Transfigurations by Michael Bishop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The novel is based on an excellent novella, Death and Designation among the Asadi, a runner-up for the 1973 Hugo Award, narrowly beaten out by Gene Wolfe’s The Death of Doctor Island. It’s anthropological sf, a strange sort of sub-niche. The mc goes on a journey to an alien planet and lives among the inhabitants in an effort to understand them and identifies a little too closely with them (they are humanoid but definitely alien). The novel resolves some of the unanswered questions left by the novella, however the overall quality isn’t up to the same level-the novel was completed some time after the original story and some of the impetus may have been lost.
I admit to having been completely captivated by the original novella, back when I first read it (in the 1974 Annual World’s Best SF, which was a superior volume with standout stories). The only story I liked better in the book was R.A. Lafferty’s Parthen, about which I’ll write someday, but not now. I just thought it was so extremely different from what I was used to, and sought out other Bishop work in hopes that it reached the same level or was written in the same style (it never did, either way). I like Bishop’s work okay. He’s done some very readable tales, is a competent wordsmith in all respects, but there was just something about that novella that was superior in my opinion.
Because I went on a reading hiatus during the period when Transfigurations was published (1979, my first year in college), I didn’t even know it was out there. Otherwise I’d have read it long ago. Might’ve liked it better, though I doubt I’d have been as effusive in my praise as Theodore Sturgeon or John Clute. The second half of the book just really doesn’t work for me. It’s obvious that it was written later, and the style and sense of it are subtly different.
Still, it’s a very good-to-excellent read, a tad dry if you’re not into science, by a not-quite-big-name sf author.
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