Category: cat stories

Bud’s Book Club: The Game of Rat and Dragon

A week ago we kicked off Bud’s Book Club with a short story, The Game of Rat and Dragon, and a non-fiction book, Man-Eaters of Kumaon. This post deals exclusively with the former. (If you haven’t read the story yet, it’s available here free. Most people will be able to read the story in less than a half hour at a moderate reading pace.)

By now everyone who’s read the story knows what it’s about: Cats, of course! But the story requires a bit of world-building setup before the kitties are introduced:

In an unspecified future humans have become a true spacefaring species, mastering interstellar travel and founding colonies in new star systems.

It’s a lot like the days of colonial powers founding settlements in the New World, but without the ugliness of terrestrial colonization or the quaintness of crossing a mere ocean.

Using a form of traveling called planoforming — essentially faster-than-light (FTL) jumps — human ships are able to reach distant star systems without traveling for the decades or centuries it would normally take to cross the unfathomable distances between solar systems.

Just when it looks like no obstacle remains for humanity to spread out into the galaxy, the intrepid explorers on the rim of human-occupied space realize there’s an insidious threat lurking in the void between stars.

Huge entities, invisible to the human eye, live in the vacuum of the interstellar medium. They haunt the void and attack human ships without warning. They are “beasts more clever than beasts, demons more tangible than demons, hungry vortices of aliveness and hate compounded by unknown means out of the thin tenuous matter between the stars,” author Cordwainer Smith writes.

When the mysterious entities attack, most people are mercifully killed in an instant, but the unlucky ones survive in a permanent state of insanity, their minds unable to cope with whatever alien malevolence they’ve witnessed.

As they learn more from each disastrous encounter, humans come to understand these creatures prefer the deep dark, shying away from star systems and their abundant sunlight.

But without a way to make it across the void, it becomes clear the era of human exploration and colonization is over unless something can be done to stop the enemy.

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To extend the nautical theme, you can think of the dragons as giant krakens who prey on trade ships and passenger liners crossing between the American colonies and Europe during the Age of Sail. Although pushing the boundaries of new frontiers has always been dangerous, you can imagine how quickly intercontinental trade and settlement would grind to a halt if, say, half of all ships were sunk en route.

Humans can’t see the dragons, but that isn’t the primary reason they can’t successfully fight them. After all, the history of human warfare proves we’ve become adept at destroying enemies we can’t see, whether a ship’s dropping depth charges on a submarine hidden in murky waters, or some 20-year-old kid on an aircraft carrier hundreds of miles out to sea is using a joystick to lob drone-fired missiles on mainland buildings.

The real problem is that people just aren’t quick enough, unable to target and fire on the dragons before the entities react and speed away to safety.

So they turn to cats.

Kitties to the rescue

With their incredible reflexes, reaction time and hunting instincts, cats are more than a match for the dragons, and here’s where the story starts to get really fun. Cats, we’re told, travel alongside human vessels in their own little football-shaped ships that are equipped with precision miniature nuclear warheads.

Cats are happy to destroy the dragons — if their humans present the conflict as a game, make the “dragons” look like rats, and offer substantial rewards in the form of fish and poultry.

Space Kitty
“I come from the Great Litterbox in the Sky!”

That’s why the cats are called Partners: Using some sort of brain link, specially trained humans pair up with the cats, mentally project images of the dragons as “gigantic rats,” and act like spotters so the kitties can pounce on their space rodents before the latter can hurt the human passengers.

Because the dragons are harmed by light, the cats lob “ultra-vivid miniature photonuclear bombs, which [convert] a few ounces of a magnesium isotope into pure visible radiance,” neutralizing the threat before anyone can be harmed.

The mind link between human being and cat is a two-way connection, affording cats a close-up view of human thought patterns just as the humans can feel the kitty’s mental processes.

We learn that our hero, Underhill, loves the feline Partners, and he’s deeply offended when a fellow soldier mocks his work by meowing at him. We also learn the cats understand that, while their task is dressed up as a fun hunting game, they face real danger when they fight the dragons.

The mind of a cat

Through Underhill’s eyes, we meet several of the Partners.

My favorite is an unnamed tomcat, described as “a greedy old character, a tough old male whose mind was full of slobbering thoughts of food, veritable oceans full of half-spoiled fish. Father Moontree had once said that he burped cod liver oil for weeks after drawing that particular glutton, so strongly had the telepathic image of fish impressed itself upon his mind. Yet the glutton was a glutton for danger as well as for fish. He had killed sixty-three Dragons, more than any other Partner in the service, and was quite literally worth his weight in gold.”

astrocat
“To boldly go where no moggy has gone before!”

