A pair of '90s portal fantasies about veterinary students who travel to a fantasyland called Crossroads to treat centaurs, unicorns, griffins, and other magical beasts. I read these years ago and re-read recently with the intention of finally reading book three, which I had either failed to find or failed to read previously. Now that I have re-read, I understand why I never read the final book. I had remembered the fun parts (vet students figuring out how to treat magical creatures, and that is both accurate to my knowledge and very fun if you like that sort of thing) and forgotten about the truly amazing amount of awesome depressingness surrounding them.

I also have to mention that O'Donohoe also wrote an sf novel in a dystopian future, Too Too Solid Flesh about androids programmed with the personalities of the characters of Hamlet. This was also fairly depressing (though with way less torture), but more appropriate to the subject matter and I recall liking it a lot, despite a manic pixie dream girl.

Too, Too Solid Flesh

The Magic And The Healing

Under the Healing Sign

The Magic and the Healing

BJ Vaughan, a vet student, is understandably depressed. Her mother committed suicide out of the blue, leaving a note saying that she was dying of Huntington's Chorea (a horrific, fatal genetic disease) and BJ should be tested to see if she's going to get it too. BJ, who has been having mysterious symptoms lately, gets tested. Sure enough, she has it. She tells no one, but begins planning her suicide. I will cut to the chase and say that she continues telling no one and planning her suicide for the entire book, and in fact by the end of the second book, though she is no longer planning suicide, she has still told very, very few people and has not informed the people who most need to know.

But! Something more cheerful happens, and about time. BJ and some other students are invited on to a special exotic animal rotation, which of course turns out to be in Crossroads. The magical creatures, their cultures, and their ecologies are sketched-in but interesting and convincing. My favorite for cuteness was the flowerbinders, which are kittens the size of German Shepherds who catch their prey by winding flowers into their fur and camouflaging themselves as a bush or hillock of wildflowers. My favorite for interesting worldbuilding were the several sentient species which remain the prey of other sentient species, and how intelligent beings evolved cultures, laws, and rituals which account for that. There are a handful of human inhabitants of Crossroads, most of whom are essentially refugees who stumbled in while fleeing for their lives, but it's mostly populated by centaurs, fauns, griffins, etc.

As BJ and the other students ply their trade, they learn more about how the magic of Crossroads works, and BJ realizes that though traumatic injury and some diseases exist in Crossroads, cancer and degenerative diseases don't. If she stays, can she arrest or even cure her own degenerative illness? Is she willing to give up her entire previous life for the chance at a new one?

I think this is plenty of story for a novel, and if this had been the entire story, the book would have been much better, much less grim, and also much less ridiculous. Unfortunately, there is another plotline involving one of the most moustache-twirling villains I've ever come across. Her name is Morgan, and she is a sadistic genocidal sociopathic mass murderer whose hobbies include torture, mass graves, bathing in blood (literally), invasion, getting people hooked on drugs, slaughtering her own minions in front of her entire army just for the fun of it, and slaughtering everyone in sight. She plans to invade Crossroads, slaughter everyone, and then go to another world and slaughter everyone there. Rinse, repeat. Inexplicably, her army does not desert en masse despite her periodically torturing her own soldiers to death. Oh, yeah, and did I mention that she's immortal and invulnerable, so no one can just whack her?

She has a backstory. Sort of. It's the sort which introduces more plotholes than it resolves. Why is she the way she is? She's angry. NO SHIT. What's she angry about? Who knows! Why is she immortal? Because it was somehow a condition of booting her out of Crossroads earlier, when she was just a non-immortal homicidal maniac. Why the hell would you make a homicidal maniac immortal? Uh... the magic works that way! Why not kill her when you had the chance? Because the king was in love with her! WHY? Because she didn't seem evil right away. I realize this sort of thing happens in real life (the charming sociopath, I mean) but 1) we never see the charm, 2) if your choice is "kill the genocidal maniac you still kind of love, or make her immortal so she can come back and murder you and every citizen of your country," you need to suck it up and break out the guillotine.

Nobody in Crossroads thinks they have a chance of fighting her off, though they're planning a hopeless last stand anyway. Periodically Morgan sneaks in, tortures or kills some animals or people, and sneaks out. I don't mind reading about hurt animals in the context of veterinary medicine, but I draw the line at animal torture. Anyway, eventually the good guys beat her back, but it's just for now. They're still doomed. (Until book two! No, wait. Still doomed.)

