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Semiosis by Sue Burke: John C Adams Reviews

Book name: Semiosis

Author: Sue Burke

Publisher: Tor Books

Format: Print, ebook, audiobook

Genre: Science Fiction

Publication Date: 2018

Star Rating: 4/5

Science fiction is far from being all about space travel and physics, and Semiosis proves this point nicely.

Semiosis is a science-fiction novel inspired by biology. In particular, how plants interact with their environment.

As we are reminded on the cover, sentience takes many forms. How will the plants native to planet Pax react when aliens (in the form of human beings) arrive?

Octavo is the first of a string of narrators who take the story of Semiosis down through the generations starting with the first settlers to arrive there.

They hope to build a better society, in particular one without conflict and war.

Octavo is an expert with plants, and he quickly notices that the settlers’ new home contains two thickets of the same plant.

He calls these snow vines. One is friendly to the new human arrivals; the other is hostile.

Snow vines bear fruit, which the settlers need to survive since food is in short supply.

The west thicket fruit becomes poisonous after having been safe to eat in the past. The east thicket fruit continues to be safe to eat.

Three women from the group are found dead near the thicket. They have picked and eaten some of the snow vine fruit.

Tests show it is now poisonous.

Octavo is fascinated by why one thicket welcomes humans while the other thicket regards us as a threat.

He puts himself in the position of the plants and remembers that it isn’t unusual for plants to utilise animals to spread seeds or act as fertilisers via their corpse when they die.

Humans are just animals after all, so Octavo accepts that the snow vines on both sides see us as similar to other herbivores.

He also realises that the snow vines are at war with each other and are using the human settlers as a weapon against each other.

This recognition allows the settlers on Pax to work with the snow vines rather than against them. That fragile ecological balance enables the settlers to survive in the short term.

The next narrator is Sylvia in year 34. She is generation two, because she was born on Pax. Her boyfriend Julian is Octavo’s son. At this point, the settler group faces different challenges. Most of these come from differences within the group.

Semiosis featured a series of different narrators across multiple generations, each describing a particular issue or challenge faced by the community. I liked the personal element of the first-person perspective coupled with the ability to move the story on substantially over a long time period. This aspect was very well done.

The ability to live in harmony with nature is something that humanity as a whole is nowhere near achieving, so Semiosis makes an essential point as we hurtle towards the tipping point.

I loved this story and would definitely recommend it. The inter-generational narrative was compelling and it sparked much thought about our future, either here on Earth or another planet we are able to reach and settle upon.

Thank you for reading my review.

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John C Adams Reviews Semiosis

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