Semiosis by Sue Burke

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
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I was drawn to this book by something I rarely taking much note of – another author’s endorsement. However, in this case the endorser was Adrian Tchaikovsky, whose SF work I have greatly admired, so I decided to take a look, despite the reviews suggesting something of a marmite reaction to it. Having now read it I can certainly see why that reader reaction would be mixed and also why Tchaikovsky would have liked it; it is very well researched, hard science speculation of how alien biology might develop given a planet where that biology has had a billion years longer than Earth to simmer away on the crucible of evolution. Right up Tchaikovsky’s street!

Relatively recent research has shown that plants can sense their siblings/children and assist them by sharing nutrients and even warning of dangers. Equally they can actively attack rival plants by depriving them of water, nutrients and or sunlight, even poisoning them in some cases. These ideas combined with the possible effects of an extra billion years of evolution form the backdrop of this fascinating book about a small human colony being set up on such a planet and having to ‘negotiate’ with the native fauna and flora to survive.

The science and ideas behind this book are absolutely 5 stars but the writing, sadly, does not really sing with equal brilliance. One problem is that the story, and indeed the science, needs to cover a period greater than a single human lifespan, necessitating a writing style I’m not hugely fond of. Each generation has a new character POV and there are quite a few of them, and they are all written first person, and none of them is particularly likeable. Oh dear! I found myself wrapped up in a story that I loved told by people that, by and large, I didn’t hate but most certainly didn’t love. I also had a big problem with the original colonists’ almost complete abandonment of all their principles – the motivation for their colony in the first place – at the first sign of problems, this, for me, lacked plausibility, something I hold very dear in my reading. Consequently, I found the writing much closer to 3 stars. There is a second book and I found the story sufficiently compelling, with such fascinating possibilities for the sequel, that I am amply motivated to continue with the next book.

4/5 stars
 

CTRandall

I have my very own plant pot!
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Maddening! The premise is hugely attractive to me but I'm really bugged by books where the author spent all of their time thinking about the science and not enough time working on the story and writing. Still, I may have to give this a try...
 

Vertigo

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Maddening! The premise is hugely attractive to me but I'm really bugged by books where the author spent all of their time thinking about the science and not enough time working on the story and writing. Still, I may have to give this a try...
Well in fairness I did say the story is quite good too. My problem is the lack of protagonists that I can empathise with. This is normally something I just dislike but not too intensely but here, with all the POVs being first person, you are sort of up close and personal with them, so to speak, and that did give me a problem.

However I still think it deserves recommending but probably mostly for people who will like the science as that is probably the strongest feature. My mentioning of Adrian Tchaikovsky was not casual, there are a lot of parallels including, to be honest, Tchaikovsky's own characters in the Children of Time books who, whilst probably better drawn than Burke's characters, are nevertheless not hugely sympathetic for the most part.
 
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