Birthday Reviews: Gene Wolfe’s “The Cat”
Gene Wolfe was born on May 7, 1931.
Wolfe received the Nebula Award for his novella “The Death of Doctor Island” in 1974 and in 1982, he received the Nebula again for the novel The Claw of the Conciliator, the second volume in his Book of the New Sun. He has a total of twenty Nebula nominations and in 20013 was recognized by SFWA as a Grand Master.
He has received the World Fantasy Award for his novels The Shadow of the Torturer and Soldier of Sidon as well as for his collections Storeys from the Old Hotel and The Very Best of Gene Wolfe. The Shadow of the Torturer also won a British SF Association Awards. The Sword of the Lictor received the August Derleth Award from the British Fantasy Society and the final volume of the Book of the New Sun, The Citadel of the Autarch, received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and the Prix Apollo. The later, fifth volume, The Urth of the New Sun was recognized with the Italia Award.
Wolfe has also received a Rhysling Award for his poem “The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps.” In 1985, he was the Guest of Honor at Aussiecon Two, the Worldcon in Melbourne and a GoH at the World Fantasy Con in 1983. He received a Skylark Award in 1989 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from World Fantasy Con in 1996. In 2007, Wolfe was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
“The Cat” was first published in the Souvenir book for the 1983 World Fantasy Convention. Gardner Dozois picked the story up for the inaugural volume of his long-running The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection and also reprinted the story in Magicats!, co-edited with Jack Dann. Wolfe included the story in his collection Endangered Species and later in the collection The Castle of the Otter, published by Centipede Press and which included the earlier Zeising Brothers book The Castle of the Otter along with additional material published in the intervening 23 years. In 1990, the story was translated into French as “Le Chat,” and has been published in France at least three times.
Set in Wolfe’s world of the New Sun, the events of “The Cat” follow the Chatelaine Sancha as related by the Steward Odilo. Relying on hearsay and rumor, Odilo is able to discuss Sancha’s life from the time she was a young girl until her death. Odilo begins with her friendship with Father Inire. Father Inire shows a teen-aged Sancha a device which accidentally causes her pet cat to disappear. Although heartbroken by the loss of her pet, Sancha moves on with her life, getting involved in scandals and intrigue, moving away from the House Absolute to marry, and eventually returning to the House Absolute in her old age, widowed and estranged from her son, the object of speculation as rumors of the old scandal re-emerged, and an object of mystery since, although she denied having a pet, she seemed to be accompanied by an invisible cat.
Wolfe’s focus in the story is not on the cat, despite the story’s title, but rather on Chatelaine Sancha’s life and the perception people living in House Absolute have of her. Always noted as special, reactions ranged from intrigued to dislike to friendship, just as with any other person. The fact that she is initially presented as being a unique specimen, notably tall for her age, tends to heighten people’s responses to her while her position as the focal point of Odilo’s story declares her importance.
Reprint reviewed in the collection Endangered Species, by Gene Wolfe, Orbit 1989.
Steven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.
That’s a choice I trust no one will dispute!
Although, today is Angela Carter’s birthday!
(And, I note, ElRon’s son’s birthday.)