Tiger Leones is a lion person, a genetically engineered sentient creature made by Earth humans. As the story opens she converts a debacle in her latest quantum logic chip into a lucrative success: the Coherent Quantum Momentum Transfer effect. With the profits a starship is built, plus orbiting solar power stations to run it. Tiger, her mate Simba, and longtime human friends Willie and Wilma Ragland fly to epsilon Eridani, where life has been detected spectroscopically. They overcome an unexpected massive radiation dose and accomplish the initial scientific goals, mapping the planets and collecting and analyzing surface samples from the outer ones.
Returning to planet Njord, the one with life, for a sampling mission, they find that it's inhabited by heptapi, intelligent and belligerent squidlike creatures who have unknowingly doomed themselves to extinction by polluting their atmosphere. The leader of one heptapus faction sets off a cataclysmic nuclear war while trying to unify the factions by force in preparation for pollution cleanup. The epsilon Eridani system no longer has any life.
After extended debate over ethics and technological feasibility, the crew decide to replant the system. They'll terraform Thor, the Earth-size moon of a gas giant. But the effort! They'll need self-reproducing orbiting automated factories, which probably won't be ready within their lifetimes, so they'll need colonists to carry on their vision, which will themselves have to be bioengineered just as Tiger and Simba were. A site is chosen and the first four kittens are implanted in Tiger's uterus.
Kittens anywhere have a lot to learn, but particularly on Thor: reading and academic lessons, of course, but also discipline and cooperation. Initially comet impacts provide a methane-ammonia atmosphere, and the largest comet gets out of hand and nearly destroys the colony. A money system proves as important as concrete and plastic for getting the repairs done. With the added air pressure and a technological advance the colonists are able to properly explore and plant their world. The young colonists begin to form mated pairs.
The Chinese send a starship too, and conflict is inevitable. The colonists are neither naïve nor defenseless, and they forcibly insist on what they consider proper behavior. The Chinese General is killed and his female subordinate is recruited to join the colony.
Many years later Willie and Wilma have died, but Tiger, Simba and Lan Ying are still healthy. There's an oxygen atmosphere now. While surveying a wilderness area Tiger finds four runaway kittens who have fled an abusive father. The mother is insane from repeated beatings and rapes. After a deadly confrontation with the father, Tiger and Simba adopt the kittens as their third family, and help the mother to recover.
Chapter 1: Cracked Chips. Tiger Leones (one of the original Lion People from Simba Leones) is the senior designer of quantum logic chips for Whinx. Her latest computer processor chip has a major flaw and they'll have to recall. She and her staff investigate; with the right bit pattern they can peel half the chip right off the header. They fix the chip, but the real prize is CQMT: the Coherent Quantum Momentum Transfer effect. Spun off as a separate corporation, TransForce, they ship an improvised communication chip test device around the world and eavesdrop on customs inspectors in Cape Town. Both Tiger's last kitten Surya and his fiancée Holly are accepted to MIT next year.
Chapter 2: A Rescue in Space. The Hawking X-ray Telescope blew a thruster and is going to drop in the ocean in a week. This is a job for TransForce. Tiger orders a bunch of test pusher chips, and Simba, her mate, and Surya and Holly are drafted to help design and assemble the spacecraft in a frantic series of fourteen hour days. They make the deadline and raise the telescope's orbit, causing considerable consternation. The new products are announced publicly for the first time, and communication, space, utility and transportation stocks drop with a thud.
Chapter 3: Who's Our Geologist? Willie Ragland (who is black) grew up with the Lion People in Simba Leones. Tiger and Simba have made a fortune on TransForce stock and other investments. At the UNESCO Conference on Space Research, it's reported that there's life on a planet of epsilon Eridani. Tiger announces what she planned privately all along: a sublight starship propelled by CQMT, to epsilon Eridani, financed partially by Tiger. National delegations bicker; the ship will be financed mostly by Tiger. Of course Tiger and Simba will be in the crew, but who else? Willie and his wife Wilma are ideal: good friends of the lions with important complementary skills. The four of them spend the next three years almost 100% time on one exercise mat to simulate the crowding in the tiny ship. They supervise its design and construction, and train at Georgia Tech in scientific disciplines not already known. The crew are test frozen and thawed successfully. The ship is finished and tested. The crew are on their way for a sixteen year journey.
Chapter 4: Epsilon Eridani. When she thaws, Tiger is very sick: they've hit unexpected cosmic radiation. They make the quick look science observations. Radiation has killed most of the Chang bush seeds; they're going to be hungry. They mine a comet and turn the methane and so on into plastic for the agricultural pods, underpopulated for the moment. Comet dust is smelted into iron and aluminum with which they make an orbiter for planetary mapping, and a robotic comet miner; from its output they'll build a lander. Both Simba and Willie have cancer, possibly from the radiation, but Simba, using compact high tech tools, is able to find and remove the tumors.
