Mr. Limpet; The Alien Dark;
and Felidae

reviewed by Fred Patten
©2011 Fred Patten

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Mr. Limpet The Alien Dark Felidae

Cover of MR. LIMPET
Title: Mr. Limpet
Author: Theodore Pratt
Illustrator: Garrett Price
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (New York City, NY), Jan 1942
144 pg, USD $1.75

   Although Mr. Limpet was a popular humorous fantasy novel during World War II, it is forgotten today. The 1964 Warner Bros. movie, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, starring Don Knotts, is well-known, but most people seem to think that its story was an original script. No, it was based on a World War II novel that went through two printings before the end of that war.
   There is internal evidence that it was written before Pearl Harbor. His own country had not yet entered the war, but was simply preparing for it. [pg. 6] The U.S. does enter the war against the Nazis during the story, but anyone besides the most rabid isolationist could see that coming all during the last half of 1941. The story only involves Mr. Limpet in rather generic anti-U-boat naval action in the North Atlantic, whereas if the book had not been finished until after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December, there would almost certainly have been some mention of fighting Japan added to the story. Also, eight hundred copies of the first edition were signed by the author and issued for distribution at Christmas 1941.
   Mr. Limpet begins with two married couples, Henry and Bessie Limpet and George and Clara Stickle, visiting the Coney Island amusement park:

   They [the Limpets] had taken the subway from Brooklyn with their best friends, the Stickles, and come to Coney Island. At present they stood on a little pier that jutted over the water, and with others were looking at a school of fish which swam some fifteen feet below. An airplane flew overhead as they watched the fish. [pg. 4]

   Mr. Limpet has always liked fish, and rather resembles one himself:

   Mr. Limpet was a skinny little man whose only marked feature was a prominent, very pointed nose on which eyeglasses perched precariously. He was slightly pop-eyed, which may or may not have been caused by his being continually amazed at the long rows of figures with which he dealt in his life’s work as a bookkeeper. [pg. 3]

   “I’m sure,” he murmured, “that the Devonian period in the Paleozoic era, when all forms of life were aquatic, was the most important—”
   His wife had brought him up sharply, as she usually did about almost everything. “Henry Limpet,” she told him severely, “I hope you’re not going crazy. You sound it.” [pg. 4]

   Mr. Limpet has been depressed about the horrific nature of the present global war:

   […] it was his suspicion that mankind had reached the topmost stair in its evolution and would now go down the other side with a rush.
   The disintegration of former great civilizations, such as the Phoenician, the Egyptian, the Incan, the Greek, and the Roman, were as nothing compared with what was going to happen now. Mr. Limpet believed that man himself as a species would not survive this time, but would disappear, and human life would have to evolve all over again. [pg. 7]

   Presumably this conviction, plus his annoyance at being henpecked and the ‘racket the plane was making’, are responsible for his thoughts as he bends over on the pier to look at the fish:

   “I’d like to jump down there. I’d like to join the fish. I’d like to be one of them. I wish I were a fish.” [pg. 5]

   Mr. Limpet is never sure afterwards if he fell or jumped into the water. George Stickle jumps in immediately to save him, but:

   He didn’t see him.
   All but one of the fish had been frightened away by the splash. This one, lazily waving its fins where it floated, not ten feet away, stared at Mr. Stickle as if in amazement. Mr. Stickle had the curious impression that the fish was wearing eyeglasses, but this could not be. Oddly, however, it struck him that the fish looked a good deal like Mr. Limpet. [pgs. 12-13]

   The next four chapters describe Mr. Limpet adjusting to his new life as a fish. He discovers from a mirror in a sunken ship that he is a large, handsome fish, and he can make a powerful thrumming shout that drives off sharks, barracudas and other predators. He swims down to Florida to enjoy the warm water, but he is disappointed that other fish refuse to associate with him. After several months of loneliness, he rescues another fish from a fishing boat and is overjoyed to find that she is a female of his own species and that they can speak:

   “What’s your name?” Mr. Limpet managed to ask.
   “Name?” she repeated. “I don’t know what you mean.”
   “What people,” Mr. Limpet said, “what fish call you by.”
   “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
   “I’ll call you Ladyfish,” Mr. Limpet said. “My name is Limpet. Hen—”
   Before Mr. Limpet could tell her his whole name, Ladyfish darted to him. She came directly to his side, where she worked her fins rapidly and quivered. “All right, Limpet,” she said softly, “shall we go?”
   “Go?” asked Mr. Limpet. “Go where?”
   “Why, to the breeding grounds,” she replied. “After what you did for me, I—” Ladyfish dropped her eyes. [pg. 47]

