Rachel in Love by Pat Murphy


Rachel in Love by Pat Murphy
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (22 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Rachel has the mind of a teenage girl, but the body and the innocent heart of a young chimp. Sometimes when she looks at her gnarled brown fingers, they seem alien, wrong, out of place. She remembers having small, pale, delicate hands with painted fingernails. Memories lie upon memories, layers upon layers, like the sedimentary rocks of the desert buttes.

Aaron Jacobs, the man Rachel calls father, was a neurologist who discovered how to capture the electrical pattern of a living brain’s thoughts and memories. When his daughter died unexpectedly, the grieving father imposed the electrical pattern of the girl’s brain on a young chimp, creating Rachel, a chimp he recognizes as his daughter.

Rachel knows that she is a real girl – but when Aaron Jacobs dies, she must make her way in a world that treats her as nothing but an animal.

What does it mean to be a person? If the brain patterns of a human child are successfully transferred into a chimpanzee does that mean the subject deserves all of the rights and responsibilities of a human being? Imagine what it would be like navigate a society that doesn’t yet know it needs to grapple with these questions!

Rachel may not look like other girls her age but she experiences the same emotions: grief, love, fear, and hope. Her identity may be confusing to others but Rachel has integrated her memories of life as a human child with her new body. It was delightful to see how quickly she can jump from the strengths given to her by her chimpanzee side and the ones that came after the operation.

In certain ways Rachel was disabled by this experiment. She is quite intelligent but can only communicate through sign language due to how chimpanzee larynxes are positioned in their throats. She also lost some behaviours and instincts that inform chimpanzee behavior. Yet the same physiological and psychological differences that hold her back from fully participating in human society also enable this character to accomplish tasks that would normally be almost impossible.

I would have loved to learn more about the neurological experiment that takes place before the plot begins. Exactly how Rachel ended up with a humanlike brain was never described in great detail but as a lay person I wondered if the information the author did provide would make sense to readers who have backgrounds in neurology. The idea of preserving a personality after their death by transferring it to a new mind is fascinating. Often science fiction predicts medical advances years before they take place and I finished this story wondering if a future generation’s breakthrough was foreshadowed when this tale was originally released in the late 1980s.

The plot is so exciting and well-paced that this is a small criticism, though. The fate I thought Rachel would meet is not quite the one that ended up awaiting her. From the first page to the last I was caught up in what was happening to her and hoping that she’d find a way to master every obstacle in her past. Some plot twists were easy to predict but others were more surprising.

By the end of Rachel in Love I was asking myself an even better question that the ones that I asked at the beginning of this review: should human rights be restricted to humans? Sometimes ethical codes shift in a heartbeat for excellent reasons. What better way to explore them than by meeting someone as unforgettable as Rachel?

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