Joan D. Vinge!

CAUTION: This page DOES contain spoilers, meaning in some cases I reveal things about the books that you might not want to hear if you want it to be a complete surprise! You are warned!

Joan D. Vinge has been my favorite author since middle school (and I was born in 1978, you do the math). Though I have been lost in some of her books because they were so complicated (she IS a master of intricate plots), I must say that her books were a very big influence on my life. When I graduated from elementary school and children's books, "young adult" was the next step, and I found that apparently I was supposed to start liking books about romance. So I read them . . . books about stupid girls learning about love and life in really ridiculous ways, thinking this was the next step and I must've already read everything that was good. Well, wasn't I surprised when I came upon Joan D. Vinge's book Psion, about a boy in the future who finds he is half alien and half human and possesses the power to read others' thoughts? This is how I came to discover the lovely world of science fiction and fantasy, and was freed from the torture of romance (hehe!). Thank you, Ms. Vinge!

Incidentally, my favorite books of hers are the Cat series books (Psion, Catspaw, and Dreamfall), so I will mainly focus on them. I have read The Snow Queen, The Summer Queen, and part of World's End, but I was rather young when I read them and got quite lost, so I won't be able to describe them here and give them justice. At some point I will probably re-read them and report what I think, but until then I will focus only on the books I read and remember.

The Cat Books

Psion is the first book. It is a distant future science fiction novel, set on a planet called Ardattee: The new hub of human civilization. In their settling of the galaxy, humans have encountered only one alien race (called the Hydrans), and they are similar enough to humans on the genetic level that they can have children together. The first contact happened well before this book took place, though; their initial peaceful intermingling and later deadly clashing is in the distant past, with the humans "winning" over the aliens in the same way that settlers killed off, absorbed, or sentenced Native Americans to reservations. Ancient history for the present-day characters.

The book is about the character Cat in his late teens. (I really don't like the cover of this, by the way, not that the original was much better.) Cat is caught by the police after one of his many crimes (trying to stay alive on the streets of Oldcity is not easy), and is taken into custody after a chase and almost escaping. He is offered the chance to participate in a government-run experimental program rather than serve his sentence by becoming a prisoner. He takes that chance, not knowing that they offered the position to him because they could tell he must have Hydran blood. He had no idea that he was half Hydran; he never knew his parents. But it becomes clear quickly that he is a halfbreed and a freak, which of course bothers him because for most of his life he'd been around humans who hated the aliens and some of it had sunk into him too.

He learns he is supposed to be telepathic but has "psionic dysfunction," caused apparently by a telepathic shock when he was very young. The therapists set about unraveling the knot his mind has become and releasing his "Gift." And soon enough, with the help of a corporate telepath named Derezady Cortelyou, he learns to use his talent. And when he joins the group, Cat bonds with Jule taMing, a girl who can teleport and feel others' emotions, and she helps give him a chance in an often tough environment. He has to learn to read and write when before he was illiterate, and he has to deal with the fact that the group's leader, a telekinetic named Ardan Siebeling (and also Jule's lover), hates his guts.

But soon enough, he finds the group is doing quite a bit more than just learning to get better with their different psionic talents and learning what it means to have all the normal people hate and fear them. They are actually training to fight against a psionic criminal named Rubiy--known as Quicksilver--who has committed numerous crimes with his multi-faceted psionic talent. And Cat ends up thrown all over the universe because of it; Rubiy personally comes and tries to scout him to his side; Cat ends up in the Mines as a slave and only escapes an accident with the aid of a group of full-blooded Hydrans; he faces Quicksilver with Jule and Siebeling and has to stop him himself. And when it's all over . . . Cat is no longer just a street punk thief. He is a complex person who's been through a lot and learned the value of love, only to seemingly lose everything. This is an absolutely stunning character-oriented novel written in the first person, and it's amazing how much it influenced my writing. Please do yourself a favor and read this.

Catspaw is the second book in the Cat series. If I had to pick my favorite book (besides my own, of course, haha!) I'd have to choose this one. Now Cat is a little older, trying to find something to do with himself. With the credits he received for his contribution in the first book, Cat has joined a university and is in a study program. And suddenly he is kidnapped.

His kidnappers explain to him that they need his help as a bodyguard for a rich woman . . . who happens to be related to Jule, about whom he cares very much. They need a telepathic guard because there have been attempts on the woman's life, and it would be difficult to kill her with a mind-reader watching over her. After some persuasion, Cat agrees to take the job, and they provide drugs that let him use his telepathic talent even though he destroyed it killing someone in the first book. Cat very much missed being a telepath and considers getting his gift back a main reason for taking the job.

And then he meets the taMings--and Elnear, the lady he is to guard. She is a bit sulky about having to deal with a telepath and does not like him around, but there is no other way. So Cat is thrown headfirst into a rich family of vips who dislike him, and he has to try to learn how to act.

