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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Andre Norton's "All Cats Are Gray"

  1. Fantastic Universe, Aug/Sep 1953
  2. The Many Worlds of Science Fiction, ed. Ben Bova, Dutton 1971
  3. Zoo 2000, ed. Jane Yolen, Seabury 1973
  4. The Many Worlds of Andre Norton, Chilton 1974
  5. Science Fiction A to Z, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg & Charles G. Waugh, Houghton Mifflin 1982
  6. Top Science Fiction, ed. Josh Pachter, Dent 1984
  7. 101 Science Fiction Stories, ed. Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh & Jenny-Lynn Waugh, Avenel 1986
  8. Wizards’ Worlds, Tor 1989
  9. New Eves, ed. Janrae Frank, Jean Stine & Forrest J Ackerman, Longmeadow Press 1994
  10. 100 Amazing Little Alien Stories, ed. Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz & Martin H. Greenberg, Barnes & Noble 1996
  11. Project Gutenberg: text online (other author works)
  12. Librivox: audio online.
Pre-Reading: I would recommend introducing various types of electromagnetic radiation, around which concept this image should be central. The easiest way I've found of teaching this is to start with energy: Which wavelength looks calm and low energy? Radio. Which looks angry and energetic? Gamma. Now we have bookends. Visible light is in the middle. What acronym--or abbreviation--reminds of the colors found in visible light? Sometimes art students know this, but they'll usually all recognize ROY G BIV when you put it on the board. Walk them them the naming. Ask them what's below red? (Hint 1: it has the word "red" in it. Hint 2: You use it to see things at night.) IR -- Infra-red. Ask "What's above violet?" (Hint 1: it has the word "violet" in it. Hint 2: It'll give you a burn and possibly skin cancer if you don't put on sunscreen.) UV -- Ultraviolet. "Micro" means small so you know that's below IR. Usually, students can guess that X-ray--it can penetrate skin and cause deeper cancer--would go above UV. It may help to emphasize the importance of changing wavelengths determining what a wave's electromagnetic type is, but the wavelengths do change across a spectrum. This might be best demonstrated with a volunteer gradually waving a rope using more and more energy to do so.

Summary: Steena, Bat, and Cliff investigate the mysteriously derelict spaceship, Empress of Mars. What at first seemed a handicap becomes a necessary attribute in difficult circumstances.
  1. What is the narrator's initial impression of Steena? It is mixed. Point out at least three positives and three negatives from the descriptions. Count the total of each. Toward which does the narrator appear to lean more?
  2. What is an "attachment?" What does this suggest about Cliff Moran's financial state? What will happen to Cliff if the courts succeed in attaching his ship?
  3. Without looking it up, guess what a manstone is. It does not appear to have a dictionary definition. It may be science fictional term used to evoke a future word. What does the word combination (man and stone) evoke for you? Added this to this context--something from Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter: What does you imagination conjure? Possibly, you thought of a creature ("come stumping in") reminiscent of a man and a stone. What does the term "stumping" indicate about how the creature moves?
  4. Now that you have the creature from #3 in mind, what does that imply about Steena approaching Cliff?
  5. Biology: If you had heard of cat (or cat-like creature) named Bat, what attributes or abilities might you surmise it has? How does a bat behave differently from humans?
  6. If the Empress of Mars were a sailing ship instead of a spaceship how would this rumor about it sound to you? What further descriptions confirm this feeling?
  7. What does this phrase "Steena and Bat went prowling" suggest about the natures of these two characters? Different or similar? What does it make you think of?
  8. How is the following passage like and unlike the fairytale of Bluebeard? "Closed doors were a challenge to both of them and Steena opened each as she passed, taking a quick look at what lay within. The fifth door opened on a room which no woman could leave without further investigation."
  9. Knowing something of electromagnetic radiation, explain how the following might be: "What sped before them both was invisible to her but Bat was never baffled by it.... To human eyes they were alone in the cabin. But Bat still followed a moving something with his gaze."
  10. Why doesn't Cliff Moran see the creature? Why might Steena only see the creature when Cliff is in the background?
  11. Steena is handicapped by being colorblind, yet what does the story suggest about handicapped?
  12. Physical Science: Steena states, "[Bat]'s been compensated for he can see above and below our range of color vibrations and—apparently—so can I!" What parts of the electromagnetic spectrum lie just outside the visible, to which Steena may be referring? How are both used in practical terms of everyday life? How do humans use infrared? What kinds of objects radiate in the infrared? How do humans use ultraviolet? What kinds of objects radiate ultraviolet? Which part of spectrum do you think is more probable that Steena used to see the creature?
  13. Take a second look at the title, at one of the descriptions in question one, at question seven, and at the fact that both the cat and Steena see the invisible creature. How do you read the title differently?
  14. How might the title by playing off the idiom, "All cats look the same in the dark"?
  15. What happens to Steena in the dénouement?
  16. If you can think of other possible questions , please let me/us know.

Critical commentary:
  • From Fantastic Universe Science Fiction: "An odd story, made up of oddly assorted elements that include a man, a woman, a black cat, a treasure—and an invisible being that had to be seen to be believed. Under normal conditions a whole person has a decided advantage over a handicapped one. But out in deep space the normal may be reversed—for humans at any rate."
  • Chemistry, Physics, or Physical science: Introduction to Electromagnetic Radiation.
  • Biology: Limited: colorblindness or bat behavior.
  • Inclusion: People with special needs are shown in a positive light.
  • English: This might fit well with a unit on comparative literature, genres, fairy tales, or science fiction.
  • If you can think of other possible uses, please let me/us know.
Side note: Kage Baker wrote an award-winning story called "Empress of Mars."


  1. This is great stuff, Trent. How would you feel about adding it to the AboutSF site for other teachers to use? We'll VERY SOON have a feature where (approved) contributors can upload content themselves!