Visions of Paradise

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cat Tales

I do not receive review copies of books from publishers, probably because I do not publicize my review blog to them. But for some reason about a year ago Wildside Press sent me a copy of their original anthology Cat Tales, edited by George H. Scithers. Recently I was looking for some easy reading, so I took that book with me. My expectations were not particularly high, but I am a cat lover, so how bad could the stories be? Especially since one of Scithers’ requirements for the stories was “to avoid cats coming to a bad end on stage.” That was fine with me.

Overall, the stories were delightful. While the book’s subtitle was “Fantastic Feline Fiction,” relatively few of the stories actually fell into a sub-genre of the fantastic, which did not affect their overall quality at all. Nor were the stories upbeat–in fact, I would put the majority in the downbeat category–but the delightful cats made up for that. Highlights include:

• Nancy Springer’s “American Curls,” a mystery about an old lady with 90 cats who is mugged for no apparent reason;
• Fritz Leiber’s “Kreativity for Kats,” which is about precisely what the title describes;
• Sandra Beswetherick’s “Angelique’s,” in which a wandering lover is lured back to his former girlfriend by her cat;
• Pat Esden’s “Black Pumps & A Skanky Tom,” which told of a down-and-out drunk living in a trailer park whose cat leads him to clues about a particularly gruesome murder, but the police do not believe he is a reliable source of information;
• ShereemnVerdem’s “Dragon Dreams,” about a veterinarian and her two cats who slip into an alternate dimension where they provide medical assistance to a dragon whose baby is having trouble trying to crack its shell;
• K.D. Wentworth’s “Cat Call,” which is a murder mystery told from the point of view of the cat, which actually solves the mystery and then somehow tries to point out the clues to his rather clueless owner;

Fred Chappell’s “Creeper Shadows” is the longest story in the book (over 17,000 words, where no other story is longer than 8,000 words) and also the most substantial one. It is a medieval-type fantasy involving two mysteries. The first involves a pair of twins who only share a single shadow, while the other involves a man whose voice has been stolen from him. The style of the story seems to fall into the sub-genre of Vance’s Dying Earth-influenced stories, but it is well done and very interesting, a fine capstone to the collection.

Now here’s the real creepy part about this book: halfway through it, I had decided that it was enjoyable enough that I intended to purchase the sequel Cat Tales II from Wildside Press. The very next day in the mail came an envelope containing that very book! Unordered, without any chance of the publisher having seen my review of the first book since it had not been written yet.

What is going on here? Buy the book; you’ll enjoy it, but be prepared for supernatural effects to follow.

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