the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘biology

The Gate to Futures Past (Reunification #2) by Julie Czerneda

published in Sept 2016

where I got it: rec’d review copy from the publisher (Thanks DAW!)

 

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The Gate to Futures Past is a tricky book to review, because not only is this the middle book of the Reunification trilogy, it is the penultimate book in Czerneda’s long running Clan Chronicles series. I actually read this book last summer when it came out, but I didn’t have time to review it. What better time for a review, than when the next book is about to come out? I also have the benefit of having already read the final book in the series, so I am cheating  more than a  little bit.   With the final book in this series releasing in just a few months, readers new to this series will have an opportunity no one else has ever had – you’ll be able to read all three Reunification books, This Gulf of Time and Stars, The Gate to Futures Past, and To Guard Against the Dark, one right after the other. That’s to your advantage, as these last three books do read as one long novel.  Click here to read my spoilery review of This Gulf of Time and Stars.  And by the way, both This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Futures Past are now available in mass market paperback.

 

Did you cringe when you read that phrase “long running series”?  I know some of you did! Yes, the Clan Chronicles is a space opera epic that spans three trilogies. If you’ve read any of Robin Hobb’s interconnected trilogies, you know you can jump in at any Book 1, and do just fine.  I’m sure there are readers and fans who will disagree with me, but I believe the same is true for Czerneda’s  Clan Chronicles series – so long as you jump in at any Book 1, you’ll be ok, with the added bonus that if you enjoy what you read, you can then start again at any other book 1!  It’s neat, because if you and your friend each start at a different point, you’ll have a different timeline and a different perspective of the entire story.

 

I preamble with all of that so you’ll be understanding that this review will involve references to events that occurred outside this novel, that there will be unavoidable minor spoilers. It’s all to the greater good though – if you enjoy space opera with healthy dose of romance, family drama, cosmic mystery, humor, and aliens that work, anything Julie Czerneda writes is for you!

 

“Aliens that work”, that’s a weird phrase.  You ever read a book with aliens and think to yourself these are just humans with blue skin, or elephants that talk and think just like a human?  A biologist by trade, Czerneda’s aliens act differently than humans because they have biological evolutionary histories completely different from anything that evolved on Earth.  They have different physiologies, different brain patterns, different reasons for doing what they do and how they do it. If you want to write aliens that aren’t humans in disguise, quit watching Star Trek and start reading Czerneda. (Actually, keep watching Star Trek. I keep hoping Huido will show up in an episode of DS9 or Voyager)

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darwins radio bearDarwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear

published 1999

where I got it: purchased used

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I talked about this book a little while ago, about how it worked so damn well. I finished the novel shortly after posting that blog post, it just took me forever to write the actual review!

 

Pregnant women are losing their babies.  All across the globe, women are miscarrying at staggering rates, some so early in their pregnancies they didn’t even know they were expecting.  When I first read the back cover of Darwin’s Radio, my first thought was “terrible pregnancies? Is this a book about something like Zika?”  Of course it isn’t. Darwin’s Radio was written in 1999, and it won the 2000 Nebula and Endeavor awards.

 

At first, it’s assumed it’s a virus of some sort that is causing the miscarriages.  CDC Investigator Christopher Dicken is used to travelling the globe, seeing the worst viruses in action.  But this doesn’t act like any virus he’s ever seen.   Meanwhile, molecular biologist Kaye Lang has published a handful of papers on ancient retroviruses found in the human genome, papers that push her to the fringe of academia. Not exactly viruses, these are genetic markers that go into action when triggered. But triggered to do what? And triggered by what?   At the same time, discredited archaeologist Mitch Rafelson has been doing his own secret research, except he doesn’t yet understand what he sees in the mummies in an ice cave.

 

When Lang is brought in to consult on a mass grave, the wheels start turning in her head, because what she’s seeing doesn’t make sense. Why would a village murder the pregnant wives? And why did the same thing happen 40 years ago? And why are there current reports of mass violence against pregnant women and women who recently miscarriage? This is not how civilized modern civilization acts!

