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Copyright 2000 Tara K. Harper.  All rights reserved.

Cat Scratch Fever
Reviews, Interview Excerpts, Author's Notes...

Nominated for the 1995 Oregon Book Awards

Cat Scratch Fever file

"A thrilling new adventure..."


Author's Statement about the Novel
Excerpt from Interview
Additional Symbolism in the Novel
Full-Text Review of Cat Scratch Fever

Author's Statement about the Novel

Cat Scratch Fever is about slavery: physical, emotional, mental.  It's about the brutalization we allow in our own societally sanctioned structures.  The abuse described in Cat Scratch Fever happens here, today, in the U.S., in my state, to people I know--that part of this story is not fiction.  As far as I'm concerned, if that part of this book doesn't make you angry, then I didn't do my job presenting it.

Slavery they can have anywhere.  It is a weed that grows in every soil.

-Edmund Burke

Enslavement doesn't happen where I live, you might say.   But there are examples all around you:  The woman who convinces her husband that he's a failure. The man who destroys his wife's confidence by telling her over and over, for years on end, that she's worthless, so that she'll stay with him--the one person who "tolerates" her.  The domestic abuse.  The child abuse.  The religious slavery that is sweeping the U.S. in the form of the forced Christian prayer and the forced teaching of Christian creationism in public schools, where no other religious beliefs are tolerated.  (I am Christian, by the way, but I believe there is a difference between teaching moral and ethical behavior in general, and teaching these things only in the context of Christianity.)

There is economic slavery.  Educational slavery.  The removal of rights, one by one, so that a few people control the lives of others just as surely as if they put those others in chains.  And, of course, there are the cults.  (America is awash with cults which masquerade as religions, hiding their brainwashing in what appears, to those who are not aware of the differences, to be simple indoctrination).

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.  
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

-William Pitt

What makes a slave--a simple physical restraint?  Or is it really an attitude held by the victim?  How many times has misplaced guilt or misguided loyalty trapped someone in an enslaving situation?  Why do people allow themselves to be used again and again, abused over and over?  If you are not a strong or independent person by yourself, where do you find the strength or independence to leave a bad situation?  How do you survive where you are, if you're too frightened to try to escape?

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion

-Edmund Burke

Guilt and fear (and resentment) are perfect tools for modern slavers.  They are not only legal, they are sanctioned by leaders of both cults and religions.  And although wielded by some people against others, those emotions are both self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating.  Enslaving someone can be as simple as heightening her fear or guilt until she cannot function without the "reassurance" or patronizing "care" which the slaver provides.

So how does one become truly free?  What do you have to give up to be free?  Freeing yourself can be a dangerous proposition.  Often, that which you most want is the greatest weapon which can be used against you.  And sometimes, that which you most desire can be the agent itself which destroys you.  

Cat Scratch Fever looks at slavery from the perspective of attitude.  The weapons (fear, pain, humiliation, guilt) used against Tsia do not break her, not because she is strong, but because she recognizes that her own emotions are her greatest threat to freedom.  She may be captive, but only if she retains her sense of self can she keep from becoming a slave in her heart and mind.  

Enslaved, but not a slave, Tsia does not lose sight of freedom.  In the end, it is she who frees herself, while those who have accepted  the slavery of their own emotions, remain in the chains which they themselves have forged.

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Excerpt from Interview on Science Fiction Books
Weekly Feature, 9/4/1997, from

Interviewer Howard Taylor:   Some of your writing appears to be layered with symbolism beyond what is suggested by the story... Could you give us a guide to some of the symbols you use?

Tara K. Harper:  I suppose you are talking about the CatScratch books in general, and Cat Scratch Fever in particular.  Storm Runner and Wolf's Bane are also books more about symbolism, rather than books about stories.  But since Cat Scratch Fever seems to be the most controversial, I will address the symbolism in that novel.

Cat Scratch Fever is about enslavement and freedom.  One of the major aspects of that symbolism is the idea of rebirth, which is where the pregnant women come in.  Each pregnancy, each birth brings new hope--the chance of a new life away from the emotional and psychological chains of the other, older, previous life.

