Dragons? Of course. Unicorns? Naturally. Manticores and Chimeras? Sure, why not? These beasts are the stock and trade of the speculative fiction writer. But I’ve noticed an interesting trend lately. Get ready, all you dog lovers out there, 'cause I’m about to offend you mightily.
In speculative fiction, Cats Rule.
I’m in the middle of Jim Butcher’s newest book, the fabulous “The Aeronaut’s Windlass”, and one of the major characters is a cat. A very intelligent cat, in point of fact, and one who has earned the respect and deference due his position as scion of an important tribe. Rowl can communicate with the humans with whom he deigns to associate—at least those fortunate few who can speak Cat. The cats have their own society, clans, and rules of etiquette, and it seems as if the petty humans would just let the cats run things, life might be much smoother for all concerned.
But Rowl (what a great name!) got me thinking. He wasn’t by any means the first cat I’ve encountered along the way in the many spec-fic stories I’ve read over the years. Of course, there are always cats. But this was a Cat-with-a-capital-C—a major player in Butcher’s marvelously built world, and one with a plethora of personality, moxie, and a superior sense of self-worth. I starting thinking even more when I realized that the next book on my TBR list is David Weber’s YA scifi novel “A Beautiful Friendship”, in which Stephanie Harrington, a particularly determined young woman, discovers a species of tree-cats, sapient beings who can develop telempathic links with humans. And use tools. And love and fight and care and hate.
So I wondered, were there more? Well, of course there is “Tailchaser’s Song” by Tad Williams. And “The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents” by The Amazing Terry Pratchett. Also “The Rowan” by Anne McCaffrey. And I’m sure there are a multitude of other great examples I just haven’t bothered to research.
Hundreds, and thousands, and millions, and billions of cats, to quote a favorite children’s book.
But why cats?
It might be, as Sir Terry Pratchett has so ably postulated, because cats were once worshipped as gods, and they have not forgotten this. Or perhaps because we humans, as a species, find ourselves (however much we might try to deny it) closer to cats in temperament and inclination than just about any other creature of our acquaintance.
Now I'm sure the dog lovers will immediate react with lists of fabulous canine speculative fiction tales featuring dogs as main characters. I rather hope so--equal time aside, I'd be interested to see 'em. I just couldn't think of any I'd ever read.
But whatever the reason, cats have definitely found their place as major players in speculative literature. If we behave, they may even allow us ours.