Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes Delivers Psychic Cats and a Videogame-Style Plot

Harper Collins
Drunks are notoriously more interesting as fictional protagonists than real human beings.

Entertainment value triples when you’re reading about some alcoholic smartass going on adventures, rather than being forced to listen to your Uncle Jack spewing another racist rant over Thanksgiving… again. There is remotely nothing interesting about someone who drinks a lot, unless that person is in a book. Then I’m immediately on board.

Cue the protagonist of Valerie Valdes’ Chilling Effect, Eva Innocente, captain of La Sirena Negra. Yeah, she often gets wasted when visiting alien planets on work-related missions, and yes, she’s often almost arrested or murdered for her actions while intoxicated. But, goddammit, her crew can’t help but remain loyal despite those flaws.

They don’t even really mind that their latest contractor went bankrupt in the middle of a delivery, leaving them not only without a paycheck but also stuck with the cargo they’d been in the process of delivering: 20 psychic cats. Yes, psychic. One would think a spaceship inhabited by 20 psychic cats would be enough plot for an entire trilogy of epic novels, but that’s only the first chapter in Chilling Effect. We don’t really get going until Eva receives an alarming message from a dangerous space syndicate known as The Fridge, who claim to have her sister hostage. The ransom? Performing a series of odd errands around the galaxy that somehow benefit the syndicate.

From there, Valerie Valdes takes us on a series of weird and comic adventures. The more you approach this novel like a video game, the better you’ll enjoy it, as Chilling Effect mostly consists of “levels” that become more difficult as Eve and crew progress. Despite its fast pace, this kind of episodic structure can make the story’s development feel glacial at times, which is a bit of a bummer and makes for a long reading experience.

Even so, there is a lot to like here. The cast is as diverse as one can ask for, which is always a plus. The sci-fi alien stuff is also weird and wonderful, and the humor is almost comparable to Douglas Adams’ best work. I just wish we had more time with the psychic cats — but then again, who doesn’t want that?

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