The Digital Coyote, by Kris Schnee – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Digital Coyote, by Kris Schnee.
Seattle WA, CreateSpace, July 2016, trade paperback $8.49 (238 pages), Kindle $3.99.
This is Schnee’s third Thousand Tales book, following the novel Thousand Tales: How We Won the Game, and the novella 2040: Reconnection. There is also the short story “Wings of Faith”, in the anthology Gods with Fur, ed. by Fred Patten (FurPlanet Productions, June 2016). To quote from my review of 2040: Reconnection: “Ludo is the advanced Artificial Intelligence who can scan anyone’s brain and recreate it in ‘her’ fantasy world, in the setting and body of their choice. Handsome men and beautiful women, noble warriors, flying griffins, anthropomorphic animals; anything, living in an ancient Greek or medieval European or sci-fi futuristic paradise. Of course, their original body in 2040 A.D. Earth is dead, and the consequences of this back on Earth may be unknown, but who in Ludo’s world cares?”
Pete Timaeus is a Washington, D.C. senator’s aide; great at data analysis but otherwise with massive psychological problems about dealing with the real world. He wants Ludo to “fix” him. “She” demurs:
“‘You can fix me!’
The AI shook her head. ‘That’s not what uploading is for. People already argue that converting a human brain into software destroys the soul, that my residents are false copies made for suicidal customers. If I deliberately get your mind wrong, what’s the point?’” (p. 3)
What Ludo does is to take Pete into the computer world of Talespace as he is, with his inferiority complex and hypochondria and inability to make choices and acrophobia and insecurities about dealing with other personalities, and lead him into fixing himself. Mostly as a coyote.
Talespace is the bewildering but magnificent world established in Schnee’s earlier books:
“Pete looked outside the store, finally noticing the area around him, and his heart beat faster. The space around him was a bazaar in a cylindrical room of marble and gold. A unicorn and an astronaut waved to customers from competing stalls of magic and technology. Frat boys had a booth full of sports gear and pizza. A black griffin dozed with its head on its talons across from smiths hammering armor. Too many options!” (p. 8)
Ludo apparently considers that being turned into a coyote is what Pete needs to evolve out of his personality problems. The other people of Talespace are blasé about that:
“He banged into someone and said, ‘I want whatever you’re selling!’ Though he only barked, really.
‘What’s that, little guy?’ said the man he’d hit, rocking on a stool outside a tiki hut. Green swirls and runes decorated his dark skin. He wore sandals and Hawaiian patterned swim trunks. ‘Did Timmy fall down the well?’
Pete felt saddlebags on his back. He reached around to grab them with one paw, but the lack of thumbs made that tricky. He was able to unbuckle the pouches, eventually, and he rolled over to dump them out. Inside were silver coins, a gem-studded token, and a scrap of construction paper scrawled with ‘IOU: ONE SPEL PEECE.’
The surfer tapped the paper, and a silver braid appeared. ‘Ha! It’s a note from Ludo herself.’
Pete tilted his head, wondering if there was an identification spell.
‘Public-key cryptography,’ the man explained. Then he picked up the token, laughed, and tossed it back. ‘You got a pass to Kinky’s, too! You don’t know the place? It’s the Talespace brothel.’
Pete pictured walking into a place like that on all fours. Humiliating! Pete blushed through his fur, and pushed the token away.
‘Keep it, dude. Or sell it later; those are tough to get. What do you want?’” (pgs. 11-12)
Pete gets adventurous and explores other lands and bodies:
“He had information, but he still needed direction. In his old life he’d always had a mom, teacher, or boss to instruct him. His total lack of obligations stunned him now, like the time he wasted a summer by having no job or hobby. He needed somebody to lead him! Except … what did their opinion matter? Without any goal, why not go … This way! He ran off along the cavern floor, toward the first world-portal he could find. His path took him to a bending tunnel at the cavern’s edge, then to a room of flowers and grass and a shimmering magical gate. He leaped through, deliberately not reading any of the labels or warning signs.” (p. 15)
In Hoofland, Pete becomes a pony:
“Pete looked outside, then down into a fountain beside him. He was a dull grey pony in the same style as the unicorn, halfway between the real thing and a sappy toy-commercial cartoon. Naked … but that didn’t matter, right? Pete walked out of the room, ignoring the chatter from the dumb signpost NPC.
His hooves clip-clopped on a cobblestone road. It sloped out of the stone fort he’d just left, and along a hill of grapevines. Half-timber cottages lined the river delta and shoreline below. A team of colorful, winged pegasuses (pegasi?) tugged an airship toward a flying dock that on a platform made of clouds. Then as the sun rapidly sank below the hills, a golden moon sprang up and an aurora flashed the stars to life. Warm wind stirred his mane.” (p. 16)
He becomes a coyote again, but humanoid:
“A ninja throwing star embedded itself in a bamboo stalk next to his face. Pete dived to the leaf-strewn floor just in time to dodge another. He grabbed the flint knife from his belt and spotted the ninja himself, swathed head to toe in black. Cruel eyes looked out from the figure’s headscarf. Pete called out, ‘Who are you?’ but his foe only drew a katana in response. It was even matte-black, so Pete knew he meant business.” (p. 35)
This review could go another thousand words just describing all the things that Pete becomes (but the two- or four-legged coyote is always his fallback mode), and the worlds that he visits/things that he learns:
“For instance, formerly-human griffins found that the new quadruped stance and wings gave them a different perspective on even ordinary tasks like carrying things. Unlike a disguise that changed the graphic others saw, physically being a flier or six inches tall or robotic was bound to affect people’s minds. Several religious movements started this way.” (p. 49)
Ludo also learns from dealing with Pete:
“Pete groaned at being tricked. About then, his spell wore off and he found himself on two coyote legs again. ‘You’re not Ludo, right?’
Ludo, in human shape, waved from a set of bleachers that hadn’t been visible. She was eating popcorn. ‘Thanks for giving me some combat test data! Want to go again?’” (p. 59)
The climax grows more dramatic and bloody, justifying Pete’s transformation into a coyote, as everyone is aware that a coyote is a Trickster. Readers of the first two Thousand Tales books will not be disappointed. The Digital Coyote (cover by Annie Engvall) contains several supporting characters, some from the previous books and some new ones; one of whom will be the protagonist of the next book.