Counting Cats in Zanzibar


  • First publication
    • Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 1996
  • Wolfe collection(s)
  • Other anthologies
    • The Year's Best Science Fiction: Fourteenth Annual Collection, 1997


A widow on the run has used many aliases in her travels around the world. She had a breakthrough idea for self-aware androids and her husband developed it further, but in the end they decided to keep it to themselves; others realized what they did and independently re-invented the idea. Now one of these new androids has found the woman on a cruise ship in the Sulu Sea and wants to take her back to America out of worshipful respect for her. She doesn't want this, and fearing the androids will eventually rule the world she bribes crew members to throw her overboard. This will frame the android for murder, cast doubts on their safety, and hinder their development. But out of affection for the robot she leaves him her books and warns him he will have to go on the run himself.


  • "The dawn comes up like thunder out of China across the bay," is a reference to Rudyard Kipling's poem Mandelay. The dialect and grammar have been "cleaned up" from the original, perhaps reflecting robotic bias toward perfectionism.
  • "To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day," is a quote from Somerset Maugham.
  • "The battle-axe scenteth the battle afar," is from Job 39:25, but the original was about a warhorse. She is perhaps jokingly referring to herself as an "old battle-axe."
  • "The sea has always been a seducer, a careless, lying fellow," is a quote from Felix Riesenberg in Vignettes of the Sea.
  • "The cities of the interior are vast and do not lie on any map." from "The Passion" by Jeanette Winterson.
  • "The finger of God reaching out to Adam" is the famous creation painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
  • "Let observation with extensive view, survey mankind from China to Peru," is a quote from Samuel Johnson.
  • "It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar," is from Henry David Thoreau.
  • "From women's eyes this doctrine I derive..." is from Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost.
  • The Flying Dutchman is an old legend about a ship cursed to sail the seas forever.
  • "It may be you wait your time, Beast..." is from Kipling's The Undertaker's Horse.
  • "If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. - Betty Reese

Unresolved Questions

  • Was it A or was it B, or was it X or Z?
  • Was it he or was it she, or was it you or me?
  • Who dunnit?
  • Did the Star Child really start WWIII at the end of 2001?

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