And the plot thickens, quite a bit, as is always the case in a Joan Vinge novel. There is another psion among the taMings and Cat is trying to figure out who it is. Cat needs stronger drugs for his talent to work completely, so he has to go to the wrong part of town to get what he needs and is almost killed, and ends up meeting a long-lost friend. Elnear, the woman he is guarding, is fighting a religious zealot for election to a council and may be losing the battle because of him. Cat is attempting to get better treatment for bonded workers in the Mines. Cat is sleeping with the board controller's wife, and also with the board's son's girlfriend. (He seems to get laid a lot in this book.) And eventually, it all comes together in his plot to expose Elnear's competition, Sojourner Stryger, as a bigot, by using himself as bait. The intricacy of this plot is simply dazzling, and the reality of Cat as an actual person is felt very strongly. It's a beautiful book that I have read again and again.

Dreamfall is the third book in the Cat series, and the least enjoyable in my opinion, which makes it about six times better than all books anyway. Dreamfall is the story of Cat's exploration of his heritage. While traveling to a distant planet with his university to study the "cloud whales," Cat goes to the "Homeland" (where the indigenous Hydran population lives, much like Native Americans were pushed off of their land to reservations) and ends up in a mess. His telepathic talent still doesn't work except maybe once in a while, so he finds he isn't really welcome over in the Hydran town because keeping his mind closed is offensive to them.

As he is feeling hopeless about not fitting in with either the humans or the Hydrans, a woman smacks into him, running away from security, and drops a child's databand into his hand as she runs away. He helps her escape and ends up taken into custody himself. He is interrogated and briefly tortured, but since he knows nothing he is unable to help them catch the Hydran woman, who apparently kidnapped a human child.

It comes out that the child is Joby, a baby with neurological damage that makes him unable to control himself at all, and so his family had hired a Hydran companion for him to make him able to move and react the way he wanted to in an attempt to rehabilitate him. The woman, Miya, took off with their son for reasons unclear. Cat feels a connection to the woman, though, and ends up meeting her again very soon, when she explains herself to him. She takes him to the Hydran town and tries to help him get to know the people, though her sister, Naoh, takes an immediate aversion to him.

Miya and Cat become lovers, and Cat learns the Hydran language and attempts to act as a go-between for the humans and the Hydrans. But trouble is brewing (of course). The humans see the Hydrans as terrorists holding the child hostage, and the Hydrans--specifically a freedom-fighting radical group of them--see the humans as invaders. They are led by Naoh in a fight against the humans, and Cat is swept up in it, yet again, trying to find his feet. Cat thinks Naoh is wrong and very sick, and tries to stop the Hydrans from attacking the humans, but Naoh is too persuasive and ends up getting hundreds of people to riot. And the humans retaliate with a kind of gas that makes Hydrans unable to use their psionic abilities, rendering them helpless and confused. Cat, Miya, and Joby retreat to a quiet place to heal.

There are tons of details I've missed here, of course--Cat's attempts to expose Corporate Security's treatment of their bonded workers; Cat's friendship and relationship with Kissindre Perrymeade, his classmate who is somewhat entranced by him; his relationship with an old woman known as an oyasin who teaches him much about life and himself. But of course it all comes together in an ending that definitely isn't "happy" but just seems right. Cat is much more mature now and his exploration of the Hydran part of himself is fascinating; he always felt very human because of being raised thinking he was only human, and so it's great to see his acceptance of both halves.

There was also a short story about Cat called "Psiren," and it was included in the anthology Phoenix in the Ashes, all short stories are by Ms. Vinge. I own this book, too, as well as another one called Fireship which has two stories, "Fireship" and "Mother and Child." "Mother and Child" was also fantastic and influenced my writing a bit. Ms. Vinge is the author of quite a few movie novelizations and story collections, and was also the author of the Snow Queen series: The Snow Queen, World's End, and The Summer Queen, which I (as mentioned) have read but remember little of, except that it was about a woman named Moon Dawntreader and a network of answer-people called sibyls, and the Summer clan's eternal feud with the Winter clan. Ms. Vinge wrote The Heaven Chronicles and Tangled Up in Blue, and also Eyes of Amber, The Outcasts of Heaven Belt, and Ladyhawke. She's amazing and I have no doubts that if I'd never read her stuff, I would not have the first idea about how a REAL character should be in a book. Sometimes I feel she's influenced me so much that I'm ripping her off when I write, even if I know it's not true. But she is an amazing writer, and probably an amazing woman too even though I've never had any contact with her (I'd like to, though, just to talk to her about writing I suppose, and maybe to drool just a tiny bit).

So there you have it. My tribute to the Cat series by the talented Ms. Vinge. Hopefully you will listen to my recommendations and read whatever you can get your hands on.

Check out my fansites on other authors:


Absolute Background Textures Archive: This page's background. Buttons on this page.