26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2004
I used to read a lot of science fiction. I picked up new copies of the various pulp sci-fi magazines and a correspondent sent me his old copies. I especially liked GALAXY, FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION and later ISAAC ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION, but I occasionally read ANALOG as well. I also read the novels by numerous sci-fi authors, including Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, Norton and a host of others. I don't read much of that genre these days because of time and the fact that while there was always a lot of schlock out there (as there is in any book type) it seems like many sci-fi books these days are take offs on movies or TV shows (I have a possibly snobbish dislike for such made up books).
However, after reading Julie E. Czerneda's "Survival: Species Imperative #1" I may be hooked again. Here is a sci.-fi. book actually written by someone trained in biology. Yes, I know that the space travel involved probably does not have much of a scientific base (Isaac Asimov once said that one needed such devices just to make plots work), but the depth of the work keeps the reader turning pages. While I have my doubts that we will ever (or at least in my lifetime) find aliens like the Dhryn or the Ro, they are fabulous constructs by someone who at least has a handle on how weird living things (even on this planet) can be.
The book centers on one human- Mackenzie Winifred Elizabeth Wright Conner (Mac to her friends) and one alien- the Dhryn Brymn. Mac is a biologist who studies salmon on the Pacific Coast; Brymn is an alien archeologist from a species that mostly has little use for science. Add a "spy" named Nikolai Piotr Trojanowski, a Quechua biologist named Emily Mamani Sarmiento, worlds along a inter-stellar transport line being stripped of every living thing, and of course the seemingly ever present and possibly malevolent Ro, who are invisible and thus not easily understood, and you have a fascinating experiment in imagination- the "what if" that hooked me on science fiction in the beginning.
The ending, which is far from obvious until almost the last 20 pages or so (although it starts to become somewhat plausible a bit earlier), leads us into both the light and the dark recesses of the mind- both of human and alien.
This is a very good read for those who like a bit of meat in their sci.-fi. I'm looking forward to other books by this author!
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2005
An excellent book! Julie Czerneda, winner of Canada's Aurora Award, has created a unique tale where the principles of biology underscore the essential mystery of the story.
Dr, Mackenzie Connor, known as "Mac" to her colleagues, is a research biologist, specializing in salmon spawning. Unfortunately, her research is disrupted by a visiting Drhyn, looking specifically for her. Brymn is giant, alien and blue (Ms. Czerneda is known for her ability to bring aliens to life on the page, and she succeeds again here; Brymn has a sense of humour, he is enthusiastic about his specialty and interests, he even lies when he thinks he should, to her and to his own kind--which all sounds very human, but his motives are entirely alien). He is an archaeologist who is investigating a series of disappearances occurring along a space lane which leads to his planet as well as to others. At one end of this lane--a wormhole-like technology that transects areas of space, enabling faster-than-light space travel--is the Chasm, a region of space where planets have somehow been denuded of life in the past.
Mac knows very little of this, but Brymn's visit triggers a series of incidents that draw her directly into the mystery: another alien species tries to kidnap her in the night, a human bureaucrat arrives who seems to be something other than what he claims to be, and intruders invade the living/research space of her base on the Canadian West Coast. For the sake of her species, and herself, Mac finds that she must join Brymn in his search for answers, and eventually leaves Earth in this quest.
But this novel isn't about an ordinary quest. It deals with the far-reaching issues of biological determinants in people who are otherwise intelligent, even among Mac's own colleagues. One of my favourite lines in this novel is Mac's response to a textbook on alien reproduction: "Nature found the most ridiculous ways to propagate. Adding intelligence and culture to biology seemed only to compound the issue, not simplify it" (p. 273).
This level of perception about living beings, including those not of this particular world, is what gives this novel its own life. The journey Mac makes is that she learns more about what constitutes being human, as well as alien, in her experiences off world.
