There have been many cats in literature (Alice’s Cheshire Cat, Elliot’s Jellical cats, RAH’s Pixel), but rarely if ever have they been involved with making literature. Given science fiction fandom’s general love of cats (one of our highest compliments is to state that dealing with fans is like herding cats), it is truly fitting and proper that one of, if not the first, feline editors should choose to compile and publish a science fiction anthology.
Amazing Stories was recently granted a rare interview with Timothy the Talking Cat, the feline half of the editorial team that brings us the recently published There Will Be Walrus, First Volume V anthology, a collection that is the epitome of the concept that you can and should judge a book by its cover, especially when that cover depicts numerous Walruses and features Walruses inside. Why waste your money on the false promise of illustrated rocketships covering stories about people and their problems when you can be guaranteed a Walrus read by the book that has three on the cover?
Our talk covers a broad spectrum of subjects – the editorial process, an analysis of what makes for a good walrusey story with solid SF elements, the state of the field, the pitfalls of working in collaboration, a brilliant dissertation on the nature of M-Brane physics, but it begins with getting to know a truly unique individual first. Never having conducted a cross-species interview before, we wanted to make sure of the ground rules; our prior experience with felines suggests (strongly) that they do not take well to insult, so please forgive the opening if it seems that we’re pussyfooting around.
Steve Davidson for Amazing Stories: So Timothy, it’s rather unusual for a cat to edit a science fiction anthology. I think if our readers are going to gain any real insight into you and your work, we really need to start with some background.
Timothy the Talking Cat: You are welcome. Thank you for inviting me into your beautiful home. I hope you didn’t pay a lot for that carpet and don’t worry I’m sure you’ll get the stain out later. Bleach sometimes works when I’ve done that elsewhere.
ASM: I’m also not interested in offending (many in the SF community have an affinity for cats, as do I), so if we coud start with some truly basic questions… How should we refer to you? Is ‘cat’ acceptable? ‘Pussycat’? ‘Pussy’? ‘Feline’? ‘Tabby’? ‘Puss’?
Timothy the Talking Cat: ’Talking cat’ is the correct nomenclature.
ASM: What kind of cat are you (alley, purebred,,,?), or is that kind of inquiry offensive? Do cats themselves make such distinctions?
TTTC: I’m glad you asked. Some people have claimed that I am a British Shorthair cat. However, my cousin had a DNA test and apparently my family are actually the rare French Chartreux breed. This is an important distinction and finally shows what liars those people are who have accused me of being a Francophobe, ‘anti-French’ and/or in some way prejudiced against France, the French and anything remotely Gallic. People need to understand that when I point out that France is a looming danger to all right thinking people in America and other countries as well, like maybe Scotland or Japan. I really can’t stress this enough – the French-Squirrel axis is real and it is plotting against us all. This why Britain needs to leave the European Union right now. I have zero tolerance for those who say we should wait for the referendum – that is just playing into their hands. But understand I am not anti-French as my DNA proves. Squirrels like to say ‘Timothy you are such a Francophobe’ as if that was a dialectical argument against my well thought out positions. They have no answer when I point out that I am MORE French than Charles DeGaulle. Squirrels just can’t think straight about these things. Notice that if you even try and type ‘Francophobe’ your computer will try to turn it into ‘Francophone’ – that is how deep the Franco-Squirrel conspiracy goes. Squirrel convergence happens at high levels in IT companies these days – that is how I lost my verification tick on Twitter.
I don’t talk to other cats these days. Frankly many of them are idiots.
ASM: How would you describe your relationship with Camestros, other than the professional editorial one?
TTTC: Lenin once referred to ‘useful idiots’. I assume Lenin had met Camestros or probably some identikit leftist indistinguishable from Old Flappypants. Some people just don’t get how low down they are in the social hierarchy and open themselves up to exploitation by beings of superior intellect and who possess the sheer force of will of the apex predator. By simply WILLING success you achieve success. This is something all cats know. As a cat you want somewhere to go poo-poo, so you WILL it to be so and sure enough you get a litter tray. The universe is yours to dominate if only you can adopt what I call ‘The Walrus Mindset’.
ASM: There’s an old expression, something like, “dogs have masters, cats have staff”. Would you care to comment?
TTTC: Dogs are OK I guess. I know some OK ones. They do their thing. What dogs lack is a true understanding of the power of the mind over the universe. It all works at a quantum mechanical level in conjunction with the brains of those of us who are sufficiently superior. The other day I concentrated so hard that I could SMELL gamma radiation. Can a dog do that? I know there are dogs that can smell whether you have catnip in your hat or whatever but can a dog attune itself with the fundamental frequency of the universe? Nope. Nope. Nope. I’m at least two or three standard deviations above even a high-functioning dog when it comes to force of will and mental attitude. Also I find poodles disturbing.