We’re told that the cats recognize the complexity of human minds, but aren’t necessarily impressed by them. The things humans concern themselves with and worry about are “silly” from a cat’s perspective (which, perhaps not coincidentally, is how the philosopher John Gray imagines how cats view us), and cats can quickly grow bored with a human too focused on highly abstract thoughts or subjects that simply don’t have much bearing on feline life:

“Usually the Partners didn’t care much about the human minds with which they were paired for the journey. The Partners seemed to take the attitude that human minds were complex and fouled up beyond belief, anyhow. No Partner ever questioned the superiority of the human mind, though very few of the Partners were much impressed by that superiority.

The Partners liked people. They were willing to fight with them. They were even willing to die for them. But when a Partner liked an individual the way, for example, that Captain Wow or the Lady May liked Underhill, the liking had nothing to do with intellect. It was a matter of temperament, of feel.

Underhill knew perfectly well that Captain Wow regarded his, Underhill’s, brains as silly. What Captain Wow liked was Underhill’s friendly emotional structure, the cheerfulness and glint of wicked amusement that shot through Underhill’s unconscious thought patterns, and the gaiety with which Underhill faced danger. The words, the history books, the ideas, the science—Underhill could sense all that in his own mind, reflected back from Captain Wow’s mind, as so much rubbish.”

Underhill is as fond of Captain Wow and Lady May, a friendly Persian, as they are of him. He’s happy when he’s called upon to defend a ship and finds out he’s been paired with the latter:

“When he had first come into contact with her mind, he was astonished at its clarity. With her he remembered her kittenhood. He remembered every mating experience she had ever had. He saw in a half-recognizable gallery all the other pinlighters with whom she had been paired for the fight. And he saw himself radiant, cheerful and desirable.”

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What’s unique about this story — and what makes it particularly memorable, in my opinion — is Cordwainer Smith’s decision to explore the feline mind.

Out on a limb, from a feline world view

Minds, human or animal, are called “black boxes” for a reason. Even with the benefit of advanced science, even with fMRI and other forms of imaging, even with algorithmic AI that can read thoughts and sketch rudimentary images from our minds, we really don’t know what others are thinking, human or animal.

Smith goes out on a limb by imagining what must go on in the minds of cats, and it’s obvious he’s not only a cat lover, but he had a lifetime of experience with our furry friends when he wrote the story.

The idea that cats are all about emotion and tangible things — and are bored by things humans concern themselves with — seems dead on, as does the idea that cats aren’t impressed by our intellectual superiority, which only counts as superiority in human terms. Even if they had opposable thumbs and the means to create, would cats be interested in the kind of things we do?

Probably not. God only knows what kind of structures cats might build and what songs they’d write, but I’m pretty sure my cat would write paeans to turkey.

Did you like the story? What are your thoughts?

Nursed Back To Health, Rescue Kitten Becomes Garfeldian Superstar

Meet Fedya, Instragram’s newest feline star.

The playful cat with a permanently surprised look on his face was just a week old when he was separated from his mom last year. Natalia Zhdanova heard his cries and found him alone, hungry and sick in her backyard in Rostov, Russia.

With help from her neighbor’s cat, Handsome, Zhdanova nursed Fedya back to health, and now the little guy is up to a healthy weight and thriving at 18 months old.

“He was very weak and was dying,” Zhdanova told the UK’s SWNS wire. “Handsome cleaned and licked Fedya and became like a father figure to him.”

The two cats are now “the best of friends,” and Zhdanova said Fedya “purrs very loudly” for her and Handsome.

“He is a very sweet, gentle, playful, and intelligent cat,” she said.

You can see more photos and videos of Kedya on Instagram @fedja_kot, where he’s accumulated more than 36,000 followers.

Buddy’s Gate Crashing My Dreams

Buddy has a tendency to show up in my dreams, which I attribute to his relentless insistence on messing with me while I’m asleep, whether it’s yowling in my ear for breakfast, deciding my nose needs grooming or just burrowing into me with a soft “Mrrrrrp!”

Last night, however, was a doozy. I dreamt I was back in high school, but instead of being in class I was in the newsroom at my first-ever newspaper job, which somehow occupied the third floor of the school building. I excused myself to go have a smoke — which I don’t do anymore — and walked down to the first floor where Bud was waiting for me near the door leading outside.

