on 25 August 2004
With his last two novels - the very under-rated "The Coming" and his psuedo-alternate history "Guardian" - Joe Haldeman has taken the short but sweet approach to telling his story; a long and winding build-up which leads to the short, sharp ending/twist. I loathe to describe it as an long story or joke with a sharp punchline at the end, but the comparison seems apt. This approach has so far worked for Haldeman due to his strong approach in developing his characters through a time period based narrative. However, in "Camouflage", it seems that Haldeman is starting to get a bit lax.
The year is 2019 and marine biologist Russell Sutton is working in the Pacific with his company that specialises in deep-ocean salvaging (his crew achieved fame through their rising of The Titanic). Russell is approached by Jack, a retired naval officer who enlists him to retrieve a mysterious oval object lying off the coast of Samoa. In the second storyline, we follow the "Changeling", an alien that has been on Earth since the dawn of evolution. Having taken the form of marine animals for most of its time, the Changeling takes on a human form in the 1930's and begins its journey to learn about humans.
The secondary storyline of the alien's development over a period of a century is typical Haldeman - an entertaining memoir like account of events and happenings that brings us in to liking the character. However, problems arise when we jump back to the present with Russell and Jack. These characters are less developed than the Changeling and in the end they come across as one-dimensional characters. It is not a good thing when the alien character appears more human than the humans.
Another problem is Haldeman's idea - the idea of an ancient alien artifact which involves 2 alien species, in a time where humans are ready for such a discovery is not new, but is interesting enough. However, Haldeman does not develop it well enough. It seems like the idea came as an afterthought. The end result is we follow the characters but to where, we do not know. The pace of the novel builds up in intensity like a thriller, but the only mystery we have here is the mystery of whether anything will actually happen.
Haldeman's development of characters is still engaging but here, he has failed to make them of any use. Here, he is failing to develop a proper story, which makes Camouflage seem stale and pointless. Those are two words which I never imagined I would use for a writer which gave the word the powerful novel, "The Forever War". In Camouflage, it seems Haldeman is writing on auto-pilot and following a template.
on 6 December 2011
The story develops quite well though has its weak points. The interaction between the events to do with the artifact, the humans and the alien 'changeling' work quite well but the other alien, 'chameleon', does not fit well into the story.
The ending does not work with the chameleon apparently being one of the main human characters but to do that must have been in two places at the same time (not one of its abilities) and have discovered the artifact in a way unexplained and inexplicable.
Three stars might be a bit generous.
on 31 October 2006
This is the second Joe Haldeman book I've read, and both I've found absolutely first-rate. (The other was the long habit of living). The foundation for me is that the `Science' in the `Fiction' has at least some thread of credibility to it. Although admittedly far fetched, the storey is structured to the point that you find yourself seriously thinking, `..well just maybe', which is surely what all good science fiction should do.
I found the the book gripping from start to finish, if you want to be critical, the book is maybe a little over the top old fashioned romance and sentimentality, but hey, I loved it! If the concept of a changeling, living as a great white shark, then a killer whale, a porpoise and finally emerging from the ocean in human form intrigues you at all, (and that's just the first few pages), then read it.