The Vimana Incident, by Rose LaCroix – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
This title is a work of anthropomorphic fiction for adult readers only.
“Rose LaCroix is proud to present her most anticipated novel, where psychedelic science fiction, historical fiction, and alternate timelines come together in a suspenseful, mind-bending masterpiece.” (back-cover blurb) Well, it’s certainly her most ambitious novel.
Edward “Red Ned” Arrowsmith is a red fox British aerospace engineer in an anthropomorphic 1939, where the world is not preparing for World War II but is engaged in a race to establish the first permanent Lunar colony. Ned is the chief engineer at Bristol Lunar, the firm that supplies the hardware for the British space program. A manned Lunar landing has already been accomplished; now the race is on to build a permanent base. The Americans, the British, the Germans, the Japanese, and the Soviets are all in peacetime competition, but they don’t pretend that it’s friendly.
One day the commander of the Royal Air Force Lunar Expeditionary Force pays a surprise visit to Red Ned’s office. He’s needed to go on a secret mission to the moon. Does he accept? Ned guesses so, but when? Right now – the commander (an otter in a RAF officer’s uniform) will drive Ned to the dirigible airfield to get a flight to the launch site immediately. “‘We’ll have time to stop by your house so you can bring a change of clothes but we have to be on the RAS Empress of India by no later than four o’clock pip-emma. That is, if you choose to accept this mission.’” (p. 15)
I suppose that if you can accept talking anthropomorphized animals, a secret mission where one is called upon to become a member of a Lunar mission at a moment’s notice with no training is no problem. But it fatally weakened any aura of believability for me. After that, The Vimana Incident became for me just a fast-moving amateur secret-agent/science-fiction adventure with a funny-animal cast. Until about halfway through, where it becomes very much more than that …
What an adventure! Ned “finds himself caught up in a cosmic level of intrigue when a secret lunar mission sends him on an unwilling journey six and a half centuries into a bizarre future. But what does this frightening future have to do with Godric of Hereford, a canon who died of ergot poisoning in 1153?” (blurb) In her Acknowledgements, LaCroix credits the influence of Philip K. Dick, medieval Occitan religious heresies, and the life of World War II codebreaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing, among others. Like Turing, Ned is an admitted homosexual when that is illegal in 1939 British society, and he suffers for it.
Ned and the other “lunanauts” – the Wing Commander otter, a stag, a wolf, and a female hare – must investigate something on the moon that’s like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with time-travel thrown in. Further synopsis risks giving away spoilers, but I will reveal that the Vimana of the title turns out to be the Deep Space Ship Vimana of the 27th century, and that it has an AI system, the Theriomorphic Interface and Navigational Aid (T.I.N.A.), that is personalized as Tina, a tactile holographic yellow-furred female Labrador dog. (“Tactile” means that she’s programmed for therapeutic sex. Don’t forget that this is for adult readers.) There are alternate timelines. Ned and the others come from one in which Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, and others of that faction of Nazis were killed in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, and Ernst Roehm (Röhm) is Chancellor of Germany in their 1939. (Unfortunately; Röhm was much more militarily skilled than Hitler.) LaCroix’s novel is completely anthropomorphic; all of the historical figures don’t have their species described, but Theodore Roosevelt was a moose (ha, ha) and Timothy Leary was a black-footed ferret. The reader will learn all (well, a lot) about the attitudes toward homosexuals in the 1940s, the Anarchy (civil war) in England in the mid-12th century between King Stephen and Queen Maud/Matilda (so devastating that there are current historians that do not consider that 20th/21st-century England has fully recovered yet), the 12th-century northern French conquest/expansion into Occitania/southern France (read on Wikipedia about today’s French governmental refusal to recognize Occitan as a current language, despite from 100,000 to 800,000 modern Occitan speakers in the south of France), and more. Returning to the novel, Ned considers seeking asylum in the future where life is easier for homosexuals — until he and the others learn more about the true nature of it and of T.I.N.A. And Ammut:
“That was when Ammut appeared.
The thing materialized out of darkness, almost as if it were made of darkness, its bulging white eyes the first thing that let Ned know that it wasn’t merely a trick of the eyes trying to discern patterns in the night sky.
The great hairy turtle opened its jaws before him.” (p. 144)
I’m confused. All that I’ve read about ancient Egyptian mythology has said that Ammut was the pet demon of the goddess Ma’at, who devoured the souls of the dead whom Ma’at found unworthy to enter the Egyptian hereafter, not a god him/herself; was female, not male; was not all that big; and looked more like a crocodile/leopard/hippo thingy than a turtle. (See Rick Griffin’s T-shirt design.) And when did ancient Egyptian gods or demons enter the plot of The Vimana Incident? Oh, right; this is an alternate timeline. Don’t lose track of that. And none of this is pertinent to “reality”. Gnothi seauton.
Well, as you should be able to tell by now, The Vimana Incident is very confusing – but deliberately so. The psychedelic cover by Adam Primaeros (NightPhaser) fits it nicely.
Is The Vimana Incident worth reading? I enjoyed it much more than its bland beginning led me to expect. Whether you will enjoy it depends on how you feel about the author keeping you mystified until practically the last page. This is less a novel for relaxation than a novel to make you think and grow intellectually. And that hurts sometime.