“Semiosis” by Sue Burke is Book 1 of the Semiosis Duology.
The sequel: “Interference” (c) 2019.
Richly imagined worldbuilding, fascinating and thought-provoking story of space exploration and colonization:
A multigeneration story; and a first-contact story of sentient plants and aliens.
Short-listed for major awards including the 2019 Locus Award for Best First Novel.; Arthur C. Clarke Award, & John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel,
Considered one of the best sci-fi novels of 2018.
The title of the novel “Semiosis” refers to communications using signs.
In the novel humans settle on a distant planet they name Pax, meaning peace. The humans, or Pacifists, are held responsible, by the Constitution, they write before leaving Earth, to work towards peaceful solutions, equality, and work for mutual benefit, with whatever sentient life they encounter in space.
On Pax, their challenge is immediate: To survive, they have to understand and communicate with sentient plants, and later with aliens, The Glassmakers, who preceded the humans in colonizing the planet.
The narrators are individual Pacifists, particularly the moderators, and a major sentient bamboo plant, named Stevland.
The moderators are Pacifists, elected by the community, and are responsible for guiding the community to live in peace within their community and all sentient and alien life. The goal is to avoid repeating Erath’s devastating problems — war, environmental and ecological disasters.
In the 2060s, a group of fifty human colonists leaves Earth. About 158 years later, they arrive at a planet, in a solar system near Castor in the Gemini constellation.
The planet, Pax, is Earth-like, in terms of its oxygen, water, and ecology. Octavio is a botanist and quickly realizes that the plants of Pax are unusual: They are sentient plants, able to communicate with each other through morphology, color, scents, and able to plan, and act in decisive ways.
And the colonists must learn to communicate with them to survive, to grow crops, to find plants that make edible fruit, to avoid poisonous plants.
Sylvia is one of the first generation born on Pax. She is Octavio’s daughter. She is a young woman when she and Julian, also born on Pax, discover the Glass City, made of glass, stones, metal, and rainbow-colored bamboo. They find script writing on the glass. But it is an abandoned city. There is no sign of the Glassmakers.
Back at the colonists’ village, Sylvia discovers their parents, the original colonists, knew of the Glass City but had hidden the information from the younger generations. Sylvia wants to move to the Glass City, with others from the younger generation.
Vera, one of the original colonists is the moderator. She is determined not to let any of the younger generations leave the village. She turns to violence to make her point: Sylvia is brutally attacked; her friend Julian and her father Octavio are killed.
On the day of Octavio’s funeral, there is a violent confrontation between Sylvia and Vera. Sylvia kills Vera.
Sylvia and all of the younger generation move to Glass City, renaming it Rainbow City. Sylvia is their moderator. She guides the young community of Pacifists to work towards peace as part of their way of life.
She passes on to the next generation her wisdom: Moderators may make errors in decisions, end up with terrible decisions, but ultimately the community must work toward Pax. Peaceful, reasonable ways of dealing with problems, difficult as this may be.
Tatiana, great-grandaughter of Sylvia, is a commissioner of peace, and eventually becomes co- moderator. In her time, a major sentient bamboo, Stevland, learns to communicate with the humans, learning to communicate in English; and is elected co-moderator.
He has memories of the Glassmakers. When the Pacifists first meet the Glassmakers, they are disappointed. Descendants of the original Glassmakers, this group of Glassmakers struggles with internal squabbling and disease and living a nomadic existence.
When Tatiana dies, Lucille is elected as co-moderator with Stevland. Their goal of peaceful co-existence with the Glassmakers is abruptly shaken in a violent battle with a hostile and aggressive group of the aliens.
Stevland’s ability to communicate with other plants, and with a friendly group of the Glassmakers plays a critical role in winning the battle. But 21 Pacifists are killed, including Lucille. Stevland is devastated and blames himself.
Some of the Pacifists demand Stevland resign or be removed. Bartholomew, an older Pacifist, who remembers Sylvia, steps in as Stevland’s legal advocate. Bartholomew becomes the key to a peaceful resolution, allowing the Pacifists, the sentient plants & animals, and the Glassmakers to live and work together in Glass City.
The story of Sylvia, her legacy of peace, of equality, of working for mutual benefit, becomes an integral part of all sentient life on Pax.
A fantastic story!