Tales Too Good To Forget #1

James Blish, not that much a beast master.

Tumbrils 7, May 1946
The cover of Tumbrils #7 (May 1946) was presumably the work of James Blish himself.

I have to admit, it’s pretty easy to assume that the author of stories such as A Case of Conscience, Doctor Mirabilis, and Surface Tension might be a bit on the serious side. Indeed, having read the criticism of James Blish collected in The Issue at Hand and More Issues at Hand (as by his William Atheling, Jr. pseudonym) I can see how such works might convince somebody that Blish was a rather earnest and po-faced individual.

However, it’s always dangerous to assume that the professional writings of an author encompass the whole of that author’s personality. Luckily for us the young James Blish published quite a few fanzines and thus inadvertently provided for anybody fortunate enough to read these evidence that he was far more than a cold and forbidding intellect.

Well okay, to be perfectly honest a lot of his early fanzine writings are indeed as earnest and po-faced as William Atheling, Jr. might lead you believe the real Blish was. But while some of this material might come across as every bit as pompous as the pronunciations of a high art maven (if you don’t believe me then go look for an issue of Renascence, but don’t say I didn’t warn you) in between the bouts of earnestness is another Blish, a wittier, lighter Blish who knew how to not take himself too seriously. The best place to look for this James Blish is in the material which he published for the Vanguard Amateur Press Association. It was here, in Tumbrils #4, that he wrote one of my favourite cat stories. Read this and you will never think of James Blish as po-faced ever again:

‘I don’t want anyone to get the notion that I dislike cats, or harbor any sort of grudge. My friends all have heard me say I refuse to marry until I can find a woman who will bear me kittens, and this is only partly due to my dislike for children. No, my whole intention in setting down these events is to correct the misinformed people who always answer, “Well, I like kittens, until they grow up.”

A mature cat, usually, has lost the salacious curiosity which makes living with a kitten a somewhat dangerous process. This nosiness takes peculiar forms, especially when linked with the feline interest in fishing and running water generally. I once owned a small black Tom who was perpetually climbing up my trouser-leg to peer in and see what that noise was. There was a time when I thought this trick charming, if somewhat morbid, but that was before he was replaced by Curfew whose curiosities led her up the inside of the trouser-leg.

This latter climb took place one evening while I was sitting in the front room listening to some records. The kitten was quite small, and once seated on my thigh in the darkness could not figure out how she had gotten there, why she had wanted to be there in the first place, or how to get out. Attempts to ease her back down the way she had come resulted merely in scars on my leg. I was forced finally to let the beast out via my fly.

Had this been the end of the matter all would have been well, however, as Curfew blinked forth into the light, I looked up and discovered that I had forgotten to pull down the window-shade, and that the woman in the next apartment was watching the whole proceedings from across the airshaft. The expression on her face could not have been wilder had she been confronted with a shuggoth, and for months afterwards I could not meet her on the stairs without her muttering to herself, “My God! Ears!”’

I like to think this story is the chest-bursting scene from the film, Alien, but made cute.

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