Let me be honest, since this is essentially a book that features cats in space, if Catalyst: A Tale of the Barque Cats (DelRey) had not had Anne McCaffrey’s name on the cover, I would most definitely have given it a miss. But there is always, with McCaffrey, the possibility for real magic. And, of course, with her never-ending and impossibly enduring Dragon Riders of Pern series, McCaffrey has proven herself — beyond doubt — to be capable of forging moving and believable relationships between animals and humans.
And so here we are again, at the beginning of a journey, some 43 years after the first time McCaffrey partnered a dragon with a human. This time even describing the book makes me feel silly though, to be honest, it does not take long to get carried away by these characters and their connections.
Two of the reasons for this come from the authors. McCaffrey, of course, we know: one of the most significant, important and respected SF/F authors still working today. Her body of work is magnificent. I can honestly say I have never embarked on a literary journey with McCaffrey at the helm that I did not thoroughly enjoy.
McCaffrey’s co-author on Catalyst is a significant author in her own right. Washington State-based Elizabeth Ann Scarborough won the Nebula Award in 1989 for The Healer’s War and has co-authored 10 other novels with McCaffrey.
If you have loved McCaffrey’s work through the years, you will like Catalyst. Here we find specially bred Barque Cats assisting humans on their interstellar travels by controlling vermin, helping keep moral up and alerting crew to certain environmental hazards. Genetics being what they are, a single strain of Barque Cats prove even more superior. This line is kidnapped, put in danger and — ultimately — placed in a position where the fate of the universe depends on their furry shoulders. See? I told you it sounds silly. Yet somehow, it is not.
Cats is space. In other hands, perhaps, ridiculous. But this is McCaffrey and an able and talented cohort. This is magic. Escape. And, in some strange way, science fiction at its most primal and its best.