Fair warning: It’s about to get real nerdy up in here.
Cats have been a mainstay in science fiction, more so than any other animal.
Whether it’s Cordwainer Smith’s spacefaring cats obliterating aliens in “The Game of Rat and Dragon,” Sigourney Weaver’s Jonesy the Nostromo ship cat surviving the eponymous Alien, or Fritz Lieber’s beloved Gummitch the Super Kitten, felines have long played major roles in speculative fiction.
They’ve been mousers on interstellar starships, companions on long-haul freighters and — like Speaker to Animals, the Kzin from Larry Niven’s classic science fiction novel Ringworld — warriors of galactic repute leading dangerous expeditions to alien worlds.
Star Trek is no different.
Mention the topic of cats to any Trekkie and the first thing that probably comes to mind is Spot, the orange tabby cat who belonged to Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
One of the highlights of Star Trek: The Next Generation is watching the gruff Klingon learn that, unlike dogs, cats don’t give a damn about commands.
But cats play a much bigger role in the wider Star Trek universe than even many Trekkies realize.
As fans of Star Trek know, the Federation is an alliance of peaceful worlds and races committed to exploration of the galaxy, friendship with new species and non-interference with developing civilizations.
What many may not realize, however, is just how many species are involved in the Federation. Some, like the Bajorans, Andorians and Betazoids, are seen pretty frequently in Trek shows and movies, but others have made only a few on-screen appearances.
Among the latter are the Caitians, described in Memory Alpha (the wiki of canon for Star trek) as “a warp-capable species resembling felines.”
Their home planet is known as Cait to other races, and Ferasa to the Caitians themselves, and is located within the Lynx constellation. They made their first live-action appearance in 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:
Because of its origins as a network television show, budget has always been a major factor in the way aliens are depicted in Star Trek.
The show’s writers have come up with an elaborate back story for why so many alien species are humanoid, closely representing humankind, but the minor differences of most species — the ridged foreheads of Klingons and elfin ears of Vulcans — are for the most part remnants from the days when production crews had little money or time to create elaborate props and effects.
It’s also the reason why the Klingons, for example, were radically redesigned in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, with its lavish budget and SFX.
With a species like the Caitians, however, you either go all-in or not-at-all. That’s why the species has made only three appearances in Trek films to date, and why most of their exploits have been reserved for Trek novels and comics.
But the internet loves cats, and Star Trek Online, the massively multiplayer online game set in the Trek universe, saw enormous positive feedback when it added Caitians as a playable species back in 2011.
Here’s my very own Caitian starfleet captain from the game:
According to Star Trek lore, the Caitians share distant ancestry with the Kzin, the aforementioned war-like race of feline aliens from Niven’s Ringworld books.
That’s because Niven himself had a run as a writer for Trek comic books in the 1980s, and wrote his own creation into the wider Star Trek universe.
Just like cats have a range of personalities, and breeds have their own unique characteristics — the gentle giant Maine Coons, the talkative Siamese — the felines of Star Trek have different lineages and dispositions.
While the Caitians are peaceful and staunch allies of humans and the Federation, the Kzinti are a bunch of war-loving lunatics who find great joy in blowing things up.
Thanks — or no thanks — to JJ Abrams, there are even “sexy Caitians,” like the pair we see in 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. In the film we see Captain James T. Kirk, played by Chris Pine, waking up in a bed with two women. Both women have long, feline tails, and Abrams would later confirm they’re the alternate universe version of Caitians.
Maybe, just maybe, a handful of you non-Trekkies have made it this far. Maybe your love of cats kept you interested in this story, and you’re thinking to yourself, “I wonder what Star Trek is all about…”
In the spirit of the Federation, I leave you this parting gift. During these dark days of quarantine, should you browse Netflix and find yourself tempted by Star Trek: The Next Generation, here’s a guide to the entire cast that imagines each of them as cats. And not just any cats: Each kitty resembles its Enterprise crew counterpart.
Live long, my friends, and prosper!
(Star Trek Cats by artist Jenny Parks. Check out more at her site!)