   Mr. Limpet is torn between romantic feelings toward Ladyfish and a sense of obligation to Bessie, his human wife. Before he can resolve this, he learns from a newspaper discarded from a boat that the U.S. has entered the war. He feels a patriotic duty to help the U.S. Navy by telling its ships where U-boats are hiding. After several misadventures caused by the Navy’s refusal to believe they are being hailed by a talking fish, Mr. Limpet gets them to send for George Stickle, who is an engineer on a destroyer, to vouch for him.
   Mr. Limpet insists upon being commissioned as a Lieutenant, with his pay being sent to Bessie. After another misadventure in which his eyeglasses are broken and he needs to find a new pair to see again, he becomes so effective as a spotter of submarines that Adolf Hitler personally tries to get him to defect to the Nazis, offering him luxuries and fame instead of being hidden as a secret weapon as the Allies are doing. Mr. Limpet patriotically refuses (besides, everyone knows how much Hitler’s promises aren’t worth), but when the war ends, Mr. Stickle warns him not to obey his final order to report to where scientists will make him human again:

   “Do you think,” Mr. Limpet said to change the subject and take up another that worried him, “they can make me into a human being again?”
   Mr. Stickle, where he was standing on the deck of the destroyer, looked about. There was no one else in sight. Mr. Stickle leaned over the rail, chewed at his mustache, lowered his voice to a whisper, and said: “They know damn well they can’t.”
   “What?” cried Mr. Limpet.
   “Not so loud,” Mr. Stickle cautioned. He looked about again. “Listen, Henry, don’t go near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Changing you back to a man is just a trick to get you there. They want to get rid of you. They figure they can’t afford to have you around, for fear that you should ever show yourself and talk. […]
   “What would the government do with me if I took its offer?”
   “There’s a guy from a fish zoo or something who wants you. They’ll turn you over to him. He’ll keep you around for a while, looking at you. And then you’ll be stuffed.” [pgs. 130-131]

   Mr. Limpet returns to Coney Island for a final, awkward meeting with Bessie to let her go. Even the oblivious Bessie has become nervous at the ominous direction that humanity is going:

   […] Is everything else all right?”
   “No, it isn’t, Henry. The world doesn’t seem like it was before at all.”
   “It doesn’t?”
   “The way it is now, Henry, makes you kind of scared. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I read the other day where somebody said it might mean the end of human beings.” [pg. 140]

   Mr. Limpet is last seen disappearing with Ladyfish towards the breeding grounds, where:

   With human intelligence still contained in him, he and Ladyfish might produce something from which would evolve, if it were necessary, another race of men. As the present one had done, it would crawl from the salt sea. [pg. 141]

   Although both are light comedies, this 1941-’42 novel is more cynical and has a darker ending than the 1964 movie. The book contains over a dozen humorous cartoons by Garrett Price, who would also illustrate David Stern’s Francis the Talking Mule novel at the end of the war.

Mr. Limpet The Alien Dark Felidae

Title: The Alien Dark
Author: Diana G. Gallagher
Illustrator: Clyde Caldwell (chapter heading)
Publisher: TSR Books (Lake Geneva, WI), Dec 1990
ISBN: 0-88038-928-1
309 pages, $3.95

A shudder rippled along Tahl’s shoulders as an image of the enigmatic Riitha f’ath rose in his mind. A sheen of soft, silver down covered her four petite breasts, belly, arms, and lower legs. The black long-fur streaming from her head, muzzle, and shoulders and shagging from her hips and thighs gleamed with the rich luster of meticulous grooming. Like most of the crew, Riitha usually wore only a vest and fringed loin cloth in the climate-controlled confines of the ship. Thick, silver-tipped black lashes ringed large amber eyes that always shone with a mysterious light when she seduced and then rejected the shtahn. [pg. 45]

   This is the first extended description of the ahsin bey, the catlike space explorers who are the cast of The Alien Dark. It is clear from the beginning that the characters are not humans, but just what they are is revealed slowly. At first there are only brief glimpses: Tahl’s silver-tipped pointed ears and The short hairs on Chiun’s light brown muzzle bristled with expectation, [page 5]; The short hairs covering Riitha’s face, lower arms, belly, and lower legs bristled at Tahl’s patronizing tone. She stiffened slightly, then hesitated, all too aware that Tahl’s gaze had shifted to the small mounds of her four, milkless breasts, [page 17]; Tahl dug his foot-claws into the foam floor and grabbed a handhold suspended from the low ceiling …, [page 41]; Hane’s lip curled back in a snarl, exposing sharp fangs, [page 42]; and Lish’s sparse brown fur bristled with the urgency of her mating cycle. [page 43]
   The spaceship Dan tahlni, with a crew of thirty ahsin bey, have spent decades travelling twelve light-years from their own homeworld of Hasu-din to the Chai-te stellar system to explore it for colonization. They find Chai-te’s outer planets and asteroid belt rich in the plasmas and minerals that they need, but due to a restriction against settling in any system where intelligent life already exists, they have to make sure that the inner planets are also devoid of sapient life. But they do not have time to explore these thoroughly:

