Review: Semiosis

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This one had been on my TBR list for a while, and I finally got around to it, and it is a strange and wonderful ride! SEMIOSIS by Sue Burke, her debut and Arthur C. Clarke Award nominated novel, is pure brilliance.

When human colonists, who seek to flee Earth’s violent ways settle on a planet they were not ready for, they struggle to survive. Only by careful and cautious communication does humanity find a strange ally on this alien world. It will be up to these would be colonists to forge partnerships and prove that they can be useful to these sapient species. When ruins from another alien race are found, it only becomes murkier of who actually rules this planet.

I don’t know how much I can actually talk about here without spoiling the book, but I think it’s pretty obvious that this novel is about sentient plants, and it’s absolutely bonkers. I loved all of it. If you don’t want to here more, just stop here, if you do, keep going!

The book immediately grabs you, leading with the first generation of colonists attempting to figure out this new planet that they name Pax (latin for peace), which is unsurprisingly, is a main theme of this book. The colonists come from a worn torn Earth and are sick of their violent, warring, and colonial habits and are attempting something new. Yet, this doesn’t come with

What follows is a generational tale of these colonists and their descendants as they attempt to survive and begin a new civilization on Pax. They go through various disagreements, strife, starvation, and almost total annihilation until they make an alliance with this curious organism, the rainbow bamboo, which is later named Stevland. Through rough signing/writing back and forth between man and plant, there is an alliance struck with Stevland and humanity begins to thrive.

This book has a common arc of understanding community, exploring mutualism, and colonialism, but Burke is a master of her craft and links each generational snippet to map over a century of cultural struggle and growth. I almost can’t help but look at SEMIOSIS as a collection of stories, if it wasn’t for the uniting themes and the semi-omnipotent Stevland, at the center of it all.

While it seems that there is a clear homage to the golden age writers of science fiction, Burke goes out of her way to subvert them, often by placing humanity in the backseat and focusing on what the plants do to encourage mutualism. A story that rests on colonization is premised on a majority of the colonists rejecting their imperial pasts and behaviors, as much as they can.

There are just so many questions this books asks, but in typical classic sci fi fashion, Burke is only going to hint at them or leave them wide open to the reader. For readers who love non-human perspectives, first contact/planet colonization stories, or just pure hard science fiction, this book is a dream.

2 thoughts on “Review: Semiosis

  1. I listened to this one on audio earlier this year for a GoodReads group. What I remember is having mixed and conflicting emotions about everything. From who was narrating, to what the colonists were doing or not doing, to the ever-changing generational structure. This author definitely made me think and took me on quite a ride.

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  2. This something I would really enjoy, especially the long timeline of the book looking at how the project develops over generations. That’s one of the things I found most fascinating about Aasimov’s Foundation and would love to see more of it.

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