Chapter 5: Planetography. Wilma is a professional petroleum geologist, but she's nervous about extending that to full-scale planetography. From the ship and the orbiter they map the first planet, Njord, the one with life. It used to be Earthlike, but now there are two very small algae-infested oceans and the rest is dessicated. There's a strange chemical in the atmosphere. On the newsfeed: the Chinese have launched their own starship. The expedition continues to the other planets, Wotan, its large moon Thor, Freyja and Loki, and their newly built lander brings up samples. They return to sample Njord. News: the Chinese ship has been lost.
Chapter 6: The Heptapus. Piloting the lander remotely, Simba samples the life in Njord's ocean -- and the life tries to sample him. Njord is drying out because its atmosphere is polluted with Freon and so is leaking hydrogen into space. On land a dead life form is spotted... No, it's a wrecked truck, carrying uranium ore! And nuclear waste can be detected both on the land and in the ocean sample. The lander is fitted with sonar, and Simba again braves the ocean, dodging a pair of tentacled horrors, and records what's clearly their sonar-based speech.
Chapter 7: The Nagus. Simba has identified a few pronouns in heptapus language and pilots the lander into the ocean again to get more speech samples. The heptapi are brutal. The mapper spots another truck, and this one's moving. Tiger locates its transshipment terminal; the heptapi there defend it with torpedoes. Simba struggles to communicate with the heptapus commander. The residents of the two oceans are bitter rivals. Big heptapi eat smaller ones; there are no other animals in the ocean. Two days later the leader of the western heptapi pays a visit, and is informed of the atmospheric pollution. It says it has a plan to remove the Freon.
Chapter 8: Calamari Soup. There are clouds over the oceans -- mushroom clouds. The leader had a plan to force cooperation from its rivals to clean up the Freon, but it backfired turning into nuclear war, and life is now extinct on Njord. Is it technically feasible to replant the system? Is it ethical? Yes, the crew decide, but they'll terraform and colonize Thor, Wotan's moon, not Njord, which is hopelessly contaminated.
Chapter 9: Manufacturing Babies. But replanting would mean exile from Earth. The crew work on designing ingenious machines to bring in water and carbon dioxide, and to push comets to hit Thor to give an atmosphere. The colonists will be Lion People and humans, but fake humans, lions modified to look human, because Wilma has had a hysterectomy and Tiger's birth canal is too small for a real human baby. And they'll make Otter People too, and Jaguar People, for a more plural society. While others work on bioengineering and machinery Wilma makes progress on the scientific goals, specifically heptapus archaeology, finding an ancient city uncovered by the evaporating ocean of Njord.
Chapter 10: Gondolin. On Thor, Wilma picks a place at the bottom of a subduction trench for their new home. There's enough atmospheric pressure that, breathing pure oxygen, they won't need space suits. They build a robot to mine water out of their comet, and a personnel lander. They all visit the colony site. Gravity is a challenge; Tiger trips and falls on her face. A Tolkien theme is chosen for place names. In a scary maneuver they remove their space suits (keeping the helmets), and then try out digging.
Chapter 11: Colony Embryo. The crew are importing adequate water from Freyja and Wotan, and have built two residential domes. Simba has finished the first batch of colonist eggs, Lion People, and implants four of them into Tiger. Iris has a development defect; he is aborted and replaced by another fertilized Iris egg. Tiger gives birth.
Chapter 12: Young Novanima. Iris and Jacinth compete for a glittery rock fragment. The baby Otter People are born and Selen defends himself when an older lion kitten bullies him. The third dome is finished, the fake human kittens are born, and a rocky place has been turned into a pool, in which the lions and otters swim. The jaguar kittens are born. The little lions learn to read. The fourth dome is built, but food is short and additional low-cost greenhouse domes have to be designed. The kittens are segregated by sex. With Simba's guidance, Iris and Ken resolve a serious personality conflict.
Chapter 13: I'm Docked. Iris is now almost teenaged. He sneaks into the female lions' dome to smell a new plant one of them has been bioengineering. Oops, the dome isn't empty! As punishment for breaking the segregation, the females chew off the tip of Iris' tail. Valeria, a fake human, is furious at being fake not real. After an ugly confrontation with Tiger she changes their species name to 'uomi.
Chapter 14: Rainbow in the Clouds. The largest of the comets headed for Thor will land soon. Iris helps plan safety measures, and insists on remaining on the surface while the others take refuge in clear space. Gondolin is hit by secondary debris, setting all the dome covers on fire. Iris saves four of the six residential domes but is hit by a comet fragment. Then come the earthquakes and the wind. The greenhouses are a total loss. As the comet gas cools, Thor's first rain falls. And the domes begin to flood. Preparing Iris for a leadership role, Tiger assigns him to get them unflooded. Two teams go out to unblock drainage channels that were buried by landslides. In the morning Iris sees his name sign: Thor's first rainbow.
