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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Priam's Lens

Reviewed: April 11, 2003
By: Jack Chalker
Publisher: Del Rey Books
422 Pages, $8.99

Jack Chalker tends to write very long novels which his publishers break into parts and market as series. These are good reading, but it often takes a couple of years to get all the pieces, which can be frustrating. So it was a relief to encounter Priam’s Lens, a stand alone novel of alien invasion and counter invasion.

The planet Helena was but one of many human colony worlds attacked and taken over by the Titans, an utterly mysterious race of beings who were able to destroy just about any hope of resistance with the casual ease that we might use in swatting a fly. One minute Helena, with its Greek inspired culture, was a thriving concern, the next nothing on the planet worked properly, people were dying, and those who remained were beginning to feel the first signs of behavior altering electromagnetic broadcasts which reshaped their behavior and conditioned them to revert to a stone age hunter/gatherer existence. It took only a generation or two for the Titans to accomplish this.

It took the same amount of time for humanity to learn of the problems, realize its sphere of influence was under threat, and begin to respond. It appeared that the only possible response lay in rumours of a century old super weapon which was designed, but never fired, by the scientists of Helena.

Finding and activating this weapon was the self-appointed task of a small group of volunteers, a self-financed group with no official government connections. They develop a plan to sneak past the force which has embargoed Helena, find the secret location of the weapon, learn what it could do, and use it to free the planet. As a sidebar to this, they hope to find a way to prevent the Titans from expanding their holdings even further.

There are certain trademark themes to a work by Jack Chalker. One of the most obvious is the notion of physical and psychological transformation, the idea that people can be redesigned in subtle ways that they don’t notice and that they will accept this as normal. In some of his books this plot device has been carried to extremes. In this one it is used carefully. The humans remaining on Helena have regressed in terms of technology and social structure even while they have tried to hold on to their old ways. The members of the task force, a bit more aware of what they are getting into, also find themselves affected by this broadcast compulsion, but manage to find ways to work around it until they can accomplish their mission. This time, rather than being a magic wand, the transformation technique creates an interesting tension among the characters.

Priam’s Lens has a triumphant ending, but one that is quite a bit more realistic than many of these “we beat the aliens” tales. There are consequences than go beyond the immediate struggle, and compromises that have to made in the wake of the victory.

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