There is also an extremely unconvincing romance between BJ and a faun named Stefan. They have no chemistry and nothing in common other than that they both like animals. They never have sex because BJ doesn't tell him she's dying but doesn't want to commit when she's dying. This entire plotline really didn't work for me. Alas, it continues in exactly the same vein in book two, except BJ is no longer dying and they do have sex... but she still doesn't tell him and continues to angst in the exact same way.

Approximately half of a pretty cool book melded to half of a pretty terrible book. Perhaps this was meant to be symbolic of Crossroads' many chimera-creatures... Nah.

Under the Healing Sign

My feelings about the sequel are summed up by an Amazon reader who wrote, "On the whole, it [the third book] is much better than the second book of the very same series, "Under The Healing Sign", which made me wish to commite suicide immediately upon reading the last chapter of it."

Despite the charmingly pastoral cover, what actually happens in this book is mostly death, despair, defeat, torture, animal and child harm, and the least triumphant "happy ending" I've ever read in a fantasy book. It does have some sweet scenes a la the good parts of the first book and introduces a really awesome character(who, shockingly, does not die), a gay and fabulous cross-dressing, swordfighting veterinarian, Dr. Esteban Protera, who needed to star or co-star in a cheerier book. But overall, I'm with the Amazon reviewer.

Spoilers, if anyone cares. I'll just hit a few of the grimdark highlights.

- Morgan tortures and slaughters many more people and animals.

- A sympathetic character who came to Crossroads to reverse his Alzheimer's in book one finds that he doesn't get along with anyone there and misses his family. He returns to Earth, where his dementia goes on fast-forward, to his family's horror, then dies.

- BJ becomes the adoptive mother of an adorable werewolf cub. He's so horribly wounded trying to defend BJ that she's forced to put him to sleep. She recalls him exactly once after that.

- The entire population of Crossroads, except for about five hold-outs, either flees Crossroads into other worlds they cannot return from, or is slaughtered.

- The "happy ending" consists of Morgan getting killed and BJ inheriting the power to open paths to other worlds. So in theory, she could bring everyone back who's still alive. But if she does this, she'll be exposing Crossroads to the threat of another invasion. So she's left healed but stuck on Crossroads or her disease will come back worse than ever, a vet with no patients, presiding over a nearly empty world. The end!
marycontrary: (Default)

From: [personal profile] marycontrary

I had only read the first one, and I guess I only remembered the good book struggling to get out: I was like "yeah, happy vet and magic animal stories! Like Vernon's hapless elf veterinarian!" Thanks for warning me to keep my memories memories.

Sometimes you just want to gently lead a writer to an editor and say "there's something really good here, but you have listen to the editors."
movingfinger: (Default)

From: [personal profile] movingfinger

As far as I can tell without really thorough checking, the first publisher on the veterinary books was Ace, early-to-mid 90's. Ace by then was well into the editors-acquire mode for mass market genre fiction---editors might do a little guidance, but they generally, by and large, published the book the author wrote, and they bought manuscripts that were good enough to publish already, or very nearly there.* So I don't think an editor bent this. I think he sent in a ms., got a three-book contract, and fulfilled it to the best of his ability.

My guess would be someone else, like a writing group or some peer feedback. Or even the author himself, thinking that the vets-in-fantasyland was just too nice. His first book was from Wizards of the Coast, and so if he was keen on D&D, he might have picked up that "there must be a Dark Lord or equivalent" virus long before.

What your description reminds me of is James White's classic Sector General, which I still like a lot. I too would read the heck out of a team of vets treating fantasy animals and similar. Without any grimdark elements at all, thanks. (HMMMM. SO WRITE IT, me.)

