Steven and I have been going back and forth over the Catheans in Aso ni bi Ikuyo. I have to warn readers that this is necessarily going to contain a huge amount of spoilers, one or two quite specific, so if you haven’t seen it all the way to the end, stop reading here.
So, Steven said:
Ubu in comments mentions just how nice Eris seems to be. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that this is a racial characteristic of the Catheans, though they do in general trend that way. It’s a selected characteristic of the crew of the ship, and in particular it’s a selected characteristic of first-contact specialists like Eris.
Well, I think he’s right about that… but not to the extent that he’s taking it. One datum of interest is Eris’ age. We can assume that she’s somewhat exceptional, but it’s never mentioned that she’s way out of the Cathean norm. I think it’s mentioned during the run-up to her “first mating season” that she’s about sixteen years old. Of course, we know that this is so she will be about Kio’s age for the purposes of the harem, but in the story this has to mean that selection for positive traits is far more important than age or experience. That’s the point Steven makes. My counter-point is that, for a human, Eris would have to be in the top 0.1% of the human race in terms of aptitude to pull such an assignment. Oh, maybe if there were some huge pressure, such as a major war, you could see teens drafted or assigned as scouts, but for someone to be as perfect a fit for the job as Eris was and actually end up in that job at her age, would take a stroke of incredible luck — one on the order of her first discovery being a technical civilization approaching space travel.
Of course, Cathean society isn’t human society — but the odds can’t be denied. For her to get that job at an early age (and lets give her the benefit of every advanced science fiction learning device ever conceived), it’s either the norm, or she’s incredible (for reasons other than her bust). Again, it’s never mentioned that Eris is some kind of wunderkid. If she’s not exceptional; if she’s not that far out of the Cathean norm, then that norm has to “higher” (in terms of ‘niceness’) than the human level. While the crew is obviously specially selected for much the same traits (for one thing, they’re all female), we don’t have any reason to assume that they’re too far out of the general Cathean norm if Eris isn’t. The First Officer doesn’t seem to be much more than a kid herself.
As I said before, the only black mark on the Catheans’ record seems to be their reaction to early Catheanoid assistaroids. So we know that they’re not angels. They seem to have shared very little information on themselves, as opposed to how much they’ve gathered on humans, but I don’t think it’s inimical in any way, we just haven’t seen it because mass data dumps are inherently boring. Most importantly for Earth, given their obvious disdain for the underhanded Doggies, technological prowess, and generally “nice” traits, I suspect they will be formidable diplomatic opponents to the Doggies in the long run. The Doggies may be underhanded, but the Catheans have a lot more to offer. For one thing, they are official galactic representatives, can operate openly, and have far more resources — (Warning! I told you there’d be major spoilers!) for instance, they’re able to make a space elevator for Earth pretty much out of shipboard resources.
Which leads me to another interesting speculation: Diplomacy is all about rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies. The governments of Earth had been playing footsie with the Dogs, but Kio, the Russian commander, Aoi, Manami, the Greek heiress all indicate to the Catheans that the Monkeys (heh!) are fundamentally all right, even if their governments are a bit untrustworthy. I know that they said they were giving the elevator to Earth, but why drop it next to Okinawa? That’s not exactly on the equator, and even if we assume Cathean technology can compensate for that, it’s still got to add to the energy budget required.
So why do it? Because I think they say they’re giving it to Earth, but in reality, they’re giving it to Kio. Or at least control of it, anyway. (Subject to maintenance agreements, etc. which won’t be particularly onerous.) Can you say “instant Bill Gates?” They’ve studied Earth, they have some idea of how our economy works, and they know that whomever controls cheap access to space is in a dominant position. Even aside from any future relationship with Eris, they’ve just solidified that, in time, they’ll have a very wealthy, powerful and influential friend on Earth — one who isn’t beholden to any government. And given that he’s friends with another insanely rich person who will be allied with him for her own reasons (anyone else catch that the harem seems to have expanded by one at the end there?), there is no doubt that he’ll have immediate access to all the advice and expertise he needs. The Catheans have just completely trumped years worth of the Doggies’ efforts by doing an end-run around their allies in the human governments.
I knew I liked catgirls for a reason… they’re nice and smart.