   The Dan tahlni was very close to failure by default because of lack of time and fuel. The alien sun, Chai-te, was not only brighter and hotter than Chai-din, its planetary system was more expansive. Extra fuel had been allotted for this contingency, but not enough. Because of this, the crew had not been able to explore the inner planets as thoroughly as they had those in the outer system. In addition, several large equipment pods, including the interstellar transmitter that was their only link to Hasu-din, had been left in orbit around Chai-te Five to conserve what fuel remained. [pgs. 16-17]

   An additional reason for failure is the psychological nature of the bey. They are divided into two classes; the dominant du-ahn who have rigidly analytical/logical mentalities, and the minority venja-ahn who are emotional and imaginative:

   In any hopeless situation, fear triggered the death-wish mechanism in du-ahn. Unable or unwilling to suffer or fight in the face of futility, their minds shut down their bodies. Du-ahn fell into a catatonic state of deep hibernation where the normal awakening reflexes stimulated by seasonal change, hunger, or alarm were not operative. They slept and peacefully starved to death. [pg. 168]

   The interstellar mission of the Dan tahlni is already so risky, with the odds against their survival until a colony ship from Hasu-din can arrive decades later, that most of the du-ahn aboard are fatalistically primed to go into death-wish sleep at any hint of failure.
   A superficial scan shows that they are apparently in luck. Chai-te Two is a verdant wilderness without any life more advanced than small lizards, while Chai-te Three is a lifeless ball of overheated murky carbon dioxide. Tahl d’jehn, the expedition’s shtahn jii (leader; he can go into a thought-trance to apply logic to forecast/predict the success or failure of any proposed plan) is ready to declare Chai-te devoid of any intelligent life. But Riitha f’ath, the venja-ahn biologist, insists that they investigate more closely.
   The novel’s cover blurbs give away that they discover that the third planet was once inhabited by intelligent beings that became extinct a hundred million years ago. What happened to these humans, whether it poses a threat to the bey, and whether they can afford to explore more thoroughly, throws the explorers into an emotional turmoil that Tahl must control despite feuding cliques and sabotage lest so many of the crew go into death-wish that the rest cannot survive.
   The Alien Dark is partly the drama of what happened to the third planet and its long-extinct humans, partly the ‘impossible’ romance between du-ahn Tahl and venja-ahn Riitha, and partly the suspense story of whether the Dan tahlni and its crew will survive or not. It is unusual in being told almost completely from the viewpoint of furry aliens (Stocha’s claws kneaded the smoke-gray shag on his thighs. The silver-tipped long-fur gracing his muzzle and ears bristled.” [id.]), although the human story—a hundred-million-year-old flashback—is extensive once it gets started. The ahsin bey are constantly described in inhuman terms—The stench of fear and rage was thick and ominous. [pg. 73], they have more powerful scent; Lish winced as the throbbing pain intensified. The compulsion to satisfy the mounting passion within her had been denied. Soon she would reach the peak of the hormonal drive, and the unrequited desire would torment her for the twenty days of her fertilization cycle. Despondency overwhelmed her, and she fell into a defeated crouch. [pg. 243], their breeding is more undeniably instinctual—which make The Alien Dark a truly furry novel.

   Editor’s note: Ms. Gallagher adapted/expanded The Alien Dark from her 1982 filksong, Tahl D’jehn.

Mr. Limpet The Alien Dark Felidae

Cover of Item 1
Dust jacket of Felidae American edition, taken from the dust jacket for the German Francis—Felidae II.
Title: Felidae
Author: Akif Pirinçci
(translated by Ralph Noble)
Publisher: Villard Books (New York City, NY), Feb 1993
ISBN: 0-679-42069-X
292 pages, $19.00

   “A novel of cats and murder”, is the cover tagline beneath a headshot of a glowering cat. If you really want to hear my tale, the novel opens, —and I strongly urge you to do so—you must get used to the fact that it’s not going to be pleasant. [pg. 5] It isn’t. But it is tensely suspenseful, and is unique in being a serious, grisly murder mystery for adults in which the entire main cast—victims, suspects, and detectives—are intelligent cats.
   It all began when we moved into that damned house. [pg. 5] Gustav Löbel, a ‘simpleminded’ human, moves with the narrator, his cat Francis, from their apartment into an old house which is cheap because it badly needs fixing up. The front of the building, embellished with a number of cracked, ornamental plaster baubles, resembled the visage of a mummified Egyptian king. Gray and weathered, it glowered at you as if it had demonic intentions for the living. [pg. 7] Etc., at considerable length. Francis’ detective noir descriptions are always lengthy, picturesque, and depressing. The events in Felidae are horrific enough, but even before they occur, you get the impression that Francis is the type of character who could not describe a six-year-old’s birthday party without making it sound like a horror movie.
   The novel is full of realistic feline behavior such as flehming and marking territory.