*I KNOW not all editors, not all writers, then or now, but IN GENERAL this trend was much discussed at the time: publishers were always a little or a lot short-handed and the workloads were hard on editorial time.
movingfinger: (Default)

From: [personal profile] movingfinger

Esteban Protera sounds as though he is wasted on this book. Possibly evidence for one of those metaversal leaks!
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu

Depending on how much tolerance you have for sexism at the moment, you may want to skip to the non-human-POV ones--it's been several years and I don't think it's an _overwhelming_ part of the books, but it's definitely a thing?
marycontrary: (Default)

From: [personal profile] marycontrary

Sings-to-Trees is T. Kingfisher's (Ursula Vernon's: it's not a secret, but she doesn't want people buying her adult books for their kids based only on the author name) veterinarian in Nine Goblins. He starts the book with a breech birth on a unicorn, but the animals don't get a lot of time in the spotlight. It's a cute story about war, communication, and a goblin sergeant trying to keep her squad alive.
yhlee: Sandman raven with eyeball (Sandman raven (credit: rilina))

From: [personal profile] yhlee

This sounds like about four different books shoved into a blender.

The veterinarian thing sounds extremely cool, but the rest would probably drive me up the wall, so...pass.
lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] lnhammer

I read the first book, but only dimly remember it. Never knew (or deliberately didn't bother finding out) sequels had come out. If deliberate, sounds like a good decision.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

Approximately half of a pretty cool book melded to half of a pretty terrible book.

hahahaha WOW. That sounds ... amazing. And not in the good way. I would love to see this concept in a book that's less terrible, though ...

It seems like the whole concept of fantasy/sci-fi medical specialists was a thing in the early-to-mid 90s. I remember at least one series about a space station medical team, and one about an intergalactic dentist. Someone should take another go at it. I wish there was more slice-of-life SFF and less about world-changing catastrophes.
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu

I got all excited for a minute and then the first result for "intergalactic dentist" was Piers Anthony. =<

(There is a podcast called EOS 10 which describes itself as "The stories of two maladjusted doctors and their medical team aboard an intergalactic travel hub on the edges of deep space — along with a deposed prince who's claimed the foodcourt kitchen as his new throne." I listened to the first episode which didn't really grab me but I am weirdly picky about that kind of stuff.)
Edited Date: 2016-10-19 02:36 am (UTC)
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

The Piers Anthony one is the one I was thinking of, sadly. I didn't say it was good, just that it existed. XD

On the basis of this post's comments, though, I'm thinking I should check out Sector General. I can't remember if that is one of the doctors-in-space ones I'm thinking of, only that I've run across it more than once.
skygiants: Honey from Ouran with his hands to his HORRIFIED CHEEKS (ZOMG!)

From: [personal profile] skygiants

HAHAHAHA RACHEL, man, I have been hunting for my copies of these so I can reread them FOR YEARS for very similar reasons (I have found book 2, but cannot find book 1 ANYWHERE and so have not yet done it. I am almost on the verge of ordering a two-cent copy from Amazon.) The incredibly weird mix of fun vet stuff and nonsensically depressing long-term illness and serial killer stuff made a huge impression on me! I did a sixth-grade research project on Huntington's Chorea!

I forget, does the AMAZINGLY HILARIOUSLY bizarre twist with BJ and Stefan's 'romance' happen in the second or third book? You will know what I'm talking about if it's in the second book, and, uh, you can tell me if you want to know what I'm talking about if it's in the third!
skygiants: Koizumi Kyoko from Twentieth Century Boys making her signature SHOCKED AND HORRIFIED face (wtf is this)

From: [personal profile] skygiants

OK, so: BJ gets pregnant with a faun baby!

STEFAN: Faun children grow up very fast!
BJ: ....like how fast?
STEFAN: Oh like we reach full adult maturity in four or five years or so.
BJ: ....
BJ: ......
BJ: ........Stefan how old are you
STEFAN: Oh, five!
BJ: ....you're telling me I banged a five-year-old? I'm dating a five-year-old? The father of my child is five. years. old????
STEFAN: Yes I mean but for fauns five years old is full adult maturity so it's not like --

...and they break up and never get back together. SHIP: SUNK.

But BJ has her faun baby and the faun baby is very cute. I forget whether the baby tragically has the Huntington's Chorea gene and thus has to live in Crossroads forever or not.
skygiants: cute blue muppet worm from Labyrinth (just a worm)

From: [personal profile] skygiants

If I remember right, BJ's like 'well his childlike attitude seemed cute when I thought he was just my manic pixie dream boy, but I cannot deal with it now that I know he's ACTUALLY A CHILD.'

