Saturday, 7 February 2009

Cats Rule

I'm currently reading The Black Ship by Diana Pharaoh Francis - thanks SQT. It's too early to review but having been introduced to the character of Fitch, Thorn's somewhat overprotective pet cat, I started to wonder if fantasy, or for that matter sci-fi, might be a cat people thing. Are cat lovers over-represented amongst sci-fi or fantasy writers?

Simone Simon starred in The Cat People (1942) a genuinely creepy and sexy black and white feline variation on the werewolf legend and an all time favourite. Ripley's cat Jones survives the first encounter with the Alien(1979) and shares Ripley's escape pod - Jones reappears at the beginning of Aliens(1986) and provides one of the film's first memorable moments. There's also a memorable cat moment in The Matrix(1999) where deja vu is given a new, sinister significance.

Cat-loving sci-fi writers include Robert Heinlein, whose novels and short stories feature a great many cats, not least the mysterious Pixel, the Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Many writers have also written about cat-like alien species - for example Nimitz and his fellow treecats in David Weber's Honor Harrington novels, the Kzin of Larry Niven's Known Space and C.J.Cherryh's hani.

There are Cat People on the BBC too, Cat, the humanoid evolutionary descendent of Lister's cat smuggled aboard Red Dwarf was a high water mark in sci-fi comedy, particularly in earlier episodes that genuinely played with Cat's feline characteristics. More recently cat-like aliens have featured in Doctor Who. The BBC believes in "balanced reporting" and both series have also featured dog characters - Cat's counterpart in the Parallel Universe turns out to be a (very scruffy) dog; while Doctor Who occasionally travels with robotic companion K9.
Cats in sci-fi seem to stand for a range of different ideas, playing on their reputations for having a wild streak, being independent or untameable; they're both self-centred and deeply honourable, sinister, funny and sexy and above all enigmatic.


Anonymous said...

Weeeellllll, I like cats. But I'm a dog person. Hence the two little puppies sitting beside me on the couch. But for this book, for what it's worth, cats were cool because they are so unlucky on ships. Most of the superstitions in the book are real.

On the cat subject though, I do know a lot of serious cat lovers who are writers. My husband is seriously allergic to cat though, so likely won't happen to me.

And for some reason I can't login to blogger, but this is me--Di Francis

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Lovely to hear from you Di. I think the ideas about luck and superstition in the book come across really well.

I was thinking though, I recognized many of the real superstitions in the book, and there are lots of superstitions about cats, on land and sea, but isn't there also a strong tradition of ships' cats for most of naval history?

Di Francis said...

I didn't find much that way. I think they were considered unlucky because they ate the rats. You'd think that was a good thing, but when you got out on the open seas with no meat, well, the sailors wanted to eat the rats. So they didn't like cats. I don't know if that's where the superstition started or if it started somewhere else. But now you've made me want to go dig deeper.


Nathan said...

Well, I'm an avid sci-fi and cat fan, so I fit with your theory. It would be interesting to run a poll to see if they correlate...

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Thanks for your comments. Di, you may have a point about the rats. Nathan, the poll's a nice idea, I'll try and set one up.