Camouflage by Joe Haldeman

Let me start by saying I really like Joe Haldeman‘s works.  In my mind he’s becoming similar to a new Michael Crichton (RIP), but with fewer words and without the late author’s typical bibliography at the end of each novel. Many of Haldeman’s recent novels take place set in a pseudo-contemporary setting with elements of science fiction sprinkled in, much like the works of Crichton. Both authors write prose and dialogue with very little baggage…the reader can tear through their novels like a hot knife through butter making them immensely accessible to all readers who enjoy speculative fiction.  But Haldeman will never garner the mainstream popularity that Crichton was afforded because most of his works are still deeply entrenched in science fiction where Crichton branched out in to many other forms of speculative fiction (yes, including pirates). Nor does Haldeman have the Hollywood background that Crichton possessed.

That being said (and despite what you’re about to read below) Haldeman is still one of my favorite authors and I will not hesitate to pick up any of his future works when they hit the shelves.

Camouflage has two main storylines. One deals with two very old aliens that have been on Earth for thousands of years, so long that their own origins have been lost even in their own memories.  They now spend their years searching for who/what they are and where they come from, as well as unknowingly searching out each other.  The second plot line deals with the discovery of an alien artifact/ship at the bottom of the ocean and the challenges a team of scientists endure trying to unlock it’s secrets.

Camouflage by Joe Haldeman“As the pages began to dwindle down to nothing I felt like I had only reached the middle of the story when Joe goes and yanks the rug right out from under me.”

Both storylines weave through the book independent of each other until the coda.  At about the time the aliens reveal themselves (to the humans and each other) and the alien artifact/ship comes to life…BAM! Haldeman ends the book.  In this work he accomplished what every author should strive to avoid:  killing an engrossing tale just to finish a book.

Without exaggeration I can safely say that as the pages began to dwindle down to nothing and having the feeling that I’d only reached the middle of the developing plot,  Joe goes and yanks the rug right out from under me and literally ends it in ten utterly disappointing pages. Why he did this I have not idea…but I will theorize:

1) He fulfilled some sort of contractual obligation to his publisher (books, # of pages, # of words, deadline)

2) He fully intends to write a sequel, but I see no indication of this forthcoming.  This one would really disappoint me as speculative fiction is already rife with endless and unwanted series of mediocre books.

3) He lost his voice and just drove us (the readers) off a cliff because he wanted to move on to something else.

 The other disappointing aspect of Camouflage is that it won the 2005 Nebula award for best science fiction novel.  This is the award given by the Science Fiction Writers of America (as opposed to the Hugo award).  The Nebula award lost a bit of credibility on this one, because this book does not deserve a Nebula award.  I’ve read many Hugo and Nebula award winners, some deserving and some not…but Camouflage ranks up very high on the list of books that does not deserve the award.   There is not one single ground breaking concept in the book.  Yes, it’s an entertaining, fast moving read, albeit with a shoddy ending…but Nebula award?  Absolutely not.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the ending, and to call Camouflage a science fiction book is a stretch, and to award it a Nebula award was a crime.  No offense Joe.

Genre:  Science Fiction
Media:  Book
Year:  2004
3 out of 5 stars

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