Thursday, August 14, 2008

Book Review: Joe Haldeman - Camouflaj (2004)

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I’ll start by saying that the Nebula Awards aren’t what they used to be since you can’t buy a book only based on that recommendation, and Nemira taught us that in a painful (for the wallet) and disappointing way.

The story is set in the near future starting with the discovery of an egg-shaped artifact at the bottom of the ocean. Several scenes are taking place in laboratory and scientific testing environment in the attempt to understand the past and purpose of the artifact. The scientist characters are believable and interesting written considering the fact that they are mere humans.

But the egg is not the only alien presence on earth. There are two more roaming freely around the earth for centuries, millenniums even, without being aware of each other’s existence, or the humans knowing about them at all. Both shapeshifters to some extent, they’ve outlived thousands of generations paying more or less attention to the human race during their own evolution as separate species.

Aware of their uniqueness on the planet they’re eventually drawn to each other, in their attempt to answer the same fundamental question, what is their purpose in the world. Given the different mentality and lonely upbringing they’re not what we would we call nice people, they can be cruel and murderous without giving it much thought, being one worse than the other. Though while one of them pays more attention to humans trying to understand their feelings and eventually becomes capable of love, the other one is more predatory-like. They go through the entire animal reign eventually ending up impersonating people, which facilitates their approach to the scientist circle in order to get to the egg.

I guess it’s not hard to guess what the egg really is. And the ending is not a total surprise. But this is not the main problem with the book. I have no problem with the writing style, that’s quite fine as far as I’m concerned, the plot is what bothered me. Or, more exactly the missing parts.

The three interlinking storylines are not confusing, but it is a bit annoying when it switches from one to the other, and even more so when it gets to the less important/interesting one. While the story covers their life on Earth with long back story episodes, there is no explanation of who they are, how they got there or anything else about them. We’re mere observers, we don’t know more than they do and we’re left none the wiser at the end with no idea regarding what is going to happen to them. It is as if once they reached the needed stage of development they moved on and kissed this world goodbye. I’m sorry but this won’t do for me…

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