Otters in Space III: Octopus Ascending, by Mary E. Lowd – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Otters in Space III: Octopus Ascending, by Mary E. Lowd
Dallas, TX, FurPlanet Productions, July 2017, trade paperback, $9.95 (227 pages), Kindle $6.99.
Otters in Space III follows right after Otters in Space II, published four years ago. There’s not even a brief What Has Gone Before. Unless you have a really good memory, you had better reread the first two books before starting this.
The series is set in the far future, after humans have uplifted cats, dogs, and otters (and some others), then disappeared. The dogs and cats run Earth, and the otters run everything in space. The protagonist is Kipper Brighton, the tabby cat sister of Petra and Alastair Brighton. Alastair has just run for Senator of California, and despite cat voters outnumbering the dogs four to one, the dogs who control the results announce the dog nominee has won in a landslide. Alastair and Petra must decide whether to challenge the vote and risk starting a cat-vs.-dog civil war. Meanwhile, Kipper has gone into space and is aboard the Jolly Barracuda, an otter merchant spaceship on a supply run to the Jovian colonies. They find the colonies under attack by aliens that turn out to be raptor dinosaurs who have already conquered an octopus space civilization that the cats, dogs, and otters didn’t know about. Otters in Space II ends with the cats and dogs of Earth uniting to oppose the dinosaurs, while Kipper commands a spaceship full of rescued cat refugees returning to Earth.
(I hope that Lowd plans to eventually republish the three books of Otters in Space as a single novel.)
Otters in Space III begins with Jenny, an otter, and Ordol, the leader of the octopi (that’s them on Idess’ cover), flying back from the Persian cat colony of New Persia on Europa in a stolen spaceship, to the Jolly Barracuda hidden in Jupiter’s Red Spot:
“As they flew toward Io, Ordol’s tentacles continued to work in Jenny’s peripheral vision, running scans and taking readings. The ship’s computer displayed the results in a language Jenny couldn’t yet read. Sharp angular letters clustered erratically into words – or so Jenny assumed – and scrolled senselessly across the computer screens arranged beneath the central viewscreen.
The sight of the alien language made it impossible for Jenny to forget: this ship was stolen. They had disabled the homing signal to hide it from the original owners, but it was stolen nonetheless.
Ordol could read the writing, at least, a little of it. He’d been a slave to the aliens who’d built the ship. Before it was renamed Brighton’s Destiny; the aliens who wrote the inscrutable language that filled its screens and who still enslaved the rest of his people.” (p. 10)
Meanwhile, Kipper and the evacuated Persian cats of Europa have successfully returned to Earth, but everyone knows that the raptors are coming:
“Only two people in the entire solar system had infiltrated one of the raptors’ sail ships inside the upper atmosphere of Jupiter. And only one of them had seen the aquariums where the raptors kept octopi enslaved.
Kipper remembered the yellow eyes staring at her and pale tentacles. She remembered those tentacles writhing and struggling as raptors grabbed them, pulled them from the water, and forced them into electronic harnesses that overrode the octopi’s own brains. Raptors hadn’t merely enslaved octopi – they violated them, robbing the octopi of their own wills and bodies on a daily basis.” (p. 17)
Otters in Space III consists of 34 short chapters, going back and forth between the main characters. Kipper Brighton, a cat, hates the water but she ventures deep into the oceans to convince Earth’s octopi and the government of the octopus oligarchy to join the resistance to the raptors.
“‘It looks like a brain, doesn’t it?’ Pearl asked, breaking Kipper’s trance.
Kipper skewed one ear, slightly annoyed by the interruption of her reverie, but she had to admit it was true. Choir’s Deep looked like a giant green brain nestled into the crevice between two underwater cliffs.
As they got closer, the front lights on the submarine began to illuminate the scene. The colors grew clearer and more complicated – patches of peach and orange anemones grew on the coral like blushes of rust; darting schools of copper fish sparkled like pennies sprinkled down a wishing well; and strange plant-like growths in brilliant red and cobalt blue clawed upward like grasping hands.
In many ways, it was a more alien world than Mars or Europa.
‘Do otters visit Choir’s Deep often?’ Kipper asked.
No.’ Chauncey looked pensive for a moment. […] ‘We’ll be the first to visit Choir’s Deep in nearly a hundred years!’
Kipper blinked. ‘That’s because most otter-octopus interactions happen at a different octopus city?’ she asked hopefully.
Captain Cod turned from his wheel to stare levelly at Kipper. He didn’t usually do anything levelly, so it was quite disturbing. ‘That’s because the only octopi that have been in communication with otters – or anyone – for the last century are refugees and exiles.’” (pgs. 69-70)
Jenny, one of the otters from the Jolly Barracuda, is frustrated by the infighting over who should command the resistance in the Jupiter-Europa theater:
“The spherical room had been designed for octopi, and the only octopus there was Ordol, clinging to the ceiling with his sucker disks, wearing a breathing apparatus that looked like inverse-SCUBA gear. He looked as uncomfortable as Jenny felt. and he was the only one who should have been comfortable in a room like that.
Instead, Ordol watched silently, reading the paws of the one otter from the Imperial star-Ocean Navy who was taking the time to translate the arguments between his fellow officer-otters, the dachshund and Australian Cattle Dog from Howard Industries, and the yellow-furred former-empress of New Persia into sign language. The cats and dogs didn’t know Standard Swimmer’s Sign. Of course.
That didn’t stop them from arguing over who should own a base designed by octopi, for octopi, and meant to float just under the surface of an ocean planet.” (p. 20)
Kipper’s sister Petra tries to help in the supposedly united cat-and-dog defense against the raptors, but quickly learns that the unity is just a façade for the usual dog supremacy.
“Nothing had changed.
She was the president’s sister, but out here, next to a dog in a police uniform with a gun, she was still just an alley cat.
‘Get out of the car,’ the dog barked. She’d taken too long to answer.
‘Please,’ Petra hissed. ‘Keep your voice down. I have kittens slee==’
‘DON’T YOU HISS AT ME, CAT!’ The dog stepped back from the car and pulled his gun.” (p. 84)
Earth is saved, of course, but how it is saved may surprise you.
Otters in Space III: Octopus Ascending (cover by Idess) is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy. But, since it has been four years since the middle volume, you might as well go back and read the whole trilogy from the beginning. If you’ve got the first two volumes – I won’t say novels, because this is one novel in three volumes – you can reread them while waiting for this one.
There’s an intriguing passage around pages 34 to 41 and 63 to 68 where Kipper learns facts about uplifted squirrels and mice that she’d never known about before. Lowd offers convincing reasons for her not knowing, but it would be interesting to see a future novel about them.
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