Gene Wolfe’s “Feather Tigers”

Gene Wolfe employs a far future perspective in his 1973 short story, “Feather Tigers.” In the distant future humanity is dead and aliens that look like blue, baby rabbits visit Earth for biological and anthropological study.

It reads as an anti-Vietnam story for two reasons. The first comes from an exchange between a flying car with artificial intelligence, a human artifact, telling the alien, Quoquo, about the long war over the Mekong River. Quoquo doesn’t believe anything that the car attempts to explain to him.

The second reason comes from the Quoquo’s subject of study: The People of the Yellow Leaves. These are a nomadic people who live in Thailand and have a myth/tale about “feather tigers.” They believe that tigers are capable of projecting their spirits beyond the body in order to scout the land. One may observe this spiritual manifestation in the shifting patterns of light passing through the jungle foliage. For Quoquo, this myth has more substantiation than the facts that the technological artifact tries to tell him. This, and the fear that Quoquo exhibits later, destabilizes and undermines the traditionally privileged position of technology, which may represent the advanced technology of war making.

“Feather Tigers” is a romp-like story that reads more like a ghost tale than a SF story.

Published by

Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.