This week we seek to answer that most pressing of questions: Which is the better sci-fi/fantasy pet? Spot from Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Oy from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series?
Spot—by Eric Schlelein
I’m a cat person. I’ll admit it. I’m a guy, and I love cats. It’s not that I don’t like dogs—I like them just fine—but I like cats a lot better. They’re mysterious and interesting. They’re goofy and funny and a constant wonder to me, plus it’s never anything less than side-splittingly hilarious when people make jokes about the amount of pussy I get.
You may not know this, but I’m also a Star Trek person. It’s not that I hate Star Wars—Star Wars served a vital role in my childhood and my appreciation of movies in general and science fiction in particular (even though Star Wars can not be technically be considered science fiction, but that’s another argument for another day, and I’m happy to engage anyone who would care to debate that)—but Star Wars lost a lot of glimmer for me somewhere around the opening crawl of The Phantom Menace.
Is it a wonder that I have a cat, and that I named her after a character on Star Trek? My beloved tabby with the white belly and frickin’ adorable face is named Ezri, after the ninth incarnation of the Dax symbiont. I liked Ezri Dax as a character, and I like the name. I’m not apologizing. You don’t know me.
There aren’t too many pets in the Star Trek universe. Captain Archer had Porthos, his Beagle, and Captain Picard had Livingston, the lionfish in the globular tank in his Ready Room (does that count as a pet?). Those are all fine, but my favorite sci-fi pet would have to be Data’s orange tabby Spot.
But here’s the thing about Spot. She may or may not be a cat. She may or may not even be a she. When Spot first appeared in the Next Generation’s third season episode called “Data’s Day”, she was a he, and he had long hair. The next time we saw Spot, he was the same color, but had short hair. But then, magically, somehow in the seventh season Spot became a she. Now it’s not like I know enough about feline anatomy to be able to look at any given cat and say, “That’s a girl cat.” I know about this magical kitty gender reassignment because they started referring to him as “she,” and then, she had a litter of kittens.
That’s right, Spot, our long haired male cat in season three somehow got a new hairdo, magically switched genders, and then got knocked up by one of the twelve male cats then inhabiting the ship in season seven.
That’s a direct quote from Spot’s owner. “There are twelve male felines on board.” Now lets just hold up the great Spot/Oy debate for a second. There are twelve male cats on the ship? How many female cats are there? That’s got to be a lot of cats. I like cats, but jeez. The Enterprise is turning into a house from an episode of Hoarders. If there are that many cats on board, how many dogs are there? Fish? Guinea Pigs? Hamsters? Tyrellian bats? Is this the flagship of the Federation or a Humane Society with a warp drive?
Okay—debate on. Spot showed up a few times during the Next Generation’s run, and in the feature films Generations and Nemesis. Never for very long, and usually in some kind of humorous context. Oh, the jokes they made about Spot injuring crew members who watched Spot while Data was away. Spot constantly vexed Worf, who demonstrated a considerable amount of fear when the cat was mentioned. The only other crew member besides Data who had any affinity for Spot was Reginald Barclay, everyone’s favorite mumbling, stumbling, bumbling diagnostic engineer. Data even wrote a wonderfully mediocre ode to Spot called, drolly enough, “Ode to Spot,” the first line of which goes, “Felis Catus, is your taxonomic nomenclature. An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.” I’ll spare you the whole thing, but if you’re a cat person, you should look it up. It’s…humerous.
So here’s why I prefer Spot to Oy, who is one of the stars of one of my absolute obsessive favorite Stephen King stories: Spot is a shapeshifter. And it is able to cloud the minds of the crew into thinking that it used to be a different gender. Spot could be the most insidious threat ever faced by the crew of the Enterprise-D, and they didn’t even know it.
As for Oy, there’s some question as to whether or not he’s an actual pet. He’s recognized several times by no less a personage than Roland of Gilead that he’s a member of their ka-tet, and an important one at that. Plus, other than his ultimate act in the last book, he doesn’t ever do much more than jump around and bark, “Oy!” and “Ake!”
Sure, maybe the Star Trek writers screwed up when they switched Spot’s gender. Maybe by then it was too late and all they could do was hope nobody would notice. This seems highly unlikely to me, since I would hope that anyone who worked on that show knew that Star Trek fans are known for being slightly more intelligent than your average TV viewer, and maybe only six or seven thousand times as obsessive.
I like to think of Spot as a malevolent entity of Q proportions. How Spot, cute, innocent little Spot, could have caused all the transporter malfunctions and holodeck problems and anti-matter injector foul-ups they were constantly dealing with, and no one was ever the wiser. I like to think of them outwitting Romulans and staving off Klingon Civil Wars and if anyone became suspicious of it, it could just change gender again and then zap everyone’s brain into thinking it had always been that gender. Ooh! Maybe Spot was one of the Founders! The evil masterminds behind the Dominion! And perfectly poised to influence and spy on the Federation’s best and brightest!
Just like a cat, huh?