To say I was alarmed to find him just hanging out unsupervised in my high school-slash-workplace would be an understatement.

“Bud!” I said. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I came here with you, remember?” Buddy answered, speaking as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “We took the Celica.”

I sighed.

“I can’t have you running around here where someone could snatch you,” I said. “You’re going back in the car until I’m done for the day.”

“No I’m not!”

“Yes you are!”

“Oh yeah?” Buddy asked. “Where’s the car?”

Celica
A black Celica just like the one I owned until it died one day on the highway en route to Long Island.

And that’s when my dream morphed into a recurring nightmare, which is that I’m walking through a parking lot and can’t find my car. (In this case the car I got at 19 years old, a black Celica hatchback that was all sleek looks and underwhelming engine power. I still miss that car!) In these dreams I start to panic, redouble my efforts, and realize the parking lot is so huge, so endless that I’m gonna need a lift, someone to drive me around so I can look for my car

Buddy smile
“I’m a little Buddy, short and sweet! Here are my clawses, here are my feet!”

Maybe I can ease my anxiety in future dreams by dispatching Buddy to look for the car, but in last night’s dream he was clearly responsible for moving it.

“Bud…” I said. “What’d you do with the car?”

Dreams have a way of making it seem perfectly reasonable that a 10-pound house cat can not only speak, but drive a car.

I was absolutely sure that little jerk had hidden my car! (And here’s the standard disclaimer for all new readers: “little jerk” is a term of endearment when it comes to Bud. I love the little guy, obviously.)

I know it was just a dream, but it’s probably not a bad idea to hide my keys from now on…

Bud’s Book Club: The Man-Eaters of Kumaon & The Game of Rat and Dragon

Welcome to the inaugural post of Buddy’s Book Club, where we’ll read stories about cats and stories involving cats!

We’re going to start things off easy with a classic short story of the cat canon, which is available for free online via Project Gutenberg, and a seminal book about big cats from a man whose name is indelibly linked with them.

The Game of Rat and Dragon (1954) by Cordwainer Smith

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Read it here for free from Project Gutenberg, a collaborative effort to create a digital archive of important cultural literary works that have fallen into the public domain. For those unfamiliar with Project Gutenberg, it’s completely above-board, legal and safe for your devices, and the story opens in plain HTML with illustrations included as image files. You can read the story in a browser or download it onto a reading device, tablet or phone.

The Game of Rat and Dragon first appeared, as so much short fiction of the era did, in a digest. Although Smith had penned it the year before, the story was published in Galaxy Science Fiction’s October 1955 issue and became an instant classic among cat-lovers and science fiction aficionados. (There is considerable overlap between the two, not surprisingly: Introverts whose imaginations run wild when they look to the stars tend to have many of the same personality traits as people who prefer the more sublime antics of cats.)

The Game of Rat and Dragon imagines a far future in which humanity has become a star-faring culture, meaning we’ve conquered interstellar flight and have begun to colonize planets in star systems other than our own.

There is, of course, a problem. The dark, lonely void between stars isn’t as empty as we thought it was, and is inhabited by invisible (to the human eye), inscrutable, inexorable entities eventually dubbed “dragons.”

When dragons attack they leave only death and insanity in their wake, putting the entire idea of interstellar travel at risk. Imagine if there was a not-insignificant chance of your passenger jet being attacked by impervious creatures every time you hopped on a plane. It wouldn’t be long before the entire air industry collapsed and the world suddenly became a much bigger place, with other continents unreachable by air.

Who can help humans with this problem? Cats, of course! To say more would be to spoil the fun. Meow!

Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1944) by Jim Corbett

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Available as an ebook for 99 cents from Barnes and Noble.

Jim Corbett was a sportsman, the son of a government official in the British Raj who was raised in India’s jungles and came to know them intimately. He’s best remembered as the fearless hunter who finally brought down the infamous Champawat tigress, who officially claimed 436 lives over a years-long rampage as a man-eater, and likely many more that went unrecorded.

To understand the gravity of Corbett’s accomplishments, it’s necessary to understand the effect of a man-eater on rural India. The people living in India’s tiny villages are subsistence farmers. If they don’t farm, they don’t eat.

But when a man-eater as dangerous as the Champawat tigress claims an area as its hunting grounds, everything grinds to a halt: Farmers refuse to tend their fields, villagers disappear behind locked doors, and a simple walk to a neighboring village becomes an impossibility unless escorted by a group of two dozen or more armed men. Even then it’s a risk, for as Corbett notes, when tigers become man-eaters they have no fear of humans and will kill people in broad daylight, even when they’re in groups.

