“Perched high near the ceiling, he could see Garland’s head begin to expand as the sparkling beams reached his otherwise unmoving form”

Erwane Telmas’ sixth “Cat” book, The Cat & The Monster Machine, is his best to date.
Gone are the author’s early tendencies to provide us with the still-unnamed kitty’s weather preferences, the feline’s seemingly infinite capacity for tormenting smaller critters or his favorite snooze spots (there are many).

Instead, this time out we’re presented with the puzzle in the first paragraph: the newly opened tv repair shop is not what it appears to be, and the real reason for its existence is more fantastic than the thought of someone actually opening a tv repair shop in the 21st century. And the first repair is free!

No one can resist that kind of deal, so there are lots of takers. It seems people who bring in their sets for repair get them back not just in working order but with a few modifications: remember when your parents told you that sitting in front of the “idiot box” will warp your brain? Turns out they were right, in one way at least.

Forget subliminal messaging or rapid, strobing lights or colors to induce a catatonic (sorry) state. There is nothing subtle about the way these devices work. Acting as both receivers and transmitters, the modified televisions become “matter swappers,” replacing good old human dna with interdimensional monster dna, turning the viewer into something quite different from what they were when they sat down. And their numbers are growing.

Le chat is the first, um, being to notice something’s afoul when he chases a mouse through a drainpipe into the stockroom of the repair shop run by portly old “Dunson.” An odd smell (to say the least!) brings the cat toward the workroom where he spies this “Dunson” replacing some electronic parts with parts decidedly more gooey. Put off by the unnatural odor, el gato investigates the showroom (and eats a small moth) where he finds more bad smell.

The next day our “Dunson” drops off the Garland’s tv and sure enough, more of the same foul odor, but so far only kitty can smell it.

So how does a cat stop an invasion? Well, this isn’t some shaggy dog tale. Cats don’t “go get help.” They stalk, they observe from their hidden perch. They pounce. And out maneuver.

“He leapt onto the rock wall and after a burst of speed scaled the wooden fence. In one fluid motion kitty was off and running, leaving the beast floundering”
“One of its feelers whipped toward him but he was too fast, feline reflexes the apparent superior”
“The cat’s razor sharp fangs tore at the prismatic curtain while claws raked and sliced its gelatinous form, finally bursting it like a bubble.”

Going by the names (Mittens, Lulu, Bobby, and Sabba to name a few) given him after encounters with various characters, Telmas’ “titular” feline here is less a Romeo and more of a protector. Though his motivations may be slightly self centered, the cat does quite well defending Mrs. Lawris when her mutated husband tries to eat her face (the woman always gave good bellyrubs and had a sunny porch). He saves the little Bradford boy when the child goes into the yard of a neighbor who isn’t quite himself anymore by jumping out of the bushes with a distracting hiss (the child often smuggled table scraps out behind the garage). When old Miss Cudahy gets cornered in her cellar by what used to be her grandson, kitty attacks the thing’s tail. That particular “rescue” might have been more play than heroism, and the spinster did often put chicken soup on her windowsill on chilly nights, but who says you can’t mix business with pleasure?

Telmas grew up on a dog farm, making his success with cat tales (sorry) that much more interesting. After struggling for several years with equine romances, Telmas had success when his short Cat o’ Nine Lives was published in Furballs Monthly and his course was set. Said to be a “frog person,” the author nevertheless knows which side his bread is buttered on (actually not very difficult to discern) and shows no signs of stopping his cattery.

Fans of the previous yarns (sorry) will no doubt be overjoyed while newbs may find something to satisfy their curiosity.