A selection of covers for the Fritz Leiber novel 'The Green Millennium', featuring a cat of varying size and a warrior woman of minimal costume.

I picked up The Green Millennium, a 1953 science fiction novel by Fritz Leiber, on the strength of a paperback cover image that someone on Mastodon shared. It depicted a fantastic sword-maiden dressed in striped furs as she rode astride an enormous green tabby-cat, leaping before a full moon. I immediately shared it with friends, declaring it my personal poster-image for International Women’s Day 2023.

Despite this book from a genre-defining fantasy author being too obscure to rate a Wikipedia entry, my well-versed friends immediately responded with a bevy of covers from other editions. The wonderful variety of art applies varying emphasis and scale to the ever-present green cat, and the degree to which its sometimes-present rider is dressed. Some editions had blurbs teasing an extraterrestrial origin for the feline. You know that at this point I had to read this thing, so I found a reasonably priced edition on Apple Books without too many OCR errors—and yet another cover design, a tastefully minimal one featuring green cat eyes.

I found the story quite fun, in a cartoonish way. In a very 1950s future whose popular music is all about rocket-ships and martian romance, brave but hapless protagonist Phil Gish begins an unusual day when a lime-green housecat pads in through his high-rise apartment window, exuding a sense of pure joy and optimism. In short order, Phil meets a rogue’s gallery of sleazy gangsters, dissolute new-agers, double-defector government agents, and rogue psychoanalysts who all want that furry macguffin for themselves. From there, Phil and his friends board a merry-go-round where, again and again, they deal with one set of antagonists just in time for another to come marching in the door leveling a stun-gun or a nuclear bazooka at them. The whole set gets cycled through at least two times in this way. It is extremely silly.

The text inevitably marinates in outdated gender sensibilities typical of its author and the era in which he wrote, but nothing that modern readers can’t wince their way through. (Just for fun, I checked: “girl” appears 68 times in the text, and “woman” 15 times.) I had a lot of fun reading it. I’d love to see it adapted into a movie, animated or otherwise, with just a touch of attitudinal tuning for the twenty-first century. Juno the blunt but motherly professional wrestler is a fantastic character, as is Sacheverell, the frayed occultist who surrounds himself with flim-flam but never succumbs to cynicism.

The novel contains no ferocious female cat-knights, alas. Lucky, the (non-horse-sized) cat, doesn’t get much as much page-time as we might like, since the poor creature’s double-duty as macguffin ensures that he spends most of the story getting repeatedly stunned and temporarily kidnapped by all the book’s ridiculously villainous factions before all the gears fly off for a cat ex machina ending. Still, Leiber’s particular fondness for feline companions comes through from the start, and I found myself moved by Phil and Lucky’s adventure, however absurd.

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