Jumpdrives & Cantrips

The Coelura
February 18, 2008, 1245
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The CoeluraI seem to remember reading The Coelura ages and ages ago, only to be disappointed that it was mainly a romance. This was way back before junior high, back in the days when I had recently discovered Anne McCaffrey (and with her, most of the SF/Fantasy genre) and expected a little more in the way of dragons. Romance showed up firmly in the category of “ick.” In any case, my tolerance for romance has grown and when I happened upon this slim volume at a book sale, I was curious to go back and revisit it.

Anne McCaffrey uses sparse language to tell the story of Caissa, the body-heir of the ambassador to Demeathorn. Caissa knows her father has an ulterior motive when he asks her to enter into an heir-contract, a legally binding temporary marriage to produce a child, with a man she despises. What she doesn’t know is that Murrell, the man she rescues from a prohibited area when fleeing her suitor, holds the key to the political machinations of her father and the survival of the alien species Coelura, which her off-world mother would do anything to possess. The coelura acts as living clothing, but also produces highly prized housing and other prestige items at the expense of its life force. Caissa first encounters the coelura as friendly, rainbow-like musical beings, but soon realises the innocent creatures must be protected from human exploitation as items of fashion.

The Coelura does not have enough description to fully flesh out the story, making it a little confusing at times for such a simple plot. There are portions that could be better explained, and inexplicably Caissa’s mother gets simplified from a politician with specific motivations to an evil step-mother out of a fairy tale by the end of the book. As a reader I would have been more interested in the coelura’s past history on the planet, and exploring human-coelura interactions. I seem to recall that changeable technologically-rendered fashion (biological or otherwise) comes up in other McCaffrey short works, and has always intrigued me.

First published in 1983, this book can be read as an early criticism of the ego-centric, prestige-focused, wealth-preoccupied attitude of the eighties. Caissa’s mother and father are prime examples of ambitious, politically influential people who lack emotional substance. Caissa herself takes the part of an agent of change, along with her love interest, Murrell. There is certainly an emphasis on renewable resources, both with the coelura and with small mentions of things like solar-powered vehicles. While the environment itself doesn’t figure largely into the story, the idea of a need to protect endangered species weighs in heavily.

Hands down, The Coelura‘s high point lies in the illustrations, done by famed artist Ned Dameron for the 1987 edition. The art consists of full-page line drawings in black & white, similar to comic book style art, and at times does better than McCaffrey’s text in conveying emotions or logistics of actions. Dameron is best known for his covers for Stephen King and illustrations for TSR, now bought out by the Wizards of the Coast gaming conglomerate. The images lend a welcome romanticism to a high-tech world.

The Coelura certainly doesn’t touch Anne McCaffrey’s usual body of work in terms of enjoyability and scope, but is a decent read. This novel is better suited for a young adult audience, or possibly someone looking for a very short read, as the page count includes the illustrations and the print in my edition is quite large. I recommend picking it up used or borrowing from the library unless you are a die-hard fan.

McCaffrey, Anne. The Coelura. New York: Tor, 1989. 156 pages. $1.65 (Canadian), bought used.