Since the story hasn't finished with the end of this novel, I truly look forward to reading its sequel.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2004
Julie Czerneda's Survival is a rare blend of hard science fiction and exceptional characterization. Biologist author Julie Czerneda creates unusually believable aliens in her stores, and this first novel in a projected series 'Species Imperative' is no exception, building entire races and moving scenarios as it tells of an Earth scientist caught in interspecies struggles.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Survival by Julie E. Czerneda is the first in the Species Imperative Trilogy about a mysterious eradication of clumps of civilization throughout the Interspecies Union. The book focuses on Mac, a biologist at an oceanic research center in the Pacific Northwest at some point in the future. Mac's a workaholic scientist, interested only in one thing, the study of salmon.
Her placid little world is interrupted when an unwelcome visitor arrives, a member of a species, the Dhryn, which has never set foot on Earth before. Yet, this member, whose name is Brymn, has not only come to Earth, but he insists on visiting Mac. The study of biology is forbidden to the Dhryn, but Brymn is an archaeologist who has noticed a strange pattern in the mysterious eradication of several colonies and he believes Mac is the only person who can help him prove that the attacks are related to the ancient enemy of the Dhryn, the Ro.
Mac resolutely refuses to get involved, preferring to remain on earth to continue her studies, until a nighttime attack results in the capture of Mac's best friend and fellow scientist Emily. An Interspecies Union representative, Nik, convinces Mac that she is also in danger and Mac ends up traveling with Brymn to the Dhryn home world.
If this all sounds confusing, it is, and I had to read the first few chapters a couple of times, and then constantly refer back to them until I had everything straight in my mind. There are long interludes of minutia broken up by fast and furious action passages, however, I really did enjoy the book and had a hard time putting it down.
I liked, first of all, the depiction of the scientific research engaged in by Mac and the other scientists in her community. I also like the way that she and Brymn slowly developed a very close relationship and friendship, and how when Mac is finally forced to leave her beloved research station and is subjected to long periods of boredom while serving as a "guest" of the Dhryn, the biologist in her studies the Dhryn in an effort to learn as much about them as possible.
I also liked Mac as a character-- again, she fits the stereotypical scientist, concerned only for her research, but beyond that, she exhibits a fierce sense of loyalty, and a social awkwardness that is rather charming as she tries to puzzle through the attraction she feels for Nik. I also like the way that even when all evidence points to the fact that Emily has betrayed her and is working in concert with the Ro, Mac manages to keep an open mind-- again, a trait of a true scientist.
I did not mind the interludes of minutiae as much as many of the other reviewers of this book because I actually enjoy reading about people's day-to-day activities. To me it was a pleasure to read about how Mac tried to stay alive when the Dhryn failed to provide her with water, and it was fun reading about how she inadvertently invited Dhryn scientists into her quarters to experiment with her food preparation. I appreciated Czerneda's attention to detail and the fact that she took the time to tell us about all these processes rather than buzzing rapidly through them to get to the action scenes.
The ending of the book was a complete surprise to me-- I was in no way prepared for what happened, and I found myself feelings as bereft as Mac in the final pages of the book. Once again, however, I did have to read the ending a couple of times before I figured out exactly what happened-- I would have appreciated it if Czerneda could have spelled that out for me a little more clearly. It's ironic that she takes her time in writing every detail of daily life, but when it comes to the climax of the book, she spends a mere two pages on it.
If you are looking for an action book, you will probably not enjoy this book. But if you are looking for a book that deals with the complexities of interpersonal relationships, not just between humans but also between humans and aliens, AND if you appreciate science, you will probably enjoy this book. You might want to keep a notepad handy, however, for jotting down the key points in the first few chapters because otherwise, you'll find yourself having to refer to them repeatedly throughout the book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2004
The way this novel ends is so sharp you could seriously cut yourself on it. Although you know going in that a book with sub-title of "Species Imperative #1" is not going to contain the whole story, the sharpness of the conclusion to #1 was almost painful. Not in a bad way, but in that the author has been so skillful in leading the reader up to that zenith, the brevity of the final few pages leaves you gasping to know more. And checking to see if the next instalment is scheduled for release yet.
