Camouflage by Haldeman, Joe, 2004

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Published in 2004, Haldeman's Camouflage is a chase novel about two immortal aliens who have similar shape-shifting abilities. Both of the aliens are stranded on Earth, and both have been there so long that neither can remember much of where they came from. Three out of five stars.

The Changeling is from an inhospitable planet where an indigenous race developed the ability to shape shift in order to survive wide climactic variances. It is unknown how the Changeling got to Earth, but for millions of years it lived in the ocean as a shark and other simple creatures. It gradually forgot everything it ever knew. After the shark came into contact with a human being in the 1930's it started to awaken inside its own primitive mind, and eventually assumed the shape of a human and came ashore. Once it learned what humans had to offer, the Changeling decided to become a quiet and peaceful being, dedicated to the quest for knowledge and love. It found both, then the Chameleon, the other immortal being, found it. The Chameleon was everything that the Changeling was not (although its character was not as well developed as the Changeling's was). Where the Chameleon could shape-shift into any form it wanted, the Chameleon was limited in the different forms that it could take, though it seemed to enjoy being human. The Chameleon had been out among people for a great deal of time, and had memories of being a barbarian, and perhaps a pre-human. Now it spent its time hunting and killing whenever and wherever it could and has assumed roles in the past as a Nazi scientist and later an Israeli assassin. The Chameleon is not a nice creature.

The conflict in the book built very slowly. It was pushed forward entirely by the Chameleon who wants only to kill the Changeling. Why, we never really learn, but humans discovered a spaceship in the ocean that did not belong to the Chameleon, so the Chameleon set a trap and waited for the Chameleon to spring it. Being as careful as it could the Changeling assumed the form of a beautiful woman and fell in love with the undersea explorer who found the ship and began experimenting on it. One of the most striking characteristics of the book is the way that the Changeling had no hang-ups about being a man or a woman, and could approach the sexual roles of each with gusto and desire. Personally I was a bit taken aback at first that Haldeman did not even give a moment's hesitation when the Changeling, formerly a man, went to bed with a man as a woman. I think that this was the reason that the book won a James Tiptree Award. The rest of this book is what one would expect from the set-up. But Haldeman really did a good job of knocking me off of my ivory tower by giving his character a desire for real love, and not just the love of a woman or man. It was eye-opening, and once I got my head around it, it was just fine because it seemed that Haldeman's desire was to present a world where the sexes have true equality. I personally can not imagine a better place to do that than where our deepest set beliefs about the nature of masculinity and femininity are housed: The bedroom.

Haldeman resorted to extremes here in devising his characters. The Changeling and the Chameleon could not have been more different to one another. Their strikingly different natures probably made the depiction of the conflict between them almost write itself, so as an exercise in authorial abilities I think this one will take a back seat to others. Still, it won a Nebula Award too, and I'll never stop scratching my head about that one. But even if the creatures were so transparently divergent, Haldeman was a skilled enough writer to manage the story well. He was his usual skilled, terse and clear self here. I knocked this one out in an evening and had no trouble at all.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)


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