Catspaw (Cat book 2) by Joan D. Vinge (book review).

Cat, the half-human/half-hydran psychic, believes he has neutralized his telepathy. He learns otherwise when Braedee, chief of security for Centauri Transport, has him kidnapped and convinces him to become an aide, supplying him with a drug to resurrect his talent. What Braedee really wants is a bodyguard or aide for Lady Elnear, who is likely to become one of the dozen most important people in the known worlds. To make it easier, he has to learn protocol and has an extended memory recall. This is a crucial aspect that was overlooked in the first book, ‘Psion’, as it could have simplified the process of learning to write and read, both of which he is now proficient in.

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There’s a limit to what can be said without spoilers. We certainly see how the world leaders work, as well as a different perspective on psions, seen as criminal and disliked, not helped by the fact that they find it hard to get jobs because people distrust telepaths. Given that the majority of telepaths have green eyes, this makes them easy to identify. Cat has undergone eye surgery to conceal his cat-like eyes and hydran heritage, raising the question of whether eye color can also be a factor in this decision. As we see all of this from Cat’s perspective, Vinge does lose a beat in not strengthening Car’s emotional reaction more, but you do have to remind yourself how far we’ve come since 1988, when ‘Catspaw’ came out.

Speaking of which, a ‘catspaw’ is a person who is manipulated by others to complete a dirty or dangerous task, a description that perfectly fits Cat, especially considering his name.

The number of characters Vinge manipulates here, along with their various agendas and collaborations, all seen from Cat’s perspective, exemplifies the art of storytelling, particularly in its ability to keep everything clear for the reader. However, as we near the end, the narrative unfolds before us, prompting us to wonder about potential pitfalls. Everything here is a spoiler, but it is a rare occurrence.

Joan Vinge’s strength is that she is a good character writer, bringing her cast to life on the page. Don’t expect a light read, but it will be fulfilling when you get to the end.

GF Willmetts

May 2024

(pub: Warner Books, 1988. 392 page hardback if you want one with a Michael Whelan cover. Price: varies. ISBN: 0-446-51396-2)


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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