Catfishing on CatNet
by Naomi Kritzer
Tom Doherty/Tor Teen, 2019

Catfishing on CatNet is a young adult science fiction novel set in the near future. It is Kritzer's first science fiction novel, although she has previously written a few fantasy novels and a fair number of science fiction short stories; this book is based around the AI she first wrote about in her 2015 Hugo award-winning short story Cat Pictures Please.

Steph and her mother are permanently on the run. When Steph was four years old her father tried to burn down their house while she and her mother were still in it, but he spent only a few years in jail before he was released to stalk them again; now they move from small town to small town across America, trying to stay ahead of him. This makes it hard for Steph to live anything like a normal life, but she does have on-line friends, most significantly, a group of friends that hang out on the invitation-only social media site CatNet.

Unbeknownst to Steph (or anyone), CatNet is run by a sentient AI, CheshireCat, who really likes cat pictures. CheshireCat also likes humans, enough that they will sometimes help out humans who like cat pictures and also have the sort of problem that can be solved by a secret internet deity. While Steph's problems don't clearly fall into that category, things are getting serious enough that CheshireCat decides to try to help out anyway, with chaotic results.

This is a fun story and a fairly quick read. It is a bit similar in tone to Spider Robinson (including his penchant for stories filled with lots of very nice people and a few terrible psychopaths) or Scott Westerfeld. It is a bit light on the science fiction -- it is set in the very near future -- but insofar as there is science, it is better researched and elaborated than most SF is. While it is perhaps not quite as well plotted and paced as most of her shorter fiction, it is still well worth reading. I would recommend reading it if you like light, fun drama and like the idea of having an AI as one of the main protagonists.

You will not need to read Cat Pictures Please to enjoy this story, and in fact, it might be a bit redundant. There is currently one sequel, Chaos on CatNet, available in stores now.

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