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Zia McCorgi by Cooner

"Spill it, Short Legs!"

The Journal of Zia McCorgi

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Bait and Switch a Review
So Bait and Switch by Austen Crowder. The basic idea behind this book is that there is a toon world that connects into a real world, similar in many ways to Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Cool World. Some time roughly ten years ago in the book's setting the way into this toon world was discovered. It was seemingly uninhabited besides some odd flora and fauna and physics defying activities being possible. More recently some people have been turning into toons, not all at once but it seems to happen to teenagers and others who associate with toons. This includes our protagonist Fenton Cobbler who like other people is becoming a toon. The problem is that Fenton's father is part of a movement to segregate toon behavior and has very anti-toon views. The back of the book should make it very clear that this is a coming out/GLBT rights allegory story. Points for honesty there and an interesting concept. I did not enjoy reading this thing. I'd have a very hard time recommending it to others now.

I'm going to give the standard disclaimer here. When I first got this book I felt this would be a positive: I don't know Austen Crowder at all. I am not involved with the publisher Anthropomorphic Dreams Publishing in anyway. An artist I really like, Basuke, did the cover art, but I don't know him. Besides the fact that FurPlanet distributes this book I have little to do with it. Keep this in mind like all my other reviews if you feel it is important.

I actually have written and rewritten this review several times now. This has not been an easy one to write for me I can give bad reviews but this one had bile creeping into it that I felt impeded the review. Generally I feel a review, especially a critical one, should avoid being cruel. At the very least there should be some constructive thoughts and noting of the positive aspects in a bad review. Now I enjoy cruel critiques as a consumer sometimes. I enjoy Yahtzee's game reviews ( http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation ) and I enjoy listening to the Read it and Weep guys as they discuss books and movies ( http://read-weep.com/ ). The difference is that while sometimes their comments are mean spirited and undeserved, a lot of the time the works being reviewed deserve some jabbing and these guys do it well with humor and style. The comments are pithy and clever, communicating the idea and drawing an amused smirk. This was a problem for me because previous drafts were, I felt, too cruel and nasty to post. Cruel enough that I worry my basic points were being obscured and I was communicating poorly. Besides my reviews aren't clever enough.

The concept behind Bait and Switch really intrigued me. I was very interested in the idea of a toon world. To her credit Austen Crowder has at least thought of a very fun idea and an interesting concept and implementation. I enjoyed the concept and honestly I have to admit I really enjoy coming out stories. They're almost a guilty pleasure at this point considering how many I've read. So combining the two sounded really interesting. Besides anyone who knows me well knows that transformation is my particular peccadillo. Ms. Crowder did think out the idea in her world. Having scientific ruminations on what it means to be alive, the odd physics and how Fenton tries to hide his impending uncontrolled tooning. The use of women's clothing such as berets and corsets do make sense in that context. I also really liked the character of Orville as he seemed weirdly compelling as a conflicted fellow. I grant you he's essentially a one trick pony but his personal conflict was extremely interesting to me.

Ms. Crowder also shows technical skill in the work. She has obvious talent at writing and at putting together the story. Overall she has has an excellent command of the grammatical aspects and the construction of proper sentences. She knows how to add tension to the story and creates a good narrative over all. Its clear Crowder will have future works and she has the skill to do them well.

That said, the narrative of the work suffers greatly from a number of narrative flaws. One of them is the poorly explained dramatic stakes of the situation. We get an explanation that Daniel Cobbler, Fenton's father and a leader of the Realist Campaign (the anti-toon political organization), wants to halt toons interacting in the real world and has been part of campaigns to remove toons from other areas and services (such as hospital visitation for sick children). It isn't explained why this would be a negative for the toon world. Theoretically I'd agree it would impede the right of people to travel and congregate but that is a theoretical issue. Why does this matter for the characters personally? How would this effect the toon world? Why do the toons care if they can't enter certain locations or travel in groups? Why do the carebear stand-ins turn to booze when they are sequestered from entertaining small children? (This is mentioned VERY briefly.)

We're never given, or at least I didn't read, the reasons why this matters. Toons do not need to eat or sleep and they're written as near indestructible. They have a theoretically infinite universe of tooniness to explore, including giant anime robot fights, so why does this matter?

What are the stakes and reasons for Fenton to not want to become a toon? Theoretically its because he's human and he doesn't want to disappoint his father but this isn't really explored because we rarely see Fenton interact with his father or brother outside of his personal crisis of impending toon-ery. We also don't get an understanding of why Fenton truly feels drawn to the toon world. Why he is interested in being there outside of his friend Benny Bunny? Its roughly explained in some parts but this needed a lot more development.

This leads into another problem. I don't think Ms. Crowder meant to do this, but there are some very creepy aspects to her world. There is a term used through the book called "gag", which is used to refer the classic slap stick antics of the various toons. (Swallowing grenades, anvils dropped on people, etc.) It's something toons do because they are toons, and is just a part of their indestructible nature, and they an emotional high when preforming them. Gags can vary by type Fenton is becoming a classic Tex Avery type but there are carebear-ish types, anime, and others who have their own version of Gags which are all discussed in the same manner.

Unfortunately, these gags also have a very sexual elements that, frankly, when thought about in context tend to add a disturbing light to a lot of what the toons do in the story. Especially the care bear stand-ins and the fact that these gags are done in public. The gag aspect to toon nature was an interesting idea on some level, but it is frequently alluded too and mentioned throughout the work in relation to sexual acts, including wet dreams, and yet is also used in settings and circumstances where that would not be appropriate at all. This had me siding with the anti-gay allegory "Realists". I doubt it takes an imaginative reader to draw some deeply upsetting thoughts about toons. I believe Ms. Crowder did not intend the more adult aspects of the gag concept to be applied so universally, but I became deeply uncomfortable reading this story because of them.

