Cats are dicks.
Before the cat lovers of the world descend on the Tor.com offices, think about it for a moment. You have this animal in your house, most likely by choice (and if it’s not by choice, you should probably look into getting that taken care of), and sometimes you can pet them if they’re so inclined. If they are not inclined, you’ll most likely get a swipe of claws on the back of your hand or knuckles. They also tear through your house at three o’clock in the morning, crashing into doors and walls. It’s supposedly to “release energy” according to cat scientists, but you absolutely cannot convince me that needs to be the case in the middle of the night.
My cat, Otter, is a dick. She doesn’t like anyone aside from me—even then, she has to be in the right mood—and will prowl and hiss anytime I have someone over at my house, which does wonders for my dating life. I love her, but it can be an exasperated type of love, like the kind I imagine parents have for their kids when they find out their children have drawn on the walls with permanent markers.
When I started writing The House in the Cerulean Sea, I knew the lead character—Linus Baker—would be a fussy, prickly fellow, set in his ways as a mid-level bureaucrat, employed by the Department In Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY). He has his routine, living a somewhat dreary life in a city where the rain never ends.
His only burst of color in an otherwise drab existence is Calliope, his diva of a cat he found as a kitten before the novel opens. Though she cannot speak, Calliope plays a central role in Linus’s development as a character, helping him to step out of the rain and into the warm sunshine, surrounded by a cerulean sea.
Cats have a long and storied history in the science fiction/fantasy genre, be it books or film or television. Whether they speak or not, cats—with their otherworldly countenance—tend to make interesting companions, either acting as a foil for the hero/heroine or having their own ulterior motives. It’s why I chose to have Linus—a man without friends—speak to his cat as if she were a person. While she doesn’t speak, she gets her point across quite easily.
Here are a few fictional cats that stand out for me:
Ser Pounce (A Feast of Crows)
George RR Martin kills everything: people, dragons, dogs, beasties, heroes, villains—no one is safe from his diabolically evil mind. Thankfully, Ser Pounce wasn’t one of his many victims, at least not yet. Given as one of three kittens to Tommen (Boots and Lady Whiskers being the other two), Ser Pounce chases a scrap of fur that Tommen tied to a fishing pole. When a mouse is stolen from Ser Pounce by Lady Whiskers, the terrifying Cersei Lannister says, “Ser Pounce must learn to defend his right. In this world the weak are always the victims of the strong.” (And, if she wasn’t terrible enough already, in the television version of Game of Thrones, Ser Pounce is apparently executed off-screen under Cersei’s orders. Yikes.)
Terry Pratchett can make me laugh like most authors can’t. Greebo, a cat with one green eye and one milky white, is no exception. But for me, the humor comes not from when Greebo is a cat (though he does chase bears and eat vampires), but when he is transformed into a human, while still retaining all his cat-like mannerisms. The fact that women fawn over him only adds to his mystique, especially since, as a cat, he made it his mission to father as many offspring as he possibly could.
Lying Cat (Saga)
Sidekick to the Will, Lying Cat looks like a sphinx, and is greenish-blueish with yellow eyes. She also has the ability to suss out when someone is telling a direct lie, uttering the word “Lying.” While she can be vicious, she also has kindness in her. In issue #14, Sophie says, “I am all dirty on the inside because I did bad things with—” to which Lying cat replies, “Lying.”
Bagheera (The Jungle Book)
Whether it be from the novel by Rudyard Kipling or the sanitized Disney version of the same name, Bagheera—a black panther—is a wonderfully gruff empathetic character. Acting as a protector and friend of Mowgli, Bagheera heartbreakingly reveals why he has the insight into men that he does: he was born into captivity and suffered because of it. While it could have led to him becoming a villain, he instead chose to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves, namely Mowgli. He becomes Mowgli’s mentor through their adventures, and in the end, has the best line (in my opinion): “Remember, Bagheera loved thee.”
Church (Pet Sematary)
Church doesn’t speak, doesn’t act as a mentor, doesn’t tell when people are lying. For all intents and purposes, he’s just a cat. But since this is Stephen King we’re dealing with, it’s never that simple. Church dies, a victim of the busy road in front of the Creed home. Unable to tell his daughter that Church has died, Louis Creed follows Jud Crandall into the woods, and buries Church in the “pet sematary”. Church comes back, but he’s not the same. And while he still doesn’t speak, he acts as a chilling lesson in what happens when men try to play god for the love of their family. Things do not end well for Church, or for the Creed family.
Now, if you’ll excuse me. My cat is sitting on my desk as I write this, staring at me in that way she does, statute-still until I give her the attention she so demands. She’s a dick, sure, but I belong to her because she chose me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Originally published March 2020.
TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House on the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.