As expected, most of the authors who own cats mentioned that the natural independence of the feline species makes them perfect pets for an otherwise introverted or attention-limited group. The "cats are not like dogs" sentiment came up several times, though some authors expressed a love of the canine species as well, prompting me to consider whether a "authors who don't own cats" survey would be equally as compelling. In any case, what we already kind of knew came up in almost every single case: cats are independent, and authors like having an uncompromising furry creature that is perfectly fine being ignored but won't let you get away with being a neglectful turd (truth).
The more interesting responses were the vaguely fantastic ones. More than one author suggested that cats seemed to have an otherworldly presence: they can hear spiders and breach the supernatural, as one anonymous author declared. These statements were obviously said with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but I think there is an undercurrent of honesty in these statements, too. Judith Tarr, for example, said that "cats are the distilled essence of the weird" (winner of this year's Most Profound Statement About Cats Award). So many authors ascribed supernatural "feeling" to cats that it's not surprising that so many fantasy novels have included cats in some form, whether at the forefront or in the background -- urban fantasy especially. From Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996-2003) to recent novels such as Kristi Charish's Owl and the Japanese Circus (2015) and Elizabeth Bear's Karen Memory (2015), cats are a fairly common occurrence in fantasy, active or otherwise
|Trying to take over the world one kitty barf at a time...|
On the more science fictional side were Martha Wells and Kelly McCullough, who both suggested that cats are about as close to an alien intelligence that one can reasonably get (presumably keeping tapeworms as pets is still a faux pas, which is total crap).** Wells, for example, stated that "cats are the aliens that live in our houses," which is a curious phrase indeed. What I find interesting here is that cats are frequently listed on the survey as influencing an author's work, but in some cases, cats are granted a higher state of influence. There's a duality of function: on the one hand, cats influence writers by keeping them "in check" or giving them necessary companionship; on the other hand, cats become vehicles for speculative exploration, either directly in the form of actual cats in an author's work or indirectly as inspiration for characters or creatures.
|DOAN TOUCH MAH HOOMAN OR IM GONNA EAT U!!!1|
But cats are different. Almost every author in the survey noted that cats take what they want and give what they please, but they are otherwise independent creatures who seem to tolerate our existence. That is, of course, a human assessment of a cat, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. I've no more clue what goes on in a cat's mind than any of you for hopefully obvious reasons (I'm not a cat; really). So reading cats as "alien intelligences" isn't that far off the mark. More than so many other companion species, cats really do seem removed. Alien. Even our attempts to understand them come up short because we filter everything through a human lens. While this might work for dogs, which have similar mammalian social functions as human beings, it is less clear with cats. I think that on some level we explain away cat behaviors in humanistic terms to make ourselves feel better; otherwise, we have to admit to living with creatures whose motives are unknown.
The last serious question I had for authors was specific to the topic, which was suggested by Amy Fredericks as one of her patron rewards on my Patreon page: do you think there is a deeper connection between science fiction and fantasy and cats, or are they a writer thing in general? Most of the respondents didn't think there was much of a connection. Cats may be more common among writers, they remarked, but they are otherwise a people thing, and there's no reason to think that cats are somehow more "unique" or "influential" in SFF than they are elsewhere.
|The Kzinti are to galactic wars as cat tantrums are to cat scratch fever...|
And now I leave you with the single funniest moment in Star Trek: The Next Generation:
*Authors were given the option to remain anonymous. You can still take the survey if you'd like to add your voice.
**Fun fact: I once tried to convince the people at a youth camp that I should be allowed to keep a mosquito larva as a pet. Sadly, the little thing was murdered.
***I admit that this is a faulty definition.
***I admit that this is a faulty definition.
A special thanks goes out to the following authors who took my survey: David Annandale, Wendy Wagner, Jaime Lee Moyer, Joyce Chng, Celine Kiernan, D. Emery, the Anonymous Author Named Bob, Ruth Francis Long, Ros Jackson, Martha Wells, Michael J. Martinez, Judith Tarr, Anne Leonard, Kristi Charish, C.D. Covington, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Rebecca Levene, Kelly McCullough, Cecilia Tan, Django Wexler, Catherine Lundoff, Tex Thompson, Ginn Hale, Laura (last name?), Stefon Mears, and Michael Ashleigh Funn.
This post was suggested by Amy Fredericks as one of her patron rewards on my Patreon page. You can have a say in the content for this website, too, by becoming a patron. Go on, I dare you!