Simba Leones is a lion person, a genetically engineered sentient creature. As the story opens, he and his seven fellows are frustrated by the secrecy surrounding the Lion Project, but soon face a state education inspection, the first of many legal challenges. A press conference introduces them to humans, after which, prepared by their unique training regimen, they successfully take the exam for the General Education Diploma, evading inspection. In an experiment on lion physiology they run a long course, get lost in the dark, and nearly freeze in the forest. A major legal challenge is fended off by restraint, politeness and good humor. The lions are growing up, and early (by human standards) they form mated pairs. Simba and his new mate Tiger learn how to be a couple.
College is a major challenge for the lions, who are not experienced in the human world. Simba learns quickly to fit in with his new friends, and overcomes prejudice to get a campus job. He learns to handle a difficult fellow student and a difficult professor. The latter leads to a job over winter break, in which he needs to sell an unexpected change in management style to senior staff, to succeed in his assignment. There is religious opposition to creating artificial life, and Simba is threatened but creatively protects himself without slashing his adversaries.
After graduation, Simba and Tiger overcome housing discrimination, meet friends and neighors including two human children, and decide to get pregnant. A conflict with the children's father turns fatal, and Simba later detects that their mother has cancer. The lion couple give the two children some lion training, and after an agonizing decision promise to take in the children after their mother's death. Religious radicals are still after them, this time with guns. The mother, in pain, commits suicide, and the children join the lion family. The will is contested, but the lions convince the judge that they can be proper guardians. The new lion kitten is born, fighting. The family visits another lion pair in Washington.
Several years later, Tiger is severely injured in traffic and Simba, injured himself, has to assist human doctors to save her. Her brain is damaged and she has lost one arm. With scrambled speech and vision she struggles to communicate, and she and her family invent a sign language she can cope with. Her work group is in chaos. Simba tries unsuccessfully to work at home, to care for her. With computer assisted communication Tiger returns to work and helps unscramble her project. Simba is offered a job editing the lions' training material.
Chapter 1: The House on the Hill. Simba joins the other (male) lions for exercises and lessons with his (human) supervisor. Frustrated by project secrecy and isolation, he notices a fire tower on the ridge line across his valley. Both groups of lions, and the children of the staff, do a project to gather as much data as they can about the tower as a substitute for going there. The lions are shocked to learn that they will soon be going public, and they prepare for a test to evade a mandatory inspection by the state education office.
Chapter 2: Dog and Pony Show. The Lion Foundation holds a press conference, with only the young lions on stage so reporters and the public will understand that they're real people, not just talking animals. They briefly describe their construction, physiology and training. Reporters' questions are not all easy. A tabloid reporter pokes into their sex lives, and one reporter from a religious publication is downright hostile in that the lion prople were not divinely created.
Chapter 3: General Education Diploma. The lions learn about the public world, such as using money to buy lunch at a fast food joint. After a challenge to their Utah citizenship they take the GED test, successfully. Prompted by a question asked by one of the reporters, they visit an art museum.
Chapter 4: Enjoined from Husbandry. In three years since the press conference the Lion Foundation has fought off lawsuits, but the major one is now coming to trial. The lions do some long distance running, as research on lion physiology. Annoyed that the staff are treating them like children, they impulsively run the course again to prove how tough they are. Night falls, they get lost, and they shelter in the forest. When they return the next morning they discover that the judge has issued an injunction and six officers are driving up to serve it. They ride with the officers to Salt Lake to plead their case with the judge -- convincingly, for the most troublesome part of the injunction is vacated.
Chapter 5: Mate Selection. Simba, the youngest of his group, reaches official sexual maturity, and as planned the male lions confront the females and negotiate a procedure for pairing up. Tiger chooses Simba as her mate.
Chapter 6: The Wedding. The staff give the lions a wedding banquet. Afterward they fade off into the forest and Simba and Tiger decide the basics of their relationship. They return to their room, and decide to try sex. After failures they discover the secret: making a pair. Afterward they discuss Charlie and his new mate Diana's accomodation to his extreme territoriality, and Charlie's worries: the lions are running out of lessons. They will soon have to go to college.
Chapter 7: ProFro Eats FroYo at the CoHo. Simba attends an orientation weekend at Stanford to find out what college is all about. His student hosts introduce him to essential topics: money management, college-style classes, and human food.
Chapter 8: Freshman. Simba got in to Stanford. He meets his new roommate. He plans his courses with his advisor and signs up for a job. One of his neighbors reacts violently on first seeing him. By computer, Tiger reports a hair-raising flight to her college.
Chapter 9: Emergency Room. Simba is rejected for two jobs. He is nearly rejected for a job mopping floors in the hospital emergency room because he might scare the patients. However, he gets a chance to prove himself and test patient reactions. He gets good marks on a broken finger and a gunshot wound. A little girl has been raped, and Simba is instrumental in getting her calmed down and cooperating. He is hired. Returning to the dorm afterward, he discovers he can take a class learning to play the organ.
Chapter 10: Numerical Math. Simba is shedding. He helps a student, a Christian, with a computer malfunction. Simba's professor puts him on the spot, asking him to explain the homework to the class. Later he asks the prof to cool it. The prof suggests a job over winter break at a company he consults for. That evening, Simba suffers through the climax of his shedding.
