Sunday, September 05, 2010

Telepathic kitties

kw: book reviews, science fiction, cats, space fiction

Noted cat lover Anne McCaffrey and introduced the Barque Cats, spaceship cats that hunt vermin and detect leaks and other dangers, in a the novels of her Tower and Hive series. Now she has teamed up with fellow cat lover Elizabeth Ann Scarborough to produce a few books of backstory, the first being Catalyst.

As the book begins, Barque Cats are already established as a special breed of angora coated cat, bred for intelligence and spaceworthiness. During the course of the novel, a few cats develop a telepathic bond with humans, a one-to-one bond between one cat and one caretaking person. The kidnapping (catnapping) of a prominent breeding cat first triggers an adventure story as her Cat Person sets out to find her, then morphs into a second story of interstellar intrigue involving an ancient Egyptian space vessel and its feline captain. Mysterious glittery scarab-like beetles round out the cast.

In the book's setting, shared with the Tower and Hive series, the Earth is long abandoned and people have been in space for millennia. One can hop aboard a shuttle and drive out to meet an orbital mother ship, to be taken to another solar system, with the same nonchalance we go to the station to catch a train to New York. Absent the space elements, the story could have taken place on Earth, limited to, say, the Kentucky-Tennessee-Ohio area of the US…or even all within Ohio. Just substitute cities for planets.

The Barque Cats are truly extraordinary. The authors posit cats that can speak amongst themselves almost from birth, and a few chapters relate cat-to-cat dialog (catalog?). They quickly learn Standard (AKA English) also, at least to hear. The telepathic ones communicate ideas that their link-fellows interpret in words. For an animal with a two-ounce brain, this is a stretch, and requires a great deal of willing suspension of disbelief.

It is an entertaining yarn nonetheless. A cat person like myself will enjoy cat fiction, no matter how far-fetched. But I suspect if I had a telepathic link to my cat, its "utterances" would be no more complex than "Food!", "Open door!", "Play!" and "Stop that!", which I understand in Cat already.

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