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New Coyote – Trickster science fiction

I would describe Michael Bergey’s 2005 book New Coyote as a must read for science fiction and furry fans alike. The Plains Indians and many of the southwestern tribes as well had an archetypal legend of Coyote, the Trickster. He was a demigod who had mystical powers of self-reincarnation and recreation and he loved to catch others in tricks that could be very nasty indeed for the victim. Of course, in our modern age, hardly anyone believes in the ancient spirits, and consequently they have declined in power until they are nearly forgotten.

Coyote doesn’t accept this state of affairs, however. He always has a plan, and his new plan requires that he be born again into physical flesh, without memory or knowledge of who he is, so that he can study modern society and culture and perhaps find a way to restore himself and his fellow gods to their rightful places. His avatar, if we may borrow a term from Asian thought, looks like an ordinary coyote, but we quickly learn that he is both smarter than the average human, and can both understand and speak human language when he chooses.

So where does he set himself down to begin his study of human society? Why, in the middle of an illegal marijuana plantation in the western US, where he acts like an ordinary dog, herding goats for the human owner, Mooney. When Mooney narrowly escapes capture by narcotics agents and has to run, Coyote goes too. This is where the adventure really begins. He manages (mostly) to keep humans from trying to kill him, and pries into everything that is going on with a little help from some of his fellow demigods.

Unfortunately, Fox seems to have it in for him and begins to campaign for Coyote’s death, claiming that it would be best all around, and Coyote must find a way to foil the Fox as well as the human villains. The story is largely told in first person, as seen through Coyote’s own eyes. The author, a veterinarian by profession, has an excellent feel for the heightened awareness of the canine, and reminds us frequently of the things he smells or hears that mere humans would miss. He also has a magnificent feeling for the trickster tradition of the Native American demigod, which manifests itself repeatedly as Coyote evades capture and turns the schemes of humans back on themselves. I won’t give away the outcome, other than to say you’ll be hoping for more. As it happens, there is more to be had, as Bergey’s second book, Coyote Season, was released in 2007.

New Coyote was re-released in paperback format in 2009 from Anthro Press. Both editions are available from used booksellers, but if the price seems too steep, try your library. Five Star is an imprint of Thorndike/Gale, a publisher that sells primarily to libraries so even if your local library doesn’t have the book, they should be able to borrow it for you from somewhere else.

Rating: 5 of 5 possible apples appleappleappleappleapple

Michael Bergey
New Coyote
Five Star, 2005 (ISBN 1594143226, $25.95)
Also issued in paperback.

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