Chapter 15: Do Something For Me, Please. Tempers are short due to short rations and extra repair work. Titania, a female Otter Person, is very good at painting. But paper is made by Mica, a male otter, whom she may not meet. And there's none left. Selen, the other male otter, pushes too hard in what he considers a game, and Petra, a female 'uomi, breaks his arm. Who's going to do Selen's work? With the adults' guidance, the kittens develop a money system to transfer and coordinate work among themselves. News: the Chinese have sent another starship.
Chapter 16: Out of the Nest. Night, the other female otter, is enthusiastic about exploring their world using the new backpack oxygen generators. Led by Willie, she and her friends practice strength and endurance carrying the heavy packs. Simba has new genetically engineered worms for their soil. Night's first all-day hike is with Wilma, sixteen kilometers into the hills, to a plateau where they plant feather grass, manzanita seedlings and worms. Her next turn is a three-day hike with Simba. The planned route isn't feasible, and they end up making a scary traverse along narrow rock shelves to get to the small valley that's their camping site. Talking with Simba, Night picks her career: manufacturing rotating machinery.
Chapter 17: Reunion. The colony needs explosive population growth, and the Novanima will marry early and breed early. For the lions and otters the time has arrived. The males and females meet and negotiate pairs. For Mica and Night it's love at first sight, and Selen and Titania make a good pair too. The lions have more trouble: should they pair up people who will get along easily, or should the two in a pair have complementary strong points? They risk the latter pairing. At the wedding banquet the colonists begin planning how to handle the Chinese when they arrive.
Chapter 18: Descent of the Phoenix. Major Tsun Lan Ying and General Liu Kai, an insufferable male chauvinist pig, are supposed to establish a Chinese colony on Njord. That's impossible now, but by taking over the American colony they could save their mission. The Novanima invite the Chinese to visit at Thor, which they do. They knew about the humans and lions but they're astonished by the otters and jaguars. The colonists entertain them with folk dances and music while last-minute cooking is finished for the banquet. But then they're smoothly captured in an armlock. The Novanima have sneakily flown a sensor next to the Chinese ship: they want the nuclear weapons removed. They insist that their own person do the job. There's also the Chinese breeding plan: radiation damage and inadequate genetic variation. Not trusting General Liu to abstain, they insist on a vasectomy. He's trapped: it's revealed that the Chinese will cut off power in a year, so they can't go home. Rather than submit to mutilation he would rather die... which Valeria can easily arrange.
Chapter 19: Up Goes the General. Major Tsun prepares to join the General in death, but Valeria refuses. The Major learns that Valeria isn't a real human. The General gets a nice funeral, and finally the banquet can begin. Many misconceptions are cleared up. The Novanima offer to redeem Chinese treachery and provide power to send Major Tsun home, but she considers death the best of her limited options.
Chapter 20: Otter Chase. Selen and the other otters convince Lan Ying that they're more than animals, and that joining their colony gives her a credible future. Tiger assigns Lan Ying a list of lessons to learn about the colony. No question, there's a lot for her to learn and a lot to get used to. She observes as the 'uomi and jaguars select mates.
Chapter 21: Kittens Lost Mittens. There's an oxygen atmosphere now. Tiger, very old but still full of strength, is surveying a continental wilderness area. She comes across three jaguar kittens who have run away from abuse at home. A fourth kitten has fallen into a chasm and Tiger rescues him. Tiger returns the kittens to Rose's home where Tiger is a guest.
Chapter 22: A Real Bastard. Tiger and Simba confront Talisman, the abusive father, who has the pocket kitten. He escapes. His mate Joy has been abused as well and driven mad. Simba stays with her, hoping to catch Talisman. The kittens are perking up under Rose's care. Talisman shows up in the village and tries to take his kittens back by force and to rape Tiger. Instead he's killed. Tiger and Simba agree to make the poor kittens their third family.
Chapter 23: Kittens are Resilient. The pocket kitten is finally found. Simba makes progress breaking through Joy's delusions. The funeral and burial of Talisman prove to Joy that he's really out of her life. The kittens learn several lessons in how to gain from proper parents. With Simba and Tiger, Lan Ying has been surveying too, and she's found a beautiful spot that belongs inside the wilderness area. Tiger feels like a teenager: are the Novanima in fact immortal?
Jim Carter is a computer programmer working at UCLA. His interests include biological technology, and constructed languages. This is his second novel, a sequel to Simba Leones.