A Review by Lenora
TR Brown is a forty-something writer who hales from Salt Lake City, Utah and a cancer survivor. He has a background in biology and writing research and technical documents. His fiction includes the two volumes of the ‘Reflections’ series, of which The Face in the Mirror is the first, with more planned for the future.
The Face in the Mirror: a transhuman identity crisis by T.R. Brown
Todd Herschel is a cybernetics expert involved in a human/cyborg transplant program. Following a near fatal car crash he awakes from a coma to discover that his brain has been transplanted into the body of a genetically engineered human cat hybrid. Not only that, but his replacement body is female. The story follows Todd’s physical and psychological recovery and acceptance of his new body and his new ambiguous legal status. It also forces him to reevaluate the way human’s treat genetically modified life-forms – Neo’s- who were created to do the jobs human’s didn’t want to – and consider how his unique status might be used to help emancipate the Neo’s and save humankind from itself.
I was not sure what to expect from this book, having looked at the cover I thought it might be a bit of a cheesy B Movie style sci-fi gender shocker and nothing more, how wrong I was! It would be impossible to explore every issue that this book covers. Initially it is a very through exploration of the psychological trauma faced by many amputees/trauma survivors and the familial fall out – the reaction of friends and family; it then delves into what precisely makes an individual personality – is it your brain, your appearance, muscle memory? Can parts of the donor personality remain in the body?
Gender identity is a strong theme in the book as Todd must learn to live with his confused sexual identity – the human male part of his identity being attracted to human females while his female Felis body was attracted to male Tom’s – sexual and species confusion! The slow burning love triangle – square (?) between Todd, Goliath, Spitfire and Dr Shimanda is a very interesting exploration of a poly amorous relationship.
As if these were not big enough issues to tackle, Todd must then come to terms with the terrifying world of his dreams where Shade the dead felis donor of his body stalks him and gives him a mission to save her cubs and his. This mission leads him to explore the possibilities of what makes up the soul and to ask: do Neo’s have souls? They are after all part human as well as part animal. Some very interesting theological ideas crop up and the reader (and Todd) are left wondering if Shade is simply a vestigial memory or a ghost, perhaps even a messenger from God?
Brown sets this story in a futuristic America where the states have been through a second civil war and are now at war with the Caliphate. Neo’s were genetically engineered to fight the war and do the dirty jobs for the human citizens. With no legal rights, the issue of emancipation becomes a dominant theme and parallels are drawn with America’s first civil war and the emancipation of black slaves. The depiction of a future world where genetically engineered creatures do the work of humans is not too far-fetched in a world where we already have spider-goats and cloned sheep. What this novel does, is ask the question, if humans’ play god are they toying with their own destruction? Will they, Frankenstein-like refuse to take responsibility for their creation? Emancipation of a new slave class and human fear and prejudice against genetically modified hybrid’s are ethical and scientific issues that in the future may not be restricted to the pages of science fiction.
All together this is a very detailed, thorough and well constructed story. The arguments are both compelling and thought-provoking. The future world plausible if not imminent. Todd’s journey from denial to acceptance feels genuine and heart-felt. My only caveat is that at times it is almost as though Brown’s research/technical knowledge sometimes takes over at the expense of drama or action – there is a lot of detailed discussion of psychology, ethics and philosophy, a lot of existential angst. The bulk of the novel takes place during Todd’s recovery in the hospital. I would have liked a bit more about the Neo Rights movement earlier on, perhaps a more active role for Todd in the movement. Towards the end, once Todd leaves the hospital, there was action and drama a plenty but some readers may find the story slow at times. As the author has a background in science and the medical world, perhaps he was being too realistic about the time it would take for a person to physically recover and psychologically and spiritually accept their new identity – as I read the book I did keep wondering when he would get out and start sharpening his claws for Neo Rights…..but perhaps I was just being impatient.
My only other issue with the book is the cover. This is way too thoughtful and intelligent piece of writing to have such an ‘obvious’ cover. It sounds shallow, but covers do attract readers and the current cover does not do justice to the huge themes this novel deals with.
Despite these caveats, this is a good read, and leaves you wanting to continue following the story of Todd, Dr Shimanda, Goliath and Spitfire – and Shade of course.
The Face in the Mirror: a transhuman identity crisis by TR Brown is available on Amazon: