Saturday, February 9, 2013

Good Short Fiction: Gordon the Self-Made Cat and Guardians

Collection: Tails of Wonder and Imagination: Cat Stories
Editor: Ellen Datlow


Title: Gordon, the Self-Made Cat
Author: Peter S. Beagle

This isn't a children's story, or it doesn't have to be one anyway; it reminds me of a Pixar movie that can be enjoyed by adults and kids.

Gordon is a mouse who doesn't see why he has to be consigned to a life of keeping out of sight, fleeing from predators, and trembling in fear in small dark holes in the wall. So he decides to learn how to be a cat. The principal at the cat school is skeptical at first:
The Principal was a fat old tiger cat who chewed on his tail all the time he was talking to Gordon. "You must be out of your mind," he said when Gordon told him he wanted to be a cat. "I'd smack you up this minute, but it's bad luck to eat crazies. Get out of here!"
But Gordon is persuasive, and the story follows him through the cat school courses, which include: Running and Pouncing, The Elegant Yawn, and Making Sure You Get Enough Food Without Looking Greedy (101 and 102). There's also an Assistant Professor of Tailchasing.

This is a funny, enjoyable story. Thought-provoking, too; it gets you thinking about the extent to which our behavior is influenced by culture and learned habits.


Title: Guardians
Author: George R. R. Martin

I like this story mostly because of the amusing main character, Haviland Tuf, an intergalactic tradesman, mercenary, and ecological engineer. Tuf is large and pale, fond of cats and dishes with mushrooms. He speaks with a prim, exaggerated formality. ("Sea monsters can be most vexing" or "Always I must truckle to suspicion... They are fortunate that I am so kind-hearted, or else I would simply depart and leave them to their fate.") He knows every courtesy, yet there's always a faint thread of contempt in his voice, an exaggerated patience for what he sees as other people's stupidity.

In my head, he sounds like The Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

Tuf hears about an aquatic planet, Namor, beset by what appear to be unbeatable and extremely destructive sea creatures; these creatures are rapidly adapting to the planet's modes of attack and defense. When Tuf arrives at Namor, he liaisons with the Guardians, who serve as the planet's governing body and military. Naturally, the author writes them as more limited in perspective and imagination than Tuf.
"Your uncivilized ultimatum forced me to unwise action in order to placate you. Fortunately, while you have spent your nights gloating over transient and illusory victories, I have continued with my work."
I would probably tire of his character in the course of a long novel, but in a short story I can enjoy Tuf. I liked the way he discovers and presents the solution to Namor's problems at the end.


Other stories from this collection include: Puss-Cat (by Reggie Oliver), The White Cat (by Joyce Carol Oates), Coyote Peyote (by Carole Nelson Douglas), Every Angel Is Terrifying (by John Kessel), and Tiger in the Snow (by Daniel Wynn Barber).