Catalyst and Catacombs – book review by Fred Patten.
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Catalyst; A Tale of the Barque Cats, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
NYC, Ballantine Books, January 2010, hardcover $26.00 (256 [+ 5] pages), Kindle $7.99.
Catacombs; A Tale of the Barque Cats, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
NYC, Ballantine Books, December 2010, hardcover $26.00 (236 [+ 3] pages), Kindle $9.99.
McCaffrey and Scarborough, two well-known cat-lovers, focus upon cats of the interstellar future in this two-volume series. “Hood Station, where they had just docked, was a backwater facility providing the interface between the agro-based planet Sherwood and the rest of the universe.” (Catalyst, p. 3) The opening lead characters are Janina Mauer, a human Cat Person, and her charge, Chessie, the Barque Cat of the interstellar freighter Molly Daise. They have just arrived at Hood Station. Janina’s exact age is not given, but clues make her a rather naïve young woman. Barque Cats “are highly prized, as [they] are not only superbly bred but have all grown into the best ships’ cats in the universe.” They “save lives […] patrol the tight areas of our spaceships, keeping rodents from eating the coating on cables, smelling hazardous gases and even escaping oxygen”. (p. 4) They are extremely valuable, leading to Chessie being bred as often as is safe.
It is obvious in the first chapter that, although Catalyst is packaged and priced as an adult book, this is really an adventure for teenagers. Janina has a chaste crush on Dr. Jared Vlast, Sherwood’s handsome young veterinarian, which he reciprocates. As important as the humans seem, it is Chessie who is the focus of the opening of the story. The writing is “cozy”: “Chessie was surprised her human friends couldn’t hear each other’s chests pounding. Or maybe they could and just wouldn’t admit it. Humans were so strange about mating matters.” (p. 10)
And although Barque Cats are already highly intelligent cats, clues tell the reader that something in their diet on the frontier planet Sherwood is making both them and other Earth animals mutate or evolve into real sentience.
“As Jared then moved on to a quick, competent feel of her [Chessie’s] fecund belly, he asked Jenina what was concerning her.
‘Well, she’s been regurgitating a lot, and it’s strange looking.’ Janina showed him the vial that contained the latest of her spit-up. Humans collected the strangest things! Janina turned it in the light. ‘You see it’s got these sparkly bits that I can’t account for at all.’” (p. 12)