Entry updated 24 March 2023. Tagged: Theme.
Cats are arguably the only Alien beings that humans regularly interact with; for while the attitudes and behaviours of thoroughly domesticated dogs are readily comprehensible to their owners, the feelings and actions of cats can seem enigmatic and inexplicable, and even long-time cat owners may feel that they do not always understand the furry animals that they have welcomed into their homes. It is only logical, then, that many sf fans (see Fandom) have a special affinity for cats, and that cats are ubiquitous in the literature of sf; indeed, a panel at the 2012 Los Angeles Science Fiction Convention (Loscon) (see Conventions) was devoted to the topic of "Are There Too Many Cats in Science Fiction?" The online Newszine File 770 regularly runs images of readers' cats sleeping or otherwise posing on sf books; a fictional emergent AI shares this Internet enthusiasm with the titular request of Naomi Kritzer's "Cat Pictures Please" (January 2015 Clarkesworld). Several major sf writers, including Robert A Heinlein, Fritz Leiber, H P Lovecraft, Andre Norton and Cordwainer Smith, have evidenced a special fondness for cats in their stories. Some authors have published whole picture books about cats: Edward Gorey with Categor y (graph 1974), Terry Pratchett and Gray Jolliffe with The Unadulterated Cat: A Campaign for Real Cats (1989) and Nathan W Pyle with Strange Planet: The Sneaking, Hiding, Vibrating Creature (graph 2021).
Further demonstrating the genre's predilection for cats, a number of sf and fantasy Anthologies have used the cat theme: Andre Norton's and Martin H Greenberg's Catfantastic: Nine Lives and Fantastic Tales (anth 1989) and its four sequels; Greenberg's and Ed Gorman's Cat Crimes (anth 1991) and its two sequels (which each included only a few fantastic stories); Greenberg's and Gorman's Cat Crimes through Time (anth 1999); and Greenberg's and Janet Deaver-Pack's Catopolis (anth 2008). Other relevant anthologies included only a few fantastic stories: Robert E Weinberg's Crafty Cat Crimes – 100 Tiny Cat Tale Mysteries (anth 2000), and Patty G Henderson's Dark Things II: Cat Crimes (anth 2011).
It must be noted, though, that not all sf writers were enamoured of cats; for example, Clifford D Simak's acclaimed story cycle City (coll of linked stories 1952; exp 1981) describes a future where humans have abandoned Earth and intelligent dogs have made other animals intelligent while presiding over a Pastoral Utopia where killing is forbidden, but there is conspicuously not a single mention of apparently excluded domestic cats.
The appearances of cats in sf fall into three broad categories: conventional cats who continue to be valued pets in the future; unusual cats with special qualities or enhanced intelligence; and alien beings resembling cats.
Heinlein, one of sf's most devoted cat persons, made the beloved pet cat of the inventor-protagonist Daniel Boone Davis of The Door into Summer (October-December 1956 F&SF; 1957) a major figure in the novel, whose judgments of character Davis relies on. In fact, the title was reportedly inspired by the habit of Heinlein's cat at the time to demand the opening of every door of his house in the wintertime, leading Heinlein's wife to comment that he was looking for "the door into summer". In his "Ordeal in Space" (May 1948 Town & Country), the need to rescue a kitten on a ledge leads a spaceman, traumatized by a long period of isolation in deep space, to overcome his fear of heights and return to his profession, bringing the kitten along into space. Despite being cited in the title, a cat named Pixel played a less prominent role in his later novel The Cat Who Walks through Walls: A Comedy of Manners (1985), noted primarily for her unexpected appearances close to the protagonist. A similarly unconfinable cat features in Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci fantasy The Pinhoe Egg (2006) and is at one point observed to make its way through a solid wall (see Matter Penetration).
The unusually intelligent lion Jad-bal-ja appeared as Tarzan's companion in several of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan novels. Men strucken in size (see Great and Small) are menaced by cats in Fred Jackson's "Gulliver's Mixture" (August 1912 People's Ideal Fiction Magazine) and the film The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) directed by Jack Arnold. A town's cats attack and kill a couple who are killing cats in Lovecraft's "The Cats of Ulthar" (November 1920 Tryout). A kitten and three men are teleported (see Teleportation) to another world in Edwin K Sloat's "The World without Name" (March 1931 Wonder Stories). A strange green cat appears to cheer up a man living in a Dystopian society in Leiber's The Green Millennium (1953), while a man with a strange rapport with cats is central to Haruki Murakami's Umibe no Kafka (2002; trans by Philip Gabriel as Kafka on the Shore, 2005). Heroine Katniss Everdeen dislikes her younger sister's pet cat Buttercup in Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games (2008), but gradually warms to the cat in the two sequels. Roland Anthony Cross's "Puss in Boots" (January 1993 Science Fiction Age) depicts a future world where cats are commonplace and widely esteemed. A memorable cat lives on an Airship in Chris Wooding's Tales of the Ketty Jay sequence, beginning with Retribution Falls: Tales of the Ketty Jay (2009),
Domestic cats become murder Weapons in Dorothy L Sayers's nonfantastic but Horror-tinged "Maher-Shalal-Hashbaz" (1 April 1933 The Passing Show), where a great many cats are introduced into the bedroom of a feeble ailurophobe who dies in terror; and in the Avengers episode "The Hidden Tiger" (17 March 1967), in which the cat sanctuary P.U.R.R.R. houses a sinister operation whose Computer remotely activates devices on ordinary cats' collars that somewhat absurdly induce an unstoppable human-killing frenzy. Conversely, an ordinary cat is the victim (or not) of scientific murder in the quantum-Physics conundrum of Schrödinger's Cat: several sf tales inspired by this Thought Experiment are listed in that entry.
