fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSchrödinger’s Kitten by George Alec EffingerSchrödinger’s Kitten by George Alec Effinger

Jehan is a pretty 12-year-old Islamic girl who sees visions of her own possible futures. These visions suggest that she will be raped in an alley, disowned by her fundamentalist Muslim father, and forced to live as a whore until she dies. Or she could kill her potential rapist first, but if she does that she will be executed, unless somebody saves her by paying the blood price… There are too many “ifs” and too many potential paths and, as a child, Jehan is haunted by all the possibilities and her knowledge that something bad will happen, but not knowing exactly which of those branches her life will take.

Interspersed with these disturbing visions, we see Jehan in a possible future as an assistant and then a colleague to the men who are, during World War II, trying to unravel the secrets of quantum physics. Their findings will enlighten the world, but may also give the Nazis the knowledge they need to design horrific weapons. Does Jehan have the power to influence these sorts of future possible paths, too?

The title of George Alec Effinger’s story, Schrödinger’s Kitten (1988), refers to Erwin Schrödinger’s famous paradoxical thought experiment now known as Schrödinger’s Cat, which he used as an absurd argument to challenge the ideas of Einstein and his colleagues about the role of the observer in the dual state of subatomic particles. The title also refers to his assistant Jehan, whose strange visions of different possible personal futures represent the Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics, which Hugh Everett developed to explain Schrödinger’s paradox. Jehan, a spiritual woman who is a faithful Muslim and personally experiences the understanding that her life has many potential branches which could all possibly be real, suggests that quantum physics is God’s game that he plays with humans.

Schrödinger’s Kitten is one of those rare stories that have won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It’s a well-constructed, mind-expanding story. I enjoyed the discussions of quantum mechanics and the way that Effinger, in such a short space, successfully married quantum mechanics, nuclear war, parallel universes, and spiritualism.

I listened to Infinivox’s audio production, which is 1 hour and 16 minutes long and is available at for only $4.95. It was read by Amy Bruce, who did a nice job.

Published in 1988. There were no minarets in the Budayeen, but in the city all around the walled quarters there were many mosques. Leaning against a grimy wall, Jehan heard the chanted cries of the muezzins, but she paid them no mind. She stared at the dead body at her feet, the body of a boy a few years older than she, someone she had seen about the Budayeen but whom she did not know by name. She killed him because he would do her harm in one of a number of probable, but uncertain, futures. This story is the author’s masterpiece, set in his Budayeen universe, and won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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