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By Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann

Cats may not rank among the very earliest of domesticated animals—that honor is usually reserved for dogs, oxen, horses, and sheep—but even a conservative estimate has them throwing their lot in with the human race no later than about 1500 b.c. This means that people have had cats around the house for at least four thousand years—perhaps even going back as far as the time when the "house" was a skin tent, or a mud-and-wattle hut—and yet in all that time they have still not made up their minds just how they feel about them.

Humanity's relationship with the cat is much more complex and contradictory than the simple master-slave (or consumer-consumed) relationship that obtains with most domestic animals. At one time or another throughout history, cats have been worshipped as gods, and been hunted down and slaughtered as emissaries of the Devil. To many Amerindian tribes, they were the only animals without souls, avatars of evil, while to some French peasants they were the earthly embodiment of the Corn Spirit, venerated as the luck of the harvest. Herodotus reports the case of a Greek soldier who was torn apart by an angry Egyptian mob for injuring a cat, while in medieval Europe (no one believes this one, but see Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror for confirmation) it was a popular pastime to nail cats to a post and then attempt to batter them to death with your head without being blinded in the process (see, there are worse forms of popular entertainment than television; even an evening spent watching old Gilligan's Island reruns is classier that that). Cats have earned their own sparse livings as catchers of rats and mice, grudgingly tolerated by the farm families they serve, and they have been spoiled and pampered as pets, often with a lavishness and luxury far beyond what many human beings can afford for themselves. Sometimes they are eaten (we're willing to bet that there are still poor people in this country who eat "roof rabbit" every now and then), more often we kill other animals to feed to them (where did you think cat food comes from?). One person will casually drown a sackful of kittens, with no sense of repugnance or remorse, while another will take a sick cat to a veterinarian and spend hundreds of dollars in the attempt to nurse it back to health. Cats probably inspire greater extremes of hate and love than any other animal (with the possible exception of snakes)—we have all known people who clearly love their cats far more than they ever did their children, and who fill their houses with outrageous numbers of them; and we have also all seen grown men and women reduced to cold sweats and trembling terror by the presence of a small, relatively harmless animal dozens of times weaker, smaller, lighter, and less formidable than themselves (not even poisonous, for goodness sake!). Folklore portrays cats equally as cold, aloof, and cruel, and as affectionate, playful and loving, and we hold both images in our minds at once with seemingly no feeling of paradox or contradiction. It is perhaps not surprising that cats are one of the few animals that are almost universally believed to have supernatural powers, nor is it really odd that both pro-cat/anti-cat books should find themselves sharing the bestseller lists.

It's probably a reflection of humanity's multifaceted, sophisticated, and passionately contradictory relationship with cats that so much more fiction has been written about them than about any other kind of domestic animal (one is almost tempted to say: than about any animal). It would perhaps be possible to find a few good fantasy or SF stories about, say, dogs or horses (let us, mercifully, not even consider the idea of a Great Science Fiction Stories About Sheep anthology), but there might be one such story for every ten stories about cats (and we're willing to bet that most of the horse and dog stories would be juvenile fiction, while most cat stories are decidedly not aimed at children). There have been a lot of cat stories written over the years. Even eliminating all the cat stories that are not clearly identifiable as fantasy or science fiction (the first and most obvious winnowing screen we employed when putting this book together), we were still left with a huge amount of material to read. For instance, most of the major nineteenth-century writers—Twain, Le Fanu, Saki, Poe, Kipling, Doyle, Stoker, Bierce—wrote fantasy stories about cats, as did early twentieth-century writers such as Lovecraft, Benet, Wodehouse, Blackwood, de la Mare, Sayers, and many others. To say nothing of more contemporary stories.

All told, we must have read close to two hundred stories in the course of researching this book; we had room to use fewer than twenty of them. Further winnowing was obviously in order, and we were forced to make several hard decisions:

The first was that the stories should actually be about cats: Felis catus, the ordinary, garden-variety house cat (or, at most, his genetically engineered descendants of the far future), and not about lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, pumas, lynx, jaguars, or black panthers. We lost several good stories at this point—including Kit Reed's "Automatic Tiger," Ward Moore's "The Boy Who Spoke Cat," and Stephen King's "Night of the Tiger"—but then things began to become a bit more manageable. Next, we decided that the story must center around the cat itself, that the cat must be an integral part of the plot. This eliminated stories that just happen to have a cat in them somewhere (the protagonist's pet, maybe), but where the cat doesn't really figure in the significant movement of the plot; it eliminated a large number of science fiction stories where the hero has a superpowered cat or catlike creature of some sort as a sidekick (but where the cat's role remains that of a sidekick, peripheral to the real action), and an equally large number of fantasy stories where a witch's familiar (usually the traditional black cat) is mentioned in passing but isn't really at the center of the story; it also eliminated the staggeringly large number of SF stories where the protagonists encounter "catlike" aliens—usually either giant talking (or telepathic) cats, four-footed variety (as in Phyllis Gotlieb's "Son of the Morning"), or two-legged catlike humanoids, usually complete with fur, whiskers, tails, and claws (the sensuous Tigerishka, from Fritz Leiber's The Wanderer, is probably the classic—and classiest—example).

Next, since most of the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century material (stories by Poe, Benet, Lovecraft, Stoker, Le Fanu, and so on) was already heavily anthologized and likely to be already familiar to our audience, we decided to concentrate primarily on contemporary stories, stories published during the last thirty years (although we couldn't resist adding one little-known classic by Manly Wade Wellman from a 1939 Weird Tales).

Our last—and, we believe, most important—decision was to go for as much variety and diversity in story type as possible.

In most of the classic cat stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for instance, the cat is almost invariably evil, a sinister, stalking emissary of Satan, either ghost, demon, killer werebeast, or witch's evil familiar. And while that certainly is a valid expression of one side, the dark side, of humanity's contradictory relationship with cats (represented here in chillers by King, Crowley, Burger, and Liggett), we felt that some of the previous anthologies of cat stories suffered from this unrelieved uniformity of mood, presenting story after story in which the cats are monstrous and evil. We wanted also to examine the more positive side of humanity's long association with cats, the light side, the side in which cats are perceived as companions and friends and even benefactors (it is interesting, for example, that while many fantasy writers still tend to portray cats as evil creatures—Wellman and Slesar are exceptions here—science fiction writers almost without exception portray them as helpmates, and often even as guardians).

So, variety is the watchword here. Here you will find both fantasy and science fiction, tragedy and comedy, gentle nostalgia and bone-chilling horror. Cats as victims, cats as killers. Cats who build their own feline societies, cats who accompany humankind to the stars. Cats who can talk. Cats who can fly. Cats who have been reshaped into strange forms by the sophisticated genetic science of the future. Cats who are magicians. Cats who write television scripts. Ghost cats. Non-causal cats. Feral cats. Cats who love and nurture, cats implacably bent on revenge. Cats who save people, cats who are saved by people. Cats who are servants, cats who are masters. Witches' cats. Cats who guard your dreams, cats who'll haunt your nightmares.

Funny cats. Deadly cats.

Magic cats.

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