Joan D. Vinge
Warner, 1996 (1982)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
is first in a series that continues with
. It introduces young Oldcity slum-dweller Cat in 2417 AD. Fleeing from
recruiters, he's arrested by
) and offered the opportunity to enlist in psionics research (run by Dr. Siebeling) as an alternative to ten years hard labor on a distant '
'. Cat is half-Hydran, Hydrans being peaceful aliens with psionic abilities, who have interbred with some humans. But all
are feared by most of humanity.
telepath, Cat's blocked his own abilities, ever since a telepathic shock
burned out his circuits
in early childhood. Despite a huge chip on his shoulder (especially around Siebeling), Cat begins to feel comfortable with the other research subjects, especially the highly empathetic Jule and telepath Cortelyou. He soon learns that there's more to the group than psionics. The intent is to attract the interest of rogue psion Quicksilver, who plans dirty business in the Crab Colonies, where the
supply is located -
is the key to all starship travel and interplanetary commerce.
hortly after Quicksilver makes contact as Rubiy, trying to recruit Cat and Jule, Siebeling (struggling with his own demons) dismisses Cat back to
, who ship him out to the colonies. He ends up in the brutal
mines on Cinder, where life expectancy is short. Cat's contacted by
, who turn out to be Hydrans. They meld with him and eventually unblock his talents. The
release Cat to Rubiy's people, who've been joined by some of his old friends working undercover. Rubiy deliberately engineered Cat's stint in the mines and plans to send him in once more, to gain access to them himself.
f course, it's never simple, and Cat suffers a great deal of pain - both physical and from conflicted loyalties - before it's all over, and he finally has the chance for a better life, if not exactly the one he wanted. As Jule tells him, '
We never get everything we want, Cat ... but sometimes we get what we need.
' If you haven't read this series yet, you've a treat in store.
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