A to Z Challenge: M is for “Miracle of Rare Design”

MFor today’s A to Z Challenge I’m coming back to the speculative genre with a book that is very special to me.

I first came across Mike Resnick’s books when my friend gave me his “Soothsayer”. I loved the concept and I loved the main character, a girl able to see possible futures and affect which one would happen, so I quickly read two other books in the trilogy (”Oracle” and “Prophet”), and then I searched for more by that author. This is how I came across “A Miracle of Rare Design”, though when I looked at the inconspicuous little book on the bookstore’s shelf, I didn’t know it would steal me for long hours, re-read after re-read.

“A Miracl of Rare Design” is a story of an anthropologist and explorer, Xavier William Lennox, who is famous for writing books about his journeys to remote planets and discovering secrets of the indigenous species. But an expedition to Medina, a planet inhabited by aliens called Fireflies, doesn’t go exactly as planned, and Lennox hardly survives. He goes back home mutilated, but it’s not only his body that suffers, but also the mind: he who always got to the bottom of the cultural and religious rituals, failed this time to understand the meaning of one of them.

His obsession with the Fireflies grows, so when a government official visits him and offers a way to go back to Medina, Lennox doesn’t hesitate, even though it means his human body will be altered… shaped into a Firefly.

What moved me in this book is the message I took from it, because to me “A Miracle of Rare Design” is a story of not only learning how to understand others (and “otherness”), but also about finding one’s place. Affected by the perception of alien races, Lennox is less and less a human. He grows with every experience and as his perspective broadens, so does the gap between him and the rest of humanity. But then, he isn’t an alien either, so he remains suspended between different worlds.

Polish edition of the book received a different title, “Misty Horizon” which made me wonder how accurate the rest of the translation was, so a year ago I purchased an English ebook and once again re-lived Xavier’s story. I was happy to discover that apart from the odd title, the book’s content and wording remained pretty much unchanged, and the re-read also brought a surprising new perspective—the perspective of an immigrant.

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Polish edition of the book. It’s been with me for 18 years now.

With my experience of having left Poland and moved to a different country, I could see Lennox’s attempts to understand the aliens similar to what some immigrants do to become a part of their new country: they not only need to understand the language, but also the culture and the mindset of people around them. And even though they might succeed, even though they might adapt, settle down, blend it, the slight feeling of not fitting in might still linger. The question of one’s place might keep returning. While some find their answers or are satisfied with not having them, others follow Xavier’s footsteps, forever in search of their own place.

I have to admit, that the new perspective on the book was quite a surprise for me, as I don’t seek my own experiences to be reflected within the words I read, but it definitely didn’t change my thoughts on “A Miracle of Rare Design”. It’s still one of my favorite books by Resnick, even though his “Kirinyaga” and the trilogy I mentioned above also have their spot in that reader’s heart of mine.

What about you? Did you ever discover that events in a book reflect some aspect of your life? Or maybe you’ve found a character who seemed almost like your twin?

5 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: M is for “Miracle of Rare Design””

  1. When I was a little girl, the book ‘Heidi’ seemed to most aptly reflect my own circumstances, though without the cosy ending… And as my life continued to be very difficult with a disastrous marriage, then a divorce that left me impoverished and starting over with two children, books became my refuge and comfort – I went to some lengths to avoid anything that remotely reflect my own life:)). These days, I’m the happiest and most content I’ve ever been, but I still prefer books that are a looong way from my own experiences.
    I was very interested in your account, though. I haven’t read the Mike Resnick, but it sounds very like C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series. And it underlines one of the reasons why I really love well-told science fiction – it can be a useful conduit for exploring truths about our own condition that we cannot properly examine because of the weight of history and our own gut reaction.

    1. “I went to some lengths to avoid anything that remotely reflect my own life”
      I can relate to that. My husband always says “I have enough reality in my life already, I want something different.” 🙂
      I’ve heard about C.J. Cherryh, but never got around to read the books. I’ll try to keep them in mind for the future. Sigh… Will I ever catch up with my TBR list?
      As for Resnick, this one is quite a short book, and it’s available as an ebook on Kobo (with a horrible, HORRIBLE cover…), if you want to give him a chance. 😉

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