First sentence: It is a Sunday morning in summer and a small brown chimpanzee named Rachel sits on the living room floor of a remote ranch house on the edge of the Painted Desert. She is watching a Tarzan movie on television.
Synopsis: Daughter and wife of a neurologist are killed in a car accident. He uses his daughter Rachel’s brain recordings to transfer her mind into a chimp. She can’t talk, but her father teaches her sign language.
Rachel’s memories are a mixture of both worlds, chimpanzee and human. Suddenly, her father dies, and she is transferred to a primate research center where nobody recognizes her as a human child.
She wants to escape and hopes for the help of a deaf sanitor who she can talk to in ASL. At night, he lets her help him clean the facility, drink whiskey together, and she starts to enjoy soft porn stories.
Will she escape from her fate in the cages or stay with the sanitor who she believes to have fallen in love into?
Review: This novelette won a large number of awards, Nebula, Locus, and Sturgeon among them, and only lost to Le Guin’s Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight (which I liked even better than this one).
The involved technology is an early sample of mind recordings which are later used for mind uploads and singularity stories. The author escaped those tropes and gave us a great transhumanism story. I thought of Flowers for Algernon where a bright mind flowers in a dumb body and fades away again, but also of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde where two minds inhabit the same body. All three stories result from scientific experiments involving humans’ minds, and they are set in some undefined near future.
Rachel has to come to terms with her mixed identity. She is hindered in communication by her Chimp’s body, which also lets her fall into heat and she has to follow her animal instincts. At the same time, she is a resourceful girl using the sanitor for her plan to escape.
Pat Murphy did a great job in mixing both aspects of Rachel without giving a clear prejudice of either one of the two. They always stay in perfect balance, enriching the reader’s perspective with Rachel’s adventure.
There are some cringe moments involved, but the story steers to a perfect happy end which was far more satisfying than what I’ve feared.