At first glance, George Alec Effinger's "Schrödinger's Kitten" would seem an odd choice for an audio production. True, this is of the exceedingly rare breed of short stories to win both the Hugo (1989) and Nebula (1988) awards, and Effinger is a writer who's accumulated his share of well-deserved critical acclaim over the years. But Effinger, as a writer, is a stylist. It's his skill with the written word, that elusive knack for putting not just the right two words together on the page, but the exactly right two words that has always been his signature. Whether it's the brooding, Arabic cyberpunk future of When Gravity Fails, the absurdist failure of "Who Dat?" or the outrageous farce of the Maureen Birnbaum tales, it's the deft wordplay that sets these works apart rather than cutting-edge ideas or intricate plotting.
"Schrödinger's Kitten," certainly, shares the trademark wordplay of Effinger's other work -- starting with the insufferably coy title. Right away the reader is plunged into a non-linear narrative, which eventually is revealed to be very linear -- at least from the perspective of the viewpoint character, Jehan. It's immediately apparent that 12-year-old Jehan is the kitten of the title, a frightened girl tormented by unsettling visions in the Islamic slum of Budayeen. It is here, during the festival marking the end of Ramadan, that she must kill a boy she has never met. A boy that her visions show her may one day do her great harm.
Surprisingly, this complex narrative structure not only translates well to audio, it translates very well. This, in truth, is much more than a verbatim audio book read by some talking head, but at the same time is less than a full-blown dramatization. I've found both of those types of presentations annoying at times, but thankfully, "Schrödinger's Kitten" seems to have struck the perfect mix, taking advantage of the format to enhance the source material without obscuring it with extraneous whistles and bells. Seasoned with unobtrusive incidental music and tonal sections break, Jehan's confusing and at times unsettling visions -- her death is repeated several times from several different perspectives, all of which are quite immediate -- are smoothly and effectively presented. As the story progresses, several major narrative threads clarify themselves to the listener, along with a handful of other dead-end narratives. Each is thoroughly engrossing, due in no small measure to the efforts of Amy Bruce, the reader. Bruce's narration is clear and clean, moving the story along at a natural pace. She affects a variety of accents, which are effective at differentiating some of the major players, despite the fact that her German dialect is thick and ponderous at times.
Unfortunately, there is a good bit of German dialect throughout the story. Werner Heisenberg -- he of the famous "Uncertainty Principle" -- is a major player, as are all of the great German physicist/theorists of that era, including Albert Einstein and, yes, Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger himself. The trick here, the conceit, as it were, is that the visions Jehan experiences are glimpses of the myriad possible quantum futures that lie in store for her. But as quantum theory doesn't even exist at the time she waits in the Budayeen alley to meet her destiny, she's forced to rely on a possible future self -- one who managed to escape the Budayeen and eventually assist Heisenberg as a graduate student -- to piece together the disparate strands of theoretical physics to render some sense out of her infinitely conflicted futures. Jehan spends the night in the filth of the alley, watching countless lives pass before her eyes. That's what this story is about. Of course, it's also about a whole lot more. There's are reasons "Schrödinger's Kitten" had all those awards heaped upon it, notably because of the audacious use of Islamic justice systems and theoretical physics as the lynch pins of a smashing good alternate-reality tour-de-force. There aren't many short stories out there that fare well in comparison with "Schrödinger's Kitten," but happily, this audio version holds its own quite nicely.
1989 for Novelette: Hugo Award Winner
1988 for Novelette: Nebula Award Winner
1989:The Theodore Sturgeon Award Winner