Transfiguration by Michael Bishop (SF Masterworks) (book review).

Michael Bishop (1945- ) wrote ‘Transfiguration’ in 1979 and I think this is the first time I’ve read any of his books. The first third of the book is that of another book by Thomas Douglas Benedict, informally Ben, and his life amongst the sentient apelike lifeforms, the Assadi, on the planet BoskVeld. It is the key reading of anthropologist Elegy Cather as she does her own investigations and unravelling what this environment.

You would expect the book to change to Cather’s perspective but instead still from Benedict’s viewpoint as they do their studies.

The investigation of the native species, more so because they look like early primitives, Benedict and Cather introduce Bojangles, I think a trained chimpanzee, to join with a tribe. They then discover their more cannibalistic tendencies to conserve genetic information which is the strength of Bishop’s story as Science Fiction. The ‘transfiguration’ itself is the main spoiler and has a similar feel to Robert Silverberg’s ‘Down To Earth’ novel a decade earlier. I should point out that I didn’t pick both books with that in mind and, if anything, was surprised at the similarities.

The story is very much underplayed and plays up the personalities involved, making them more complex even for over forty years ago. It’s hardly surprising that they are in over their heads into a complex decision.

In many respects, ‘Transfiguration’ is typical of its time and how people would deal with an alien species at that time. Don’t be eaten.

GF Willmetts

February 2022

(pub: Gollancz, 2013. 320 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.95 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-09309-6)

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