Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Del Rey, Jan 1 2010, $26.00
The Barque Cats are extremely valuable because they keep vermin off space ships and are adept at finding oxygen leaks or other hazardous gases as well as just keeping people on board the vessel safe. Thomas’s Duchess, known as Chessie and her human companion Janina, whose title on the ship is Cat Person, dock on Head Station, where a pregnant Chessie goes for a check-up. Janina and Dr. Jared Vlest fly down to the planet Sherwood to look at the animals that need care.
A con artist Carlton Pontius aka Ponty steals Chessie and brings her to his farm on Sherwood as she is worth a fortune especially with a coming litter of Barque kittens. He gives Chessie to his son Jubal who takes care of her and her litter. Chessie loves all of her offspring, but the kitten Chester bonds with Jubal. Chessie needs to reunite with her Cat Person Janina. Unfortunately, they cannot, as a “supposed” plague has arrived leading to the impounding of all animals and those exposed (even the Barque cats). They will be executed. Janina and her allies try to free their companions, but an alien feline Pshaw-Ra with psionic power wants to take the cats to his planet so they can begin the universal domination of the known universe.
This is the first tale of a duology that contains the usual strong outer space world building, a trademark of the authors who make a whole galaxy seem real. The Sparkles plague is caused by a harmless beetle but the GG scientists refused to accept a simple explanation. The point of view is told mostly by various feline characters, but it comes across as believable and as important not simplistic cute as the cats understand their troubles. The humans are for the most part empathetic especially Janina and cranky Ponty who has his own pet cat. Although the audience will need to wait for the second entry to see whether Chessie and Chester have more than one life each, fans will enjoy the opening Barque Cat caper.