Perhaps more of an SF novel that Fritz normally wrote, and also his longest as it spreads across the globe covering the disaster.. It contains two notable cats; Tigerishka (see Gummitch Stories) and Miaow the more ‘normal’ cat.
Review at Conceptional Fiction
Review at SF Site
Review by Sean Synthetic
Review by David Pringle
If I were writing a volume about the The Hundred Best Fantasy Novels Fritz Leiber (born 1910) would deserve at least three entries. He has produced fewer notable works of sicence fiction than he has of supernatural horror and sword-and-sorcery, and of the few his short novel The Big Time (1961) is often cited as the best. I prefer The Wanderer, which is a long novel, an ambitious one, and eminently readable.
It begins with an eclipse of the Moon. All over the world people are looking at the sky and, in rapid succession, we are introduced to dozens of them: amateur astronomers, science fiction fans, flying saucer enthusiasts, others – all sharply drawn, quirkily individualised. It is a narrative of many strands. The main one concerns Paul Hagbolt and Margo Gelhorn, and their cat Miaow, who are out for an evening drive in Southern California. They fall in with an open-air gathering of UFO-spotters. Suddenly the stars flicker to one side of the darkened Moon, and a new planet swims into view. It is the Wanderer, four times the size of the moon, its visible face patterned like a Yin-Yang symbol, half gold, half purple: a vast unidentified object beyond the wildest dreams of the flying saucer nuts – an artificial world which has travelled through hyperspace and stopped off in our solar system to refuel itself from the Moon.
The Wanderer’s abrupt arrival causes catastrophic gravitational effects. Don Merriam, an American astronaut on the lunar surface, manages to escape in a small spacecraft just as the Moon begins to crack down the middle and split in two. He is drawn to the Wanderer’s surface and discovers that it is a hollow planet inhabited by all manner of intelligent beings. Meanwhile, California is riven by earthquakes, and oceans the world over begin to swell with tidal waves. Many people die. Paul and Margo and their pet cat are about to be engulfed by a tsunami when a “flying saucer” – a miniature version of the Wanderer itself – descends and saves them. Paul and the cat are whisked away. The flower-filled, mirror-lined vessel is piloted by a beautiful feline creater (Paul comes to call her Tigerishka) who has mistaken Maiow for an intelligent being. Realising her mistake, and learning English by telepathic means, she refers to Paul contemptuously as a “monkey”. Nevertheless a kind of friendship grows between the man and the cat-woman, which culminates in an act of physical love. Tigerishka explains where the Wanderer has come from and why: it is a rogue planet on the run from an intergalactic civilisation which has become overcrowded and decadent. She provides a disturbing vision of the cosmos:
“A pond can fill with infusoria almost as quickly as a ditchwater puddle. A continent can fill with rabbits almost as swiftly as a single field. And intelligent life can spread to the ends of the universe – those ends which are everywhere – as swiftly as it grows to maturity on a single planet.
The planets of a trillion suns can fill with spaceship-builders as quickly as those of one. Ten million trillion galaxies can become infected with the itch of thought – that great pandemic! – as readily as one.
Intelligent life spreads faster than the plague. And science grows more uncontrollably than cancer”.
Eventually Paul is united with Don Merriam from the Wanderer, and the two are returned safely to Earth, before the artificial planet flees back into hyperspace just three days after its arrival.
The Wanderer is part disaster novel, part space opera. Leiber enriches the book by cramming in countless references to mythology, religion, the arts – and sf. The characters talk incessantly. Despite its grab-bag plot, this is no slickly-written piece of best-seller fiction, but a richly eccentric, almost encyclopaedic work, a summation of its author’s wide-ranging interests and obsessions. Although it was popular with sf readers at the time of its first publication, The Wanderer has become a neglected novel, hardly ever mentioned in critical studies of science fiction. I believe it is Leibers chef-d’oeuvre, and overdue for revaluation.