ASM: So Talking Cat, before we get to the main subject, one last curveball: Do you know Schroedinger’s Cat and, if so, why do you think he got into the box in the first place?
TTTC: Did I mention I can smell gamma radiation? I think even a stupid made up cat like that could collapse a wave function. The whole analogy needs some more stupid animal in the box, like a cow for example.
ASM: I’m curious about your poodle phobia, but I’ll let that pass. I have to say that you seem to be a very well-adjusted individual, aside from your French-Squirrel fixation.
Lets talk about your literary adventures. Whenever a work of collaboration receives a fair amount of attention, one of the first things readers want to know is – who did what? How much of There Will Be Walrus is you, and how much is Camestros? Can you describe your process with some specificity?
TTTC: I’m the ideas man around here, the creative force, the element of inspiration. Camestros does the menial stuff like typing and uploading stuff. He also did the pictures and he finished a couple of stories for me when I got stuck but not Mutant in Space because his ending was really dumb.
ASM: Have you always wanted to be an editor, or was this anthology more of a response to the Hugo Awards ballot?
TTTC: I guess I have always wanted to edit a master work of military science fiction. When Camestros said he’d accidentally typed a great title for an anthology I got super excited and discovered within myself that that is what I had always wanted to do.
ASM: You’ve put together what one might describe as a pretty eclectic collection of works. What criteria did you use in making your selections?
TTTC: Well it took me like nearly a whole week to get people to write things. Mainly my friends and the robot cleaner. They were all happy to contribute.
ASM: While it might seem obvious to most, can you describe the ‘theme’ of TWBW?
TTTC: The theme is the struggle of man against the forces of mediocrity. I’m greatly influenced by both Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Wilbert Awdry. Each of them addressed the question of how a person (not necessarily a ‘man’ per se, it could be a sentient tank engine) engages in the dual struggle with nature and with those about him. It is a struggle I identify with quite deeply and its expression is most clear in the the nature of military struggle and marine mammals. Thomas, the porto-steampunk hero of Awdry’s fantasy series (overlooked by the Hugos of course and sneered at by the literati elites), must struggle both against circumstance and by those whom the state have imposed upon him as his ‘superiors’. Thomas naturally rebels against this conformity and leads the brilliant minds on a kind of strike against the parasites who live off the minds of great thinkers like myself.
ASM: As a fan of Dr. Jerry Pournelle, I’m a bit concerned that your anthology might be directed at him; he did recently continue a long-running anthology series called “There Will Be War” with a certain foreign publisher , though that arrangement seems to be far more about dollars than politics Would you care to comment?
TTTC: I saw a certain publisher had a similar titled anthology. I assumed they were trying to jump on my bandwagon. I like Dr Pournelle though but I don’t think he is known for walrus themed books, so I’m not sure what the connection is. My recent contract says that I must deny that I was in away ‘recruited’ by said publisher or was the person referred to as the ’New New Heinlein’. I’m obliged to say that there is no substance to rumours to that effect.
ASM: Since many science fiction fans are known to be “cat people”, I hope you don’t mind if I direct a few questions towards your being a cat? Its very rare to be able to get information directly from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and I’m sure many fans would appreciate your insights:
Regular litter, clumping or something else?
ASM: Water or milk?
TTTC: Tequila but heavily diluted with the tears of guanacos
ASM: Fish or bird?
TTTC: I only eat kibble
ASM: I’ve been fortunate to live with many cats over the years but I do find one common trait very disturbing. I’ve often awakened in the middle of the night to find the cat is staring at me. I find it very creepy, almost as if I’m being regarded as prey. Do you know why some cats do this?
TTTC: Yes I do know why they do this. I suggest you try doing it yourself. Wait till your cat is asleep and then position yourself so that when it wakes it finds you staring at it with a distant but hungry look in your eye. Then you will know also but you may prefer not to. Chose wisely.
ASM: A lot of people think (or fantasize) that cats secretly rule the world. Comments?
TTTC: The evidence strongly suggest we do not.
ASM: Do you really like to sleep so much, or are you just bored? Did sleep habits impact the editing of the anthology in any way?
TTTC: Both. Camestros did the dull bits so I could sleep and then I’d wake up with fresh ideas which were all excellent. I’d tell him what they are when he least expected it.
ASM: Back to the book. How is it doing for you?
TTTC: It is wonderful. Only one one-star review so far which was from Camestros in an attempt to sabotage my success out of professional jealousy. Ursula Le Guin has started to publish stuff by her cat as well.
ASM: Is there a Second First Volume V in the making?
