Review: 'Otters in Space II: Jupiter, Deadly', by Mary E. Lowd
Does anyone besides me care about this bureaucratic trivia? This is a good read, in a handy trade paperback edition for those who don’t want to read it on their computer. Get it in one format or the other.
But this is a direct sequel to Lowd’s Ursa-Major-nominated Otters in Space: The Search for Cat Havana. If there is any flaw with Otters in Space II, it is that you need to have read the first book to really understand it. Or at least read the review of it, in Flayrah on February 6, 2012.
Otters in Space II dives right into the action. The humans have all left Earth, after uplifting the cats, dogs, and otters (and others? squirrels are mentioned) to take over running civilization. The uplift includes intelligence and speech, and the ability to shift between a bipedal and quadrupedal posture, but not size – most dogs are larger than cats or otters, and all are much smaller than humans were. The cats and dogs are uneasy partners in a joint Earth society, while the otters run the orbital space station, the Lunar colony, and what space travel there is.
The dogs are the political leaders, despite the cats outnumbering them four to one, and they don’t intend to let the cats share the government. Kipper Brighton is an average tabby “alley” cat office temp working at dog-run Luna Tech, the dog/cat company that deals with the otters’ space civilization. When Kipper’s hyperactive sister Petra tries to start an it’s-time-we-put-more-cats-into-the-government movement, and Kipper learns too much about the cat staff at Luna Tech who have disappeared, she is marked by the canine political bosses for removal. The action leads to the otter-run Deep Sky Anchor space station and the Moonville Funpark Lunar colony, where Kipper searches for “Cat Havana”, the legendary hidden utopian cat society.
Otters in Space II splits into two stories, in alternating chapters: that of the team of Kipper’s siblings, Petra and Alastair, and their Dog bodyguard/friend Trudith, who are running for office in the animal U.S. on Earth; and of Kipper’s continued exploits in deep space aboard the Jolly Barracuda, an otter merchant spaceship. The more stable and realistic Alastair has taken over Petra’s movement and run for senator of California in the recent election. Despite a massive turnout of cat voters, the dog-controlled government announces that the dog incumbent, Senator Morrison, is re-elected in a landslide. Alastair and the others must decide whether to accept these results, or challenge them and risk setting off a new American civil war between cats and dogs. This story focuses upon the not-very-bright but utterly loyal Labrador retriever Trudith. Meanwhile, Kipper and the otter-crewed Jolly Barracuda, on a supply run to the asteroid belt, find the otter space explorers around Jupiter under attack by mysterious space vessels.
The cast’s dialogue is realistic, and both the political scene, and the hard-science astronautics of space colonies and exploration, seem skillfully convincing as modified for intelligent cats, dogs, and otters.
‘Petra,’ Alastair said, ‘I don’t want to hear about that. If you want to investigate your conspiracy theories, you go right ahead. But don’t expect me to get caught up in them.’
There was an unhappy rumbling from Petra’s throat. Before it could articulate itself into more poisonous words, Alastair added, ‘And whether the incumbent Sheltie is cheating or not …’ He looked Petra levelly in her green cat’s eyes. ‘You’re better than that.’
Good old Alastair! Trudith knew she was on the winning side. Well, okay, maybe not the winning side. Not yet. But the right one.
‘Fine,’ Petra said. ‘I won’t do anything, but I will find out who’s sabotaged you.’ She turned on her toes and walked out of the office, striped tail swishing behind her. (p. 10)
Although it only took Trudith’s message seconds to reach the Deep Sky Anchor station in Earth orbit and would take another ten minutes to cross the space between there and the Jolly Barracuda, Kipper wouldn’t receive it for two weeks. The Jolly Barracuda flew incommunicado, her flight plans unlogged. Captain Cod felt it was more piratical that way.
Every week or two, the Jolly Barracuda sent its location, speed, and direction back to Deep Sky Anchor, requesting that any messages for the crew be forwarded. After receiving them, Captain Cod ordered a slight change of course, and his ship slipped into the vastness of deep space. (p. 12)
Kipper flexed her claws, sighed, and turned off the vidscreen. She gave a slight shove against the com-console and drifted backward and up. She floated through the room, buoyed in the foreign, weightless atmosphere. The Jolly Barracuda, from stem to stern, was flooded in a substance called oxo-agua: a highly oxygenated, breathable liquid; barely breathable from Kipper’s perspective. The otters loved it. They could swim full-time, never surfacing to breathe, and it cushioned their delicate, earthly frames against the extreme accelerations of rapid space travel. (pgs. 12-13)
One of the uplifted “races” besides cats, dogs, and otters is introduced in Chapter 6:
It took Kipper a moment to see what Jenny was talking about. Crawling along the far wall of the crowded docking bay, just about otter head height, were two ashen gray octopuses.
‘How?’ Kipper asked, but then she noticed their equipment. ‘Is that scuba gear?’
Each octopus had a dull metal tank strapped to the side of its bulbous mantle with a nexus of tubes congregated where the mantle met the arms, completely covering their tube-like breathing siphons.
‘Pretty much,’ Jenny said.
‘Or kind of the opposite,’ Trugger added. (pgs. 38-39)
Lowd keeps the action fast-paced, with touches of humor:
The attacking ship was sleek and fast. The newsfeed showed a grainy picture of it, taken by a fleeing ship’s external cameras. It looked sinister to Kipper, but, then, anything would when compared to what she was used to: namely, the bizarre bulk of the Jolly Barracuda, which looked like a spaceship being strangled by inner tubes. (p. 44)
While the other otters flee back toward Earth, Kipper and the crew of the Jolly Barracuda venture towards Jupiter on a rescue mission, despite being an unarmed merchant ship versus heavily armed and unknown spaceships. And on Earth, the powerful Sheltie Senator Morrison has an offer that Alastair can’t refuse …
Even if you don’t read Otters in Space: The Search for Cat Havana first, Otters in Space II; Jupiter, Deadly (cover by Doc Marcus) will catch you up into the action almost instantly. It presents a fine picture of an anthro animal society:
‘Excuse me.’ The senator seemed completely oblivious to – or, at least, uninterested in – the fact that Petra had been speaking at all. ‘When will Mr. Brighton get here?’ His bushy canine form dwarfed Petra’s feline body. But they had two things in common: they were both bright, flaming orange, and they both had short tempers. ‘I’ve been waiting.’ (p. 92)