Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: Cat's Whirld by Rodolfo Martínez

Cat's Whirld is the new translation of La sonrisa del gato, a 1995 Spanish cyberpunk novel written by Rodolfo Martínez and translated into English by Steve Redwood. It’s an ambitious, fast-paced story about self-aware AIs, warring empires, and the ragtag band of hackers and cyberthieves caught between them, and it’s definitely worth a read for fans of cyberpunk and space opera.


The book is set in a spinning space station called the Whirld, a kind of wild west positioned between two highly regulated empires, Confederacy and Mandate. It’s a hotbed for the kinds of technological advances that both empires require (yet are too cautious and rule-bound to develop themselves). As such, the labs of the Whirld are filled with projects that are as dangerous as they are visionary, and the station’s busy corridors and seedy lounges are filled with operatives trying to buy, sell, or steal them.

Cat’s Whirld tells a big story on a refreshingly small scale. Even though the grand designs of rogue AIs and powerful empires are responsible for many of the inciting events of the book, the action follows a close-knit group of data thieves who call the space station home. This tight focus adds a layer of warmth and humanity to the circuits and corridors that dominate cyberpunk, though it does feel as if more concepts and conflicts are introduced than thoroughly explored.

But these characters are the true focus of the story, and it’s their relationships—rather than their ideologies—that drive them.

The frame story is an interrogation, which nicely teases the intrigues and developments of the central plot. Good frame stories are an art, and I found myself surprised by the full revelation of circumstances at the end. The interrogation narrative also nicely focused the events of the central plot, even if it leads to a bit of overly expository dialogue.

Cat’s Whirld clips along at a nice, quick pace, and it’s over almost before you know it. The chases through the hazardous space station, the games of cat and mouse between the thieves and the authorities, and the high-stakes gambling between resourceful humans and hyperintelligent AIs keep the story speeding forward. 

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