Beholder’s Eye – Julie E Czerneda (1998)
United in their natural for they are one, sharing all their memories, experiences, and lives. Apart they are six, the only existing members of their ancient race, a species with the ability to assume any form once they understand its essence.
Their continued survival in a universe filled with races ready to destroy anyone perceived as different is based on the Rules.
And first among those Rules is: Never reveal your true nature to another being.
But when the youngest among them, Esen-ali-Quar, receives her first independent assignment to a world considered safe to explore, she stumbles into a trap no one could have anticipated. Her only means of escape lies in violating the First Rule. She reveals herself to a fellow captive – a human being. While this mistake might not ordinarily prove fatal, the timing of the vent could not be worse. For something new has finally made its way into this Universe, the Enemy of the Web, bringer of death to all forms of life. And the hunt is about to begin! ’
Blurb from the 1998 Daw paperback edition
It’s an excellent page-turner this, which races along from moon to ship to planet at a breakneck pace and is a tale of a shape-shifter, part of a gestalt organism, the only one of its kind in the galaxy, now forced to abandon the rules of her race and reveal the true nature of her species to a human male.
Interestingly, there are no male shapeshifters and this subtly colours the nature and motives of the individual members of the gestalt.
Despite it being well-written and compulsive reading it is flawed by Czerneda’s tendency to create ‘Star Trek’ aliens since the majority of them are humanoid and/or originate on Earth type planets.
We seldom get full descriptions of the alien races and so it is sometimes difficult to visualise what sort of alien our hero Esen has morphed into.
There are some interesting creations such as The Hive World society and the Ganthor, but even these are lessened by other societies such as the Kraosians and the Articans which are stereotypical Star Trek races.
The process of ‘cycling’ is beautifully thought through as is the concept of the ‘Web’ (as the gestalt calls itself) which considers itself to be a memory based depository for the races and cultures of the galaxy, many of whom have been wiped out (often by themselves).
Esen, although the youngest of the gestalt, is around five hundred years old, but is a child in terms of her own race. She is forced to grow up very quickly by both the fact of an Enemy who wishes to destroy all her kind and the discovery of a hidden truth regarding the nature of her own species, while all the time entering into a slowly deepening relationship with Paul Ragem, the human whose life she saves at the start of the novel.
Czerneda undoubtedly has a niche in the popular end of the SF market but is, I feel, capable of far better. This strikes me as competent but very safe novel and I look forward to reading Czerneda when she spreads her wings a little and enters more challenging territory.
It’s enjoyable. It’s not great literature. It asks no great questions and there are certainly no great answers but it is excellent escapism and leaves one wanting more, which is all one can really ask for.