Oy—by Elizabeth Rappe
I’m going to shamelessly echo your opening paragraph, and introduce myself as a crazy pet lady. I currently have four dogs, three birds, a hamster, a tank of fish, and a hermit crab. There’s no animal I haven’t owned except for a cat. This is solely due to family allergies and not personal preference because I do love cats, but I suppose this could color my perception of Spot’s inherent magic. But I think my initial attraction to Oy probably stems from the fact that he combines all the animals I love – he’s furry and cuddly like my dog, but talks like my parrots – and yet is something I can never, ever own. Unless, of course, I’m drawn into Roland Deschain’s world but that’s for ka to decide.
Your theory about Spot is delightful, but my dear Wats – I mean, Schelein, it’s just a theory. It has no real basis in fact. Spot’s shifting appearance may have simply been due to the kooky whims of casting and cat availability. Even you have admitted this, and that Trek fans do tend to make a mountain out of a long-haired cat. But I admire your logic! Also, if Spot is a Founder, a similar problem of pet classification arises. If Oy isn’t a pet but a full member of the kat-tet, then surely a malevolent entity isn’t either…. But those are theories! Let’s deal in facts. Oy’s abilities can’t be disputed. They aren’t the stuff of our imagination or even Stephen King’s characters, because he demonstrates them on multiple occasions.
Oy’s most enchanting trait is his ability to talk. While his barks of “Oy!” and “Ake!” may initially seem like mimicry, it’s clear he’s using his limited vocabulary to communicate his feelings and understanding. He can alter his tone and show anger, fear, or impatience, which proves he’d use full sentences if only his little voice box could make them. That’s pretty impressive for a creature with a voice like Jason Statham’s. I don’t even think Statham can show that much emotional range in a line or two.
And unlike a mere mimic, Oy shows a capacity for reason and logic. When Oy helps Roland track Jake through Lud, he doesn’t do it mindlessly like a bloodhound, but works with Roland and understands the gunslinger’s requests and commands. He doesn’t just blunder ahead through booby-traps or struggle in Roland’s shirt, he goes along with it, and the only complaint he offers is one of impatience that his human companion isn’t moving faster. Even Roland—who has always considered billy-bumblers fairly useless—wonders just how deeply Oy’s wheels are turning. The billy-bumbler quickly proves there’s more than meets his gold-rimmed eyes when he helps Roland rescue Jake from the Tick-Tock Man. He willingly climbs up into the ventilation shaft and acts as a scout, and is able to tell Roland how many baddies there are by tapping his feet. Oy can count! And not only count, but specify to the gunslinger there are six Grays … and Jake. Together, they formulate a plan of rescue. Roland tells Oy what to do, but I have no doubt Oy would have thought it up and done it all by himself. He loves Jake, and when he tells Roland in his anxious way “Oy! Art! Ake!,” I don’t think he’s mimicking Roland’s “My heart goes with you,” but intoning it as a mantra, similar to the way Roland and his fellow gunslingers always extort one another to remember the face of their fathers. (I do wonder why Roland doesn’t say this to Oy. He says it to Blaine the Mono, and billy bumblers certainly have more familial ties than a monorail…)
Oy also demonstrates a similar (though less spectacular) understanding when they’re on Blaine, and Jake offers his book of riddles to Roland: “’Ont!’ Oy said, giving Roland a forbidding glance. ‘Olan-ont-iss!!’ The bumbler fixed his teeth on the book, took it from Jake, and stretched his disproportionately long neck towards Roland.” Dogs can take thing from one person to another by command, but Oy wasn’t commanded! He just decided to do it, because he agreed with Jake that Roland, master riddler that he was, needed it more than his poor, scared pal.
Speaking of that disproportionately long neck, we also have to factor in Oy’s awesome appearance. Jake describes him as a cross between “a raccoon and woodchuck, with a dash of dachshund in for good measure.” He has a “furry corkscrew tail,” the almost prehensile neck, and gold-ringed eyes. It’s the perfect concoction of charming and cuddly features. It’s the sort of creature Disney could spend millions designing for maximum marketability, but King did in a rare moment of G-rated whimsy. It’s as though he felt he had to atone for Cujo, and did so by designing the animal any sympathetic person would want to own.
Finally, there is that whole ka-tet thing. One might argue it elevates Oy into an untouchable and heroic sphere…but honestly, I consider my animals part of my ka-tet. You always meet the animal companion you’re meant for, whether you’re questing through Mid-World or just passing by a PetCo or shelter. Sometimes, they help you find the Dark Tower, and sometimes you’re just meant to make one another happy. And maybe, just maybe, they’re hanging around to undo the fabric of space and time like Spot. It’s ka.
– originally published 10/11/2011
Elisabeth Rappe was once an aspiring medievalist, now a writer for Film.com. A movie & video game loving bowl of awesome. Screw the cereal, I’m the prize inside!
Eric Schlelein is a Denver based freelance writer and science fiction enthusiast who proudly holds a Creative Writing degree from the University of Arizona.