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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Top 10 Cats in Science Fiction and Fantasy

It's interesting to write lists like this, because often times you don't remember certain characters or animals in the various novels and movies you've seen, and when it comes time to dig up those memories, you end up recalling next to nothing. I've seen very few films and read very few books in which cats have played a prominent enough role to be memorable. Even worse is trying to remember all the house cats that have played some significant role in SF/F--hence why this list will not limit itself to house cats.

Without further delay, here is my list of the top ten cats in science fiction and fantasy (in no particular order):
The Baron (The Cat Returns / Neko no ongaeshi)
Most of you have probably never heard of The Cat Returns. It's a Japanese animated movie that follows a young girl who is whisked away into a world of cats after saving the Prince of the cat world. She enlists the help of The Baron and Muta (another cat on this list) to help her get out of her obligations to marry the Prince--because, after all, she can't marry a cat!

The Baron is played by Cary Elwes in the English subtitled version of the movie and the character of the Baron is simply amazing. He's well-dressed, intelligent, and pretty much the best thing since sliced the cat world, that is.
Muta (The Cat Returns Neko no ongaeshi)
A typical fat cat with an attitude, Muta is the strangely reliable, intensely grumpy sidekick of The Baron. As mean as he seems, he's actually a big, lovable fur ball with enough of an attitude to take on anything thrown his way. He makes for a good sidekick, that's for sure, and his comedic role in The Cat Returns makes him quite memorable--he's the only cat I know who spends much of his time arguing with a talking crow.
The Cheshire Cat (Alice in Wonderland)
How could anyone leave this creepy feline off a list like that? Whether you've seen Disney's version of Lewis Carroll's novel, have played American McGee's twisted version, or read the book, the Cheshire Cat is one of the most memorable and fascinating characters in the history of children's fantasy stories. I personally prefer American McGee's version, an emaciated, skinless creature that helps you along your way in the equally as twisted world of Wonderland. But, the other versions certainly get the job done; it's hard to compete with a cat that can make itself invisible!
Aslan (The Chronicles of Narnia)
If Mufasa is the definition of cool in the lion world, then Aslan is the definition of awesome. Not only can Aslan return from the dead, but he has god-like powers on top of being enormous and the harbinger of light and all that good stuff. Oh, and you can ride him if you're a good person. I've love to ride a giant, friendly lion, wouldn't you?
Bagheera (The Jungle Book)
Probably best remembered for Disney's animated rendition of Kipling's young adult novel, this panther acted as a father figure for young Mowgli. Smart and careful, Bagheera is everything a panther should be when turned into a talking cartoon.
Jonesy (Alien)
Science fiction is relatively devoid of good cat companions or characters. I'm putting Jonesy on this list primarily because, despite being a relatively insignificant character, he's still a pretty cool little cat, with an attitude. Not much else to say, though. Oh, he hisses a lot...especially at aliens...
Mufasa (The Lion King)
Would any list consisting of cats in fantasy be complete without mentioning Mufasa? I submit not. I left Simba off this list primarily because I'm never thought Simba was all that great. Mufasa, on the other hand, is amazing. Strong, lovable, and capable of returning from the dead as a talking cloud, Mufasa is the definition of cool in the lion world. Too bad he was back-stabbed by his brother (or half-brother).
Spot (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Most Star Trek fans know about this cat, but unfortunately a great majority of science fiction fans do not. Spot was Data's cat and had a meaningful influence on him. In fact, their relationship became so important that the first tear Data ever shed was for Spot. This is made more profound by the fact that Data was never created with emotions; his process to "humanize" himself involved much trial and error with emotion programming, etc. Spot became, I would argue, a catalyst for his emotional maturity.
The Kzinti (Larry Niven's Known Space series)
Sadly the only cat-like species I can think of from science fiction literature that I think deserves to be on this list. The Kzinti are a bloodthirsty race of giant, intelligent cats who, in Niven's Known Space universe, engage in several wars with human beings, and other species. If you haven't read the books, that's okay, because all you need to know is that these critters were so awesome that they were actually included into the Star Trek extended universe. That's right, these guys were invented outside of Star Trek, but then were brought into it and given a few spots through the various television series. That's pretty cool in my book.
The Thundercats (The Thundercats)
I'm including them all on here. It would be wrong to split them up individual, and since I have the utmost respect for the Thundercats, while acknowledging that they are fictional and, thus, incapable of being upset with me for treating them as individuals, I have included them here as a group. If you don't know who the Thundercats are, then you need to get out more. They're, well, the Thundercats. What more do I need to say? Thunder...thunder...THUNDERCATS!

I need help...

And that ends this list. If you have any reservations about the items of this list, feel free to let me know in the comments. Suggestions always welcome; discussion and debates encouraged!

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  1. Couldn't think of any when the question was posted but now I can...

    "Tailchaser's Song" by Tad Williams. All the characters are cats, including the title character, Tailchaser. It's one of my favourite fantasy books.

    "Ratha's Creature" by Clare Bell. Prehistoric world of sabre-tooth cats, very well written, first in a series. Actually all Clare Bell's books centre on cat characters. "Tomorrow's Sphinx" is another good one.