In many ways what Czerneda has created is a very interesting mystery story. A biological mystery story. With the advantage that as science fiction the author she can create her own Universe and aliens to enhance the mystery. I do not want to give much more about the story away since it is important to learn "the facts" as does the central character Dr. Mackenzie (Mac) Conner.
What I can say is that Mac is a strong, well drawn character surrounded by other interesting people - both human and non-human. The Universe in which this story is set is so defined as to be open to limitless possibilities. The small portion of it which Czerneda has defined in more detail and set the novel in is inhabited by two alien species (the Dhyrn and the Ro) and Earth. Both the Dhryn culture and biology are well thought out. About the Ro, who are very interesting, it would be most accurate to say that although at the conclusion we "know" the Ro much better, they are still a mystery.
When you have reached the end, the title "SURVIVAL - Species Imperative #1" makes perfect sense. And the fact the blurb on the author states she is a former biologist in no surprise. Czerneda has made use of her background in biology to write a most entertaining biological sci fi novel that left me wishing the next book was all ready avaliable.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2004
Survival is the first novel in the Species Imperative series. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, humanity expanded into the Solar system, establishing a permanent presence on Mars, the Jovian moons and elsewhere. A hundred and fifty years after the first child was born on Mars, the stars reached mankind; a non-Human probe arrived in the Solar system with an invitation to join from the Interspecies Union. It provided information on building and maintaining transects to bypass normal space. Over the next hundred years, humanity migrated to some three hundred extra-Solar worlds and used the new technology obtained from the IU to repair much of the ecological damage done to Earth in the prior centuries.
In this novel, MacKenzie Connor, Ph.D., is a biologist and coadministrator of the Norcoast Salmon Research Facility located within Castle Inlet. Mac and her partner, Emily Mamani Sarmiento, are monitoring Emily's newly improved DNA Tracer from Field Station Six on the Tannu River. After six days of boredom, a Chinook salmon run suddenly appears on the screen. Everything is going well until Emily detects a very large presence swimming in a diving suit among the salmon.
Field Station Six is graced with a visit from Brymn, the first member of the Dhryn species to visit Earth, and his diplomatic escort. After the introductions, Mac orders Brymn to leave the station. As he is leaving with the Dhryn, the escort gives Mac an official envelope. Shortly thereafter, another craft arrives to take Mac and Emily back to the Base.
Brymn has come for assistance in solving some mysterious disappearances among the worlds of the Naralax transect, which he has associated with the lifeless worlds of the Chasm. He will only talk with her when he is reasonably sure that no one can overhear them. He gets her to promise not to tell anyone else about their discussions, but she includes Emily as a matter of course.
Later she awakens in her office to a total electrical blackout. Despite the multiply redundant systems, all power in the Base has been lost. Moreover, there is something in the office with Mac, making strange skittering noises. After scaring it off, she finds slime paths over her floor, walls and even the ceiling. She chases the thing away from her office and through the Base and over the walkway to land. Over and over she hears it, but can't see it. From the shore she tracks it inland to an empty clearing, which nevertheless contains an invisible ship which carries the thing away in a blast of jetfire. When she returns to the Base, she finds that Emily is gone, presumably kidnapped after a violent struggle.
This story describes her encounters with an alien species who refuse to study biology, an overgovernment that is chasing invisible aliens, and the invisible aliens themselves. She flees to Haven, the Dhryn home world, in a Dhryn vessel, almost dying of thirst due to the ineptness of the crew. Once there, she finds the Dhryn to be both frustrating and fascinating.
Throughout the novel occur portent scenes: green rain dissolving all forms of life and mouths gathered to drink the green liquid. Is this what caused the devastation of the Chasm? If so, apparently it is still active and creating the disappearances.
Highly recommended for Czerneda fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of alien species with really different ways of thought and action.
-Arthur W. Jordin
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I will echo the compliments of readers who are pleased to see an approach to new species which at least feels reasonably grounded in science. As world-building, Survival was great. The Dhryn and the Ro are fascinating and feel real-- it is clear that there will be a lot of material to mine as the series progresses.
