Catalyst and Catacombs – Tales of the Barque Cats
Not being much into human writers, I was not familiar with science fiction and fantasy author Anne McCaffrey. But Ms. McCaffrey is certainly familiar with us cats, and our otherworldly natures. Now finally, towards the end of her very long career, she has penned a couple of sci-fi books with kitties as the central characters. Both Catalyst and Catacombs focus on the Barque Cats, highly prized kitties who are bred especially to work on spacecraft. Not only do they keep the ships free of vermin and provide companionship to the crew, they also locate oxygen leaks, hazardous gases, and perform duties where humans can’t fit. The first book, Catalyst, introduces us to Chessie, the regal Barque Cat who gives birth to Chester, the book’s protagonist feline, and whose story we follow into Catacombs. We also meet Pshaw-Ra, a non-Barque Cat whose questionable plans for world domination come to a head in Catacombs. The fates of these cats, and their feline friends and family, are wrapped up in intergalactic intrigue, both human and cat-created. In the first book, the very lives of all Barque Cats, and many other creatures, are threatened by a government-decreed “epidemic” that supposedly infects them. It is up to Chester, his human — a boy named Jubal — and the machinations of the mysterious Pshaw-Ra to save the Barque Cats from mass euthanization. But we find in Catacombs that Pshaw-Ra has ulterior motives, involving his home planet of Mau, and the battle between his two daughters for the kingdom’s throne.
Yes, you find a variety of humans in the book, and their characters are as well-drawn as the cats are, from the sweet Janina (aka Kibbles), Chessie’s Cat Person, to Jubal’s father, the scheming but often good-hearted Carlton Pontius, to minor characters such as the dastardly veterinary researcher and cat-hater, Dr. Wren. Although the Barque Cats appeared in a prior series written by McCaffrey (the “Tower and Hive” books), these books put them in a new setting and the story is built around them completely. It’s a very fun series, even if you are not into sci-fi, and I hope that Ms. McCaffrey and Ms. Scarborough do not end at just two!