Short Story Club: “The Puma”

Theodora Goss’s story is here. We start our round-up of comment with Kimberley Lundstrom for The Fix:

“The Puma” by Theodora Goss is an interesting take on H.G. Wells’ classic The Island of Dr. Moreau. In Goss’ version, Edward Prendick’s post-island seclusion in the English countryside is interrupted by Catherine, a distinctly feline woman who calls herself Mrs. Prendick. Edward is struck by her beauty, the scars now erased from the face of the Puma Woman who killed Moraeu. Her presence releases a flood of memories for him: of the island, of Moreau, Montgomery, the Beast Men, of the fire and of subsequent actions of his own he would like to forget. But Catherine has come not only to reminisce — she has a favor she would ask, a favor she knows he cannot refuse.

This story is fascinating and well-wrought, flowing smoothly from a conversation between a civilized lady and gentleman in an English garden to the savagery of men and beasts on the island, and back again. Alive with sensory detail, gripping tension, and social commentary, “The Puma” is an engrossing story in its own right as well as a fitting homage to Wells’ novel.

Lois Tilton at IROSF:

A derivative work tends to assume that readers are familiar with the original. Given this, I find that the Puma repeats rather too much of the events on the island, even if they are not quite the same events as in the book. This is otherwise a rather unsettling evocation of the original tale, suggesting that the consequences of evil continue to propagate long before the original evildoer is gone.


Read ‘The Puma‘ today at Apex Magazine and really liked the delicate diction, very controlled plotting and neatly researched background. Almost like a fable, with lovely touches of inventive horror and mysterious revenge. So Chabon, ‘influence is bliss.’

Michele Lee:

“The Puma” is a continuation of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, in which Catherine, the puma-woman, tracks down Edward Prendick with a request. One might even say a demand. Goss’ prose is seamless, capturing a deeper meaning of the original story that hints at our own future.

Maureen’s thoughts:

My feelings towards this story are ambivalent. It’s an interesting story, a thought-provoking story, and I think it does interrogate the original novel in useful ways. Certainly, it’s a rich story in terms of topics for discussion, and that can’t be bad. On that level, I’m glad to have read it, to have been prompted to read The Island of Doctor Moreau, and to start thinking more deeply about it. But my ‘entertainment’ … I suppose one should call it that … has come as much from the greater project as from the story on its own. However one addresses a story there surely needs to be, at some point, an umami moment, a moment of just knowing that it’s right, without having to analyse it, and I’m just not getting that from this story. (Of the five I’ve now read for this exercise, the Chris Adrian comes closest, but I’m having a similar struggle with the contents of the latest Dozois Best of Year.) Is it me as a reader that is at fault, jaded as my palate appears to be, or are writers just not pushing far enough? I don’t know, but it’s frustrating.

Rich Horton listed it as a recommended story in the May Locus, but didn’t offer any analysis. A few supplementary links that may or may not be of interest: Goss on the circumstances of the writing of the story; Mark at Dinosaur Blues suggests that it make’s an interesting counterpoint to Jeffrey Ford’s “After Moreau“, and by way of an editorial for the relevant issue of Apex, Sarah Brandel has an essay on “Beast Men and the Human Animal“, discussing both Goss’s story and Ekaterina Sedia’s “The Mind of a Pig“. So a few hooks for discussion there, perhaps. The floor is open.

Call for Papers: HG Wells: From Kent to Cosmopolis

Andrew M. Butler asks me to draw attention to this conference, and who am I to refuse an ex-Vector editor?

H.G. Wells: From Kent to Cosmopolis
An international conference to be held at the Darwin Conference Suite, University of Kent at Canterbury, England
July 9-11, 2010


The conference marks the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the H. G. Wells Society in 1960 together with the centenary of Wells’s comic masterpiece The History of Mr Polly. It will take place in what Mr Polly found to be the ‘congenial situation’ of Canterbury, the Kentish cathedral city within easy reach of Folkestone and Sandgate where Wells lived in the early twentieth century and wrote some of his best-known works.

We shall examine Wells both as a novelist formed by local circumstances of his time and place, and as a thinker and social prophet who remains intensely relevant today. We aim to discuss Wells’s links to modern science fiction in all media, his imagining of worlds to come, his political, social and ecological expectations for the 21st century, and his success as an artist and controversialist both then and now.

We invite proposals for papers on all aspects of Wells’s life and writings: his science fiction, his novels and short stories, his political, sociological and autobiographical works, and his contributions to education, journalism and the cinema. In keeping with the conference title ‘From Kent to Cosmopolis’ we hope to attract contributions which relate the local to the universal in his writings and/or look at Wells’s achievements in relation to wider cultural, historical, temporal and spatial perspectives.

250 word abstracts for 20-minute papers should be sent by 1 March 2010 to Andrew M. Butler and Patrick Parrinder at

Priority booking for the conference at bargain rates is available up to 30 June 2009. Contact the Hon. Treasurer, Paul Allen, at