I have to give it credit for originality though, I think that's the only time in a fantasy story I've ever seen a longer-lived individual break up with a shorter-lived individual specifically because of the maturity gap!

The third book also has a new villain, by the way. As I recall, they're an adorable, cute, playful species of intelligent critters that BJ brings back to Crossroads that turn out to delight in elaborate practical murder jokes. The only thing I remember is that at one point they murder a whole bunch of Crossroadsites and then arrange their victims in a hi-larious golf-playing tableau.
vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)

From: [personal profile] vass

[spoilers, all the spoilers]

I'm so happy for this post too. These books are one of my all time biggest "why can't these become a fandom thing so I can talk about them endlessly?" things.

I've loved all three since I was about 16, and somehow the serial killer stuff made no impression at all on me. I was just like "this is boring, skip, skip" (not that I actually skipped -- I had a moral objection to doing that, at least on the first read-through -- but I didn't engage emotionally.) The degenerative incurable illness did make an impression (and then there was the thing in the third book with the Greek cook who had Alzheimer's, which fucked me up) but not as much as the vet medicine and the characters and the cosmology.

I especially loved the Griffin and Laurie, and their chaste, chivalric romance (chaste because he is Not Dude Enough.) The way it was perfectly possible for Laurie to be both the heroine of an impossible fin'amore and also a level-headed, practical, English grad student-turned-anaesthesiologist who chain-smokes and has a dirty mind, and there is no contradiction here. That was an important thing for 16-year-old me to learn.

The Griffin's turns of phrase really stuck with me.
- "I have something for you." "Splendid. Does it panic, repent, and bleed?"
- [telling BJ she needs to take a break because the combat stress is getting to her] "I am even prepared to offer you some small incentive." "And that is?" "Go, or I'll kill you."
- "Laurie and I both have our bad habits. She smokes, I eviscerate. But I'm trying to quit."

And I loved that he came to her world for a while and set up house there, and played online RPGs and adjusted the keyboard setup to be ergonomic for someone who's half lion half eagle and recuperating from a major injury.

And then the parallel thing with Frieda and Roland. (And Roland's army. Poor doomed Clark Kent!) That was ridiculous and moving at the same time. Frieda's situation with her mother really got to me in a way that all the Mercedes Lackey books with abusive parents didn't as much. (That scene where Sugar Dobbs cautiously feels Frieda out about suicide, and she outwardly reassures him but inwardly thinks something like "No, I'm never going to do that, I'm just always going to feel like this and there's nothing that can be done about it." I honestly think that BJ did nearly as much for Frieda just by having dinner with her and her parents as she did by offering her a job and introducing her to Roland. Having BJ witness her mother subtly belittling and undermining Frieda, and stand up for her, and Frieda herself witnessing her mother do it to someone else, someone BJ saw as a Real Adult and an authority figure...)

And the practical medical details were great, the coping with situations they didn't understand by analogising to situations they do ("to estimate the correct dosage of sedative, pretend this werewolf is a REALLY BIG ROTTWEILER") which reminded me of real life exotics vets I've met (I used to keep pet rats, and if you're in a city or suburbs and have a pet that isn't a cat or a dog, failing a specialist in your particular animals you want an exotics vet) and their general attitude -- both in willingness to improvise (one of them made a tiny E-collar from scratch for me) and willingness to accept the client as a resource ("what dose of doxycycline do you usually use for a mycoplasma flareup? the size of a match-head once a day for a week? okay, sounds reasonable, I'll prescribe that.") And the differences in approach between an empiricist and a theorist.
vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)

From: [personal profile] vass



This all too brief expanse of infinite coast
Where we lay touching, all too far apart
Two continents, two worlds, each lonely heart
Beloved, alien, beloved most
For presence now, in fragmentary spite
Of crossed and crossing stars, indifferent
And unimportant after having spent
The long day waiting, and the longer night
Is love immeasurable. One small touch
Is everything, and all the world beside
Love infinite, a speck where worlds collide
In kisses, points made not so much
Of one life as of both, what others call
Fractured and fractal, whole and all in all.