    "Star Kaat" books by Andre Norton, read them when I was younger but can't remember much.

  2. There was a cat named Pete in Heinlein's The Door Into Summer, which was one of my favorite books when I was younger.

  3. The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal

    - Cordwainer Smith

    This contains cats.

  4. What?!? No Hani from the Chanur series (CJ Cherryh).

  5. goodness! how could you EVER forget "The Cat From Outer Space"??? if you put together science fiction and cats, you get the awesome Jake!

    The Cat From Outer Space

  6. not to mentio (sorry about the spam) the cat-people from "Doctor Who"...

    PS - Pete in "The Door Into Summer" is fundamental to the story :)

  7. I'm drawing a blank on any cats you may have omitted, but I'm so happy that you mentioned "The Cat Returns." I think it's a great film, and not many people seem to know about it!

  8. Another example are the Orions in the Starfire series by David Weber

  9. Llyan from Lloyd Alexander's CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN is one of my long-time favourites. She's a gigantic, magically-enhanced cat who forms a strong attachment to one of the main characters.

  10. Anonymous11:45 AM

    I 2nd the cat people from Doctor Who.

    Also, A Wizard Abroad by Diane Duane featured a cat bard named Tualha. She was one of the best features of the book. I believe Diane Duane wrote an entire series about cat wizards, but I never read it.

  11. There are also the cat-like Hrubbans from Anne McCaffrey's Doona trilogy. They were an intelligent, space-faring species who had many of the same problems as the humans they became allies with.

  12. Visionbird: I've heard of most of those, but never read them.

    sruth: Heinlein must have liked cats...

    Spine: I've never heard of that. Is it fantasy or SF?

    JDsg: Nope, I missed the Hani...Nabbed the Kzinti, though...

    Misato: My friend told me about that one. I've never see it, though, so I really couldn't add them to the list. And I don't watch Doctor Who, so that's out for me.

    Kimberly B.: Yes, it is. The Cat Returns is amazing. One of my favorites.

    Michael: Oh, cool! I've been meaning to read some Weber.

    Memory: I knew I forgot something important :(. I like Alexander too. Can't believe I left it off this list...

    Anonymous: Yes, she has written a series with cat wizards. I've never read it either, but I've heard it's good.

    Rachel: Another series I've never read. I never got into McCaffrey...I probably should pick up some of her books.

  13. Oh, and thanks to all of you for the comments and suggestions! Appreciate it. Thanks for stopping by too!

  14. Kylinn6:30 PM

    Don't forget the cat wizards from Diane Duane's "Book of Night with Moon" and "To Visit the Queen"!

  15. Kylinn: The list keeps getting longer and longer!

  16. In Men in Black (MIB), they featured a cat named Orion. As the story goes, he has a belt/collar that carried the "galaxy" that the MIB were looking for. Sorry if I spoiled this one on people who have not watched it yet.

    In Early Edition, the one with a guy receiving tomorrow's newspaper today, has a cat. Unfortunately, they never did call that anything except "cat."

    In the Harry Potter series, Hermione Granger has a cat named Crookshanks.

  17. Rchrd: I considered Orion for this one, but thought he was too inactive a character to stand up to the others on this list. Then again, I did put Jonesy on here...

    I also considered Crookshanks, but figured that the other fantasy cats I selected were better :P.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  18. Wow...the Kzinti were in Ringworld as well. I got to read more Niven's books.

  19. Bowie: Yup. They've been in a lot of books and shows, from Niven to Poul Anderson to Star Trek.

  20. Anonymous6:43 AM

    If you include the Kzin then you must include the Kilrathi, one of the scariest alien races ever fought in a computer game.

  21. Anon: The Kilrathi? You'll have to explain more than that :P.

  22. Anonymous1:58 PM

    The Kilrathi are the alien cats in Wing Commander hell bent on destroying humanity.

    I do not know if someone mentioned this in the comments (I don't remember seeing it, but I could have missed it), but what about The Cat from Red Dwarf? Sure, it's played by a smooth dressing man, but the character is still a cat in a sci-fi show, and he did start out as a real cat after all.
    Anyway, I liked the post and just thought I would offer my two cents.
    Oh, I dug that you included Jonesy, he was my first thought when I read the title of the post.

  23. Ah, I've never seen Wing Commander all the way through. It's far too campy for me (the movie, that is). But, then again, I never played the game either.

    My brother would have mentioned the Red Dwarf character. He's a huge Red Dwarf fan.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

  24. Mixula7:45 AM

    How could everybody forget the Lion from Wizard of Oz? He's hilarious in the original movie.

  25. Gah! I completely forgot about the Lion from Wizard of Oz! Blasphemy...

  26. pixel's dad4:35 AM

    Pixel The cat that walks through walls, Robert Heinlein

    Greebo -- Nanny Ogg's sweet harmless pussy-- Terry Pratchett

    Tick-Tock a Crest Cat in James Schmidt's The Telzey Toy

  27. Thanks for the additions :).