“Semiosis” by Sue Burke ★★★★

Semiosis is a debut novel about a small group of humans who travel from an environmentally-damaged Earth to a new planet, in hopes of starting over in a new community based on peace, mutual respect, and hope. Troubles arise as soon as they begin making the planet, which they name Pax, home. Much of the story is about survival – learning how to farm new fields and plant native crops, which animals can be tamed, and which are predators, etc.

They discover another sentient race was there before them, who they call the Glassmakers. The Glassmakers had advanced technology, but disappeared. The humans also discover that plant life on Pax is sentient and they begin a relationship with a rainbow bamboo plant they name Stevland. Stevland can make medicine and nutritious fruits, etc. for the humans using oxygen, waste, hydrogen, and many other natural compounds found in the soil, atmosphere, and from other plants.

Each chapter is told from the POV of a member of different generations. Over a hundred years passes during the book. The main character is really Stevland – and his (their?) relationship with the humans. They use a language the Glassmakers created to speak with Stevland. The anatomy of the plant (he had eyes and could see using spores from plants far away and other parts/shoots of themself and even using animals like bats) was unique and well-written. I thought the author did a good job creating plant life that was sentient.

The other animals on the planet were very cool too. One species was a cross between a cat and a rabbit called fippokats. A larger version that more resembled cattle were called fippolions. One human of each generation became a fippomaster and could communicate with the animals and the lions even recognized him as the “alpha.” They could be spoken to and help with complex tasks in exchange for food, shelter, and entertainment! Bits like that were very well done. Another type of animal was like an eagle as tall as a man; predators who could use fire and cook their prey!

The author even describes how life on the planet changed humans. They became shorter and didn’t live as long due to health conditions caused by some environmental incompatibilities (some got cancer or had kidney and lung issues). They came to the planet with advanced technology, computers, medical equipment, but as the items broke down, they had to rely more on Stevland and using the natural resources around them.

The last section of the book deals with the humans and Stevland trying to make peace with the other dominant species of the planet – learning to communicate with them and live peacefully together. I think I expected a darker story. While there were some sections full of action and sci-fi tension, it was mainly a story of survival and exploration.

I found it very entertaining overall and a unique story.

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