Catalyst: A Tale of the Barque Cats
by Anne McCaffrey
Cover Artist: Kathleen Lynch (based on images Roman Okopny / Stockphoto
(background) and Levent AVCI / Shutterstock (cat))
Review by Mel Jacob
Del Rey Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345513779
Date: 07 December 2010 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Scarborough team up for a story about space traveling cats. One kitten has bonded with a human boy and communicates with him via telepathy. When all animals including cats are impounded because of fears they harbor a plague, the boy and his cat learn it is a hoax, but the captured animals remain in danger of extermination. With human allies, they plan to save the cats.
Barque Cats live on space ships, keep vermin in check, and detect air leaks or faulty wiring and alert their Cat Person who notifies the appropriate crew member. The cats are highly valued.
Chessie, a pregnant Barque Cat, with an impeccable lineage is close to giving birth. Her kittens will bring a small fortune. Janina, Chessie's Cat Person, has taken her for a checkup on the orbiting station above Sherwood. There, Ponty, a no-account spacer, steals Chessie. He takes her to his son Jubal living on a farm on Sherwood.
Sparkly beetles abound on ships and elsewhere, and Chessie has ingested one of them. So has Jubal via the eggs from chickens that ate the beetles too. Thus, when Chessie's kittens are born, the first one, Chester, immediately forms a telepathic link with Jubal.
Eventually, for nefarious motives, the authorities decide the sparkly bugs and animals that eat them are a menace. They impound any animal showing traces of the beetles. The plan calls for elimination of all affected livestock including Barque Cats. Chester, Jubal, Janina, and even Ponty are determined to save the cats.
The most interesting and mysterious character is Pshaw-Ra, a wily old cat, who claims a lineage to Egyptian cats and possesses technology ahead of that humans now use. He has plans to dominate the universe and bring humans into their rightful position as the servants and worshipers of cats.
As always, strong characters drive the story, however, most of them are cats. While there is some violence in the story, it's mild compared to what kids see on television and in real life. Some cats die. Some avid McCaffrey fans may be disappointed, but others will not. Cat lovers for the most part will enjoy the novel although some may feel real cats are more intelligent and creative.
The designation "Cat Person" for the Barque Cats human caretaker smacks of a more childish view of the world. The tone of the book appears aimed more at children and young adults than at older readers. Almost a fairy tale adventure, it strays far from vintage McCaffrey even though aspects of the world may come from her Talent series. However, the humans in this novel can only communicate with their bonded cats and not with other humans using telepathy. No One Noticed the Cat, a McCaffrey tale from 2005, provides an early incarnation of the Barque Cats once they gain telepathic links with their humans.
The ending provides a link to the sequel, Catacombs, issued a month after Catalyst.