Title: Nexus Nine
Author: Mary E. Lowd
LGBTQ+ Category: Bi, Gender Fluid
Publisher: Fur Planet
Reviewer: J. Scott Coatsworth
About The Book
Deep space, nine lives… Or maybe nine-hundred?
When a calico cat with a computer chip in her head — full of lifetimes worth of memories — sets out to uncover the mysteries of her distant past, she finds herself on a space station in a recently war-torn star system. Will her best friend from one of her previous lives as a dog still accept her? Can she make new friends with the local bird-like aliens, and how does her own past entangle with the history of a strange shape-changing insect seeking answers of zir own? As Mazel Rheun studies the local deep space anomaly, it becomes increasingly clear…
The answers lie on the other side of… NEXUS NINE.
I went into this one with a little trepidation. After all, it was a “furry” tale, and I’d never read one of those before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I definitely didn’t expect (and what’s obvious in retrospect) is how well the concept of “Uplift” works with a furry story.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Uplift is the idea (which I first ran across in David Brin novels in the eighties) that humankind might one day “lift” other animals on Earth up to sentience.
In Lowd’s telling, cats and dogs were uplifted by the human race at some point in the distant past, but humans are now no more than a species myth. To the protagonist, though, they are very real – Mazel Rheun carries the “Rheun” chip in her feline head, and the chip (a bit like Star Trek’s Dax) holds the memories and personalities of all who had it before, including humans. But the memories get murky toward the beginning, and so the Rheun line has been on a long quest to uncover its origins. Which brings us to the start of the story, and a station orbiting the planet of an avian race, which is where the latest nexus has been discovered. And this portal to another place might just hold the answers Mazel Rheun is seeking.
I admit it was a bit of an adjustment at first, dealing with protagonists who are basically dogs and cats in space suits. But once I got past that, this was a rollicking good sci fi tale that pulled me into its central mystery. Lowd uses the animal cues of her characters to great effect, including and especially with the adorable protagonist, a calico cat named Mazel. But the rest of the characters round out the story really well, and each is drawn clearly and has their own story and history. You can tell that she adores these characters.
One of the most fascinating bits for me was the fact that the Aviorans had built an entire religion around the nexus, which they had dubbed the “sky nest.” The religion and its prophecies play into the story, so I won’t reveal too much here; suffice it to say I loved the way that Lowd inserted religion into the story, and looked at it in ways both critical and sympathetic. There’s also the perfectly dog-like worship of the “First Race” – humans – which cats are understandably very critical of.
The queer aspects of the story were fascinating too… from Rheun imself, who has inhabited all manners of species and genders and so ends up being straight and gay and lesbian and bi at various parts of his existence, to Omoleura, an alien who uses gender neutral pronouns and can imitate (though not always successfully) almost any species.
If there’s anything that bothered me about the story, they were mostly quibbles. The main one was the rather on-the-nose naming of species (especially the “Aviaorans” from the planet “Avia”). I wish that Lowd had reached a little more for these. And there’s the fact that interspecies romance is commonplace in this universe (I mean, how do they… where does the… and kids?).
This is sci fi, so a) there’s a bit of suspension of disbelief necessary and b) there are probably ways all of that could be accommodated scientifically, but I would have liked a little more explanation. I am BIG on details LOL…. this is the one place where this story felt more furry than sci fi to me.
And while the ending was great, I am still left with a few questions… namely what Shep’s status really means, where will Mazel’s new relationship go, and what happened to all the humans?
I’m hoping Lowd will step back into this wonderful universe she has built and give us the answers to those questions and more in another book.
In any case, Nexus Nine is a fascinating sci fi joyride, full of shiny new things and a great central mystery that will keep you guessing until the end. Highly recommended!
Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.