Warning: my review includes a major spoiler. No read-alikes this time around, sorry.
“All Cats Are Gray” tells the story of Steena of the spaceways, a woman who'd blend into the background and be completely forgotten if it weren't for her amazing store of knowledge. Her only companion is her cat, Bat. Steena is a loner who rarely says anything, but every spacer knows to pay attention the few times she does talk. This time around, Steena has some info for a spacer named Cliff Moran, and she's not content to just sit back and watch him act on her info on his own.
The main reason this story worked at all was because of the format/style, which made everything come across like some kind of folksy legend one spacer might tell another in a bar. I actually think Norton could have gone a bit further with this, and put in more effort to make Steena sound larger-than-life. As it was, I was interested to see where Steena's story would go, and what she and Cliff would find on the Empress of Mars, a mysteriously abandoned ship.
However, I was also a bit wary, because of the story's first paragraph:
“Under normal conditions a whole person has a decided advantage over a handicapped one. But out in deep space the normal may be reversed--for humans at any rate.” (3)As far as I could tell, Steena didn't have any disabilities, and I didn't think this paragraph was referring to Cliff. When Norton finally revealed what that first paragraph meant, I was disappointed.
I'm going to have to include spoilers in order to write about this properly. Steena's disability was that she was colorblind. According to her, everything looks gray. This, combined with her newly discovered ability to see parts of the electromagnetic spectrum humans can't normally see, allows her to see a gray (and yet also invisible?) being against a gray background. Steena is able to save both herself and Cliff from the being that killed countless other spacers, they both become fabulously wealthy, and then they got married (“And Steena had found someone who knew of her gray world and did not find it too hard to share with her--someone besides Bat. It turned out to be a real love match.” (9)).
First off, I was a little confused about how Steena's colorblindness would allow her to see a gray being standing in front of a gray background better than anyone else. Second, there was the new ability she discovered she had, which led to her gaining the confidence to marry someone and start wearing something other than gray. That baffled and kind of upset me because, as far as I could see, she was already awesome. She had made a name for herself with her incredible store of knowledge. Everyone respected her and listened when she spoke. And yet it took finding out that she had some kind of useful-this-one-time-only superpower for her to really blossom? It made me a little sad. It didn't help that I didn't like the phrasing when Norton mentioned that Steena and Cliff had become a couple.
At least it was free, and I liked everything up to the revelation at the end well enough.