale at Anthrocon 2014. The 301-page book, published by FurPlanet Productions, presents eleven short stories and novellas featuring “furry” aliens from 1950 to 2013:
Anthropomorphic Aliens

The wraparound cover is by Roz Gibson.

Review: 'The Jackal Queen', by Roy Lisman

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

The Jackal Queen The front cover blurb reads: An Erotic Historical Tale. It is rated NC-17. Isaac Ellison, a part-albino cheetah (with unusually pale fur and a beefy physique like a Marine), and his inventor buddy, Raziel, a humanoid reptile (“He looked quite draconic, but slender as opposed to the more bulky builds of lore. Small spines dotted his scalp where eyebrows would be, and two long, black horns swept back almost uniformly with his fire colored mane that consisted of fur and light feathering, before the mane started springing out wildly in any direction it damn well pleased.” –p. 7), go back in time to an anthropomorphic Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians mistake them for warrior and fertility gods, and a tremendous amount of enthusiastic sex is had by all. In fact, until the ending, The Jackal Queen hardly offers anything but. Isaac and Raziel worry about changing history, but not much.

This is a mature content book. Please ensure that you are of legal age to purchase this material in your state or region. (publisher's rating)

FurPlanet Productions, July 2013, trade paperback $9.95 (138 pages). Illustrated by Kadath.

Review: 'Atomcat', by Osamu Tezuka

Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

Atomcat The last time I met Osamu Tezuka was at Daicon V, the 25th Japan National Science Fiction Convention, in Osaka on August 24-25, 1986. He was in a good mood, and told me through a helpful fan interpreter that he had just started a new manga that I was sure to like, considering my fondness for funny animals. It was a new version of Astro Boy – turned into a cat! “WHY?”, I asked. He chuckled and said something like, “Why not? It’s important to not take yourself too seriously.”

Tezuka had created Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) in 1952 and drawn his adventures until 1968, including the five intense years of the TV series (1963-1966, with production starting in 1962). After that, Tezuka was “Astro Boyed out”, and turned down numerous requests to create new adventures of the robot little boy. He had other stories that he wanted to develop in manga and anime. So, when he got a request from the children’s Smile Comics in 1986 to produce a new manga for young readers, why did he return to Astro Boy, but as a kitten; besides “Why not?”

Well, Atomcat never pretended to be more than a humorous trifle. It was a self-parody, and also a parody of all the talking animal comics where a human little boy or girl has an animal companion to help him or her out. In Atomcat, young Tsugio is the only human who knows that Atom the kitten is not an ordinary kitten, and Atom protects Tsugio from being bullied. Yet Tsugio is such a coward and crybaby that Atom, exasperated, has to take the lead most of the time. Tezuka was very proud of having worked out the English pun Atomcat = A Tomcat, since he claimed not to speak English. He probably also delighted in naming the school bully who always picks on Tsugio, “Gaddafi”. Atomcat was published in the monthly Smile Comics for seven months, seven self-contained stories, from July 1986 to February 1987. The last couple of stories lacked the freshness of the first stories. I suspect that Tezuka had lost interest in Atomcat and was just hacking out the last few stories; he was probably glad to end the series.

I “read” Atomcat in Kodansha’s 400-volume Japanese Osamu Tezuka Complete Manga Works around 1997; that is to say, I looked at the artwork. This current Atomcat edition from Digital Manga’s Platinum Manga has enabled me to read it in English for the first time.

Gardena, CA, Digital Manga Publishing, April 2013, trade paperback $12.95 (194 [+ 9] pages).

Review: 'All Alone in the Night', by M. Andrew Rudder

Your rating: None Average: 3.4 (5 votes)

All Alone in the Night This is generally well-written, if poorly proofread. But the science/technology seems wonky. And the main character, Dr. Cooper Barnes, M.D., the civilian Chief Medical Officer of the International Space Program’s ISP Frontier in 2065, is surprisingly negatively introduced. Most novels with a medical protagonist state their long-range goal of eliminating disease and putting themselves out of business. Cooper complains on the first page that the last serious disease, ebola, has just been eliminated, and he is out of a job. When he is asked to become the head doctor on an exploration spaceship that will land on new planets with unknown diseases, he asks for medical supplies and trained assistants that are presented as arrogant demands rather than requests.

No one had come to see him in the last few weeks, except for those particularly stupid people convinced that they were sick, and just needed a doctor to tell them that they weren’t. (p. 1)

You can guess that Cooper does not have a good bedside manner.

Novels that feature unpleasant main characters that gradually become likeable are hard but not impossible to bring off successfully. Think of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Unfortunately, M. Andrew Rudder is no Charles Dickens. You have to take it on faith, and the reviewer’s promise, that Cooper Barnes will become a better man.

