Through the Eye of a Needle

by Hal Clement
Series: Needle 2
Reviewed date: 2018 Jul 24
Rating: 4
195 pages
cover art

In Needle, young Robert Kinnaird becomes host to an alien symbiont known as the Hunter. The Hunter is a law enforcement officer tracking a member of his species who has committed a serious crime: deliberately injuring his host. Together, the Hunter and Bob track down and kill the Quarry before he can escape among the population of Earth and cause more harm. Because the Hunter can no longer return to his people--his spaceship crash-landed and is broken beyond repair, and the Hunter is unable to navigate back home in any event--the Hunter remains on Earth with Bob as his host.

Now, in Through the Eye of a Needle, that arrangement has hit a serious snag. The Hunter's presence has damaged Bob's natural biology. His immune system no longer functions. He is also experiencing cramps, nauseau, muscle fatigue and weakness. The Hunter protects Bob from infections and helps manage the symptoms, but Bob is going to die without expert help. But no Earth doctor would know what to do.

The Hunter figures that his people can help. And after studying some astronomy at university, he and Bob figure that Earth is likely not so out-of-the-way as the Hunter first thought. There's a high likelihood that the Hunter's people have followed him to Earth and that a pre-contact team of scientists is on the planet and studying humans. All the Hunter must do is make contact with his people and ask them to send a doctor. But how to find them?

And this is where the book starts to fall down a bit. I figured the best way to make contact would be write a message in the Hunter's language and to place it as a big ad in the New York Times. Or if he thinks his people will still be on Ell Island in the Pacific, near where he and the Quarry first crash-landed, go back to Ell Island and put up a big sign or something. It would do the job, and no human would be the wiser--although Bob might have to answer a few pointed questions about his sanity. But the Hunter comes up with this convoluted plan: return to the Pacific island where he and the Quarry first crashed their spaceships, locate the wreckage of the Quarry's spaceship on the ocean floor, and leave a message in the wreckage. Then presumably his people will be checking the wreckage periodically, and will find the message.

What kind of nonsense is that?

But that's what they do. Bob is too weak to do it alone, so he enlists the help of his parents and Dr. Seever, who already know about the Hunter. They convince him to reveal the secret to Dr. Seever's daughter, Jenny, and to Maeta Teroa. Both Jenny and Maeta develop a bit of a crush on Bob, who is too busy to notice, but it's adorable.

Things take a sinister turn when somebody tries to hurt Bob. First it's little stuff--messing with his bicycle wheel. Everybody suspects eleven-year-old André desChenes, who is known for playing cruel psychopathic pranks. But when it graduates to knocking Bob unconscious and stabbing him through the heart with a skewer (the Hunter saves Bob's life), that seems a bit much even for André. Dr. Seever wonders if perhaps the Quarry isn't dead after all.

So now we have three mysteries. First, a biological puzzle: what's gone wrong in Bob's body to cause his dysfunctional immune system and his constellation of symptoms? Second, who is trying to murder Bob and why? Third, where are the Hunter's people?

The answer to the first question is Hal Clement doesn't care. The biology puzzle wasn't there to be solved, it was just part of the setting. So we don't get an answer to what was going wrong in Bob's body.

The second question: it was André all along. The Quarry is dead. André went through some traumatic events in his childhood (death of his mother) and it's messed him up. He's just a little psychopath.

The third question: after nearly getting everyone killed locating the Quarry's spaceship and planting a message, the Hunter deduces that his people are on Ell Island, operating out of the local library. They were never going to check the wreckage (that was a dumb idea). The Hunter writes a message on a piece of paper, Maeta takes it to the library reading room, and waits for the Hunter's people to read it and make contact.

The Hunter's people bring specialists who set to work healing Bob. It's a happy ending.

I've touched on a lot of the problems I had with the story, but the story was engaging enough that I only really noticed the problems after I finished the book. So kudos for a thrilling story. But the ending really highlighted the flaws in the premise. The whole book was about finding the spaceship wreckage, which turned out to not matter in the slightest. Oh well.

Oh, and a clever title. I was hoping the title was foreshadowing a crucial plot twist, but no. The story has nothing to do with the biblical allusion, and it wasn’t really told through the Hunter’s eye, so…I guess it’s just a clever title.

Archive | Search