Cats are commonplace in outer-space settings. A woman brings her spacesuited cat to Mercury in Frank Belknap Long's "Cones" (February 1936 Astounding). Ruthven Todd's Space Cat (1952) is the first of four children's books (see Children's SF) chronicling the exploits of an adventurous cat who, clad in his own spacesuit, ventures to the Moon and other planets. A Spaceship's cat and assorted rodents find their Intelligence increasing when far from Earth (see Arrested Development) in James White's "The Conspirators" (June 1954 New Worlds). In Arthur C Clarke's "Who's There?" (November 1958 New Worlds; vt "The Haunted Spacesuit" 1970), a cat on a Space Station inadvertently leads a spaceman to think that his spacesuit is haunted until he discovers that the strange sounds he hears are coming from her newborn kittens. In the film 12 to the Moon (1960) directed by David Bradley, the pioneering space travelers bring two cats with them to the Moon and find that the unseen lunar inhabitants like them better than humans. Spaceship crew members bond with a stowaway cat in Gordon R Dickson's Mission to Universe (1965). Jones, the spaceship's cat, is one of two survivors of a prolonged alien attack in the film Alien (1979) directed by Ridley Scott. An episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Data's Day" (1991), revealed that the Android Data has a pet cat: Spot, also featured in later episodes. David Weber's iconic space heroine Honor Harrington has a pet cat, introduced in her first novel, On Basilisk Station (1993); another popular space traveller encounters Zap the Cat several times in Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series, beginning with Memory (1996); and a cat accompanies musicians to a galactic Music competition in Catherynne M Valente's Space Opera (2018). Cat-like pets, called tookas, rada-cats, and Loth-cats, are described in several Star Wars novels but have never appeared in any films, though tookas were referenced in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-2020).
Cats have also engaged in Time Travel. In a dream, a man is accompanied by his cat in a journey to the age of the Dinosaurs in Eden Phillpotts's "The Archdeacon and the Deinosaurs" (1901). In Cordwainer Smith's "The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal" (May 1964 Amazing Stories) a space explorer confronted by hostile beings sends several breeding pairs of cats into the far past with genetically impressed commands to evolve, develop spacegoing Technology and come to his rescue in the present day. Mark E Rogers's satirical Samurai Cat series (see Satire), beginning with The Adventures of Samurai Cat (1984), straddles the boundaries of sf and fantasy in chronicling the exploits of a warrior cat who travels both into space to Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars and through time to fantastic realms like King Arthur's Camelot; and Julia Jarman wrote about a cat who travels through time in Topher and the Time Travelling Cat (1992; vt The Time-Travelling Cat and the Egyptian Goddess 2006) and five sequels. A cat travels into the future in Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997).
