Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Book Review: Semiosis by Sue Burke

Pros: brilliant world-building, fascinating characters and situation

Cons: some stories were very impersonal

The Commonwealth of Pax started as a group of volunteer colonists leave the horrors of war on Earth to begin a hard life on star HIP 30815f. Almost immediately they discover that the plant life on their new home world has varying degrees of intelligence, and that another alien species left ruins of a magnificent but failed city.

The novel is told from the points of view of one of the first settlers and six descendants, one from each of the following generations. Each generation faces new problems and challenges, from predators, from the plant they’ve allied with, internal strife, and the rediscovered aliens.

Most of the stories are told with an element of reserve, that allows some of the more unpleasant things that happen to leave little impact on the reader. By the time I got to know each character their segment ended. Though I’m glad that the rape scene was written in a clinical rather than sensationalist manner, on the whole I much preferred the longer stories that allowed me to really immerse myself in the character’s lives. Higgens’ section especially touched me deeply.

The sentient plants were handled well. I didn’t understand a lot of the chemistry involved, but there’s explanations for how the plants communicate - with humans and with each other. I loved the bamboo’s learning curve, from wanting to domesticate these strange but helpful animals to being a contributing member of their community. 

The world-building was excellent, with whole alien ecologies and while plants and animals were given names reminiscent of Earth, it’s clear they’re VERY different. 

During the second story I was shocked at how far the parents had fallen from their own constitution and their use of Earth tactics they claimed to hate. I’d have expected that kind of break to happen much later in the colony’s lifespan.

This was a fascinating book.

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