Bob Harvey,
Me & You Too: Catalyst
(Synergy, 2006)

The plot here is actually fairly basic. A townhouse complex in Texas burns down, right at the beginning of the story, and the book is about solving the mystery of why the fire happened, and the plans of the residents to band together to rebuild the complex within an eco-friendly framework. A key part of this is that the noble troop of residents are all animal lovers, and a cat named You Too (or "Tu Tambien") is their inspiration, as You Too helped rescue one of the residents from the fire.

This relatively simple plot is used as a platform to explore and espouse different social ideas and values. Politically, the Green Party would love this book, unless they read it carefully, as many eco-friendly ideas are championed, but the characters also go fishing on a huge yacht, travel by personal planes and speed around in old sports cars. Some traditional Native American ideas are introduced, but not given much more than an introduction. Some of the most innovative ideas involve the architectural design of the new "homestead" the fire survivors plan, fight for and build. They have fun mixing the best aspects of many different schools and traditions, with interesting results.

Early in Me & You Too: Catalyst, the protagonists get very excited about planning their new home, with a deliberate goal of "thinking outside the box," and I thought the book was headed for some creative world-building, like you find in Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars and its sequels or in Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, albeit on a smaller scale. But, after the flurry of creativity sets a nice foundation for a story, Catalyst fades away quickly, to be replaced by the protagonists developing romantic liaisons, sometimes very unwisely, and with occasional updates on the progress of the homestead project. Without much detail of the work involved in the homestead, the initially interesting planning seems increasingly unrealistic, and the project loses much of its meaning for the reader.

As I stated, this story has a strong emphasis on the role of animals and how they make our lives better. Pets have long played a big part in my life, including a rescued miniature pinscher who currently tries her best to keep our house running to her standards. I am also a big fan of books that feature anthropomorphized animal characters, with prime examples being Rannock the deer in Fire Bringer, Fishmael the remora (and narrator) of Jay Nussbaum's Blue Road to Atlantis and Nighteyes the wolf, who made the perfect sidekick and companion in Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice. However, in Catalyst, You Too is revered, and did play a role in rescuing another character from the fire, but is otherwise a figurehead who is worshipped, a la ancient Egypt, for just being a cat. The worshipping becomes pretty meaningless, when there is no basis for it.

Me & You Too: Catalyst is described as "the first FULL-COLOR novel" and it is made differently from other books I have seen. None of the pages are standard white paper, but are instead very glossy and have a background image that changes with each short chapter. Examples of the images used as background are: raindrops on a window pane, morning sunlight slanting in and a computer circuit-board. But, that's not all. Many key words are printed in different colors and/or with different traits. Examples are: "fire" is in red, "frozen" is blue, "arched" is written as an arch, and "shattered" has cracks in the letters. The author has trademarked this and calls it KaleidoScript. The author also gets carried away with this feature, like a little kid with a new toy. When one of the protagonists describes the greenbelt around his townhouse, he provides a long list of songbirds and wildflowers to be found there, with each bird or flower printed in a color-coded way to match the bird or flower. I initially liked KaleidoScript, but realized quickly that it was overdone, very distracting and greatly slowed my reading pace. If it were used here and there, it would be fine, but it was not unusual to find 30 words on a page that were nonstandard, and the above-mentioned listing of birds and flowers took up half a page. The color backgrounds were good, but the KaleidoScript ended up being a definite negative for me. It makes the novel into a novelty, but severely damages the reading experience.

So, what do we end up with? A fairly simple story with a lot of promise, but very erratic and generally weak follow-through. This book is like a child's Christmas gift, with a mediocre toy (the story) in a very nice box (all the creative ideas mentioned) and wrapped in colorful, albeit garish wrapping paper (the KaleidoScript font).

review by
Chris McCallister

3 November 2007

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