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It’s A Mystery to Me


By Janet Kagan 

25 Nov, 2021

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Janet Kagan’s 1991 Mirabile is a collection of her Mirabile biological SF stories.

Having braved the hazards of the gulfs of space, a fleet of generation ships settled an alien world they called Mirabile. Their toolkit was the best Earth had to offer at the time they launched. As is so often true when cutting-edge technology is deployed, unforeseen complications ensued.

Not trusting that they would be able to eat Mirabile’s native life, the colonists brought with them many terrestrial lifeforms. Terrestrial geneticists had done their best to enhance the variety of lifeforms available to the colonists by introducing the so-called Dragon’s Teeth: genes that allowed lifeforms to engender seemingly unrelated species. 

But two things went wrong: 

  • A mishap erased the record explaining how to turn Dragon’s Teeth on and off1.
  • The imported lifeforms react unpredictably to conditions on Mirabile.

Result: from time to time, seemingly useful or at least harmless terrestrial species produce animals highly inconvenient to the colonists. It is Annie Jason Mama Jason” Masmajean’s job to deal with these Dragon’s Teeth, while juggling her ongoing romance with Leonov Bellmaker Denness.

Modern readers may be somewhat alarmed by the unspoken implication of the stories, which is that despite the colonists’ best intentions, they are going to radically alter Mirabile’s ecosystems. But the colonists’ research shows that this alien planet has already suffered many species extinctions and possibly a few mass extinctions. Any particular ecological arrangement on any world is temporary. 

Let’s hope the immediate result is to enhance Mirabile’s environment rather than recapitulating Argentina’s experience after importing beavers to Tierra del Fuego.

The Mirabile stories are amiable scientific mysteries. At least they are so from a human perspective. Given how often the colonists’ solution to undesired Dragon’s Teeth is to kill and eat them (or in the case of mosquitos, create something that will kill and eat them), the mysteries are a lot more alarming from the perspective of the emergent Dragon’s Teeth species. 

Similarly, the romance in these stories is non-fraught. Mama Jason and Leo like each other, neither is prone to plot-enabling miscommunication, and most importantly of all, neither one is an excitable teenager living in Renaissance Verona. Both are middle-aged adults and they handle their personal relationships like mature, sensible people. Or at least how I think mature, sensible people handle such things. But I could be wrong. 

A rare example of biology-focused SF, Mirabile isn’t a deep or challenging collection. However, if you’re looking for a change of pace from the relentlessly bleak, consider this. 

My edition of Mirabile is the 1991 Tor edition. Perhaps other editions exist but I could not say what they are. Sometimes tracking this stuff down is the bane of my existence.

The Loch Moose Monster • [Mirabile] • (1989) • novelette

Mama Jason investigates reports of a terrifying monster in Loch Moose.

The Return of the Kangaroo Rex • [Mirabile] • (1989) • novelette

The reappearance of a carnivorous kangaroo variant presents the colonists with difficult choices. 

The Flowering Inferno • [Mirabile] • (1990) • novelette

Not all problems are caused by terrestrial imports. In this case, Mama Jason deals with certain highly inconvenient aspects of local plant behavior that had escaped previous notice. 

Getting the Bugs Out • [Mirabile] • (1990) • novelette

The appearance of mosquitos inspires Mama Jason to introduce bats … but bats with a crucial difference from familiar terrestrial varieties. 

Raising Cane • [Mirabile] • (1991) • novella

Once again, Mama Jason confronts issues raised by Mirabile’s native life forms, in particular its unexpectedly aggressive carnivorous plants. As a side effect, light is cast on the planet’s geological past. 

Frankenswine • [Mirabile] • (1991) • novella

Wild boar are alarming enough. Dragon’s Teeth wild boar/moles are even worse2.

I am skeptical that boar/moles could dig as fast as Kagan has them dig.

Afterword: Author’s Note (Mirabile) • (1991) • essay

Most of this is a suggested reading list. 

1: I don’t know why they don’t construct a radio of sufficient range to contact Earth. Although I notice the specific word radio” does not appear in the novel, they do have some means of communicating across a distance, and they do seem to have an impressive industrial base.

2: For some reason Mama Jason never considers the obvious solution to boar/mole Dragon’s Teeth, which is hippo/ground sloth hybrids.