The pregnant women themselves are symbolic, not actually meant to be specific people in a story.  The mother-child connection symbolizes past and future.  The child is the extension of the mother in the same manner that the future is an extension of the past.  Until one ties the future to the past, the future itself is separate and free of the weight and pain of the past.

For one mother-character (the enslaved Vashanna), the circumstances of each new chance at life are worse each time she gives birth.  This is because Vashanna has submitted some part of herself to the chains she wears in order to gain greater comfort as a slave.  But having submitted to enslavement--even in so small a thing as trading the willingness to learn a language for the clothes she wears on her back--she embraces some of the patterns of slavery.  Those patterns then become part of Vashanna's view of life, and they then help define her future.  Each time Vashanna gives birth, she has the chance of creating a new life.  But because she has not truly rejected the past--her existing slavery--she also cannot completely grasp the new hope.  She sacrifices each future (each child) to her life as a slave in the present.  And with each sacrifice, she binds herself more tightly into her chains.  Vashanna trades overt enslavement for a more subtle, emotional and psychological slavery.

For others, such as the main character, Tsia, the idea of rebirth is also significant.  Tsia has the choice of rejecting slavery outright--and then dying, because she will not submit to the will of the artist who has enslaved her.  Or she could try to retain her sense of self and past within the context of "minimal" enslavement, as Vashanna did, thus accepting slavery as part of life.  Or Tsia could completely accept life as a slave and relinquish control and responsibility for herself to someone else.  For Tsia, the choice is that of remaining true to herself, or allowing someone else to define who she is.  Her story is about trying to survive while rejecting enslavement.

There is also a pregnant councilwoman in the story. Like Tsia (the main character), the councilwoman resists slavery by refusing to submit in any way to the will of the artist. But while Tsia tries to work within the guild structures to break free of the artist; the councilwoman rejects all structures associated with the slavers. The councilwoman is willing to unconditionally sacrifice her life for her child--and thus, to sacrifice her current life for her hope for the future, her chance at new life. Only by abandoning all ties (including her life) to the past does the councilwoman achieve freedom from enslavement to the artist, to politics, and to prophecy.

In enslavement, any ties to the past create new chains in the future.  Think of the man who does not break the pattern of his behavior of beating his girlfriends, no matter how many new women he meets.  Or the woman who becomes a victim again and again because, even though she has a new chance with each new relationship for a life without violence, she still binds herself with the same ties of behavior...  Or the couple who attack each other verbally instead of talking things out, because each one brings defenses, rather than newness to their marriage.  --It is all enslavement to the past.

There are other, darker, more desperate, more private slaveries. Isolation, indoctrination, torture, imposed starvation...  It happens now, here, in the United States, in my state and county, to people I know.  Slavery is not just some distant, fantastical, medieval, third-world, or politically or religiously imposed circumstance.  It is a state of mind, and those who give in to it, those who succumb, can chain not only themselves to their masters, but their entire families with them.

In Cat Scratch Fever, because Tsia cannot have children on her own (the viruses that mutated her body also made her sterile), her rebirth into a future--into freedom--is symbolically attached to the pregnancies of Vashanna and the councilwoman.  Tsia can survive as she is--a shell, alone, breathing but not truly alive or whole.  Or she can try to save a child--save the future she cannot otherwise be part of. Vashanna's children represent slavery and the relinquishment of responsibility for oneself; the councilwoman's child represents sacrifice, freedom, and future.   Tsia must choose between them.

Cat Scratch Fever is not about sex or beating up kids or pregnant women.  It is about heinous acts of enslavement our legal system does not even recognize as criminal, but which are allowed in our society every day.  It is about the value of survival--the _definition_ of survival and freedom--and in the end, about the value of life.

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Additional Symbolism in the Novel

There is another set of symbolism in the CatScratch world, and it is this:  the art guild in the book represents the fallout of the American health-care system.  Our health-care providers, in conjunction with corporate employers, are even now putting dollar values on human life.

