Review: Cat’s Whirld by Rodolfo Martínez

martineztranslated by Steve Redwood


First Spanish edition: September 1995; English edition: July 2015

170 pages

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It’s not every day that you have the pleasure of reading the world’s first Spanish cyberpunk novel, so when you do get that opportunity, you relish it. First published in 1995, Cat’s Whirld is a heady mix of malevolent AIs, vast political conspiracies, Babylon-5-type space station machinations, and a breakneck pace that makes you wish you could read as fast as…well…an AI.

And did I mention that this novel won the prestigious Ignotus Prize in 1996?

Set on the neutral Convergence Space Station #1 in the distant future, Cat’s Whirld seamlessly blends elements from sci-fi, thrillers, mysteries, and even the Sherlock Holmes universe to create a dense network of political intrigue and dangerously-advanced technology. Much of the novel’s action occurs on the “Whirld,” so nicknamed because it looks like a spinning top whose one end points toward a pulsar, while the other acts as a heat sink and antenna. The Whirld occupies a unique place in the galaxy, holding the two opposing powers- the Confederacy and the Mandate- in an uneasy truce while functioning as a free-zone for developing advanced technology and engaging in all kinds of otherwise unlawful or barely-lawful activities.

When some shadier-than-usual characters show up on the Whirld, it’s up to the aptly-named Arthur Conan Chandler and his band of “Irregulars” to figure out their purpose and then put a stop to the plan that threatens to destroy the entire space station. Ultimately, though, all of the human conflict plays out against a backdrop of malevolent AIs: one is so powerful that it can control almost all aspects of the station (and calls itself “Cheshire” from Alice in Wonderland), while the other (pretending to be a god) lays plans worlds away to take over the galaxy itself.  As Martínez shows in this innovative world of speculative fiction, religious fanaticism plus self-aware AIs is one dangerous mix.

Alternating between interrogation scenes and the story to which those scenes refer, Cat’s Whirld is a story that likes to take risks. And its neologisms and cyperpunk vocab give it an edgy twist reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange. I’ve barely scratched the surface here in terms of what occurs on the Whirld, and I’ve refused to give away a major plot point that you’ll enjoy arriving at on your own, so go grab a copy and enjoy.

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