Finder: King of the Cats
The Nyima women are quite accomplished. Although they look like lionesses, they walk erect, use tools (especially guns), and conduct diplomatic missions. The males, except for the leaders, are more likely to go feral, running on all fours like the lions we think of.
Jaeger’s working for a tour company as armed escort, getting families safely to a DisneyWorld-like tourist destination. It’s so popular that any family only gets one chance in their lifetime to go, selected by lottery, so the trip resembles a pilgrimage to a holy city. The Nyima are appearing as an exhibit there, so they’ve selected the location as a meeting space to build a treaty. It’s neutral enough ground, with everyone equally disadvantaged by their commercial surroundings and most everything faked in one way or another.
A scene early on demonstrates Jaeger’s disdain for rules and lack of attachment to the physical. He needs to get inside the park, so first he applies to be a worker. The recruitment officer tells him his hair’s too long and rejects him. Instead of taking “no” for an answer, Jaeger takes out his knife, calmly cuts off his hair, and walks back to the office. That’s not the end of the story, of course, because “your hair’s too long” was really code for “you don’t fit in”, and that Jaeger can’t fix.
With all of the animals, humanoid, cartoon, or otherwise, this volume is visually stunning and quite imaginative. McNeil already built a world in the previous books, and here, she’s building another one. She’s rich in ideas and generous in sharing them, thinking them through in more depth than most creators. The endnotes provide even more information, items that didn’t make it into the book or that the casual reader might have missed.
McNeil’s satire is savage, at times. Performers who collapse in front of uncaring crowds, the way “native” people are treated like zoo animals, the status politics of human gatherings … it’s close enough to the over-commercialized, ever-demanding, “perform for me now” selfish world we live in to be painfully eye-opening.
The setting captures the worst aspects of ritualized bureaucracy and conformity. Jaeger’s hatred of crowds is brought into sharp relief, since as a commercial establishment, rules are even stronger here than they are in a regular city. He’s a loner, and being surrounded by waves of people makes him physically sick. Even finding a group of his own people doesn’t help, because he’s a scapegoat, a perpetual outsider… and on top of that, he’s too restricted by their defined roles when he’s with them.
Refusing to play along, to be part of the masses, is what makes him so attractive a hero. He’ll always gather the attention he doesn’t want, just by existing as he does. This volume, one of the best of an already favorite series, is an argument for and celebration of individuality within complicated cultures.