Space-Time for Springers
by Fritz Leiber
  

Review by
William H. Stoddard

originally appeared in —
Star Science Fiction Stories #4, 1958

collected in —

The Best of Fritz Leiber
The Ghost Light
Gummitch & Friends

March 2009

  

Like many classic science fiction writers, Fritz Leiber was an ailurophile. From E. E. Smith to Cordwainer Smith, science fiction presented its readers with a long series of catlike aliens, genetically enhanced cats, feline psychic symbionts, and starships with Cat On Board. Often these were secondary characters the protagonist encountered during the story, or had an ongoing relationship with. "Space-Time for Springers" is unusual in that it actually has a feline protagonist.

This short story is also unusual in that its protagonist is actually a cat, or rather a kitten. Admittedly Gummitch is an unusual kitten, with powers and abilities far beyond those commonly attributed to ordinary cats. But there's no scientific explanation for these. Gummitch knows that he's brighter than average, but considers such abilities as soul projection and teleportation no more than the common heritage of his kind.

But what kind is it? That's where things get interesting. For Gummitch has deduced a great theory to explain his own existence and his own nature ... exactly the sort of theory a brilliant autodidact philosopher would evolve (Leiber explicitly compares him to Descartes, who gave us cogito, ergo sum). And if it flies in the face of all human (and perhaps feline) experience, and of all common sense, the theory itself explains logically why this should be so. In fact it has a disturbing plausibility; within the story the reader's doubts are reduced to ironic overtones.

In his brilliance and his special abilities, in fact, and in his youth, Gummitch can be recognized as a familiar science-fictional character type: the hero of a Heinlein juvenile. When the story opens with

Gummitch was a superkitten, as he knew very well, with an I.Q. of about 160. Of course, he didn't talk. But everyone knows that I.Q. tests based on language ability are very one-sided.

... we're already dealing with a character of Heinleinian type. His various special abilities go beyond the eidetic memory, lightning calculation, limited telepathy, and similar gifts of the heroes of Heinlein's juveniles; but having wild talents is entirely appropriate.

And he's Heinleinian in another way: in his having the courage to do the right thing, at any cost. Repeatedly, in the course of "Space-Time for Springers", the reader is shown his sense of responsibility for his human household. At the story's climax, he responds to a crisis, without hesitation, making dramatic use of his feline superpowers ... with an outcome that ingeniously leaves the truth or falsity of Gummitch's theory of himself in perfect suspense. And as a result, Fritz Leiber's story achieves an emotional impact that's incredibly tricky to bring off: at the same time, it's an ingeniously funny parody of its Heinleinian prototypes, and a moving account of heroism and tragedy, with neither aspect interfering with the other.

  

© 2009 William H. Stoddard


  
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