Lately, my science fiction reads have been dystopian because the dystopian sub-genre has been diversifying its themes in intriguing directions. Science fiction dystopias that primarily deal with censorship (Melophobia) have emerged. So have dystopias focusing on climate change such as The Memory of Water by Emi Itäranta. Nevertheless there is more to science fiction than dystopias. Science fiction can also hold up a mirror to current society.
I agreed to review the fourth book in J. S. Frankel's YA Catnip series because I was interested in the concept of inter-species hybrids. I had read many novels dealing with the magical shapeshifters of fantasy, but this author's protagonists were genetically altered in secret laboratories so that they possessed both human and feline traits. Humans with animal genes are known as transgenics in the Catnip series. How would contemporary governments and ordinary citizens react to them? What issues would J. S. Frankel explore? With these questions in mind, I began reading my free copy from the author with anticipation.
I hadn't read the previous three novels in the Catnip series. So this was my introduction to the teen protagonists, Harry and Anastasia. As the novel opens, they have already married. Yet there was considerable controversy over whether they should have the right to marry. This brings to mind the struggle over same sex marriage in the United States. Harry and Anastasia encounter people who consider difference dangerous and disturbing. The most extreme responses toward transgenics in Catnip #4 are displayed by populations in various European nations with a background of fascist or communist dictatorship in the 20th century, though I was reminded of current fear-mongering over Middle Eastern refugees in the United States. J.S. Frankel's themes in this book seemed very contemporary to me.
It is important to point out that there are legitimate reasons to fear transgenics. Not all transgenics are as well-intentioned as Harry and Anastasia. There is also the problem that most transgenics devolve into animals. While this might not seem too bad for readers who have a great deal of affection for animals, the ability of transgenics to communicate and function in human society gradually declines over time in most cases. This impacts human attitudes toward transgenics. They aren't likely to achieve acceptance until the tendency to devolve is finally terminated.
Readers who love action will be very pleased by Catnip #4. There is a prominent thriller component since the protagonists work with the FBI. Harry and Anastasia get to display their strength, speed and especially their superior claws on numerous occasions. The story is largely told from Harry's viewpoint. Their former and current FBI handlers are also well-portrayed. Yet I was disappointed that I learned so little about Anastasia. By the end of the book, I had a general idea of her history with very little in the way of specifics. I also know that she had a hair trigger temper and makes a terrific ally in a fight, but I don't feel that I really understand her as I could understand and relate to Harry.
Another significant flaw for me is that I thought that the FBI wasn't depicted believably from a procedural standpoint. At one point they were caught completely flatfooted despite having received a report that should have prepared them for the scenario that developed. This just wasn't credible. It made the FBI seem foolish and incompetent.
I still feel that the Catnip series has the potential to develop in an interesting direction. Perhaps it will meet my expectations in future volumes.