And yet for all their power and predatory instincts, tigers are never deliberately cruel and don’t harm humans willingly. Tigers become man-eaters by unfortunate circumstance, usually due to negligence or stupidity on the part of humans.

The Champawat tigress, for example, was like any other big cat until a human hunter took aim and shot her in the mouth, destroying one lower canine completely and shattering another. The tiger could no longer take down her usual prey, or at least not without serious difficulty. At some point — perhaps after encountering the body of a person it did not kill — the tigress realized she could survive on human flesh.

If that hadn’t happened, those 436-plus souls wouldn’t have been lost, an entire region wouldn’t have been brought to its knees, and the tigress would have continued life as normal.

The vast majority of the time, tigers are content to let humans be.

“I think of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who, while working in the forests or cutting grass or collecting dry sticks, pass day after day close to where tigers are lying up and who, when they return safely to their homes, do not even know that they have been under the observation of this so called ‘cruel’ and ‘bloodthirsty’ animal,” Corbett writes.

Despite his reputation as the man to enlist when a man-eater terrorized a region, Corbett saw the way things were trending a century ago, and begged people to let the big cats live undisturbed.

“A tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage,” he wrote, “and that when he is exterminated — as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support — India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.”

Corbett would undoubtedly be deeply disturbed by the situation today, with only some 4,000 wild tigers remaining in the entire world, and the glorious species mostly reduced to spending life in captivity, constantly sedated so that idiots can pay to take selfies with them.

The Man-Eaters of Kumaon follows Corbett on 10 hunts of man-eating tigers and leopards. It’s also a story of life in the British Raj, rural life in India, Corbett’s jungle adventures, his love for his loyal hunting dog and his turn toward conservation.

Schedule:

We can do the short story in a week, yeah? Let’s shoot for one week for The Game of Rat and Dragon, and two weeks for The Man-Eaters of Kumaon. We’ll adjourn and discuss in follow-up posts. Happy reading!

‘Merica Saves A Cat On The 20th Anniversary of 9/11

Humans can be the cruelest of creatures, but sometimes we can be among the most compassionate.

That compassionate side came out on Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, at a Miami Hurricanes game of all places.

Craig and Kimberly Cromer are Hurricanes season ticket holders who bring a large US flag to every game, which they’ve been doing for seven years.

Per the Miami Herald:

Early in the second quarter of No. 22 Miami’s home-opener against the Appalachian State Mountaineers, a murmur rose up from the student section at Hard Rock Stadium. The students, many attending their first-ever home game, noticed a cat dangling from the upper deck. The Cromers turned around and first thought it was a dog. Another fan nearby thought it was someone’s kid.

Once the Cromers realized what was happening, they sprung into action. Craig ripped his flag free from his zip-ties, and he and his wife stretched it out to create a landing pad for the terrified cat.

No one’s sure how the cat got into the stadium or ended up on the upper deck railing, but the entire stadium began paying attention when the cat lost its footing, grabbed a wire hanging from the underside and was desperately trying to hold on, its little body dangling precariously.

People seated in the upper deck tried to help, but by that point the black-and-white domestic shorthair was out of reach.

Video of the dramatic incident shows the fearful feline hanging on by its claws. At that point, the entire stadium was invested in the poor kitty’s plight, with thousands of people inhaling nervously as one claw broke away and kitty continued to hold on by a single paw.

The cat had drawn the attention of the game’s announcers as well by that point. There was no way the cat could have known people below were scrambling to break the fall, and kitty inadvertently released droplets of terror pee on the fans in the lower deck.

The Cromers grabbed the flag, “snatched it off the handrail and used it to break the cat’s fall,” Craig Cromer told the Herald.

Catching the little one was “probably the strangest thing that’s happened” to the couple, Kimberly Cromer said.

Footage shows the cat landing on the flag, then quickly tumbling into the section below, eventually ending up in the arms of a kind-looking woman who (we hope) was able to soothe raw nerves.

It was not immediately clear what happened to the cat, but it wasn’t a stray.

“It had a collar so it must be someone’s,” Miami student Dylan Marinov told WPLG, a local news station. Marinov recorded the drama on his smartphone and shared it online.

Hard Rock Stadium’s official Twitter feed said it had made a donation to the Miami Human Society in honor of the kitty’s safe landing, and said stadium staff “wish the cat the best in his remaining eight lives.”