A Miracle of Rare Design:
A Tragedy of Transcendence
By Mike Resnick
Published by Audible Frontiers
Read by Adam Verner
I do not recall reviewing one of Mike Resnick’s books before, but I have read a lot of them and A Miracle of Rare Design is yet another in the long series set in Resnick’s future history. In fact it is Book #21 in his “Birthright“ series which includes the various “Tales of the Velvet Comet,” “Tales of the Galactic Midway,” “Legends of Santiago,” his “Starship” series, several novels that are thinly veiled versions of the histories of various African nations and a bunch more.
I’ve found that many of Resnick’s books are episodic, reading more like several novelettes and short stories stitched together until long enough to publish, although usually with a central theme that keeps it all cohesively built. This one is pretty much the same. Xavier William Lennox is a human writer known for intentionally placing himself in danger in order to write books about the natives of other worlds. He finally goes too far and intentionally goes into a sacred area and in retribution the people of that world maim him, blind him and leave him for dead. He is rescued just in time, but it is a near thing, his recovery is slow and he is left blind and without fingers and… (I forget what else is missing, but he is a mess).
In steps a member of one of the many governmental departments who hires him to go back to that world, only this time he will be transformed by radical surgery into one of the natives. Genetically, I imagine he is still human, but his metabolism, senses, abilities and even tastes and ability to digest foods are completely like those of the natives. This, by itself, I thought, was the grist for a long novel, especially since one of the great mysteries, seen by Lennox before he was caught, involved the voluntary suicide by some of the natives, who jumped off the top of a tall pyramid. The natives have vestigial wings, but they are not large or fast enough to fly and those who jump off that holy place invariable die on impact. He is mystified as to why anyone would do such a thing… Apparently, he has never heard of religious hysteria, although that explanation is never offered in the story.
Now, in the form of one of the natives, he is accepted among them although the shaman instantly sees through the surgical disguise, which he sees as a holy transformation. Lennox’s main mission is to set up trade between the natives and the colonial humans. Once that is done, Lennox remains for a time, still trying to understand the great mystery of the Pyramid, but eventual is convinced that as a human he could never understand.
Following that he is transformed again and again for various other missions and eventually chooses how he will spend the remainder of his life. It was an entertaining story, but I kept waiting for Lennox to have an epiphany and come to understand why those first aliens were pyramid jumping. That never happens and for that reason I was dissatisfied with the story as a whole. So much was made of this mystery on the first world we see Lennox on that we are invested in finding the answer with him only to have it turn out to be of no value to the story. The thing is, Lennox did not have to have the correct answer. He could even have had several answers all of which made sense to him at various times but not later, but no. The answer was that you had to be one of those people to truly understand. That might be true in real life, but makes for a flawed story. Too bad, really, because it was a nice story otherwise.
Adam Verner reads this story well. Not too fast, not too slow. He varies his voice a bit for the different characters but not enough to be annoying, although I found Lennox’s voice to be a on the edge of annoying, but not quite over that edge. It was not a fantastic reading, but it was a good solid reading that, at times, I think we could use more of.
So, it’s an okay book that many readers ought to enjoy so long as they don’t mind being told (with the subtlety of a sledge hammer) there are some things they are not meant to know and the reading of is pretty good too.