Reborn, by J. F. R. Coates – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Reborn, by J. F. R. Coates
Capalaba, Qld., Australia,, Jaffa Books, October 2016, paperback, $15.00 (271 pages), Kindle $4.26.

“‘Jesus fucking Christ, I have a tail.’” (p. 49)

You can tell from that sentence that the speaker is not a furry fan. It’s Captain Rhys Griffiths, a rising naval officer of the Terran Interplanetary Empire; soon to be promoted to one of the youngest Admirals of the TIE. Or he was, until a transporter accident puts his mind into the body of a lowly, giggly starat.

The starats are described earlier in Reborn:

“Rhys glanced back to find the reason for his [Cardinal Erik’s] reaction; one of the starats was approaching. Starats were a breed of artificial creatures, created in a laboratory over two hundred and fifty years ago. They were still the pinnacle of genetic engineering. Pressure from the Vatican had led to all genetic research laboratories closed down shortly after the creation of the starats. They had been created from a concoction of many different animals’ DNA, so many that even their creators had lost track. The result had been a short, furry humanoid of reasonable intelligence and capable of speech, mostly resembling a stoat or weasel. They had been bred to be subservient and weak-willed. As a consequence they were perfect at what they had been designed for: namely to serve humans in whatever way they could.” (p. 16)

Rhys spends a couple of weeks wallowing in drunken self-pity at his transformation before coming out of his funk:

“Neglecting to take a glass, Rhys chose to drink straight from the bottle instead, but he failed to take into account the design of his new mouth. Crimson liquid poured from the side of his muzzle, spilling on to his cheeks and shoulders, staining his overalls red. Suppressing an irate growl, Rhys tried again with greater care, taking just a small swig from the neck of the bottle. Still the wine wetted the fur on his cheeks, but more of it reached the back of his throat.” (pgs. 56-57)

He finds, needless to say, that the starats are much more intelligent than anyone in the TIE has realized. Once he accepts that he is now a starat –

“His humanity was fading away to nothing. Was there anything left of Captain Rhys Griffiths, the human? Did he even care anymore? For sure, there were times he wished he didn’t have to put up with the revolting discrimination starats faced, but were he offered the opportunity to become human once more, he was no longer convinced he would take it.” (p. 207)

– he leads them in their fight for equality in the Empire.

The quality of the writing in Reborn is all right. Despite this, Reborn is one of the worst s-f novels that I’ve ever read.

In 1982, the mystery author Bill Pronzini wrote Gun in Cheek, a collection of hilariously bad excerpts from mystery novels that he had read over decades. Their writing was good enough, but they included such things as bank robbers who stole a fortune in $100, $50, and $25 bills. The U.S. government has never printed $25 bills. A private eye drives in his sports car from downtown Los Angeles to Catalina Island. Santa Catalina Island is 22 miles off the coast; it’s only reachable by ship. There are countless cities whose police forces consist of the most arrogant, inept, and stupid policemen imaginable, to make the amateur detectives look more intelligent.

Reborn is like that. The spaceships of the Terran Interplanetary Empire have front windows on their bridges, not viewscreens. Their spaceports are described as though they are steampunk:

“Then the retractable roof closed, gears and metal grinding and screeching […]” (p. 30)

Granted the Normandy Spaceport on Ceres is described as old-fashioned and in dire need of being modernized, but can you imagine any spaceports ever being built using lots of mechanical gears? Reborn is not the first s-f novel where a transporter accident puts a human into a furry body; that’s Bernard Doove’s Transformations (Fauxpaw Publications, July 2005). But in Transformations it’s the result of a freak accident combined with deliberate sabotage. In Reborn it seems like poor transporter maintenance &/or inept operators; you wonder why it hasn’t happened before.

The Chancellor of the TIE has an original Van Gough painting in his luxurious spaceship. It’s spelled Van Gogh. Cardinal Erik of the Vatican is “a sour-faced man who looked to Rhys with an expression of intense dislike.” (p. 10) He always wears his sumptuous scarlet-&-gold robes, and speaks with an “oily voice”. “Cardinal Erik licked his lips maliciously.” “Cardinal Erik said with a smile that filled Rhys with dread.” “Cardinal Erik twisted his face into a look of concentration; it appeared to be quite an effort for him not to look disdainful.” “With an unnecessary flourish of his robes, Cardinal Erik stalked off […]” (pgs. 16 and 17) Can you guess that Cardinal Erik is a villain?

More pertinently, the 3- or 4-foot tall furry starats have been omnipresent for over 250 years, performing menial labor, but nobody in the Terran Interplanetary Empire has ever noticed that they are more than just simple and happy “rodents”. (In the rival Centaurian Governance of Planets, they have full equality and can openly hold complex jobs.) The parallels with 19th-century African-Americans is obvious, but while the South may have worked to promote the “happy but simple natives” image into the mid-20th-century, the social leaders in the South knew the difference. Here everyone in the TIE government and military is taken by surprise that the starats are intelligent enough to be unhappy about being held down and patronized as morons.

Reborn (cover by Samuel Hogan) is dramatic and well-enough written to hold your interest if you don’t have anything better to read; and it’s a feel-good adventure to identify with the furry starats as they get humans in the TIE to pay attention to them.

Fred Patten

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