Beholder's Eye - By Julie E. Czerneda

Originally published in The Hamilton Spectator - 1999

If you ask Julie Czerneda what she does for a living, she tells you with a huge grin that she plays with aliens. The Canadian science-fiction author creates and toys with species, worlds and entire universes, armed only with pen, paper and an extensive background in animal behaviour and biology.

Her second novel, Beholder's Eye, takes us into the lives of an extremely small group known as the Web. The members of the Web are creatures that can cycle into any other known species in the universe, live as one of that species, learn intimate details about their culture, their ways and their biology, and then report their findings back to other members of the Web.

A reader sees them as scientists, as sociologists or perhaps a combination of both. Ultimately, they seek to study as many of the multitudes of beings in the universe as they can, providing a never-ending record of all life. But along with their grand purpose there are rules. The most fundamental rule is never to reveal their true nature to another being.

Beholder's Eye explores the consequences of the main character, Esen-alit-Quar, revealing herself to a human. Once this knowledge begins to circulate, a powerful enemy with devastating powers and an insatiable hunger begins to track and hunt down members of the Web. Esen learns that the reason their leader kept their existence a secret was to keep the Web hidden from this unstoppable enemy.

In the novel, the enemy is known simply as Death, and appears throughout the novel in short segments entitled "Out There," wreaking havoc, consuming life, destroying worlds. Many of the chapters in the novel are divided by these short segments seen from Death's point of view, adding a foreboding sense of danger and threat to Esen, the Web and many other characters. The reader is never aware how far or how close Death is to the main characters at any given time. Indeed, the opening line to the novel sums up the threat quite nicely: "You could die here."

But apart from this menacing eveil that stalks the Web, there is a very strong theme of friendship. Paul Ragem, Esen's human friend, plays an important part in bringing this theme to the surface.

The theme of friendship above all else is a recurring one in Czerneda's writing, as she used it for her first novel A Thousand Words for Stranger. Despite some similiarities, Beholder's Eye is written with a stronge rsense of pace, a deeper sense of passion and just the right sprinkling of suspense. It is carefully worded and tells a unique and stimulating story with characters you grow to care about.

Beholder's Eye is a real treat, allowing the readers to become something of a sociologist and biologist as Esen cycles into and lives as different forms in her travels throughout the universe.

Czerneda's two current novels, A Thousand Words for Stranger, and Beholder's Eye, both published by DAW, are on bookstore shelves now. Sequels to both are in the works -- Ties of Power is scheduled for September 1999 publication, with Changing Vision to follow in April 2000.


Blogger Virginia said...

Hey Mark. Nice review! Just wanted to point out Julie's many other works. See them on her funky website,

11:06 PM  
Blogger Mark Leslie said...

Thanks, Virginia - I'm actually a huge fan of Julie's work and have read all of her fiction. I actually also reviewed one of the first anthologies she edited for young readers - I should post that here too. Thanks for the comment and sharing your enthusiasm for a brilliant writer.

7:18 AM  

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