I just did that completely from memory. I can't remember the punctuation, though, and if I get out my copy to check I'll end up rereading it all night. It's weird how I can do that for this poem, and the two sonnets in Pamela Dean's novels, and the Dorothy L. Sayers one, but I don't think I have any of John M. Ford's poems from memory. Even though I tried to set some of them to music.
skygiants: the aunts from Pushing Daisies reading and sipping wine on a couch (wine and books)

From: [personal profile] skygiants

Re: [spoilers, all the spoilers]

Oh man, I'd forgotten all about Laurie and the Griffin, but now that you've reminded me I'm awash in interspecies romance nostalgia. NOT ENOUGH DUDE, indeed. No, but they were lovely.

...I have however not only forgotten all about Frieda and Roland, but who Frieda and Roland even are. I really do need to reread these books!
vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)

From: [personal profile] vass

Re: [spoilers, all the spoilers]

Roland's the Griffin's son, whom he asked BJ to educate. He and the other baby griffins all choose code names from literary heroes, because their true names are private. So he's Roland and his best friend is Oliver, and one of the others insists on being Clark Kent. The education consists of working through an exhaustive reading list his father picked out, then having fraught discussions about honour (refereed by BJ) and debating which was more noble, King Arthur or Robin Hood. He's kind of adorable.

Frieda is one of the new rotation of vet students Sugar's bringing in. She's shy, mousy, and totally lacking in confidence except regarding animals. When the first year vet students first got to palpate a cow's uterus, she was the last in line, and the cow had had enough and decided to walk away while her hand was still in there, so she got dragged. Frieda, commenting later on this experience: "but I did palpate the uterus." BJ hires her as an assistant after she graduates.
skygiants: Sokka from Avatar: the Last Airbender peers through an eyeglass (*peers*)

From: [personal profile] skygiants

Re: [spoilers, all the spoilers]

OMG THAT'S RIGHT, I do remember the adorable chivalrous baby griffins now!

-- I feel like I also now remember a scene in which the Griffin is like 'wtf are you doing with this weird human relationship' and Roland is like 'I LEARNED IT FROM YOU, DAD! I LEARNED IT FROM YOU' but maybe I am just making this up?
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra

I really liked Too Too Solid Flesh. I tried to read another of his series - not this one, I think it was about gnomes? - but couldn't get into it. This one sounds like a great concept that I will completely avoid due to unnecessary depressingness. (I mean, I cry over some James Herriot stories, but others make me laugh and at no point is the hero left alone in the ruins of Yorkshire surrounded by piles of dead).

Speaking of unexpectedly depressing fantasy - did you ever read Gael Baudino's stuff? Not that I think you should seek it out if you haven't!
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

at no point is the hero left alone in the ruins of Yorkshire surrounded by piles of dead

This made me laugh out loud; thanks for that image. :D

(Which in turn made me think of the Little House on the Prairie zombie apocalypse AU someone posted a few years back, possibly for Yuletide ...)
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

Here you go:


"I declare, Caroline," Pa said. "We’re living better now than we ever did before the horror came."

"Oh, Charles," Ma said, but she looked pleased.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


... also, although I still think the satirical/pastiche aspects of the story are excellent, having reread it tonight after finding it again, I can't figure out how that aspect of the worldbuilding is supposed to work. They can't even touch the undead because they're contagious, but they ... eat them ...? HOW ...
cyphomandra: Painting of a bare tree, by Rita Angus (tree)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra

.. I had not encountered this story but fortunately Google provides surprisingly few hits for that search string :D - thanks for the rec!
vass: A sepia-toned line-drawing of a man in naval uniform dancing a hornpipe, his crotch prominent (Default)

From: [personal profile] vass

Ugh, I read Gael Baudino, and the rape is all I remember. Specifically because the justification for the rape was that he REALLY REALLY WANTED TO SLEEP WITH HER AND SHE SAID NO, SO WHAT ELSE COULD HE DO? I read it when I was... mid-teens, I think. Because the cover art was so great.
sputnikhearts: (Default)

From: [personal profile] sputnikhearts

Wow. XD That is ... all I have to say.
staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)

From: [personal profile] staranise

you need to suck it up and break out the guillotine.

kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)

From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu

My goodness. I just.

. . . I may reread Sector General myself, now.
coffeeandink: (Default)

From: [personal profile] coffeeandink

I loved Too, Too Solid Flesh, but for some reason never read O'Donohoe's other books--maybe because they looked too twee? Misleading covers to the rescue!

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