Blurb Book Review: Semiosis by Sue Burke (spoilers ahead)

Cover image from Goodreads.com

A group of people travel to another planet to live in harmony and peace. They encounter sentience in ways they hadn’t predicted.

The first generation of people live a hard life of eking out an existence on this new planet. One of the members of the second generation finds a settlement left by another species; a village of glass blocks and rainbow bamboo. The first generation people believe the bamboo – who provided delicious fruit – is trying to trap the humans there and argues against living in the settlement. A small battle ensues and many of the humans go to the village to begin a new life that includes less hardship and more time for pursuit of pleasure.

The bamboo is sentient and knows these new humans will provide gifts in terms of fertilizer (poop) and water. This information was garnered from moths that bit the humans and brought the little chunks back to the bamboo to analyze. The bamboo helps the humans by providing enzymes and nutrients that aren’t available otherwise. It also helps them with medical concerns and in return, the humans cultivate seeds of the bamboo and plant them where indicated.

The worldbuilding in the book is fascinating. I was engrossed throughout as the novel switched perspectives from humans to this bamboo. Both wanted to live a comfortable life and both assisted each other, sometimes reluctantly. The animals and plants were fantastic and richly described so that I was immersed in this new planet every step of the way.

The novel is told over seven generations. Each chapter is like a peek into a new generation or character and references events that happened off the page but are still relevant, like the computers failing and deaths from accidents. These references were a bit frustrating – I’d have liked to read about them – but I understood they’d make the book tediously long.

The conflict is gentle, for the most part. It’s the struggle of humans living with each other and dealing with differing opinions on important matters. One huge difference of opinion is tracking down the ones that originally made the settlement – the Glassmakers – and how to interact with them.

I almost didn’t want the book to end. I really enjoyed reading about the new creatures and how the humans dealt with petty squabbles amongst themselves, all on a colourful backdrop of a rainbow bamboo and glass village. I’d actually like to see this book made into a TV series.

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