Author: Sue Burke
Publisher: Harper Voyager (Kindle Edition)
Format Read: Kindle
In ‘Semiosis’ a group of settlers leave Earth for a faraway planet to start a new life. But then they overshoot their original destination and are forced to land on a different world, one they call Pax.
Pax is alien and strange and at first glance, devoid of intelligent life. Until the settlers, trying to integrate with their new world and discovering an abandoned city, discover that the intelligence of Pax lies in its plants. Or in particular, one sentient, ever aware bamboo they call Stevland.
‘Semiosis’ is an episodic novel and each long chapter is devoted to a different character from a different generation of settlers. Each generation has its own quirks and customs and those were fascinating to read about.
As for characters in ‘Semiosis’ – I had trouble tracking them and remembering their names. I am not sure if that is because their voices were similar, or because there were so many to deal with at the same time.
Stevland, though, is an utterly unique creation. As a plant who has lived long, he seeks balance and integration with nature. He is in turns philosophical and superior and humble. Contradictory traits that make him a strange force to reckon with.
Exposure to humans allows a wider perspective on the events around him, but the humans are forced to adapt too. Plants, it seems, have their own ways of dealing with new neighbours.
As the episodic chapters go on, the settlers move, resettle, come in contact with another race of alien settlers. Through it all is Stevland – guiding them and giving them food and medicine and occasionally misleading them. The humans resist and rebel and persist, and the novel does not shy away from depicting the brutality of it all. There are murders and intrigue and disturbing scenes of violence.
You are left with questions though, because some of what the human settlers do is strange and unpredictable. Also, why was the abandoned city abandoned in the first place? That wasn’t made clear.
‘Semiosis’ has plenty of unusual, intriguing ideas and the episodic format was a good choice. I liked it, and I wonder where the story will go next.