In a clearing in a continental forest on the planet BoskVeld, a hominoid species of alien, the Asadi, daily act out their enigmatic rituals. These lithe, mane-bearing simian creatures trudge about obsessively, their rainbow eyes spinning like pinwheels. Egan Chaney in his anthropological study, “Death and Designation among the Asadi,” has persuasively suggested that their lifestyle has devolved from a level of high technological sophistication to one of brute simplicity.
Six years after his disappearance into the Wild, Chaney’s daughter, Elegy Cather, arrives on BoskVeld to find him. With her she brings an intelligent ape, Kretzoi, genetically adapted to resemble the Asadi. Together with Thomas Benedict, once Chaney’s assistant and later the compiler of his controversial “Death and Designation” monograph, Elegy strives to unravel the secret history of the Asadi.
As Kretzoi infiltrates their rituals, we, too, begin to grasp the full incomprehensibility of a truly alien species and the complex horror of its devolution. Working in the modes of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris and the anthropology-inspired fictions of Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Bishop dramatizes in Transfigurations both the innate difficulty and the scientific rapture of unriddling the unforthcoming Other.