Camouflage by Joe Haldeman
Review by Chris Ferrier
Camouflage begins with an alien vessel plunging into the depths of the Pacific Ocean. The occupant comes out and begins to study the Earth by taking the form of different sea creatures. The changeling, as it calls itself, continues this pattern for millennia, slowly forgetting its origin. Unbeknown to the changeling, a second alien has also been on the planet for thousands of years. This one is the chameleon and like the changeling, it is capable of changing its shape. It spends a large part of its existence in the military and always tries to stay on the winning side.
After introducing the changeling, the book then jumps ahead to the near future year of 2019 where a third story line introduces a marine biologist, Russell Sutton, who learns of the discovery of a massive shiny sphere in the ocean near Samoa. He joins a team of experts who hope to recover the sphere and study it. Both aliens are also attracted to the sphere and will do anything they consider necessary to obtain it.
The narrative moves from the changeling to the chameleon to the scientists, the shifts in time shown by different chapter headings with dates. While the scientists try to crack the sphere, the aliens converge through time and location toward the island of Samoa in 2019 where they may finally confront each other.
The changeling and the chameleon are the major characters in the book. Since their roles are smaller, the scientists are more sketchily drawn. The aliens' encounters with human beings, which are most interesting parts of the book, range from the violent to the humorous.
For example, in the year 1931, the changeling copies the body of a young man it has killed and begins to learn about human behavior. This process is much more complicated than becoming a fish, of course, and results in a stay in an insane asylum. But the changeling learns quickly. So while it outwardly mimics the actions of the humans it meets, it begins to change inwardly as well, resulting in it being able to pass for human itself.
Clear prose and quick pacing make the novel easy to read. Mr. Haldeman handles scenes of warfare so skillfully that even brief passages convey the horror of captured soldiers on Bataan in 1942. The changeling's experiences as sharks and other large sea creatures as well as its tenure as a professor of marine science include brief, and interesting, explanations of marine biology.
The book is both an adventure story and an account of the aliens' experiences on Earth. Recommended.
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