A Miracle of Rare Design, Mike Resnick

Tor, 1994, 247 pages, C$6.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-52424-1

The best science-fiction does two things.

First, it uses the traditional science-fiction devices to bring light on what it means to be human. The point of SF is not the gadgets, but the gadget’s effects on the human mind.

Also, the best SF entertains as much as it enlightens.

A Miracle of Rare Design fares very well in both regards.

Xavier William Lennox is an author, an anthropologist and a very driven human being. In the first chapter, he gets caught by aliens in a sacred temple, and is almost killed for his troubles. Mutilated but not beaten, he then agrees to be transformed into an alien to study them better.

The book is unpredictable: It goes on for longer and covers more territory that would be expected. Along the way, we get glimpses of a few fascinating alien races. Unusually, Resnick doesn’t bore with interminable descriptions of alien societies and mores: He moves on to other things. At times, the novel almost reads as a fix-up, but an single theme underlies the whole book.

Strangely, as Lennox becomes more alien, he also appears more human: His drive toward understanding, exploration and new experiences will strike most as being more representative of the ideal human drive than the more conservative supporting cast of characters.

Almost readable in a single sitting, A Miracle of Rare Design is also a miracle of economic writing. The prose is lean, and propels the reader from one adventure to another. There is a very definite narrative drive. It is almost strange to speak of suspense in the case of this novel, but it is put away only with the greatest reluctance. A Miracle of Rare design is good, satisfying SF. It can be read either as entertainment or literature, and succeeds well on both levels. Recommended.

BRIEFLY: The Widowmaker, by the same author, is another entertaining short novel, readable in a flash and as enjoyable as anything written in the genre. The story of Jefferson Nighthawk (clone of the famous bounty hunter Widowmaker) is told quickly and simply. There are more than a few memorable scenes, and even more good replies. In many ways, The Widowmaker is a throwback to the simpler, more amusing years of classical SF. The biggest flaw of the book is that it eventually moves beyond its initially light tone to become much darker and tragic. Otherwise, good stuff for all. First in a trilogy, but stands quite well alone.

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