“All Cats Are Gray” is a science fiction short story by Andre Alice Norton, published in 1953. Norton, an influential science fiction and fantasy author, crafted a tale that combines elements of space adventure with a mystery that hinges on the unique abilities of its protagonists. The story centers around Steena, a nondescript yet sharp-witted space traveler, her loyal gray cat, Bat, and the down-on-his-luck spacer Cliff Moran. Together, they venture into the unknown to solve the enigma of the ghostly spaceship, the Empress of Mars, blending the eerie allure of space with human ingenuity and courage.

Comprehensive Plot Summary

Steena of the spaceways—her name conjured images of mystery and lore among spacers. She wasn’t the glamourous type featured in stellar-vids, but rather a plain, colorless figure often seen in the smoky corners of spaceport bars. Her hair, netted tightly against her skull, shared the same gray hue as her baggy space-all, making her seem almost like a shadow in the background. Yet, those who knew her understood that Steena possessed a rare and valuable asset: a vast, photographic memory filled with an extensive array of knowledge about the spaceways.

Her only companion was Bat, a large gray tomcat who shared her journeys across the galaxy. Bat was as much a fixture in the ports as Steena, known for his peculiar taste for Vernal juice, which he drank straight from a glass. Together, they formed an enigmatic duo, drifting from port to port, with Steena’s wisdom often saving many a spacer from peril.

One fateful evening, in the bustling Rigel Royal, Steena spotted Cliff Moran, a seasoned spacer whose recent streak of bad luck had left him teetering on the edge of ruin. His ship, his lifeline, was under threat of repossession. Cliff was at the bar, drowning his sorrows, when Steena approached him. Her presence alone was enough to jolt him from his misery, for Steena rarely sought company. With Bat curled around her shoulders, she leaned in and whispered about the Empress of Mars, the legendary ghost ship.

The Empress of Mars was the stuff of spacer legends—a luxurious pleasure ship abandoned in space, rumored to be laden with unimaginable wealth. Over fifty years, many had tried to claim her, but none succeeded. Those who boarded her either disappeared or returned with horror-filled tales. Steena’s words sparked a glimmer of hope in Cliff. Desperation fueled his decision to seize this one last opportunity.

Without delay, Cliff set off, hoping to outrun the writ threatening his ship. It wasn’t until he was well into space that he discovered Steena and Bat had stowed away on board. Confronted, Steena offered no explanation; her presence was a silent assertion of her intent to follow through on her own tip. Together, they ventured into the unknown, driven by the allure of the Empress’s treasures.

As they approached the Empress of Mars, the ghostly ship loomed large in the void, its lights eerily aglow. Cliff expertly maneuvered his ship alongside the derelict and secured their entry. The air within was stale, carrying a faint, corrupt scent that set Bat to sniffing intently. While Cliff headed straight for the control cabin, Steena and Bat began their exploration.

Passing through opulent but abandoned corridors, Steena opened door after door, her curiosity piqued by a particularly lavish cabin. The room, draped in silks and laden with crystal and jeweled containers, seemed to have belonged to a wealthy passenger. It was here that Steena’s keen perception revealed something extraordinary. Glancing into a mirror, she saw a pile of gems on the bed begin to move, lifted by an unseen hand.

Bat, ever alert, watched the invisible presence with unwavering attention. Steena’s mind raced, recalling half-forgotten fragments of knowledge. She realized that she and Bat shared a unique trait: they both perceived the world in shades of gray. This gray vision allowed them to see the otherwise invisible entity as a vague outline.

Steena moved with calculated calm, opening a bottle she had grabbed in her initial shock. She watched the mirror intently, seeing the entity’s flicker against the backdrop of the room. Bat’s behavior confirmed her suspicions; he hissed and spat, tracking the invisible creature as it moved. Slowly, Steena followed Bat’s lead, drawing closer to the control cabin where Cliff was working.

In the control cabin, Bat’s growls grew louder, his body tense and ready to strike. Steena instructed Cliff to toss her his blaster, which he did without question. Holding the weapon steady, she waited for the right moment. As the entity moved again, its outline became visible against the backdrop of Steena’s discarded space-all. With precise aim, she fired, and the blaster’s discharge filled the room with a strange, oily stench.

The entity, struck by the blast, left behind only a few flapping remnants of the space-all. Bat’s reaction was immediate; he dashed around the room in a frenzy before calming down to inspect the scorched remains. The invisible menace had been vanquished, its presence no longer a threat.

Steena explained her realization to Cliff. The creature had been an alien life form, invisible to the human eye due to its unique color spectrum, which existed beyond human vision. This being had likely caused the Empress to become a derelict, its curiosity and deadly nature leaving the ship abandoned in space.

With the threat neutralized, Cliff, Steena, and Bat navigated the Empress back to the Lunar quarantine station. The successful salvage of the legendary ship marked a turning point in their lives. Steena, who had always lived in the background, found herself in the spotlight. She and Cliff formed a bond, united by their shared experience and understanding of Steena’s gray world. Bat, ever loyal, remained their constant companion.

Their story concluded with a scene of domestic bliss. Steena, now adorned in a vibrant red cloak and jeweled with Jovan rubies, sat with Cliff in a luxurious setting. Bat, enjoying his favorite Vernal juice, completed the picture of an unconventional yet happy family. They had turned a ghostly legend into a tale of triumph and transformation, their lives forever changed by the adventure that had brought them together.

Main Characters

  • Steena: A nondescript yet highly intelligent and observant woman who navigates the spaceways with her cat, Bat. Her photographic memory and deep knowledge of spacer lore make her a revered figure among spacers.
  • Bat: Steena’s loyal gray tomcat, who possesses an uncanny ability to sense the invisible and the unknown. His bond with Steena is unbreakable, and he plays a crucial role in detecting the invisible entity aboard the Empress.
  • Cliff Moran: A down-on-his-luck spacer who teams up with Steena and Bat to uncover the mystery of the Empress of Mars. His desperation and subsequent adventure lead to a significant transformation in his life.

Themes and Motifs

  • Isolation and Companionship: Steena’s solitary nature and her unique companionship with Bat highlight themes of loneliness and the solace found in loyal companionship.
  • Perception and Reality: Steena’s colorblindness and ability to see the invisible entity underscore themes of perception and the hidden realities that exist beyond ordinary human sight.
  • Courage and Ingenuity: The characters’ bravery and resourcefulness in facing the unknown and solving the mystery of the Empress emphasize human ingenuity and the courage to confront the unexplained.

Writing Style and Tone

Andre Norton’s writing style in “All Cats Are Gray” is characterized by its straightforward narrative and detailed descriptions, which immerse the reader in the world of space travel and the eerie mystery of the Empress. The tone is a blend of suspense and intrigue, maintaining a sense of foreboding as the characters delve into the unknown.

Norton’s use of a first-person narrator, who recounts the events with a mix of admiration and familiarity, adds a layer of authenticity and immediacy to the tale. Her portrayal of Steena as a resourceful and quietly powerful protagonist challenges traditional gender roles, presenting a character who thrives on intellect and intuition rather than physical prowess. This narrative choice enhances the story’s depth, making it a compelling read that transcends its genre conventions.

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer (if any)

When I am not working/watching movies/reading books/traveling, you can reach me via my Twitter/LinkedIn or you can contact me here

Categories: Book Summary