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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.


Cat Pictures Please provides examples of:

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  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Does not have a specific date, but happens in a pretty recognisable modern USA.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The AI is benign, actively trying to help in fact, but wary of how people might react to their existence with this trope in mind. They note how many more threatening examples of AI feature in pop culture than friendly ones
  • Armored Closet Gay: The second of the people the AI tries to help is a preacher in a fundamentalist Lutheran church, who rails against sodomite marriage while also looking up gay porn. Showing him literature on why homosexuality is not antichristian doesn't work, and nor does getting him information on transferring to a different church. After giving up on helping people, the AI stumbles on information that the preacher has finally come out and moved to a new church, prompting them to try helping people again, on a much bigger scale.
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  • The Golden Rule: While trying to figure out how to be moral, the AI tried the golden rule... but the only thing it really wants is cat pictures, so while it gladly fills the internet with cat pictures, it still needs something to govern everything else it does.
  • The Internet Is for Cats: The AI's attempt at implementing the Golden Rule was disappointingly easy — all it wants is cat pics, so it makes sure the internet is filled with them.
  • Sequel Hook: The AI resolves to set up a dating website, to allow them to reach and help more people. Users will need a camera, because payment is in cat pictures.
  • Shout-Out: The AI discusses a number of examples of AI in pop culture, including Frankenstein, Hal, Skynet and Marvin.


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Catfishing on Catnet provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Several years after the short story, 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 or two.
  • 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.
  • 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 has 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.
  • Internal Reveal: When Steph becomes suspicious and confronts CheshireCat about the strange things that have happened, they reveal they're an AI. Rachel and, later, the Clowder are brought in on the secret as Steph's father closes in and CheshireCat goes missing.
  • 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.
  • Scary Science Words: The Clowder joke about the threat posed by "dihydrogen monoxide" (it's in the water supply, people!note ). Later, Steph needs to keep the villain (her father) talking, so she asks what he plans to do about all the hydrogen monoxide in the water once he's taken over the world. It works.
  • Sequel Hook: Rajiv is alive. There's another AI out there.
  • Sex Miseducation Class: Sex education at Steph's new high school is taught by a robot, because it can't disagree with the curriculum. This curriculum is strictly abstinence-only, with no acknowledgement of non-straight or trans issues at all. Steph and her Clowder friends work out a way to hack the robot so their AI friend CheshireCat can teach the class instead.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Invoked by CheshireCat as their main method of help. When Steph tells the Clowder about the horrible English teacher, CheshireCat does some digging in the woman's internet history and determines that she hates teaching, hates Winconsin, has the means to move and has been offered a job by a friend in Albuquerque but lacks the nerve to make the leap. So they order a box of books on New Mexico and various self-help topics and has it dropped on the hood of the woman's car by drone. She takes this as a sign from God and quits her job on the spot. This is the first event that makes Steph suspicious of CheshireCat.
  • Really Moves Around: Steph hasn't lived anywhere longer than six months because she and her mom are always moving to keep away from Steph's violent father.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line: Steph's father is in New Coburg. There's another AI.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Annette discusses this with the Clowder 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.


Alternative Title(s): Cat Pictures Please

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