Lilith: A Snake in the Grass (by Jack L. Chalker) is the first book in the Four Lords of the Diamond series. The series takes place in the future where a galactic Confederation has expanded to cover a third of the galaxy. The population is breed to be legally average, and only on the expanding frontier is random genetics and culture allowed to flourish. The reason that the frontier is allowed an element of chaos is to prevent the human race from ceasing to develop its advances. Interestingly enough, this does not completely eliminate crime; and given the fact that criminals are often the brightest of humanity, the Confederacy needs a secure place to imprison those criminals that might still make a brilliant advancement without having to worry about them escaping.
This secure place is the Warden Diamond, a solar system with four habitable planets and a rather nasty problem. Once you set foot on one of the planets in the Warden Diamond, you cannot ever leave the solar system, thanks to an organism that infects all matter in the Diamond system. But with the bad comes the good, for the organism allows for the development of special powers--the abilities dependent upon what planet you first set foot on.
Into this perfect prison system enters an unknown alien race with advanced technology, a definite danger to the Confederacy. To send an agent into the Warden Diamond is condemning them to a life sentence of imprisonment in the Diamond solar system. But the Confederacy has developed the ability to record the personality and experiences of a person, and imprint this set of memories into another's mind. Furthermore, it allows the Confederacy not only the ability to send an agent into the Diamond, the technology allows them to send the same master agent to all four Warden worlds inside four different bodies.
In Lilith: A Snake in the Grass, we are introduced to the first world of the Warden Diamond system, Lilith, and to the nameless agent that is imprinted onto four bodies condemned to be imprisoned in the Diamond system. Much of the book is about the agent overcoming the shock of being sent into the Diamond (in a new body), learning to control the Warden organism which on Lilith does not allow items that are not natural to survive unless a powerful mind overrides nature's model, and realizing that the new body changes the mind of the agent. In the end, the agent is shaken by the recorded experiences of his mind-cloned counterpart, and we are not given many clues about the alien menace (or so, we think at this point in the series).
I have read this book several times over the years. And it is a series that I have grown to admire more and more over the years as my skill as a writer and literary critic has grown. For instance, this reading I found myself admiring the first sentence of the novel: "The little man in the synthetic tweed jacket didn't look like a bomb." It is an accurate description of the first few paragraphs of the novel, and our first encounter with the technology of the alien menace. And honestly, I wish that I could come up with opening sentences for my own writing that was as good as this sentence.
I recommend this book to science fiction fans. Five out of five stars.