Chapter 11: Xylogen. Simba finishes a difficult final exam. He reports for work at Xylogen, a small biotech firm, to straighten out their computer network. He gets an insight that the problem is not with the network but with management practices. He will have to sell corrective measures to the senior staff and he's starting to feel like an hors d'oeuvre.
Chapter 12: At Home with the Wu Family. The dorm being closed, Simba is staying with his boss. He's a big hit with the kids. Mr. Wu is surprised by the difference, and success, of Simba's style of interaction with them. With that as a metaphor, Simba is able to make him understand the management problem he noticed.
Chapter 13: Religious Persuasion. After taking his midterm exam and turning in a paper, Simba plans to attend a service in San Francisco by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Christian student he earlier helped warns him of a rally and demonstration to run the mutant (Simba) off campus. In a pre-emptive strike he addresses the rally and is chased up a tree for his trouble. The students are punished; it's on the news. The Archbishop asks Simba's permission to use him as an example of loving your neighbor.
Chapter 14: Casa Serena. Having graduated from college, Tiger has a job as a chip designer, and Simba is working for Xylogen setting up a new factory. Simba and Tiger battle housing discrimination to get an apartment. They meet their neighbors, including two kids from a poor family, Mariposa and Coyote. They enjoy giving the kids a little imprompty lion training. Their life seems to be working out, and they decide to start the breeding program.
Chapter 15: Gasoline in a Rum Bottle. It's hard work to set up the new factory. Simba buys computers for it, and spots some obsolete laptops, which the two kids are able to earn the money for. Simba and Tiger get them started on real lion training. Unfortunately the little girl defies her father, and in a drunken rage he blames the lion people and attacks them with a Molotov cocktail, and is burned to death. Simba and Tiger and another neighbor help the Solano family through the funeral, and to survive on the widow's meager income.
Chapter 16: The Handkerchief. At summer's end the lion people have a party for their neighbors. Simba goes with Mrs. Solano to a health clinic. She has cancer. The lions agonize over whether they should, could, or will be obligated to take in the children when Mrs. Solano eventually dies. The lion training helps the children at school. Simba is responsible for an expensive accident at work. Simba confronts Coyote's teacher who has accused him of cheating.
Chapter 17: Ham and Eggs. The lion people decide to volunteer to be in Mrs. Solano's will. On a very limited budget the children buy jackets and shoes. While running in the park the lions and children are shot at; they capture the gunman and teach a radical church congregation a lesson in loving neighbors.
Chapter 18: Grief of Children. Mrs. Solano is too ill to work, and after Thanksgiving dinner she kills herself. The children accept Simba and Tiger's guardianship, and learn to be young lions. The family prepares for the funeral.
Chapter 19: In the Probate Court. Mrs. Solano's funeral. The children bravely get vaccinated, and then Simba files Mrs. Solano's will for probate. In court, two religious groups object to the guardianship. The judge grills Simba but is convinced to approve the will.
Chapter 20: The Birth of Attila. Tiger is the first of the lions to give birth, and Simba makes a training video of the process. Not helpless, Attila is a little fighter. Forgetting steadiness, Tiger shows the new kitten off to a neighbor, and shows her the world from atop a tree. The lion family put on a block party.
Chapter 21: A Visit to the Capital. Simba, Coyote, Mariposa and Attila visit Charlie, Diana and their kitten Alex in Washington, DC. Attila is convinced to go in Charlie's pocket, and Charlie takes the kids sightseeing. Cross-fertilization is successful, to make Charlie and Diana's second kitten, Becket. Later over pizza, Mariposa tells how she got mugged and captured her assailant. Charlie describes his job as an enforcer for the SEC, his plans to return to college for a doctorate, and his aspirations to be a commissioner someday.
Chapter 22: A Ton of Bricks. Several years later Simba, Tiger, Attila and their youngest kitten Emerald are caught in a traffic accident, in which Tiger is seriously injured. Simba assists in an operation to save Tiger.
Chapter 23: Escape from the Hospital. Tiger has major brain damage, as well as losing her arm. Simba resolves to start working at home when Tiger gets out of the hospital. Tiger comes out of coma, struggles to communicate, and makes it clear that she wants to go home.
Chapter 24: A Long Recovery. At home Tiger tries hard to be normal, but is frustrated by being unable to hear, speak, read or write. She invents a hand sign she can manage; Coyote and Simba extend it to a complete language. Her doctor is astonished that she was able to learn it. Tiger visits her co-workers. Their project is in chaos and her new boss makes a bad impression.
Chapter 25: How Things Change. Simba's attempt to set up a home business is not succeeding. But software support for Tiger's language has gone well. In a few days Tiger can return to work. Coyote and his girlfriend Linda announce their engagement. Simba is offered a job editing the lions' training material.
Chapter 26: Revenge of the Nerds. Simba accepts the job; he and Tiger visit the Lion Foundation. Dr. Franck describes how the Lion Foundation was started. A senior person from Tiger's work asks her and Simba to test a chip design. Tiger's new boss has committed fraud, and the old boss is rehabilitated. Tiger is back to work, and Simba is happy in his new job.
Jim Carter is a computer programmer working at UCLA. His interests include biological technology, and constructed languages. Though he has read science fiction since childhood, this is his first novel.