I remember reading The Big Idea for Czerneda’s latest book on Scalzi’s blog (ok, it was 2018) and was intrigued by her idea of an extremely long-lived being. I didn’t realize that Czerneda was a biologist, and had grounded her ideas in theories about trade-offs between reproduction and longevity. It turned out the blog was promoting the latest book in the story of Esen, which sent me back to this first book, Beholder’s Eye. Esen is described as a shapeshifter, but in actuality, is a more crystaline-type being whose small group consider themselves a sort of archivists for sapiens. Esen’s adventures proved unexpectedly entertaining.
“I’d licked the problem of holding form. And six hundred days later, I’d accomplished the first half of my task: deciphering the molecular structure of the Kraosians. I’d scrounged hair and nail clippings from several hundred different individuals simply by hanging around the rear of barbershops for a couple of months. That information was safely chewed, swallowed, and incorporated into my biochemical memory. I was a success.
I spat out a flea.”
Czerneda states she wrote this, her second book, for herself, and with two goals: to show a meaningful friendship and to have fun with the possibility of Esen’s abilities.
That it turned into an intriguing mystery and side exploration of some of the creatures of the Fringe of space doesn’t hurt either. There were parts where I laughed, parts where I was tense, and there may have even been a moment of sadness, but I’m not telling.
The shapeshifting was used well, and I appreciated the way that Esen ‘became’ the creature she shifted into, accounting for genetic and biological instincts, such as the herding instinct of the Gunthor. Esen is relatively young, for her species–a mere five-hundred standard–and I thought the narrative voice captured that well. This would work at a new-adult novel, in many ways; it about her first assignment away from her Web, and decisions she must make on her own.
Interestingly, I have to say that it reminded me a great deal of A Memory Called Empire. Completely different technological focus, but very similar thematically. I’ll be going on to the next.