Two stories envision making use of the static electricity generated by cats: William Livingston Alden's "Carter's Incandescent Cats" (April 1894 Cassell's Family Magazine), and Jacque Morgan's "The Scientific Adventures of Mr. Fosdick: The Feline Light and Power Company Is Organized" (October 1912 Modern Electrics). Cats are equipped with electric lights in Alden's "Professor Van Wagener's Eye" (November 1895 The Idler), while electricity makes an aging cat youthful again in Robert Rollins's "The Electrocution That Failed" (September 1924 Practical Electrics). Cats are given the ability to fly in Alden's "Van Wagener's Flying Cat" (December 1896 The Idler) and J U Giesy's "Zapt's Repulsive Paste" (29 November 1919 All-Story Weekly [see The All-Story]). In Katherine Kip's "My Invisible Friend" (February 1897 The Black Cat), H G Wells's The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance (12 June-7 August 1897 Pearson's Weekly; 1897) and Giesy's "Blind Man's Bluff" (24 January 1920 All-Story Weekly), cats are made invisible (see Invisibility), reminding us of the Cheshire Cat that slowly fades away – leaving only its grin behind – in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
Talking cats appear in two early sf stories: Kurd Laßwitz's "Psychotomie" (1885; Seifenblasen: Moderne Märchen coll 1890) and Saki's "Tobermory" (27 November 1909 The Westminster Gazette), whose eponym memorably embarrasses an English country-house party with its knowledge of their nocturnal doings. A B Cox's The Professor on Paws (1926) describes the transplant of a dead Scientist's brain into a cat (see Identity Transfer) who briefly speaks and evidences the scientist's intelligence; further cat-to-human and human-to-cat brain transplants feature in The Atomic Brain (1963; vt Monstrosity; vt The Brain Snatchers) directed by Joseph Mascelli. A talking cat achieved through artificial Evolution appears in Clare Winger Harris's "The Evolutionary Monstrosity" (Winter 1929 Amazing Stories Quarterly), while another talking cat is featured in Lynne Truss's Cat Out of Hell (2014). In contrast, Devolution turns a cat into a sabre-toothed tiger in the film The Neanderthal Man (1953) directed by E A Dupont. In William F Temple's "The Smile of the Sphinx" (1938 Tales of Wonder #4) it is learned that Earth's cats are both aliens from another world and intelligent beings. In The Outer Limits episode "Soldier" (1964), written by Harlan Ellison, a soldier from the future attempts to communicate with a house cat, since in his world telepathic cats function as allies in warfare. Four children's books by Ursula K Le Guin, beginning with Catwings (1988), chronicle the adventures of four kittens mysteriously born equipped with wings and the consequent ability to fly.
A self-identified "superkitten", Gummitch, narrates Fritz Leiber's "Space-Time for Springers" (1958 Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4) and appears in two subsequent stories. In Cordwainer Smith's "The Game of Rat and Dragon" (March 1955 Galaxy), humans travelling through interstellar space telepathically bond with intelligent cats (see Telepathy) to combat mysterious Monsters lurking between the stars. Spacefaring cats with special attributes are valued crewmates on spaceships in George R R Martin's Tuf Voyaging (coll of linked stories 1986) and in Anne McCaffrey's and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's Catalyst: A Tale of the Barque Cats (2010) and its sequel. In the DC Comics universe, Streaky the Super-Cat, given superpowers by exposure to the newly-created Element X-Kryptonite, was introduced as Supergirl's pet in 1960 and has made numerous later appearances, mostly as a member of the Legion of Super-Pets. Her future descendant Whizzy, whose powers include Telepathy, made a one-time appearance in 1962. Ozymandias in Watchmen and its 2009 film adaptation keeps a Genetically Engineered great cat called Bubastis. A belligerent cat named Greebo, who occasionally turns into a human, makes several appearances in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels; outside the main Discworld sequence, the titular cat and troupe of intelligent rats in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001) run a Pied Piper scam in successive hapless villages. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's We3 (graph 2004) featured an armoured, speaking cat deployed as an "animal weapon". The Robot "pet" cat Aneko in Charles Stross's Accelerando (coll of linked stories 2005) is the deliberately cute-seeming Avatar of an increasingly powerful and manipulative AI; in the same author's James Bond spoof The Jennifer Morgue (coll of linked stories 2006), the Villain's much-stroked white cat hosts a Cthulhu Mythos entity.
Though better classified as Fantasy, Algernon Blackwood's effective supernatural tale "Ancient Sorceries" (in John Silence coll 1908) is set in a French village where a visitor gradually realizes the inhabitants are Shapeshifters who regularly transform into cats and expect him to join them in the ensuing feline orgies; this inspired the film Cat People (1942) and its 1982 sequel of the same name, each about a woman who inherits the ability to become a large cat. But this attribute also figures in genuine works of sf: in Jack Williamson's Darker Than You Think (December 1940 Unknown; exp 1948), the transformations of lycanthropy are both rationalized and extended from Werewolves to include a were-sabretooth; in Andre Norton's The Jargoon Pard (1974), a troubled young man can make himself into a large cat; a menacing Alien can turn herself into a cat in the Star Trek episode "Catspaw" (1967); and the companion of an interdimensional traveller becomes a cat in Gregory Frost's Lyrec (1984).
Coeurl in A E van Vogt's "Black Destroyer" (July 1939 Astounding) is a cat-like Alien predator more dangerous than any great cat of Earth. Robert A Heinlein's The Rolling Stones (September-December 1952 Boys' Life as "Tramp Space Ship"; 1952; vt Space Family Stone 1969) memorably featured purring Martian creatures called "flat cats" who the protagonists discover reproduce at an alarming rate; they clearly inspired the "tribbles" featured in the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" (1967). Another rapid feline population explosion, here of normal domestic cats affected by radiation, takes place in The Cruise of the Talking Fish (1957) by W E Bowman. Alien "catassins" are employed as hired killers in the galactic arena of James H Schmitz's Hub stories, specifically A Tale of Two Clocks (1962; vt Legacy 1979). A telepathic cat assists a spacefaring businessman in Andre Norton's The Zero Stone (1968). Intelligent alien cats who visit Earth are featured in several works, including the Star Ka'at sequence opening with Star Ka'at (1976) by Andre Norton and Dorothy Madlee; the film The Cat from Outer Space (1978) directed by Norman Tokar; Steven Kroll's Space Cats (1979 chap); and the animated series Space Cats (1991-1992), wherein a team of alien cats secretly assists humanity. Aliens disguise themselves as cats while on Earth in Fredric Brown's The Mind Thing (1961) and Roger Zelazny's Doorways in the Sand (1976).
