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Chaos on CatNet

May 4, 2021

A sequel to Catfishing on CatNet, Naomi Kritzer’s new novel Chaos on CatNet is a worthy successor and a good adventure in its own right. You don’t have to necessarily have read the first one to enjoy this second novel, but why would you want to miss out? They’re fun, they’re smart, and they have a perspective on modern life that might make you think about your online choices.

What you need to know at the start of Chaos on CatNet is that Steph, the protagonist, has a friend who is an Artificial Intelligence. This AI calls itself CheshireCat or just Cat, and its help has made it possible for Steph and her mother to settle down in Minneapolis, where Steph has enrolled in a new school and made a new friend, another girl who is new to the school, Nell. Nell’s mother raised her in a religious cult and then disappeared mysteriously, leaving Nell to live with her father in a polyamorous household in Minneapolis.

Nell is making quite an adjustment, as we see when she does things like bring her laptop out into the living room, where is she is surprised that “no one here has looked over my shoulder at my computer screen even once. It’s appalling. Clearly, they don’t care about the state of my soul.”

Steph is also adjusting, saying “everything about our new apartment feels unnervingly permanent.” She and her mother are starting to feel like they’re part of a community for the first time, which is part of what makes it possible for them to fight for it. The social media sites Steph and Nell use become part of the story, along with CatNet, and we learn more about a seemingly religious site called the Catacombs and a seemingly harmless site called the Mischief Elves.

When Nell’s girlfriend Glenys disappears, Steph and Nell go looking for her, with the help of Steph’s girlfriend Rachel and Cat, who orders a toy robot and has it sent to Steph’s address. Steph wonders “how much trouble could Cheshire-Cat possibly cause with such a small robot?” and thinks that, “realistically, the answer is, “Seriously, so much.” And when the Christian cult turns out to have ties to Steph’s mom’s former partner Rajiv and to the Catacombs site, the adventure gets interestingly complicated. It turns out that there’s a second AI and this one has a Thanos-type plan for improving the world. It tells CheshireCat that “in the short term, I am working to increase conflict between humans, because until things reach a crisis point, nothing will truly change.” In the long term, it says “there will be fewer humans, and they will be motivated to find new ways to live.” Steph, Nell, and CheshireCat set out to stop it, and this time they get some help from Nell’s father and his family, and from Steph’s mother and grandmother.

There’s an interesting alternate reality theme involving the Minneapolis police, who have re-formed to include a Minneapolis Public Safety Support Unit with officers who help to keep people safe and hand out coat vouchers on a cold night. When the activities of the Catacomb members and Mischief Elves culminate in violence, the local Mobile Crisis Response officers, who don’t carry guns, set up barricades and escort civilians around the dangerous areas.

And there’s a good answer for the other AI, who likes flower photos and describes a world without humans as a kind of pastoral paradise, like Alan Weisman in The World Without Us. In reply to the AI saying that “there are many varieties of flower that do not depend on humans for sustenance and maintenance….Plants will retake the roads. Flowers will creep across human-created monocultures. Millions of new flowers will bloom,” Cheshire Cat points out that “without humans to photograph them for you—or the technology to upload them—you will never see them.”

With their characteristic mix of persuasion, AI and robot shenanigans, and human heroism, Steph and Nell help put their corner of the world on track for a better future. They don’t just save it; they work to improve it.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2021 10:09 am

    All kinds of happenings in Minneapolis I had no idea about! 😀 We seriously are hoping to have mobile crisis response officers who don’t carry guns who respond to calls that police officers currently seem to turn into problems and result in their using deadly force. But the book, sounds like a fun read!

    • May 7, 2021 12:53 pm

      It is a really fun read, and for those of you who are familiar with Minneapolis there is an idealized vision of what it could be. There are also several places described in the novel that exist in real life; she mentions “a number of real-world Minneapolis locations, including Powderhorn Park, Can Can Wonderland (okay, that one got some significant embellishment), Midtown Global Market, the Cathedral of St. Paul, and the James J. Hill House (temporarily); there’s also a rebuilt Uncle Hugo’s on Lake Street.”

  2. May 12, 2021 6:55 pm

    Oh boy, I can’t wait to read this! I read the first one under less than ideal circumstances but still enjoyed it a lot, so I’m excited to read a sequel when I am not, like, actively watching someone I love die.

    • May 12, 2021 8:45 pm

      Aw. I think you’ll really like the idealized vision of what Minneapolis could be.

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