Cannonball Read IV: I Was An Alien Cat Toy by Ann Somerville
I Was An Alien Cat Toy is probably one of the stranger stories I've read but well executed and moving in a bizarre, at times uncomfortable way.
How to describe it? A kind of Planet of the Apes meets Enemy Mine with a little m/m erotica thrown in for good measure. Not being a fan of sci-fi, I got roped into the element of raw humanity that was the underlying theme in the story. Broken down to its bare construct, a relationship is about communication and emotional investment in another. Reading how our two protagonists managed to forge a connection despite (literally) being from different planets was fascinating.
A human is marooned on a faraway planet. He is almost immediately captured by a race of giant feline-looking beings. The giant cat creatures, who operate in their own colonized and civilized society, assume he's an animal and treat him like a pet. He can't understand them, but recognizes some behaviors that mimic humans; they don't bother trying to understand him as he is perceived to be something like a ferret. Our pet human endures desperation and panic at being tied up, fed food he can't digest, being physically uncomfortable and for all intents and purposes invisible as his humanity is not recognized let alone acknowledged. Eventually one of the cat creatures takes an interest, pities the new pet and takes him in as his own. He provides shelter and affection to his new pet, completely unaware of the anguish suffered by the human.
It takes a brutal and violent episode for recognition to set it. Battered and nearly insane, our human manages to convey a piece of information that finally registers with the cat: his name. The pet has a name, an identity. The cat realizes that his pet is in fact a sentient, thinking being. Their relationship evolves from that point and the author does a pretty impressive job of not glossing over the very real issues of communication among two beings who not only don't speak the same language, but don't share any of the same non-verbal cues.
There is a romantic thread that could have very easily become disturbing as the relationship does eventually tread into the physical. It's a testament to how twisted my mind is that I never really flinched, I guess. The ending is somewhat abrupt and felt like a different person wrote it vs the rest of the book. I didn't particularly like the resolution but am hard-pressed to come up with an alternative. Nonetheless, it was still haunting and days later I still find myself thinking about parts of a seemingly silly story about a guy who almost stopped being a person just because others didn't see who he was.
(Note: Any purchases of this book made through the amazon.com links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)