Another day, another new book. This is the one book I knew I’d buy when I went to the convention because one of my author friends told me about it and I asked him to hold a copy for me. It’s an anthology and he, of course, has a story featured within. And, unlike other works he’s produced, there would be no doubt of my interest in this book if only because how can I say no to cats?
From a Cat’s View is a new anthology edited by Robin Praytor. As the title implies, it’s a series of stories and poems told through a cat’s perspective. They run the gamut too, from fantasy to science fiction to horror and mere slice of life. Most of the stories here are decent, which is no bad thing considering I only knew one author’s name before I started the book. After all, this is clearly self-published, or at least produced by a young company that is not at all in the big leagues. The format alone tells you that.
Speaking of formatting, that’s where I find most of my issues with From a Cat’s View. As is normal for a collection of any type, there is a table of contents. However, it is a formatting choice to not have any page numbers on the first page of a story. Nor on the facing page, on the left side, where there is often an illustration of a cat. And there are no page numbers on the last page of an author’s section, given over to a quick biography and list of weblinks to investigate them at. Meaning that it is very difficult to flip to a specific page because the numbers you most want to see are conspicuously absent. I wouldn’t object to leaving out page numbers on the first page of the story, or on the illustration pages, but to leave them off of all three types is just annoying. As a designer I will tell you straight up: good design is invisible. If I, or anyone else, notices your design, it’s probably not going to be in a good way.
This doesn’t even get into the standard self-publishing annoyances of orphans and widows, which show up with irritating frequency.
There’s also an annoying line of type in the table of contents. The poem “Cat’s Schrödinger” is listed as being by Evil Brain Trust, LTD and Guy Anthony De Marco. I respect that someone changed the percentage of the text width to fit it on a single line. However, there’s simply far too much text shown in that space now, especially when compared to anything else listed on the Table of Contents. Also, what on earth is the “Evil Brain Trust, LTD”? It’s not listed on De Marco’s bio page at all, and it’s taking up an obscene amount of space, making the line look awful. Also, this was a poem. I don’t really see poetry being written by more than one person.
At the convention, one of the panelists was talking about editors not generally being great authors. Not in a “if they can’t do, teach” sort of way, just that being able to recognize and help an author produce a great story doesn’t necessarily translate to being able to create great stories on your own. And I couldn’t help thinking of that when I red Robin Praytor’s contribution, “Mau of the Pharaohs”. It’s essentially a list of events preceeding, including, and following the reign of Tutankhamen. And even though a cat tells the story…it’s dry. It reminds me of a similar “story” written by George R. R. Martin, except that in GRRM’s case I could easily see that list of events being expanded out into novels and stories. Here, I get the impression that Praytor is a fan of Egyptian history and wanted to share it with the world.
I also question the decision to have three separate pieces by Lisa Timpf. Oh sure, “Moonlight” and “A Cat’s Confession” are both poems and only “The Open Road” is an actual story, but I do have to wonder what motivates an editor to include not one or two but three works by a single author. I have seen books with two stories by the same person before, but it’s generally been more in the context of collecting works that may not have been written for the current anthology and this writer was just that good. I’ll admit, “The Open Road” is somewhat notable for being the purest science fiction story in the lot, but other than that it was fairly average. The novelty of the environment and setting is what made it stand out. And I’m not big on poetry – it takes something special to really catch my eye. None of the poems in this book really achieved that.
I won’t hold it against David Chorlton though, to have multiple pieces in From a Cat’s View because in addition to the opening poem “Two Hours”, he also contributed all the illustrations. They aren’t my preferred style, but at least it is a unified style throughout the whole book simply due to the single artist. And overall, he’s only taking up the same number of pages as other authors. I view the poem as a bonus for him that he earned by doing the images.
“The Cemetary Cat” by Jennifer Lee Rossman was the first actual story in the book, and it’s a good choice for a starter being distinctive, memorable, and overall just a good story. It wasn’t easily predictable, but also didn’t push the bounds of credulity. Overall just a solid story and a good way to lead off the anthology.
In contrast, “Intrepidus” by Jennifer Loring suffers somewhat by being in this specific anthology. From a Cat’s View is sold on the premise of stories told by cats. But here the reader is clearly meant to assume the narrator is a human until Loring reveals otherwise. So the “surprise” is spoiled just because it has to be a cat simply by being in this book.
There are some interesting concepts and ideas thrown around such as Isobel Horsburgh’s “Tishy” and Jean Graham’s “Cats Are Patient”. I won’t spoil either of them for you, though I will say the authors have chosen some interesting directions to go. Frankly, with cats you can believe almost anything for the pages required to create a story.
The reason I bought this book is “Stray Cat Strut” by Neal F. Litherland. He’d told me the basic premise before, that we’ve got a cat in the hardboiled detective mold. The tale itself is a simple missing person’s case that introduces us to Leo and his world. Leo as a narrator can be poetic but brutal in describing his surroundings, fitting himself into the mold easily. It’s hard to say if he takes on the case because of an owed favor or if he would have helped Duchess out regardless. But I suppose that’s a question Neal can explore in further tales. Given the standard detective story, it’s easy enough to create further adventures for the reluctant but competent hero and I wouldn’t object to reading them.
Speaking of stories that lend themselves to further adventures, I would most definitely be interested in the further adventures of Atticus Finch, as introduced to us in “Nice Work if You Can Get It” by Karen Ovér. This is very clearly an origin story and I can only imagine what sort of fascinating fiascos Atticus and Alejandro Valdez can get into. I wasn’t a huge fan of the odd interjections of Atticus’ thoughts, but overall I am quite invested in the two.
Wilfred R. Robinson’s “Big Ears” is an interesting take on a particular portion of history, adding more layers to a story that most people have a passing familiarity with. I’m always impressed with how intriguing people can make the Black Plague, especially since one of the stories in Snow White, Blood Red was about the Pied Piper.
And how is it that in the most random anthologies I find Holocaust stories? There’s a certain feel to them, where you can sense the horrible acts just out of sight in the text, a sense of the fleetingness of life and the horrors it can encompass. So as I began reading Jeremy Megargee’s “The Stray” I started to suspect. It’s a sad, haunting tale, though not as creepy as some others I’ve found.
All things considered, From a Cat’s View is a decent anthology. It’ll be interesting to see which authors pop up again in the future. Self-publishing is definitely changing the landscape, but most of my books still come from major publishing houses.