 

This isn’t a super fast paced book, or an action thriller,  but the speed and intensity comes into play with how fast their ideas and theories take shape, and how fast that information can be shared with others who can put it to good use. Bear fully fleshes out the three main characters Kaye, Christopher, and Mitch, introducing other supportive characters as needed, and educates the reader about genetics and biology through conversation between characters instead of through infodumping.  Bear writes in a way that makes complicated science and biology accessible to any reader. You can go into this book with zero knowledge of genetics, biology, and how diseases work, and come out of it with just enough knowledge to be a bit dangerous.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a science heavy, hard science fiction thriller. But Bear also subtly deals with grief, scientific academia, mob mentalities, and what we talk about when we talk about evolution.

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2015-04-05 20.33.31The Gabble and Other Stories, by Neal Asher (short story collection)

published 2008, Night Shade Edition published 2015

where it got it: received review copy from Night Shade Books (thanks!)

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My first Neal Asher novel was The Skinner, an edgy  space opera that I’ve lovingly described as “magnificently disgusting”.  In that novel, the name of the game is adapt or die, and the denizens of the planet Spatterjay take full advantage of evolutionary opportunities. Even visitors who stick around long enough can watch their bodies change into something not quite human.  The Skinner made me an instant fan of Asher, and I’ve been watching for his titles ever since.

Many of Asher’s novels take place in his Polity Universe, which in a similar fashion to Banks’ Culture novels,  the novels all take place in the same universe, and occasionally characters from one book show up or are mentioned in another, but you can generally jump around in the order the books were published.   Not sure Asher is for you? Not sure you want to dive into a new universe? The Gabble, a short story collection of stores from the Polity will answer both of those questions for you.  If you ask me, you can just answer those two questions with a resounding Yes and be done with it.

What I loved about how Asher does alien planets and aliens is that everything is so damn alien. Why should aliens have two arms, two legs, a head, a nose and a mouth? If that configuration is unique to Earth, it follows that every planet will have a unique configuration based on evolutionary needs, the planet’s unique environs, and any one of a million other variables in how life works. No one we run into is going to look like us, think like us, or communicate like us. There is no gentleness here, no Star Trek style diplomacy.  Some species simply do not communicate with others, and humans are quite tasty.  It might sound harsh, but this is how nature works.   When it comes down to it, we are just animals in a food chain.

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stableford FloriansThe Florians, by Brian Stableford

published in 1976

where I got it: purchased used

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Back in January of 2013, Susan of Dab of Darkness wrote a guest post about the works of Brian Stableford, and I’ve been looking for a copy of The Florians ever since. And I eventually found one!

 

Once upon in the future, Earth was able to send out colony ships with the idea that as they sent back confirmation of habitable planets, we would sent out more colonists. Habitable planets found or not, shortly after the ships were sent out, the project was cancelled for economic reasons. We never set out more ships, we never tried to reach our colonists, and couldn’t afford to worry if they had survived or not.  There are those who want to completely cancel all space programs. Many people want us to work on solving problems on Earth (pollution, over population, disease, etc) before spending money we don’t have on outer space missions with no guarantee.

 

However, limited funding has made a few ships available to contact colonies.  Alexis Alexander is a member of the small crew of the Daedelus, on a mission to connect with as many surviving colonies as possible. The ship won’t bring supplies or food or anything like that, only the medical lab on board, and the ecological, biological, and medical expertise of Alexis and his crewmates. All they can do is help the colonists adapt to their new worlds, help them fight off diseases. Even if the colonists don’t meet intelligent life forms, they will still be breathing alien air, be interacting with alien soil and microbes and such.

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species imperative big

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Thanks to Julie Czerneda’s publishers, I’ve got a copy of the Species Imperative Omnibus to give away to one lucky reader!  Scroll to the bottom of this post for more information on the give away.

RegenerationRegeneration (Species Imperative #3) by Julie Czerneda

published in 2006

where I got it: purchased used

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It’s hard to get into the plot of Regeneration without spoiling things that happened in the previous books, so I’m going to try to keep  the plot-talk very light. The super quick oversimplified plot introduction is that in the not too distant future we have become part of the Interspecies Union, which is exactly what it sounds like. Thanks to no-space transit technology provided by the multi-dimensional Ro, and the Sinzi who administrate it, hundreds of galactic species can travel all over the place.    Brymn, a Dhryn researcher, seeks out the Earthbound salmon researcher Dr. Mackenzie Connor (Mac to her friends), for help with how to save his species.

