Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Review of King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats by James Patrick Kelly

The talking dog. Ordinarily it’s a sign of madness, but in science fiction fully sentient canines have long existed—from Olaf Stapledon’s tragedy of a dog with human-level intelligence in Sirius to Clifford Simak’s cautionary sequence of stories that find dogs becoming “rulers” of the universe in City. Adding a dose of feline in his futuristic vision, James Patrick Kelly’s novella King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats (2020) tells of one decaying but diverse city ripe for revolutionary change, all through the eyes of man’s best friend.

Kelly seeming to have shifted into a more subtle gear as the years go by, the splash of talking cats and dogs proves just the surface of King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats. About an aristocratic canine named Gio, the dullards of societal stability have started shaking him loose from his deep-rooted life. Involved in love triangles, sneaking around at night, rubbing shoulders with nefarious people, and otherwise not knowing what to do with his life, Gio’s answer comes in the form of a circus brought to town by an extra-terrestrial cat. Revolution in the works, a stable life for Gio and the city around him will be no more…

As always with Kelly, the window dressing might be the most fantastical, futuristic thing, but always at heart human interest expresses itself. All around Gio, strangeness and the uncanny exists. But at its core, a number of parallels exist, from the varieties of “cultural interaction” (or lack thereof) to the patterns of habitation by “species”. Revolution of all these streams may be more hopeful than helpful once the final page turns, but indeed it must begin somewhere, and indeed the ability to look at matters from varying perspectives is needed anytime one is looking to reevaluate circumstances. If all this sounds vague, no worries, Kelly’s world is colorful and finite, down to the gloves cats and dogs wear to keep their “hands” clean while walking.

I have not dipped into James Patrick Kelly in a couple years. But King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats was a gentle reminder how good Kelly can be (and an acknowledgement that not all of’s novella offerings cater to genre mediocrity). A delicate story for all the showiness of walking, talking animals, theme seems to trump plot and character in a way that has the reader thinking about the story’s meaning in ways that are less than obvious. The sensawunda hovers in the background as more substantive rumination upon the story’s elements and how they not only work together but how they are progressed, comes to the foreground. A pleasant surprise…

No comments:

Post a Comment