Kagan, Janet: Mirabile

A great book I read recently, though before I started this log, is Mirabile by Janet Kagan. It was mentioned prominently in a thread on rec.arts.sf.written about “Cheerful SF,” and so when I spotted it on the shelf at the library, I grabbed it.

It certainly lives up to its billing. Mirabile is about a planet colonized by people from Earth, whose plant and animal gene banks have some unusual twists—literally, as the geneticists on Earth had a fetish for redundancy and encoded secondary and tertiary DNA helices in everything. Thus, when the conditions are just right, a few of your petunias might seed ladybugs—or poisonous ants. And your kangaroos might give birth to carnivorous kangaroo rexes, which might be an intermediate step on the way to something useful (or at least Earth-authentic), or might just be Dragon’s Teeth, mutations that affect the backup helices to produce very strange things indeed.

It’s a full-time job keeping these stable, and Mirabile is told by one of these geneticists, called “jasons” after the premier first-generation geneticist. Annie Jason Masmajean has a dry and thoroughly enjoyable way of telling a story, and the types of problems she faces lend themselves well to stand-alone chapters, perfect for the subway or just before bed. Mirabile‘s got humor, a bit of suspense, a bit of romance, lovely characters (and creatures; Mabob is strangely charming, even if he’d be deafening in person), and even a thoughtfully science-fictional approach to the problem of Dragon’s Teeth (I can’t vouch for the plausibility of encoding secondary helixes in DNA, though). It’s a great read, but out of print, so if you spot a copy, grab it.

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  1. Mirabile indeed — I just got home from a meeting at a local branch library, where they also happened to be having a used book sale. I was stunned to see a Tor hardcover first edition of Mirabile (no dust jacket) on the shelf. $1.50 — I think I got my money’s worth.

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