I find this an ethically, morally, and socially dangerous thing to do.  When you can define, in dollars, how much a life is worth, you have, essentially, a legally sanctioned method for enslavement.  Because once you set a price--once there is a ceiling on the value of life--then life is no longer anything but a commodity, an object that can be warehoused, distributed, used, and devalued.  Priceless life becomes nothing more than a larger tree or a bigger car.  And once there is a price on life, there will be someone to sell it.

It is easy to come up with examples of people buying organs (livers, kidneys, eyes, etc.), or of people who want slave labor and so purchase the rights to another human being.  However, the implications of allowing life to be valued and purchased are far deeper than that.  The man who (allegedly, of course) injected his own son with HIV in order to avoid having to pay child support--this is a very real example of how today's valuation in dollars can affect our own families...  We can be shocked and horrified at the heinousness of such a crime.  But what would happen if such valuation were legal and sanctioned?  Would it be any more shocking to think that people who are passionate about their art would not also purchase others' passion (via slavery) for their palate as they would a paint or pigment?

Putting a price on life negates the art of being.  It creates a philosophy in which a person is worth only what someone else will pay.  Value no longer comes from within, but from without.  All the niceties of self-esteem, confidence, pride, personal integrity--those no longer remain ideals for which to strive to better oneself.  Instead, they become only additional features on a human product, which can be marked down as the salesman (including the slave himself) sees fit.

Cat Scratch Fever addresses issues of slavery not only in its approach to mental, physical, and emotional slavery, but also presents one aspect of a world in which human life has been valued and for which the price of life has a ceiling.  

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 Cat Scratch Fever file

Cat Scratch Fever
By Tara K. Harper

Review:   Here, Kitty, Kitty

Dateline: 08/06/97
Review by Howard V. Tayler

This review is reprinted here with permission from Howard Tayler.
Review Copyright 1997, by Howard Tayler

This is another book with a marvelously misleading cover. The picture of Lady alongside Very Big Cat, combined with the title led me to believe I was in for a nice story about animal-human symbiosis, maybe after the fashion of that awful Beastmaster movie from the '80s. Well, the lady spent so little time among big cats that felineophiles will be downright disappointed, and in the author's note at the end, Ms. Harper actively discourages anyone from having an exotic, wild, or part-wild pet of any kind.

The first few pages are slow, and the way the characters talk and think out loud is a little annoying. It is obvious that the author needs to give us lots of background, so the dialog ends up seeming a little contrived. But the story gets better fast. It turns out not to be about cats so much as it is about surviving at all costs. Our hero turns out to be pretty tough, and ends up needing to be as the story takes some pretty wild, unexpected, and definitely dangerous turns.

Did I like it? I still haven't made up my mind. I really wanted to know how it ended, and I liked the action, but I'm a cat lover, and when it was all over, I wanted more cats. Also, as a parent, I really disliked the treatment of children in the story. Without fail they were depicted as victims and hostages. I get the feeling that Harper wanted to deeply affect readers, and to instill in them a sense of just how critical it is that Our Hero succeed, but could not think of anything besides beating up on children and pregnant women to pull it off.

The fact that the ultimate bad guys are artists who make their art out of the pain of others seems unlikely. In my experience, good art does not require suffering in equal measure to that which will be depicted, and death-porn (although well outside my experience) does not require artistic value to sell, since the purveyors and consumers of it are sick, and generally pretty desperate.

But did I like the book? Well, I don't know. I'm glad I finished it, but I'm not actively recommending it to friends. This is a story to get a second opinion on.

Reasons to Read:

  • The messages about freedom, slavery, and survival are powerful.

  • The action and adventure tying these themes together is a lot of fun.

  • There are a lot of new ideas in here, especially regarding the evolution of an information society.

Reasons to Not Read:

  • While the book does not condone violence against innocents, the nearly casual way in which it occurs and is described may be a big turnoff.

  • I wanted more cats!

Copyright 2000 Tara K. Harper

All rights reserved.  It is illegal to reproduce or transmit in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, any part of this copyrighted file without permission in writing from Tara K. Harper.  Permission to download this file for personal use only is hereby granted by Tara K. Harper.

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