The problem is that the gag part of the world could have been written as just an aspect of being a toon. You didn't need to tell me this was equivocal to sex or it could have been alluded too once or twice and left at that, but this is a point that gets hammered home often in the story and was really inescapable for me.

As a side note: being uncomfortable while reading can work very well. If that is the intention and it serves a purpose. I was uncomfortable reading Beloved by Toni Morrison and very uncomfortable reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou but I'd argue we're supposed to feel deeply uncomfortable during those works. This is not the intention, as far as I can tell, with Bait and Switch.

Then there are the cliches. This is ironic for me to talk about considering my book trades on cliches but Bait and Switch relies on them very heavily. The fundamentalist/activist father too busy to spend time with his sons and it turns out he's doing it for self serving reasons [the second part was sprung on the reader very late in the work and there was no set up for this reversal]. The understanding female friend met in the toon world who helps Fenton out. The kindly librarian helping people under the table. [See 'Am I Blue' by Bruce Coville for a much better interpretation of that cliche.] The annoying older macho brother who turns around near the end in what I could only call typical and unsurprising [saw it in chapter one]. And so on. This book is rife with cliche and it almost seems to replace real development of the characters. We're told one character, Franklin, is a friend of Fenton's but the friendship is never established pre-toon and we never see them interacting as friends until too late in the book, before he's summarily cast aside.

I think this is a book could work extremely well for a transgendered individual. If this book had focused the allegory more closely to that group instead of covering the entire GLBT spectrum, I think it would have been much more interesting and perhaps a little more fitting. Bait and Switch tries to make itself an allegory for gay and lesbian issues as well as transgendered experiences, and I just don't think it really works stretched that far. I agree that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders (and all inbetween) have shared issues, but I don't think the allegory fits here. I would have been more interested seeing it handled as a purely Transgender allegory. Attaching this to gays and lesbian issues, especially with the creepy aspects of gags and with the unsettling character of Benny just adds too much and the book suffers for it.

Overall I feel the book needed work on world development and I became unforgiving of a number of parts of it early on. Perhaps unfairly. I think I came into this book with heightened expectations and I allowed that to cloud my judgment. I think there are people who could probably have a fun time reading this book, who might enjoy this a great deal. I'm just not one of them, and I can't really recommend this one to anyone.

For a more positive review see Rikoshi's write up http://www.weaselwordsmith.com/2010/12/16/bait-and-switch-review/

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I've come into books with high expectations and been left wanting. I'm not sure it's unfair, exactly, since the author usually wants readers to have an interest in reading the book.

I might check it out sometime if only because toonification is interesting to me as well.

Indy I'm going to tell you this right now this book has very poorly described aspects for the toon world, very little description is given except that it is colorful, and for the toon transformation bits, appendages change and appear off screen essentially while Fenton is asleep. Very poor and glossed over descriptions. If you're getting it for the toonification parts I'd honestly skip it. This is not a book for TF fans.

Okay. If you want to email me on this story some more, feel free. I can tell it's really bugging you and I'm willing to listen.

nah I've worked most of my annoyance out here... but I felt I should warn a fellow TF fan about the low quality TF. If you want to spend money on a TF story go for ROAR 2 with its slow cheetah tf novella or Phil Geusz's Resisting Arrest might have some...

Okay, thanks. :-) I'll consider those highly.

ROAR 2 also has a prequel to save the day in it staring Star and the vixens Cinnamon and Spice

Cool! I'll definitely get it once I can!

I hate to say it but that icon, the book looks like someone's rear end.

huh never saw it that way... I just figured huge gummi bear-esque book.

Also, it would be a real nice thing to see a book that's delivered to the TG community. I'm not a part, but it's an interest of mine and I really don't see a lot of media period that addresses it, and when it does it usually is either spiteful or rather... lame in delivery.

i admit its not an area I've read heavily in but I would have enjoyed a stab at a furry TG novel...

Too bad there is no way i can make a cinnamon and spice novel...

I don't remember if I congratulated you on that. That was one of the few TG characters I'd seen, well, ever. :) It was refreshing.

Thanks. I really do want to do more with her. She's fun!

Perhaps you can introduce a TG hero in a novel?

originally Force Vixen was going to be a TG hero whose powers changed depending on what costume she wore (male costume made her telekinetic and super smart the female costume gave her force feilds and telepathy). I eventually nixed it as I liked writing Force Vixen a lot more as a girl.

Honestly making a TG hero for the sake of making a TG hero sounds really trite... I'd rather make character i like and if they happen to be transgender I'll go from there.

Interesting! Some shifting powers in comics do involve TG, but I agree it's a bit trite just to do a TG hero for the sake of novelty. Still, it could be interesting if someone got their powers as a result of something related to TG surgery.

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That seems like a real shame it sounds like it could be pretty interesting in execution. I know you're a busy wolf with Furplanet, Knotcast and full time job so sad corgi on that one... still I admit I am intrigued by this little teaser bit

As a side note I hope this review was a lot better then the first one I wrote and is a little more even handed in your view.

Thanks for taking the time to read and review. I'm sorry the book couldn't live up to expectations.


I'll be interested to see what you write next.

Absolutely! I wrote that book 7 years ago and have grown a lot as a writer. I'm leaning more sci-fi lately and as soon as I recover from this surgery I plan on releasing a few short story compilations while I work on a new novel.

Anywho: if you're interested you can catch some of my rough draft short story stuff on Furaffinity - name's Slyford there. (Long story.)

FA is actually how I found out about the book. Through a post up of Basuke and I will watch you on there. I use a different name on FA because I like keeping my accounts separate

Any particular theme to your compilations?

I hope you're recovering quickly and comfortably from the surgery. Speedy recovery to you.

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