Catalyst – Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Catalyst is subtitled ‘A Tale of the Barque Cats’ – implying that it either

  • intends to be the start of a successful series formula; or,
  • follows an existing series formula

Either way, it works for me.  Anne McCaffrey certainly knows how to generate a successful franchise, and she’s produced good books with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough already.

Catalyst is a sweet story of these ‘ship cats’ at a crucial point in the galaxy’s cultural development.  Space farers have already discovered that cats are indispensable crew members, for keeping down populations of vermin but also for patrolling small ductwork for atmosphere leaks.

Characters, both human and feline, are charming and plausible.  Any cat-lover will appreciate the equal time given to telling the story from the cats’ points of view.  The plot is neatly laid out and proceeds to a satisfying (and humorous) conclusion with easy speed.  This can certainly take up its place to represent feline-centric SF, next to the plethora of cat-mystery series. I’ve tagged this as young-adult because of the accessibility, but also because the two main human characters are young too.


The book begins with following a young woman who is the Cat Person for a particular space-trading ship – her cat Chessie is about to have the twelfth litter of kittens.  Yet, Chessie is kidnapped, and ends up in the care of a nice eleven-year-old dirt-sider.  One of her kittens, unexpectedly to the reader, develops a telepathic bond with the boy.  This authorial device is deftly tied into the upcoming conflict and the hook for following instalments of the series.   The glittering-shelled beetles first cause the quarantine of animals across the planet; and it’s then revealed that they’re being deliberately seeded into ships by a telepathic ship-piloting cat of Egyptian descent, with plans for galactic domination.  As Chester (the cover-cat and principal protagonist) observes, the plan is not proceeding all that well or quickly. 🙂

In reading this the same day I finished Century Rain, I was forced to compare this book’s aspirations with more weighty SF that aspires to greatness.  This one has no pretensions – it’s about telepathic cats.  But you can’t dismiss this quality of the writing that makes a story flow so effortlessly and enjoyably.  Sure, it’s not going to win the Hugo or Nebula awards, or change anyone’s world view, but it’s 100% successful in providing charming entertainment for the cat-lovers among us.

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