Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield
A Miracle of Rare Design:
A Tragedy of Transcendence
by Mike Resnick
Dog Star Books
‘Xavier William Lennox shuffled down the narrow street, trying to mimic the awkward walk of the Fireflies. He breathed in the pungent odors of decaying food, felt a slight burning sensation in his nostrils, and tried to ignore it.’
The time is two-thousand years from now and mankind has spread like a virus throughout the galaxy. The story opens with intrepid explorer, Xavier William Lennox, studying the native ‘Fireflies’ on the far-flung world of Medina. His perilous situation soon escalates as his identity is discovered. He barely escapes with his life.
‘“It is here that your friends shall find you, Xavier William Lennox,” said Chomanche. “If you are very lucky, they may even be able to keep you alive.”
Lennox didn’t have the strength to reply.
“You have seen things this night that no member of your race may see,” continued Chomanche. “We cannot change that, but we can remove the offending organs. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”’
Seeing his value as an ambassador for alien relations, the Department of Alien Affairs, through a series of complex surgeries, has Lennox remade into a firefly and sends him back to Medina. He has less than a year to convince the fireflies to trade their diamond deposits before mining begins. Finding himself once more before Chomanche, the Firefly high priest who ordered his torture and subsequent dismemberment, Lennox must find a way to strike a deal before the army comes in and nukes the lot of them. Having been remade, Lennox is seen as the work of the Fireflies’ god and his mission is a success.
Up to this point the story is pretty much Avatar in a new guise. From here, however, the plot veers in a different direction as Lennox undergoes more surgeries and visits more worlds, assimilating himself into one alien culture after another. With each transformation he loses another vital piece of that which makes him human until what remains is literally a being that exists nowhere else.
If I only had one word to describe, A Miracle of Rare Design I would choose, ‘entertaining’. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, even though a number of inconsistencies rankled, not least of which was why, with such obviously advanced medical technology did medics still use timed doses of oral medication for pain relief? And then there’s the mystery of why Fireflies fling themselves off the top of a pyramid during religious ceremonies. (In early chapters there is an expectation that this mystery will be solved.) Another point of contention for me is the constant switch from a third person, past tense narrative into first person italicized introspection. It’s jarring and largely unnecessary. Some of these passages run for several sentences and by mid-way through the story I found myself skipping them with no ill results. In fact, the narrative is much stronger without them.
Despite the above quibbles, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending A Miracle of Rare Design because it really is an imaginative adventure that demonstrates beautifully how gods are made. It’s a story that highlights all that it means to be human. It’s a story of hunger, and need and hope—and it’s a story of one man’s obsessive quest to have it all.
Jenny Mounfield has been reviewing books for several years. Her reviews have appeared both online and in print. She is the author of four novels and several short stories for young people. The Unforgetting, a psychological thriller for adult readers, is available from the Kindle Store.