Can you even imagine — GASP! — a world without cats? Bonham Richards can, and his science-fiction novel on that topic titled World Without Cats was recently published.
It explores what happens when the world’s 64 million household cats all drop dead of infectious disease, and it follows a scientist who tries to save the domestic feline from extinction.
Obviously, a world without cats has devastating cultural and ecological consequences that are best appreciated by a cat lover — which, incidentally, Richards is. His beloved calico, Lilith, died last December at the age of 18 and a half (her predecessor was named Bastet, after the Egyptian feline deity). Like his book’s hero, the author is trained in medical microbiology, so the story’s plot hits home twice as hard with him.
Naturally — make that unnaturally — in a world without cats, there’d be no Catster because, well, what would its uncompromisingly passionate contributors write about? No one could report on the fascinating phenomenon of angry snuggles, because no one would be giving or getting any.
Staffers at Say Media (Catster’s parent company) with scary-cool skin art wouldn’t delight us with their cat tats. Actress Gina Gershon would’ve never written a book about losing her cat, because she wouldn’t have one to lose; Sneaky Pie Brown wouldn’t have blurbed Gershon’s book because he wouldn’t exist either, in real life or on any page published by his personal assistant, Rita Mae Brown.
If certain historical luminaries were to return, they’d find it a harsh place indeed. Like Albert Schweitzer, who said, “The only refuges from the miseries of life are music and cats.” Or Jean Cocteau, who said, “I love cats because I enjoy my home, and little by little they become its visible soul.” Or Andy Warhol, whose wonderfully whimsical drawings of felines were among the pop-art guru’s most memorable works. To the horror of holiday shoppers, the most beguiling gifts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s catalog would simply not be available.
The decimation of the cat did almost happen once, in the Middle Ages, when a widespread feline extermination took place that historians reckon resulted in the plague. With the feline population pretty well wiped out — along with the wise women who loved cats and possessed knowledge of natural remedies and healing arts (for the cat ladies were burned at the stake as witches) — the Black Death ran rampant through Europe. It was carried by all those rats that weren’t killed off by cats, and no wise women were left to devise a cure.
That horrific history chapter was obviously on Bonham Richards’ mind when he wrote World Without Cats. It’s also one of many fascinating episodes of cultural lore alluded to in Peter Trachtenberg’s new book, Another Insane Devotion. This artful work of nonfiction, sublimely subtitled On the Love of Cats and Persons, is a masterpiece that stands totally apart from the dubious literary-genre pet memoir.
After I read Another Insane Devotion — which takes its title from a poem by Gerald Stern about the poet’s unforgettable encounter with a starving street cat in Rome — I read it again. After that, I almost retired from writing altogether because, well, why bother when there’s someone out there doing it so much better than you?
In a world without cats, obviously this book would never have come into existence — although I suspect the talented Trachtenberg could conjure a catlike creature even in a cold, catless world (damn him).
Psychotherapist and author Laurie Nadel has much to say on the topic of a catless existence. “A world without cats is unthinkable,” she says. “Domestic cats protect humans from rodents that can carry deadly bacteria, so on the simplest level, a world without cats would be one in which vermin would range unchecked. To wit, the world would be an unhealthier place for us humans.”
There would be a profound spiritual void in such a world as well. “The archetype of feline energy combines such seemingly contradictory aspects as power and gentleness, speed and the ability to move in slow motion. Balancing the tension of opposites is something that does not come easily or naturally to humans. Therefore, we need cats to remind us of what we are here to learn.”
Back on the literary front, let’s check in with Clea Simon, who writes about cats and shares her life with them. Her most recent mystery titles are True Grey and Cats Can’t Shoot. “Since I’ve spent the last 10 minutes watching Procatinator, I can say that without cats, the Internet would be a sad and lonely place,” she says. “Also, the amateur sleuths in my mysteries would have nobody to bounce their ideas off of, nor would they benefit from that superior feline wisdom. I can say that sitting and writing would be much lonelier — even if it might be more productive.”
“What is the writing life without all the breaks to play ‘catch the foil ball’ and ‘nevermind that keyboard, PET ME’? A world without cats would be a dull and chilly place.”
What do you think of a catless world? Can you bring yourself to read a novel or watch a movie that imagines one? Please share your thoughts in the comments!