Joe Haldeman


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

July 25, 2006

ay back in my high school days, in the 1970's, I remember reading three novels by Joe Haldeman, all of which I thought were terrific: The Forever War, All My Sins Remembered, and Mindbridge. Although Haldeman has continued to write in the intervening decades, for some reason I haven't been following his work, despite the fact Forever Peace and Forever Free are highly regarded. I decided to rectify the situation and read Camouflage (as I write this review for Camouflage, I am currently reading Haldeman's Old Twentieth, which so far looks like a winner.)

Camouflage is the story of two unnamed alien lifeforms who are apparently immortal- the book refers to them as "The Changling" and "The Chameleon". Although they are similar creatures, they are not the same species, and neither is aware of the other's existinence on the earth. The Changling is a true shape shifter, able to modify its mass, structure and appearance to imitate almost any object or living being. The Changling can even partition itself into more than one sentient being, though it's intelligence is diminished. The Chameleon apparently can also change its appearance, and it is immortal and hard to kill, but its skills are not as advanced at the Changling - unfortunately, the amount of background information on the Chameleon is sparse. The story is written as two major threads. One story thread is quite interesting, it describes how the Changling becomes aware of humans, (it has been living as various sea creatures in the ocean for millenia), and it adopts a human form and gradually acquires the knowledge needed to act like a normal person. The Changling finds itself portraying an American soldier on the Bataan Death March, though of course it is immune to the suffering that afflicts his fellow soldiers. The Changling can easily escape and assume another role, male or female. I liked reading about how the Changling's learns how to pass itself off as a human.

The other major story thread concerns an artifact found deep in the ocean. Clearly it is unnatural in origin, built of a material beyond anything humans in the 21st century can construct. It is also obvious that the artifact has been lying in the ocean for millenia because of the amount of coral growing above it. The reader knows that the artifact is the spaceship the Changling used to arrive on our planet centuries ago. (Where the Chameleon comes from is never explained). The humans bring the artifact to the surface and assemble a team of scientists to discover what it is. This activity, of course attracts the attention of both the Chameleon and the Changling - they have been on earth so long that they have forgotten their origins, but they are keenly aware how different they are from everyone they meet. So both immortal aliens, previously unaware of each other's existence, are drawn to the scientific investigation. Did I mention yet that the Chameleon is a violent creature that delights in killing? A professional author does a masterful job of setting the stage for a big show down.

My complaint with the book is: the show down is much too quick. The conflict between the Chameleon and the Changling could have been much better portrayed, their sense of surprise of discovering each other's existence. And the fact that both are essentially immortal could have led to a series of escalating confrontations as each attempted to subdue the other. I think a lot more could have been done with this idea - it sounds like a movie concept. My other disappointment is the lack of background on the Chameleon - where did it come from, and what has it been doing all these years? There is a hint at one point that the Chameleon has been around since Neandrathal era - so what happenened to it in the missing centuries? This is a good read, I wish it had been longer.