 

In Regeneration, the final book of the Species Imperative trilogy, while most governments are trying to figure out a weapon of mass destruction (or extinction) that can be used against the Dhryn, Mac and her team are asking questions that are more along the lines of *why*?  Why do the Dhryn have this biological urge? What is their biology anyways? Have they always been like this? How and where did they evolve? Can we trust our sources of information? I wish all scifi books had this much science in their fiction.  Give this series to a high school kid, and watch them fall in love with biology.

 

Underneath the superb characters and the smart dialog, and the hella fun aliens (whose biology makes sense!), and the political intrigue and the race against time are some heavy questions:

 

How do we handle an invasive species, especially if that species is intelligent and space-faring?

 

How do you study a species that most people (human and alien) have been taught to shoot on sight?

 

How do you get a panicked population to calm down? How do you get someone to work against their biological urges (or what they’ve been lead to believe are their biological urges?)

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Migration-186x300Migration by Julie E. Czerneda (Species Imperative #2)

published in 2005

where I got it: purchased used

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Now that the summer is over, I want everyone to tell me how they dealt with all the weeds that popped up in their garden all summer. Did you read up online about invasive species? Did you pull the weeds out one by one? Spray weed poison on them? figure out what their food source was and then deprive them of it? Nuke ‘em from orbit, just to be sure?

 

When I reviewed the first book in the Species Imperative series, Survival, I made reference to the Guggenheim Museum. That I’d felt a little let down that when I got to the top floor of the metaphorical museum, there was a door in the corner that said “roof”, and how unsurprised I was that the door led to the roof.

 

Okay, so now I’m reading Migration, the second book in the series. I’ve opened the door, and I’m on the roof. And damned if the view from up here is far more amazing than I’d expected. I can nearly see my house from here, I can nearly see across the solar system from here, I can see that what’s going on is a hell of a lot bigger than what I’d originally thought. What’s happening here is huge.  If Mac was on this roof with me, she’d be standing at the edge with a huge smile on her face saying “wanna jump?”

 

Mac is trying to get her life back together. She’s getting better at using her prosthetics, getting better at not crying every time she thinks of Emily. She’s trying to forget Nik before she decides how she feels about him. No one she works with knows where she’s been, let alone what she’s witnessed on an alien planet. The Dhryn are the galaxy’s greatest enemies, how can Mac ever tell anyone she’d become friends with one? That she’s spoken to a Dhryn progenitor? that when she sleeps, she talks in Dhryn? She’s trying to stop waking up screaming.   To be sympathetic to the galaxy’s most invasive species is a recipe for arrest.

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survivalSurvival (Species Imperiative #1), by Julie Czerneda

published in 2004

where I got it: purchased used

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Just because we’ve traveled to the stars and met with aliens doesn’t mean everyone wants to travel to the stars and hang out with aliens. Evolutionary biologist Dr. Mackenzie Connor  is perfectly happy to study salmon at the Norcoast research facility, working with other quirky research scientists and grad students.  Why should she care about aliens, outlying human colonies, or a dead spot in the galaxy, when all her salmon are doing just fine?

Let me save you a lot of reading by simply saying Julie Czerneda’s Survival is damn near perfect. There is no possible way to cram all the awesome of Survival into one review, so I won’t torture us by trying. But by all means, keep reading. Excellently researched and presented hard science fiction, characters in difficult situations, betrayal, aliens, and genocide, it took me a while to write this review because my brain was so Wow’d by the implications of what I’d read.

As there’s a big blue alien on the cover of the book, it’s no spoiler to tell you that an alien, a Dhryn to be specific, visits Norcoast. Instead of being flattered that the first Dhryn to ever visit the Earth has chosen her research facility to visit, Mac is less than thrilled to have her meticulously timed research interrupted by a huge alien name Brymn.  When I first met her, Mac reminded me of Dr. Ellie Arroway from Carl Sagan’s Contact. Both women are so very focused on their fields of research, that they take it as a personal insult whenever someone tries to interrupt their studies.  And it’s not just an alien who visits Norcoast, it’s the entourage of political hanger ons and the media, all stomping all over the place. So much for this season’s salmon spawning research.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.