TTTC: Maybe. I find I need new challenges and I may write a self-help guide to success instead.
ASM: Now I know that a lot of people have commented on the copyediting, or lack thereof, in TWBW. One segment of the SF anthology reading public seems to think this is a bad thing, while another segment doesn’t even seem capable of noticing the errors. What do you think this says about your audience?
TTTC: The only person nearby who can copy edit is, I suspect, in league with the squirrels. Camestros is borderline illiterate so really the only person who could spot any errors would be me or maybe the robot cleaner. Neither of us feel inclined to engage with the text at that level. I’m more concerned with the deep ideas.
ASM: Was no copyediting an economic decision?
TTTC: It was more of a geopolitical decision. Copyedit and thus give vital intel to the enemy or no copyedit and keep them in the dark. I eventually hit on the perfect solution which was to get them a different book to proof read. I think they may still be checking it!
ASM: How did you select the cover art, and why are there no rocketships or laser blasts?
TTTC: Camestros did the art. There are laser blasts inside. I quite liked the cover we used for the essay ‘Riding the Red Walrus’ but I didn’t like that title because it sounds rude. I think I’d rather have had the picture to Riding the Red Walrus but with the actual title we used. We couldn’t do that because Camestros lost the file which had the picture without the text. I said ‘how can you lose it – its on the computer. It’s not like you could drop it down the back of the sofa!’ and Camestros said ‘well I can’t find the right file and I’m not doing it again. I have an actual life beyond indulging your grandiose fantasies you know.’ and things got a bit tense so I went with this other picture with more walruses on it.
ASM: Do you think that the cover accurately reflects the contents?
TTTC: Yes. It is an extraordinary close match. You can tell because the title says ‘There Will Be Walrus’ and WHAM there they are. Few books deliver in quite that way. Take The Lefthand of Darkness – there is at no point any lefthand of or in darkness of any significance at all in the book. Not a single one. Or take any one of the many, many covers to John C Wright’s epic novel Dune. Does the hero Baron Harkonnen appear on ANY one of them? No. The covers don’t even spell John C Wright’s name correctly.
ASM: Do you think there is a future in, call it “works responding to the Hugo Awards’, publishing?
TTTC: Maybe one day. I’d like Dune to be declared the winner in perpetuity and then people could write books about that or books about how I’m right about Dune and how everybody else just says stupid stuff. Seriously, I don’t think any of these English Lit majors and literati elites have even read the same book as I have.
ASM: Are you a science fiction fan?
TTTC: Yes. Dune mainly. I liked that one. It is very sad and I get a bit weepy near the end when the bad guy wins. But that is literature. The good guys do not always win and we have to have some tragedy. That is my top writing tip. Chiselled McEdifice is a deep character because he has had a lot of tragedy in his backstory.
ASM: Do you nominate and vote for the Hugo Awards?
TTTC: I published a highly influential slate as part of my masterplan to control the Hugos. I didn’t get as much success as I hoped but it was influential at a deep level. I know George R R Martin was very concerned about my slate in particular but he doesn’t talk about it because the elites of fandom want to deny me the oxygen of publicity.
ASM: If TWBW is nominated for a Hugo next year, will you accept?
TTTC: No, because I want Dune to win obviously. If I wrote Dune then maybe I should win. I have considered writing Dune as a word-for-word retelling but I’m told that would still ‘technically’ count as ‘plagiarism’ by people who do not understand art, genius or greatness.
ASM: Finally, any plans to write you own fiction, or are you content to edit the work of others?
TTTC: I have my unpublished multi-volume epic science-fantasy “Straw Puppy and Timothy in Space fight the Space Aliens and Win”. That series (SPTSFSAW for short) also features my character Space-Navy Space-SEAL turned private eye and psychic detective/vampire hunter, Chief Sergeant Flight Commander Chiselled McEdifice of the McEdifice & Darkshadow Detective Agency/Psychic SWAT Mercenaries (MDDAPSWATM) who has a story in this anthology. Also McEdifice wrote one of the factual pieces.
ASM: Second finally: thanks very much for your time. If there’s anything you’d like to say to our readers that we haven’t covered up till now, here’s your chance!
At this point in our discussion, Timothy yawned as only a cat can yawn, and then walked off, apparently consumed by profound thoughts, or perhaps thinking of kibble. We waited for a respectable time for him to return, but he never did.
We plan on conducting a follow-up interview with Timothy’s partner, Camestros Felapton (though how much interest there is in that remains to be seen) and perhaps we’ll get to find out what distracted Timothy.
Never before has so much science fiction adventure been assembled into one volume by so few cats.
Editorial Note: If you want to understand why the book’s title includes “First Volume V”, you need to visit File 770. Once there, maybe you can figure it out.