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science fiction

Imagining tomorrow's world, today.

Review: 'Atomcat', by Osamu Tezuka

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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.

If You Could Be Anything…

Anomaly Productions have released a new full-color hardcover graphic novel called Shifter. It’s the first in a planned new series. “What if you could soar with the birds – not in a man-made contraption or by using virtual reality, but as an actual bird? What if you could literally be a fly on the wall in a top-secret meeting? What if you could become any animal in the world or, better yet, anybody in the world? What if you could become any creature that has ever existed (and some you never believed could exist)? Find out the answers to these questions and more in Shifter, the latest full-color graphic novel from Anomaly Productions. Shifter is a sci-fi murder mystery with a unique perspective, a pulse-pounding thriller that explores the depths of humanity’s evil and the tremendous powers of the animal kingdom.”  You can find out more, and see more sample pages, at Anomaly’s Shifter page. Written and illustrated by Brian Haberlin (assisted by Brian Holguin), like many Anomaly Productions products Shifter features an available app to download. Aim your smart phone at the page, and animated characters leap out of the book and dance before you.


image c. 2013 Anomaly

Review: 'Otters in Space II: Jupiter, Deadly', by Mary E. Lowd

Your rating: None Average: 4 (2 votes)

Otters in Space 2: Jupiter, DeadlyThis is credited as the Second Edition; but it went on sale at Anthrocon 2013, July 4-7, while the Kindle and Smashwords first editions have an August 24 and 25, 2013 publication date. That’s later.

Does anyone besides me care about this bureaucratic trivia? This is a good read, in a handy trade paperback edition for those who don’t want to read it on their computer. Get it in one format or the other.

But this is a direct sequel to Lowd’s Ursa-Major-nominated Otters in Space: The Search for Cat Havana. If there is any flaw with Otters in Space II, it is that you need to have read the first book to really understand it. Or at least read the review of it, in Flayrah on February 6, 2012.

Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, July 2013, trade paperback $9.95 (227 pages), Kindle $6.99.

Review: 'Lab Rat', by B. A. Maddux

Your rating: None Average: 4 (2 votes)

To jump ahead to the bottom line; Lab Rat is mysterious and full of action, and you will like it if you turn off your brain.

The narrator, Zack, is a lab rat, grown artificially in a vat. The first few pages of this novel are stream-of-consciousness; his first disjointed thoughts. Two beings look into his tank; Father and Golem.

Father was complaining recently about the limitations of Golem’s tactile sensors, which makes no sense at all to me. But I could tell that he was talking about the flat-voiced speaker.

Golem is mostly black and silver in color.

He checks on me regularly for Father, but doesn’t talk to me like Father does. (page 14)

Zack knows that he is a rat:

My fur is white and does not have any glowing symbols, just a pattern of jagged stripes of a very dark blue. [See E. T. Willoughby's cover.]

I’m not sure, but I do not think Golem has a hairless tail like I do either. Golem is definitely not a rat like me. (page 15)

Legion Publishing, Dec. 2012, hardcover $18.99 (311 pgs.), trade paperback $9.99, Kindle $2.99.

Review: 'Treecat Wars', by David Weber and Jane Lindskold

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Treecat WarsTreecat Wars is the third novel in the Star Kingdom series of annual Young Adult s-f novels by David Weber and Jane Lindskold, following A Beautiful Friendship (reviewed here on October 10, 2011) and Fire Season (review October 26, 2012). These are the prequels to Weber’s immensely popular Honor Harrington series of military science-fiction, set about 350 years earlier, when the planet Sphinx is just being settled by humans. In A Beautiful Friendship, Honor’s ancestor Stephanie Harrington, then an 11-year-old precocious tomboy, discovers Sphinx’s six-legged empathetic treecats, and bonds with the one she names Lionheart, but whose own name is Climbs Quickly. In Fire Season, Stephanie and Climbs Quickly are hard-pressed to keep the secret of the treecats’ intelligence during Sphinx’s dry season, when raging forest fires threaten to wipe out whole treecat clans.

As before, Treecat Wars is primarily Sphinx’s human settlers’ story, centered around now 15½-year-old Stephanie Harrington and her family and teenage friends. But there are enough scenes with Climbs Quickly and the treecats to satisfy Flayrah’s readers.

Riverdale, NY, Baen Books, October 2013, hardcover $18.99 (376 pages), Kindle $7.99.

Anime: 'Space Dandy' to blast onto Japanese TV in 2014

Your rating: None Average: 2 (1 vote)

Space Dandy poster Space Dandy is cuming (pun deliberate) in January 2014 – but not to America.