Humanoid beings resembling and descended from cats inhabit Venus in Edward L Rementer's "The Space Benders" (December 1928 Amazing Stories). Humanity's cat-people successors explore the past in To-morrow's Yesterday (1932) by John Gloag. Recruits to the protagonist's Spaceship crew in E E Smith's The Vortex Blaster (stories July 1941-October 1942 var mags; fixup 1960; vt Masters of the Vortex 1968) include a female Linguist from a felinoid species, whose world is later visited; such sexy cat-girls, with attractive fur and mobile ears and tails, were to become an sf Cliché. Sultry women likened to cats inhabit lunar caves in the film Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) directed by Arthur Hilton. In Leiber's The Wanderer (1964), a man with a cat encounters – intimately – a cat-like alien female whose titular dirigible planet has approached the Earth and destroyed its Moon. Cat-human hybrids, capable of consensual Sex with normal humans, recur in the John Grimes/Rim World series by A Bertram Chandler. Cat-like alien races are also central to Anne McCaffrey's Decision at Doona (1969) and its sequels; C J Cherryh's Pride of Chanur (1982) and its sequels; Lisanne Norman's Sholan Alliance sequence, beginning with Turning Point (1993); and many more. Hostile cat-like aliens, the Kzinti, are featured in Larry Niven's Known Space series, and appeared in stories by other authors in the Shared World anthology The Man-Kzin Wars (anth 1988) edited by Niven, Poul Anderson and Dean Ing, and many later anthologies. They entered the Star Trek universe in "The Slaver Weapon" (1973), an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974), which also featured a cat-like alien woman named M'Ress as part of the crew of the Enterprise. An evolved humanoid cat is one of the central characters on the titular Spaceship in the series Red Dwarf (1988-current). Cats given human form and intelligence are among the members of Cordwainer Smith's Underpeople, most prominently the female C'Mell featured in "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" (October 1962 Galaxy) and other Instrumentality of Mankind tales. The protagonist of Ross Rocklynne's "Ching Witch!" (in Again, Dangerous Visions, anth 1972, ed Harlan Ellison) is on the whole human but owing to Genetic Engineering has a lot of cat in him; similarly engineered lion-human "leos" are of central importance in John Crowley's Beasts (1976). A half-alien woman resembling a cat is the protagonist of Joan D Vinge's Psion (1982) and two sequels.
Cats and cat-like creatures (not always humanoid) abound in Japanese Anime. The Catbus of Hayao Miyazaki's Tonari no Totoro (1988; vt My Neighbor Totoro) is a uniquely iconic item of living Transportation. Further anime productions with feline or felinoid characters include Lily C.A.T. (1987); Sailor Moon (1992-1993); Outlaw Star (1998); Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space (2007); Cat Soup (2001; vt Nekojiru-sō); Nichijou (2011); From the New World (2012-2013); Humanity Has Declined (2012); Space Dandy (2014); Kemono Friends (2017-current); Akudama Drive (2020); and Sonny Boy (2021).
Finally, it should be mentioned that several comic book Superheroes and Supervillains dress like and emulate cats, including Archie Adventure Comics's superhero the Jaguar, Atlas/Seaboard Comics's superheroes Cougar and Tiger-Man, DC's hero Wildcat and villainesses Cheetah and Catwoman, Holyoke Comics's superhero Cat-Man, and Marvel Comics's superheroes Black Panther and Hellcat. Cheetah was featured in the film Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) (see Wonder Woman Film/TV); Catwoman regularly appeared in the television series Batman (1966-1968), in the animated series The Batman (2004-2008) and Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011), and in the films Batman (1966), Batman Returns (1992), Catwoman (2004), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) (see Batman Films); Wildcat appeared in episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold; and Black Panther starred in Black Panther (2018) and was referenced in the sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022). [GW/DRL]
see also: Felix the Cat; Paul Gallico; E T A Hoffmann; Don Marquis.
- Fiona Kelleghan. "Cats" in Volume 1: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2005) edited by Gary Westfahl [encyclopedia: pp105-107: first of three volumes: foreword by Neil Gaiman: hb/from the Forrest J Ackerman collection]
previous versions of this entry