Short Story #51: Schrödinger's Cat by Ursula K. Le Guin

Title:  Schrödinger's Cat

Author:  Ursula K. Le Guin

Short Story #51 out of 365

Rating: 5 (out of 5 stars)

Book cover:  Bill Fawcett - Cats in Space (1992)
Date Read:  2/17/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.  The story can be found at this website.


The story begins with the narrator explaining a need for cooler and slower places and how a cat appeared and has come to sit on her lap.  She reflects on the nature of everything around her being in various ambiguous states or not doing the things that they are supposed to to be doing.  There is a clear instability and lack of clarity to the world around the narrator (who isn't even sure who she/he is).  She begins to focus on the cat and what it means to be a cat.  Someone knocks at the door and enters.  Though originally, she thought it was the mailman, she decided it was a dog--and it is a dog.  The man-dog sees the cat and says that it's Schrödinger's cat and the two proceed to explain who that is and why it matters.  As to two talk, the cat walks over and leaps into a box.  When the narrator goes over to open it, the cat has disappeared.  Just after they open the lid to the box and note the cat's absence, the roof is torn off the ceiling and they are left pondering, "I wonder if he found what it was we lost?"


Finding the rhythm of this story is a bit challenging.  It is quite surreal.  While the first few sentences make some kind of sense, three sentences in, we're given this doozy of a passge:  

"On the way here I met a married couple who were coming apart. She had pretty well gone to pieces, but he seemed, at first glance, quite hearty. While he was telling me that he had no hormones of any kind, she pulled herself together and, by supporting her head in the crook of her right knee and hopping on the toes of her right foot, approached us shouting, "Well what's wrong with a person trying to express themselves?" The left leg, the arms, and the trunk, which had remained lying in the heap, twitched and jerked in sympathy. "Great legs," the husband pointed out, looking at the slim ankle. "My wife had great legs.""

The story continues with these various asides and comments that gives the story a very Kafkaesque vibe to it.  Of course, unlike Kafka, we end up with some means of explanation.  They are all in the box of someone else's experiment.  In that regard, I found Le Guin, whom I'm liking more and more (and maybe have to seek out more of her short stories).  That the chaos of the narrator's thoughts become a clear sense of order to the reader once we understand the dynamics of thought and perception in relation to Schrödinger's Cat is well executed and reminds me of why literature can be so invaluable to people to help make sense of things (or not make sense of things--hahaha).

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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