The news is spreading that it was announced at guest Shinichirō Watanabe’s panel at Otakon 2013, August 9-11 in Baltimore, that he is directing Studio Bones’ new TV anime space comedy, Space Dandy, scheduled for broadcast next January in Japan.

This is exciting news because Watanabe is the brilliant director of Cowboy Bebop, and two of the sequences in The Animatrix, among others. Though Dandy may be human, there are plenty of anthropomorphic aliens in it, starting with Meow, his partner.

Watanabe said that this will be "not an anime to be taken seriously." Oh, you think!?

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

Your rating: None Average: 4 (7 votes)

Mindtouch It is unfair to compare Hogarth’s novel set at a university in her Paradox universe with Pixar’s recently-released Monsters University, but the superficial parallels are obvious. Instead of the no-two-are-the-same monsters, there are the seeming-dozens of different species of the Pelted, and some humans, wandering about prestigious Seersana University. Instead of a big green eyeball and a blue-lavender furry monster as main characters, there are a pale, tall humanoid Eldritch and a short, furry centauroid winged Glaseah.

The big difference is that in Monsters University, the cast all look different but are all from the same culture. In Mindtouch, the different species are from different societies. The students may know intellectually that they are in for some “different” experiences at S.U., but it is still a shock when they happen.

Orientation began, as he had half expected, with a speech by the associate dean of the College of Medicine, of which the xenopsychology school was a part. He was one of the Seersa, the foxine Pelted who’d given the world its name, a lean and grizzled elder with salt-and-pepper fur and the intensity of a medic. Jahir listened to his monologue while marveling that he was actually here … sitting in a chair in an auditorium filled with aliens. The woman in front of him had silk-furred ears that were trembling from the effort of catching every word. The ends of the rows had spaces for centauroids to recline, or the more avian aliens to perch. He was, very definitely, no longer home, and if the stress of his danger at being so crowded was giving him a headache, well … it was worth it, for the newness of it. (pgs. 28-29)

Studio MCAH, July 2013, trade paperback $16.99 ([3 +] 408 [+ 7] pages), Kindle $5.99.

Review: 'Tails from the Upper Kingdom', by H. Leighton Dickson

Your rating: None Average: 4.2 (5 votes)

To Journey in the Year of the Tiger

It was hard to believe that a man could see twenty-three winters before he began to live. It is harder even to believe that his life began all at once, on one night, with the occurring of three obscure and apparently random things; the death of a bird, the flash of golden eyes and the first of One Hundred Steps. But for Kirin Wynegarde-Grey, it did happen, just this way. His life began, as all great and terrible things do, in the Year of the Tiger. (p. 1)

And that, boys and girls, is how to begin a novel!

It is the reader’s option whether to take Dickson’s Tails from the Upper Kingdom series, of which these are Books 1 and 2, as science-fiction, set about 5,000 years in the future, or as high fantasy.

This is a powerful, post-apocalyptic story of lions and tigers, wolves and dragons, embracing and blending the cultures of Dynastic China, Ancient India and Feudal Japan. Half feline, half human, this genetically altered world has evolved in the wake of the fall of human civilization. (blurb)

Kirin Wynegarde-Grey is a genetic lion-man, and there are plenty of other half-feline men and women – leopards, tigers, ocelots, cheetahs, jaguars, lynx -- in these two books to please the reader.

“To Journey in the Year of the Tiger”, by H. Leighton Dickson. North Charleston, SC, CreateSpace, September 2012, trade paperback $14.99 (i + 343 pages), Kindle $2.99. 2nd printing, May 2013.

“To Walk in the Way of Lions”, by H. Leighton Dickson. North Charleston, SC, CreateSpace, October 2012, trade paperback $14.99 (i + 347 pages), Kindle $2.99. 2nd printing, May 2013.

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

Your rating: None Average: 4 (3 votes)

'Claws and Starships' front coverClaws and Starships: A Collection of Pelted Short Fiction by M.C.A. Hogarth is a selection of six short stories that I enjoyed reading just recently. Set in her Paradox universe, the Pelted consist of many races of anthros created by humans in the distant past through bio-engineering. (Read more about them.) Since then, they've grown, diversified, colonized worlds and reconciled with their creators. This particular collection shows a cross-section of several different Pelted cultures, ranging from the technologically advanced to more primitive societies.

Originally published in electronic format in December 2011 (at US$4.99), online sales proved so successful that in June 2013, paperback and Kindle versions became available. That's a good sign! The whole thing is just shy of 50,000 words and over 200 pages long. (ISBN: 9781466035553, 1490427228 and 9781490427225.)

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