   Since I had just moved in, however, the status of ownership was now clear; naturally, I insisted upon my right to obliterate all previous signatures with my own. And so, swiveling 180 degrees, I concentrated with all my might and fired away.
   The environmentally safe, all-purpose jet that shot out from between my rear legs inundated the spot where my predecessor had left his calling card. Order had once again been established in the world. [pgs. 11-12]

   As soon as he begins to explore his new neighborhood, Francis finds a corpse:

   What I saw there was, so to speak, my welcoming present. Under the tall tree, half-covered by shrubbery, lay a black brother with all his limbs stretched out. Only he wasn’t sleeping. I could hardly imagine that he would ever engage in any activity again, whether active or passive. He was, as people of lesser finesse might say, as dead as a doornail. More specifically, this was a member of my species whose corpse was already in an advanced state of putrefaction. All his blood had gushed from his neck, which had been torn completely into shreds, and formed a large pool that was now a dry stain. Excited flies circled over him like vultures over slaughtered cattle. [pg. 18]

   This is the fourth cat that has died violently. As Francis meets the other neighborhood cats in the next few days (they all refer to their humans as ‘can openers’ since opening cans of cat food is the only purpose of humans, in their opinion), and corpse #5 is found, Francis realizes that all the victims were sexually active males. He begins to investigate.
   Francis soon discovers that the uninhabitable top floor of his new home looks like the ruins of a scientific laboratory. It is also a meeting place of a crazily ominous feline religion:

   What I saw below could have made a photojournalist into a multimillionaire overnight with just one snapshot. It was an unbelievable sight. About two hundred brothers and sisters had pushed, shoved, and squeezed into the middle of a filthy room, where the frayed wire ends of two loose electric cables met and crossed, spraying sparks. An elderly brother with white, billowing fur, the one who drooled out the holy tirade I had heard earlier, pressed down one of the cables with his paw so that it sprang up and down, creating intermittent electric contact. One after the other, brothers and sisters were jumping over the wires where they touched and exploded into fiery bright sparks. This gave them powerful shocks that scorched their fur and made them scream at the top of their lungs. The shocks threw them to the floor, dazed and exhausted; nevertheless, some of the really crazy ones apparently didn’t get enough and wanted to submit themselves to the torture all over again. Unfortunately, there were other mental cases standing behind them who hadn’t had their laughs for the day and pushed the ones who had just gotten shocked aside to get to the front themselves.
   “In the name of Brother Claudandus!” drubbed the preacher to his little lambs. “In the name of Brother Claudandus, who sacrificed himself for our sakes and who became God! Claudandus, O holy Claudandus, hear our suffering, hear our voices, hear our prayers! Accept our sacrifices!” [pgs. 57-58]

   Females begin to be victims. Francis gradually learns what sadistic experiments were conducted on cats in the house eight years previously. He discovers an ancient underground catacombs where a mad Persian, Jesaja, has been duped into disposing of hundreds of dead cats for the murderous feline ‘Mister X’ over the years. Nightmares featuring the victims, the faceless killer, the now-dead human scientist, and genetics pioneer Gregor Mendel offer clues just beyond understanding. Francis gains two allies who help him investigate; the foulmouthed, battered tomcat Bluebeard, and the elegant, erudite Pascal who is computer-literate and creates a data base with all the clues. Francis calls a Christmas Day open meeting of all the cats in the neighborhood at which shocking new clues are revealed, and Francis realizes that the killer has been in their midst all along.
   Felidae was first published in 1989 in Germany (Felidae; Munich, Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, July 1989). It was a major hit, and a faithful (but condensed) animated feature by TFC Trickompany Filmproduktion GmbH was released in October 1994. Five sequels have been published in Germany (Francis—Felidae II, Goldmann, September 1993; Cave Canem—Ein Felidae-Roman, Goldmann, August 1999; Das Duell—Ein Felidae-Roman, Eichborn, October 2002; Salve Roma!—Ein Felidae-Roman, Eichborn, March 2004; and Schandtat—Ein Felidae-Roman, Diana, May 2007), but only Francis—Felidae II has been published so far in English, as Felidae on the Road.

Mr. Limpet The Alien Dark Felidae

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