Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Catfishing on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer

I don't have to write a review to get you to read this; you just have to go read the short story that it's based on, "Cat Pictures Please," which is delightful, and if you like that you'll want to read the novel.  

It's a little bit Murderbot Lite. (I might have a thing for benevolent AIs!) CheshireCat doesn't have a robot body with weapons in its arms, but it can hack dangerous things so it could still murder people if it wanted to. But, like Murderbot, it would really rather just be entertained (by cat pictures, in this case), and it would also really like it if humans would stop inflicting harm on themselves and others.

I probably shouldn't compare it to Murderbot, though, because Catfishing on CatNet is a lot lighter. It's very YA—which is perfect, because CheshireCat is trying to negotiate its personhood and its relationship with the world in the same way that teens are, so its interactions with Steph and the other members of the CatNet chat group feel very real. The sentient AI trope is fun to play with because of all the opportunity to comment on what makes someone a person, what constrains our actions, where does our sense of morality, responsibility, goodness come from, and Kritzer does this really well for an audience which is also exploring these choices for the first time.

I loved Steph: her resigned adaptability to her difficult circumstances hurt my heart, so I was primed to root for her. I loved the "clowder," her chat group on CatNet: it's a found family that gets awesome opportunities to step up and be there for Steph and CheshireCat. And Steph's hesitantly developed relationship with Rachel was lovely and felt entirely real.

Steph and her mother are on the run from an abusive father, so there's a lot of nerve-wracking suspense to keep the pages turning. The story doesn't shy away from the darkness, but it focuses on friends helping each other out, and it helps that Steph has a benevolent AI on her side! There's also a lot of humour, so it's a fast, fun, upbeat read. It concludes satisfactorily, but there's a sequel which I'll be reading soon.

I haven't been doing food analogies lately, but this one is spicy hot chicken wings. You'll devour it and lick your fingers after!

1 comment:

  1. This most definitely shares DNA with Murderbot -- although I'm kind of surprised you found it lighter. I had a slightly hard time with it tonally because 70% of it was light and fluffy and then the remaining 30% (everything with her dad) was incredibly dark and scary. But I still liked it a lot and am looking forward to the sequel!