Review of ‘Semiosis’ by Sue Burke

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Inspired new colony story, in which three species try to find a practical, ethical equilibrium over generations on a beautifully-rendered alien planet called Pax, whose otherness is depicted with clever hints and subtle imagery. Gravity exerts more force, for example, so children are smaller and stronger, while their parents’ flesh droops with age like melted wax. The reader is constantly aware of the difficulty of establishing and maintaining such a colony, without the drama being overplayed or repetitive. There’s a great political dimension too, as the early hippyish human settlers devolve into bigots so intent on forcing their narrow world-view on their offspring they are willing to go to barbaric extremes to do it. Tree-hugging takes on a new dimension as the local plants turn out to be not only smarter than the animals but the humans too, and the long process of working out a relationship begins. Meanwhile, young rebel Sylvia finds a deserted city in the mountains. Since Pax is a billion years older than Earth, could the city be the remains of an indigenous race, or other colonists like the humans? And what happened to them? The novel really takes off when we encounter super-bamboo Stevland, whose relationships with the humans and, in later passages, other plants are a splendid example of how to do science fiction properly.

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