Argyll Productions, July 2013, hardcover $24.95, trade paperback $17.95 (215 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $7.99.

Review: 'The Cat's Eye Pub', by James Robert Jordan

Your rating: None Average: 4 (4 votes)
The Cat's Eye Pub (front cover)

3 years after the events of Bound to Play, chakats Midsnow, Blacktail, and their family have made the move and immigration to Chakona the self proclaimed home world for the chakat species.

With intentions of opening their own business they are unaware of the many obstacles and challenges they will face. All while Midsnow's troubled past atempts [sic.] to catch up to hir." (back-cover blurb)

CreateSpace, June 2013, trade paperback $19.95 (308 pages), Kindle $7.99. Illustrated.

The Cat's Eye Pub, like Bound to Play and the forthcoming A Chakat in the Alley, is set (with permission) in Bernard Doove's Chakat Universe. It features those hermaphroditic centauroid felines, along with the humans, Caitians (bipedal felines), Rakshani (bipedal like Caitians but taller and more tigerlike), skunktaurs, and other species of Doove's 24th-century interstellar civilization.

Review: 'Decision at Doona', 'Crisis on Doona', 'Treaty Planet' and 'Doona', by Anne McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye

Your rating: None Average: 4 (3 votes)

Decision at Doona Decision at Doona by Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011) is one of the classics of science fiction, and one of the most encouraging examples of the basic plot of humans and Furry aliens learning to live and work together in harmony. Published in 1969, it was one of the favorite novels of the proto-Furry fans within s-f fandom in the 1970s and the earliest Furry fans in the 1980s.

In the far future, two civilizations are unaware of each other; humanity and the felinoid Hrrubans. Both face catastrophic overpopulation which is leading to exhaustion of natural resources and food, a sharply increasing suicide rate, an increase in public apathy resulting in a dramatic decrease in training for technical or administrative positions, and so on. Government officials fear a complete collapse of civilization in just a few more generations.

Both species are searching for new planets to colonize, but they have had traumatic experiences with alien cultures in the past. The humans are governed by the Principle of Non-Cohabitation that resulted from:

...the terrible Siwannah tragedy […] And never, since the mass suicide of the gentle Siwannese, had a colony been set up where another intelligent species had been discovered by Spacedep. (p. 20)

A Dandy in Space!

Lots of fandom folks (anime, furry, science fiction and otherwise) got excited this fall with the news that the team behind Cowboy BeBop had created a new, openly-silly science fiction anime called Space Dandy.  The teaser trailer started making the rounds on YouTube. Well now comes even better news: Thanks to the efforts of Funimation, Space Dandy will be the first ever anime to premier in Japan and dubbed on American TV, simultaneously. It’ll be part of Adult Swim’s Toonami collection. Here’s what the producers say: “Space Dandy is a dandy in space! This dreamy adventurer with a to-die-for pompadour travels across the galaxy in search of aliens no one has ever laid eyes on. Each new species he discovers earns him a hefty reward, but this dandy has to be quick on his feet because it’s first come – first served!

The World Has Turned To Gold

Check out the plot summary for Ryan North’s new comic book series The Midas Flesh: “Fatima and her space crew have decided to return to Earth—a planet completely sectioned off, abandoned, and covered in gold—to find out exactly what happened to this once thriving planet and see if they can use that knowledge against the evil empire that’s tracking them down. As luck would have it, they just landed the most powerful weapon in the universe: Some ancient dead guy’s body.” Why should we care? Well, one of Fatima’s “space crew” appears to be a talking dinosaur with horn-rim glasses. That, and the fact that Ryan North is one of the creative minds behind the Adventure Time comic book series. He talks about this new full-color series at Comic Book Resources. The Midas Flesh is illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb, and the first issue is coming later this month from Boom! Studios.


image c. 2013 Boom! Studios

Review: 'Otters in Space: The Search for Cat Havana', by Mary E. Lowd

Your rating: None Average: 4 (4 votes)

Otters In Space: The Search for Cat Havana Otters in Space: The Search for Cat Havana by Mary E. Lowd is a short novel that received a 2010 Ursa Major Award nomination. It's a work of light science-fiction that I think might appeal to young adult readers. It's available from FurPlanet and Amazon, and in electronic format - see the author's website for details and links. I read the FurPlanet 2012 edition, 176 pages, ISBN 978-1-61450-043-8.

See also: Fred Patten's earlier summary and review. (Contains spoilers.)

Mary Lowd's name really first stood out to me in the 2012 Ursa Recommended Anthropomorphics List, which included six of her short stories. It's not unusual to see authors with multiple recommendations on the list, although when they all appear at the same time, it feels like overkill. Anyway, of those six, I definitely enjoyed St. Kalwain and the Lady Uta, appearing in ROAR volume 4, so I was curious what she would do in a longer format.

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