Enemy Mine by Longyear, Barry, 1979

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Very often I have heard people ask about books that are as good or better than the movies that they were made into. When I am asked that question the first two movies that pop into my head are always Blade Runner, from Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep, and the Clarke/Kubrick collaboration 2001: A Space Odyssey (though in the latter's case the book came from the screenplay). Perhaps because Barry Longyear's book Enemy Mine was not big, though the Wolfgang Petersen film that came from it was, but this one comes in at number three for me. Four out of five stars.

This is another of those SF novels that really touches you. In the beginning it is a military SF piece. A human pilot named Davidge and his Drak counterpart named Jerry have shot each other down over a remote outback planet. Their ships land in roughly the same place and they both quickly realize that they are going to have to team up and work together if they are going to survive. So they start to horde wood and food in the cave that turns into their home for the next several years. One day Jerry told Davidge that his people are hermaphrodites, and that he has become pregnant. With a baby on the way Jerry began to prepare as best he could, but when its time came Jerry died in childbirth leaving Davidge to raise a baby Drak.

Longyear’s story is about the value of collaboration, but it is not a pie-in-the-sky type of story. At first Davidge is so frightened by the idea of raising a baby alien, and an enemy no less, that he considered murdering the baby multiple times. But the baby, Zammis, matured quickly and soon it came to view Davidge as its father. Before Jerry died Davidge had memorized the story of Jerry’s family back two hundred generations as a way to pass the long days. After Zammis matured Davidge taught the litany to him, which was an important part of the Drak rite of passage.

Zammis was eventually given a chance to recite his knowledge to older make Draks, as the two were rescued. By the time rescue came the Draks and the Humans had made peace, though it was a shaky peace at best. Jerry and Zammis were became famous as a symbol of the peace, but the reality of the situation was that both were horribly hazed by others when they got back to their respective empires. Jerry also found that he longed for his “son” and traveled to the Drak empire to be reunited with Zammis. The two eventually founded a colony on the planet that Jerry and Davidge crashed on to escape social stigma and live happily ever after.

This story really does have a SF fairy tale feel to it, but I think that is part of its charm. The book is somewhat different than the movie, though the differences don’t really become apparent until after Davidge meets the miners in the movie. Of course this story is also a coming of age tale, but its more Davidge’s tale that it is Zammis’, in that Davidge realizes what is important in life and what his place is once the young one comes along. This quote is taken from a dialogue between Davidge and his imagined ghost of Jerry. Zammis is new born and will not eat, and Davidge is at his wits end:

”Davidge, you don’t even know your family line beyond your parents, and now you say that you refuse to know that of your universe that you can know. How will you know your place in this existence, Davidge? Where are you? Who are you?

I shook my head and stared at the grave, then I turned and faced the sea. In another hour, or less, it would be too dark to see the whitecaps. “I’m me, that’s who.” But was that ‘me’ who held the rock over Zammis, threatening a helpless infant with death? I felt my guts curdle as the loneliness I thought I felt grew claws and fangs and began gnawing and slashing at the remains of my sanity. I turned back to the grave, closed my eyes, then opened them. “I’m a fighter pilot, Jerry. Isn’t that something?”

That is what you do, Davidge; that is neither who nor what you are.”

That is why I think that the birth of a child was really the impetus for this story, rather than some need of the author’s to write a story about peace and how to achieve it. This one leaves you with the warm fuzzies, but to get there Longyear takes you through a nightmare. I loved it.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)


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