The Green Millennium
|Abelard-Schuman: New York, 1959
A green cat comes and goes
First off, this is not an ecology novel — not in any sense of a woodsy ecotopia about communing with wise bunnies in the forest. But there is a cat in Leiber's future urban America, a green cat, who comes and goes rather like Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.
The Green Millennium provides one of Fritz Leiber's strangest conglomerations of characters; since across his fantasy as well as science fiction he draws from a creative grab-bag that would please a dozen authors, that's saying a lot. This novel is set in a science-fictional, crowded and sexy and gritty future world, with social liberties squeezed into odd contortions; into which milieu, fantastic and even mythological elements seem to be intruding.
The green cat first seen sitting on Phil Gish's high-rise windowsill is the heart of the mystery. Leiber loves cats, taking the housecat's viewpoint in "Spacetime for Springers" and sequels, and he has plenty of feline characters elsewhere. Gish quickly and instinctively names the green cat Lucky, and to his dawning amazement, his normal order of things seems to change around Lucky.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
Not that you and I likely would consider Gish's era to be normal; or maybe discouragingly all-too-normal with the worst trends of contemporary civilization. Leiber often is wickedly pointed about such trends, as in his little masked gem, "Coming Attraction".
Leiber has fun with trends here too, the vivid pulp-story action in The Green Millennium resembling a riot among criminals in a carnival. Adding Lucky the green cat to this mix does — what? Is there any real difference or change? A possible garden of peace for such mismatched, rough-edged, sensual, culturally warped, violently contentious men and women? We may paraphrase Shakespeare and exclaim,
(Oh, I need to warn you that if you pick up an edition such as that from Gregg Press with the interesting introduction by Deborah L. Notkin, read the novel first. Her introduction is stuffed with plot spoilers.)
If ever a future world needs an evangelist for a peaceful millennium, this is such a future. Now, Leiber is not trying to draw a scientific-pastoral blueprint as H. G. Wells sketches in Men Like Gods, or the astronomical deliverance that Wells hopes for In the Days of the Comet. Leiber is a vastly more gnarly futurist. Yet, in his own oddly interpenetrated realistic-mythical way, Leiber seems more reasonable here than Wells.
Speaking to utopia or millennium though, Why a cat? as Chico Marx might ask. Curiously, the word cat does not appear in the Bible, according to Strong's Concordance. Feline divinities would be more comfortable in ancient Egypt. Why not a conventional prophet to herald the Green Millennium? Aside from Leiber's love of cats, I think he wanted an emotional catalyst that explicitly is not human.
The tantalizing hope in The Green Millennium is not Christ-centered; indeed, rather pagan, as though Aristophanes wrote a Peaceable Kingdom science-fictional treatment for Planet Stories. Can we call such a rough beast millennial?
So in a broad sense perhaps we may call it millennial. Leiber's specifically is of the type called premillennial, that is, requiring divine or outside intervention to bring on the best of times:
World peace? Personal happiness? Leiber mixes a selection of Greek, Jewish, and Christian ideas in a science-fictional way, while keeping up the pace of a good story with Fritz Leiber's oft-peculiar sense of fun. So maybe this potential Green Millennium is scientific-pastoral after all.
Yes, I recommend The Green Millennium. A strange book, its funny and sharp elements not homogenized, but very good. In pursuit of a sort of Goth-girl who also gets entangled with the green cat, Phil Gish enters a big-city jazz nightclub as a woman is singing a blues number.
Leiber's millennial-hungry world is a hell of a place; you may smile and frown at the same paragraph. And, perhaps on a re-reading, pause here and again to admire Leiber's artistry.
Okay, how about our own dawning Millennium here and now? What about us? Should we expect to bask in a Universal Millennium, install a New Secular Order, swear fealty to our very own brave Thousand-Year Utopia?
While hopeful, I remain skeptical; and even more wary.
© 2005 Robert Wilfred Franson