Friday 10 August 2012

Survival, by Julie E Czerneda

This is the second book I have read by Julie Czerneda, my review of Beholder's Eye appearing on this blog in January last year. That one (the first of the Web Shifters trilogy) I enjoyed, with some reservations. Survival is also the first of a series, called Species Imperative, and was published six years later in 2004. I decided to read it as it was chosen as a novel of the month by the Classic Science Fiction discussion group.

Survival is decidedly easier to get involved in than the earlier book because the heroine is an ordinary human woman rather than an energy being and the Earth she lives in, while set in the future, is recognisably much the same as ours. Dr Mackenzie Connor (Mac) is a biologist who has devoted her life to studying the salmon on the Pacific NW coast of the North America. Her work routine with students and colleagues, including her friend Emily Mamani, is disrupted by the arrival of an honoured visitor - a member of an alien species. Humanity had been invited to join a galactic community some time before and some alien races were well-known, but Brymn was the first of the Dhryn race ever to visit Earth; and he had come specifically to see Mac.

Brymn is an archaelogist researching what had caused the Chasm, an area of the Galaxy which had once thrived with life but has been completely dead for millennia. Biology is not studied by his race, so he arrives looking for assistance. He is chaperoned by Nikolai Trojanowski, a bureaucrat Mac initially finds very irritating, before realising that there is more to him than meets the eye. She soon learns that there is a deadly threat, possibly connected with the Chasm, spreading from planet to planet and destroying all life on them. And that Brymn is not the only alien with an interest in Mac. This is the start of adventures which take her to alien worlds, fighting to discover what is going on and exactly how her friend Emily is involved. There are many twists and turns in the plot before the final startling revelation.

This is a more involving story than Czerneda's earlier book, and well worth the read. The characterisation is very good, Mac being a credible and likeable heroine. I still have a few reservations, though. I'm not sure of the credibility of a life form which annihilates every living thing on a planet, leaving nothing for itself to feed on. Also, at one stage a budding romance between two of the principal characters acquires something of the flavour of a Mills and Boon plotline (formulaic and slushy multi-author romantic fiction aimed at women) and begins to dominate the tale, but fortunately that phase doesn't last too long. My final reservation is that the story is spread a little thinly over nearly 500 pages which for much of the book slows down the action, making this somewhat less than an unputdownable page-turner. There's no shortage of tension or surprises in the last part, though, and I remain sufficiently gripped to want to read the rest of the series.


Bill Garthright said...

Czerneda is a biologist by education, Tony, so I'm sure she knows more about it than I do, but I found some of that implausible, too. Still, I enjoyed the book enough to overlook that.

Also - without getting into spoilers - let me just say that not everything you think you know at the end of the first book is really true. That's one of the things that makes the rest of the trilogy so entertaining.

The books are long, and as much as I loved them, I did wonder if that was really necessary. But that's probably your influence. :)

Anthony G Williams said...

Now you've got me really intrigued - I'll have to order the other books!