Today's book review is Alien Taste by Wen Spencer.
Three weeks ago at OVFF, I was looking at the books on Larry Smith's table and thinking that I should give this Wen Spencer a try. I asked Larry (or was it Sally?) which one I should start with, and this was the recommendation, so I bought it. And it's the first in a series, so I decided to bump it to the front of the queue so that if I liked it I could buy the others while they're still in print.
This is a science fiction story set in almost the present day; the chapter headings claim it takes place in 2004, though it's a slightly different 2004 than we had. The story flows from a single event, a bit improbable in its details, but handled fairly consistently, and gives us a pretty good adventure story, with a protagonist wrestling with slightly bigger issues of identity than most of us have, and arriving at a fairly satisfying conclusion about what it is to be human.
It all started out 300 years ago, when an alien invasion force came to take over the Earth. The aliens, called Ontongard, are very nasty -- they are utterly selfish, taking over whole worlds to literally turn the whole biosphere into Ontongard. One of the aliens, called Prime, is a mutant who somehow recognizes that it's wrong to absorb Earth, and he manages to almost stymie the Ontongard leader, Hex, but gets himself killed in the process. Ontongard, however, are a very strange (and rather difficult to believe) life; their cells are protean, and a relatively small amount of their cells can hold their memories. Injected into a human host, they either kill the human or take it over, producing a creature called a Get. When Prime realized he was going to die, he created a Get in a desperate effort to keep his quest alive. This Get at first vowed never to create any more, but eventually, back in the Civil War, broke his vow and started a group of Gets who were allowed to remember that they had once been human, who became the Pack.
Ukiah Oregon, our protagonist, starts out believing he's a human who was raised by wolves. It's pretty obvious to the reader that he's not human, though it takes him a while to figure it out. At the beginning of the book, he's become a partner in a detective agency, a position he got because of his inhuman powers of tracking and analysis of crime scenes granted by his Ontongard senses. He's investigating a bizarre missing persons case, where a woman scientist at a secret lab killed her roommates and ran off into the woods. He tracks her down; she cuts his throat, and before he dies, he shoots her quite thoroughly with a large caliber handgun. But because of the incredible healing powers of Ontongard, he doesn't die. Neither does she; she reanimates in the morgue, kills the coroner, and disappears, leaving bizarre clues about her new alien physiology. Ukiah continues to follow the case, falls in love with FBI special agent Indigo Zheng, and uncovers Hex's plot to use the Mars rover to wake up the main alien ship, which has been dormant on Mars for 300 years since Prime blew up the scout ship. Much violence ensues, ending up with Hex killed, hopefully to be cremated before he can get better, and Ukiah and his detective partner Max taking care of the infant clone Hex made of Ukiah. At the end of the story, Ukiah's adoptive mothers (he was adopted at the apparent age of 12 by a lesbian wolf researcher and her partner outside of Ukiah, Oregon, which is how he got his name) assure him that they knew he wasn't human from the first moment they saw him happily eating a raw rabbit sitting naked in the snow, but that he's still their baby, and fully human in the way that really counts. (I would say he's not human at all, but he's fully a person and deserves to be treated as part of our society. Spencer doesn't use the language I would prefer, but is making the same point.)
Overall, a fun read and a good book; I'll be buying the next couple this weekend. 8 out of 10.