Semiosis by Sue Burke – An Arthur C Clarke Award Review

Semiosis is a deeply interesting book for someone with an interest in biology like myself. Burke has created an alien world that works on a deeper level than most. For some the wildlife or aliens need little explanation, after all they are a plot tool to explore ideas but when your plot explores intelligence and society then you need to have a more biology fleshed out.

Semiosis follows a group of colonists trying to survive on an alien world. The story follows a different character in each generation which at first is jarring, just as you think you have developed a connection with a character you are whisked away from them to another who may not be as sympathetic. This soon settles down as you start to spot the consistent narrative thread that runs through the book, that of Stevland the sentient plant.

Burke creates a plethora of aliens, Glassmakers, fippokats, snow vine, bats, bamboo and more with which the humans must interact. The colonists have an ideal to create Pax, a perfect society but it soon becomes apparent that it is based on shaky ground.

The book trundles along well with moments of high drama. Most interesting is the ecology created between all the species and how Burke realises an intelligence born not from animals but from plants. I would not say this element of the book is ground breaking nor fully explained but it makes the book stand out from others.

The book is no space opera nor is it just a survival horror trope, it combines both on a smaller more nuanced scale and mixes in some of the morals and themes from Dune. The book ends abruptly to me, but it represents the ongoing hope for the colony it also leaves the door open for subsequent books which in my mind is all to the good, I would happily read another installment about the inhabitants of Pax.

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