Dawn by Octavia Butler.
the cancer clicked its black claws.
The ooloi smiled back
I've been meaning to read Octavia Butler for years. She's another one of those writers looming over my head like a Sword of Damocles; part of the geek canon that I'd neglected. I have a bunch of them, actually-- like Foundation, for instance-- but I assume everybody does, right? All we can do is play catch-up with a widening gulf of information. Still, beats living a thousand years ago where all the books ever written would fit into one library, yeah? I had a really blank slate coming to this, because I had it sort of in my brain that this might be about a shapeshifting alien godddess...which I think might be the plot of Wild Seed? Anyhow, there is a sort of ICO beginning, imprisoned & alone, where I had these hints of preconceptions that the text eventually shattered. Tabula rasa, baby! Really though, this is much more like the book Brother Termite, though from the human perspective, not the alien. Stockholm Syndrome with alien captors, Cronenbergian body horror & the failure of tribal interpersonal dynamics. The aliens, the Oankali, could be one of the rival Involved species of Iain M. Bank's Culture novels, as they hope from planet to planet swapping genes-- both ways. Physically, they remind me nothing so much as Aunt Beast from A Wrinkle in Time-- especially the version from Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestials-- though without the magical agape love that overcomes Meg's initial revulsion. In fact, the eponymous Lilith getting over her kneejerk xenophobia is a major thrust of the first chunk of the book.