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Literature / Catfishing on CatNet

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Catfishing on CatNet is a young adult thriller by award-winning author Naomi Kritzer, sequel to her short story Cat Pictures Please,which won the Hugo Award and Locus Award and was a finalist for the Nebula.

Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet—a social media site where users upload cat pictures—a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I.

When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and CheshireCat’s existence is discovered by outsiders, it’s up to Steph and her friends, both online and IRL, to save her.


This novel provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Does not have a specific date, but happens in a pretty recognisable modern USA with about 25% of the cars on the road being self-driving, robots (that can't argue with the curriculum) teaching sex ed, and an AI.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Averted with CheshireCat, but definitely a concern for their creator Annette, who installed a failsafe that cuts the AI off from the internet is they do anything harmful. Like hacking a self-driving car and using it to run down Steph's father.
  • Bi the Way: Members of CatNet are sorted into Clowders of people they're likely to get along with. Everyone in Steph's Clowder is on the LGBT+ spectrum: Firestar is pansexual and non-binary, Marvin is gay and Ico is asexual. Steph herself has never stayed in one place long enough to decide what her preferences are, and she and Rachel are together by the end.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Internet Everywhere drive Steph and Rachel buy to hack the sex ed robot. CheshireCat sends Steph a chip and the spanner she needs by drone, making the chip she already has surplus. At least until they need to leave CheshireCat a way of escaping the laptop they're trapped in.
    • At one point, Marvin starts a conversation on CatNet about fake health scare dihydrogen monoxide (it's in the water supply, people!). When Steph's father has the Clowder at gunpoint, she was to keep him talking so she asks him what he's planning to do about all the hydrogen monoxide in the water. It works.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Steph's father. A controlling and abusive partner, he had his wife kidnapped and tortured when she wouldn't give him her work. He plays the victim when he and Steph meet, claiming Dana simply kidnapped her, but then pulls a gun on her when she's not fooled.
  • Fingore: Steph's mother has a missing left pinkie. CheshireCat finds out it was cut off by her husband or on his orders when he had her kidnapped.
  • MacGuffin: The Massive Integer Factorization Algorithm on Steph's mother's laptop. Due to the way the internet is encrypted, this would allow Michael to hack anything, getting the money and power necessary to begin his World Domination plan. His wife wasn't on board with the plan, which is why he had her kidnapped and tortured. CheshireCat ends up with it after escaping Annette's laptop via Steph's mother's.
  • Police are Useless: If not actually harmful. In the backstory, they were unable to prove that Michael had anything to do with kidnapping and torturing his wife, resulting in her and Steph going on the run in the first place. In the present, the police in New Coburg are explicitly racist towards biracial Bryony and threaten to ignore Steph's constitutional rights when she's accused (rightly, but with no evidence beyond being the new girl) of hacking the sex ed robot. When Steph is fleeing her father, the police in Marshville literally hand her over to them without even asking him to prove his identity.
  • Sequel Hook: Rajiv is alive. There's another AI out there.
  • Theme Naming: The AI's admin names (the ones we hear) are based on Alice in Wonderland: Alice, CheshireCat. The other AI that contacts the Clowder and gives them money so they can reach Boston and help CheshireCat does so with the name WhiteRabbit.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Annette discusses this with the Clowder [[spoiler:When they come to plead with her to release CheshireCat, who she's isolated on a laptop after they ran Steph's father down with a hacked car. The Clowder point out that, had one of them done the same thing to protect Steph from a gun-toting maniac, no jury would convict them. Annette counters that, legally, CheshireCat is not a person and has no rights whatsoever; if she turns the matter over to the authorities, they may just destroy the AI on principal, which she doesn't want, but she also doesn't want to release them if it'll result in someone else being harmed.
  • World Domination: Steph's mother jokes early on that her husband's desire to do this should have been a red flag. She's fully serious, and so is he.


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