My life in outer space

Changing Vision – Julie E Czerneda (2000)

Changing Vision (Web Shifters, #2)

‘Esen-Alit-Quar had violated the First Rule of her species when she revealed her existence to a human named Paul Ragem. And though both Paul and Esen had survived, others of Esen’s Web had not been so fortunate. Es could hardly believe that fifty years had passed since the terrifying events which had nearly cost her life and which had forced Paul to give up everything a human treasured – family, friends, even his own identity – to protect the secret of her continued survival. In that time they had built a new life together out on the Fringe. They had a successful export company, friends and associates.
Esen, now known as Esolesy Ki and wearing the form of a Lishcyn – a species rare enough in the Commonwealth and never seen in the Fringe – was perfectly content to remain on the world of Minas XII, leaving it to Paul to travel the starways on company business. Meanwhile she used their vast information resources to search for any signs that others of her kind had found their galaxy.
What neither Es nor Paul could foresee was that a simple ‘vacation’ trip would plunge the two of them into the heart of a diplomatic nightmare – and threaten to expose both Es and Paul to the hunters who had never been convinced of their destruction…’

Blurb from the 2000 Daw paperback edition

We are fifty years on from the events of ‘Beholder’s Eye’ in which the shapeshifter Esen went against all the rules of her race and revealed her true nature to Paul Ragem, the man whose life she saved. Having destroyed the mindless shape-shifting beast from which her race developed, she is now labelled as being the monster itself and, along with Ragem, is in hiding, although still being pursued by the determined and now psychotic Captain Kearn, one of the few people who believes the monster still exists.
Although a satisfying read, there are serious flaws in the novel. Do humans in this future have a greater longevity or is Ragem just a very sprightly seventy-year old?
The novel could also do with some judicious editing. Out of its five hundred pages, it seems as if at least two hundred consist of Esen unburdening her guilt on the hapless reader, whining on about her dead relatives and her relationship with Ragem. The nature of her relationship, despite the hand-wringing, is a little vague, although having given him a sample of her body in an amulet, it appears they are now part of the same ‘web’.
The plot relies far too much on the extremely unlikely coincidences of people running into each other on the same planet. This is not a safe bet even in a small town, let alone in a galactic civilisation teeming with worlds. Esen remarks early in the novel that ‘there is no such thing as coincidence’ but then fails to explain how these seemingly coincidental events could have been arranged.
On the positive side the novel rattles swiftly along, as did the first, from location to location, providing highs, lows, cliffhangers, a couple of amusing moments and some fairly decent characterisation.
One hopes that Czerneda will allow Esen to grow up and chill out a bit in the next novel.
Stylistically, and this is something I’ve noticed with some other authors of the last decade or so, it seems to be influenced by TV rather than by an earlier literary tradition, which is a shame. Presumably this is why, as in TV SF, the scientific elements are more-or-less non-existent. The ships do not seem to be subject to any relativistic effects; there seems to be no sign of Artificial Intelligence in Czerneda’s future, no bio-engineering. There is nothing here, in fact, that you wouldn’t find in a Nineteen Fifties SF novel, and everything you would find in the back stories of TV shows such as Stargate or Star Trek Voyager.
Czerneda is a good writer, and I hope to see her one day produce intelligent, lasting work rather than the admittedly enjoyable but lightweight fodder she is serving up here.

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