Monday, April 6, 2015

F Is for Felinoids

First of all felinoid is standard SF jargon for a humanoid with feline characteristics. I don't think it's that accurate. A better definition of that word is a animal with catlike features and I'm talking about cat girls and guys. I think ailuranthrope has a better ring to it (it is also used by people who empathize and some say transform mystically or otherwise into cats.) Having a humanoid based on a Terran animals is a useful form of shorthand. While your alien can still be alien it is still easily understood (for the most anyway) by your audience. So, humanoids with cat like traits a/o features, what the heck do we mean by that?

Our first contact with cat girls has already happened if you count cos-mod surgery. Some people want to look like cats. Check out Jocelyn Wildenstein.

Warning: her pictures are safe for work but I wish she'd cover up more.

Okay now that I destroyed your cat girl fantasy let me continue. Our next contact with cat girls will probably be with humans who were genetically modified to have feline characteristics. A number of feline characteristics are very useful for ... space travel. Yeah, space travel! Felines seem to have an easier time orienting in zero gravity than us monkey people. Night vision is handy on planets with dim or far off stars.

Felines do have less tolerance for gee forces than average. This was discovered in World war Two when the American Office of Strategic Services tried making a cat guided shipping bomb. It was reasoned that since cats must have some measure of aerodynamic ability to always land on their feet and loathed water they would aim their bomb towards a ship to stay dry. I have no idea how they were to control the bombs but the question was a moot point since the cats passed out soon after the drop. It was a dirty trick to pull on a cat and I'm sure just one reason the Germans keep scratching their heads and wondering how we won. But in any case our feline humans would probably run towards low gee planets and low acceleration ships. They could also make use of remote controlled munitions.

Claws, even retractile ones, are a mixed blessing. Sure they're great for opening up that cargo from the Dragon capsule but do you really want to chance those nails when you're wearing a space suit? Do you want someone with those claws helping you suit up? Don't tell me about restraint, accidents happen. Cat people might have to make do with those 1950's space suits that had mechanical claws at the end of the arms. They might also have their claws filed down or removed for safety reasons in some occupations.

(illustration by Ed Emshwiller from Project Rho website)

There are other feline traits that make them less than ideal space explorers. Felines (on Earth at least) are pure (obligate) carnivores. They have a higher need for proteins than most animals and they can only get such good things as taurine, arachidonic acid, vitamin A and vitamin B12 insufficient quantities from meat which is really bad news for long duration voyages or space stations. A vegetarian diet causes hearing loss, hair loss (!) and liver and heart problems for felines. So your cat explorers are probably looking at a lot of dietary supplements and no fresh meat. That copilot might start looking yummy after a few weeks (or the monkey people you just made contact with). Cloned meat and really good dietary supplements might help cat people satisfy their meat needs on spacecraft and stations.

Another feline characteristic is sleeping, a lot. They may have bursts of speed and strength but they pay for it afterwards with power naps. Humans might be preferred for construction purposes as we are built for endurance. You would prefer cat people for things like damage control or when you send for reinforcements where their superior speed and dexterity allow a faster response (just hope they wake up.) In most games you could portray this by asigning a ailuran character a plus to Dexterity for an encounter or fight but penalize their constitution/endurance/stamina until a nap was had.

There are some cosmetic considerations with cat people: tails, fur and ears. Now most mammals have hair unless they lose it for evolutionary reasons (being aquatic or having thick skin are the two most popular courses). Humans evidently lost their hair through random evolution and then came to prize that hairlessness as a sign of fitness, which led to the hairless people breeding more and more. Success rewards success in nature so we're now bald by ailuranthrope standards. It doesn't have to go that way. Hairlessness is a mixed blessing. We gain and lose heat more quickly than our furry friends not to mention sunburns and no protecton versus a scratch or nip. Having fur might be more realistic for mammal stock non-humans. I have yet to see a cat person based on a Persian breed though Cousin Itt from the Adams family might be one. Fur is also handy for retaining body heat if you are smaller than human average so your smaller species of cat people are well taken care of. 

Having cat ears is no weirder or unattractive as many of the forehead aliens we've been plagued with. Personally I find them sort of cute. A felinoid might convey a lot of emotion through ears, whiskers, and tail movement but be hard to read by facial expression. If the claws come out odds are you're in for a scrap.

A tail is problematical for our feline analogies. Humans don't have one nor do our close relatives, the apes. One theory was that walking upright proved beneficial because there was less surface area exposed to the tropical sun resulting in more heat tolerance.  Being a biped negated the need for a tail. If your cat people run on all fours they could keep it for the advantages of balance (not to mention swatting people who annoy them). If they had fur to protect them from the sun then they might have evolved an upright stance that was sort of optional or part time and kept their tails. We might have lost our tails because other favorable genes were part of a package that included taillessness. I'd mark tails as optional for cat people. Maybe some subraces have them and others not. 

Felines are often characterized with being aloof and loners with little empathy for each other. Obviously this is not always the case as prides of lions work together quite well. Also these are alien felinoids our cat people evolve from and you can set the dials for empathy and socialization whatever way you want. Again different subraces could have different characteristics. Most Earth felines dislike and avoid crossing water or getting wet. Tigers, h0wever, are awesome swimmers. Know your ailuranthrope.

Finally ailuranthropes might not be all that feline in nature. Aliens are alien. Just because me meet a humanoid race with tails and retractile claws doesn't mean they act like cats. Foxes have tails and retractible claws for that matter. Hmm fox girls ...
"Why yes. I'm a cat girl cosplaying a primate girl! Ook ook! "
(image from