It was unfortunate that Czerneda does not have quite as much skill with her character relationships. The fiesty female who somehow falls in love with the handsome-but-obnoxious man has been done more or less to death. I did not feel any tension around the relationship, but it was foregrounded too firmly to really be a side note. Unfortunately, this flaw grated on me through nearly the entire book.
In the end, however, I was entertained. I certainly plan to read more in the series.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2004
I was so looking forward to reading Czerneda's first book of her new trilogy, but when it arrived it took me over a week just to get past the first few chapters.....I just could not get interested in the plot or protagonist.
The story is good compared to other sci-fi/fantasies but I would rate it only so-so when compared to Czerneda's previous Trade Pact and Web Shifter trilogies. The only positive thing was that I reread the Trade Pact trilogies shortly thereafter. Czerneda, if you read this, please give us more Clan stories!! I love the comedy and foibles of Huido and the Drapsk, the immediacy of the first person voice of Sira and the wonderful +/- relationship Sira has with all her friends, family and enemies. Write a book about Barac or Rael and their partners or even resucitate Symon and give the poor guy a story.
At the end of the Trade Pact trilogy, To Trade the Stars, Czerneda added a bunch of Clan genealogy which purpose, I wrongly assumed, was to give me the hope that there would be more books.
'Survival' puts me in mind of Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls books. They are OK, but stacked against a lively Vorkosigian novel there is no contest...give me a Miles story any day. My best advice..wait for the paperback. It's not worth the hardback price.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2004
Strange disapearances and a swath of space devoid of life are the farthest things from Dr. Mackenzie Connor's thoughts when her latest Salmon research project is rudely interupted by a desperate Dhryn - an alien never before seen on Earth - and a man who may or may not believe she holds the key to the survival and security of the human race. When a sudden attack forces her to flee from her cozy, comfortable world, Mac begins an odyssey that unfolds with a rare and powerful intensity - where betrayal, friendship, and survival all become intertwined.
At it's core, Species Imperative: Survival is about change. Not only cataclysmic change on a species level, but also the more subtle character changes that occur when Mac's thoughts and beliefs are challenged - when her world is turned upside down and she is forced to look beyond her own secluded corner of the universe.
Survival is VERY different from anything Julie Czerneda has written to date, and yet she takes the FINEST aspects of her Trade Pact and Web Shifters novels and uses them to introduce a story that is more fluid, more complex, and more closer to home than any of her previous works. This book shows a level of ability unparalleled - with engaging characters, deep-rooted mystery, and a premise so intrinsic it touches off the strongest emotions in a reader.
Mac is a character you can understand, feel for, and be moved by...and the story's near future setting makes it all the more realistic and at times even frightening. While the story is serious, there are moments that will cause you to burst out laughing, and others that will make your stomach quiver with creepiness. Czerneda blends these emotions into such a powerful story that the end while stunning, brings with it an intense desire to see more...
Mark the Calendars folks, only 8 months and 12 days until Migration comes out...If it's anything like this, it will be well worth the wait.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2011
On page 443 (of 483 total), the protagonist says, "I don't begin to understand how we got here. . ." Yes, I knew exactly what she meant. I may have laughed out loud, in fact. When I first decided to write up a review, I planned to give it three stars; as I ordered my thoughts, that rating inexorably slipped to two.
I came to this book from a recommendation list of "kickass" women protagonists in scifi lit. Mac is supposedly brilliant, but I didn't see much evidence of that brilliance. She is determined and spunky and combative, I suppose, but, more often than not, terribly passive. She just doesn't do much but go along for the ride. The explanation for why she got hooked into the whole cloak and dagger main plot was extremely weak and unsatisfying. She spent the first third of the novel protesting her involvement by saying, "But I study salmon," so one would really expect it all to come together with a stroke of genius tying her specialty into the mystery. Nothing like that materialized in any deeply meaningful or satisfying way.
The supporting characters were occasionally interesting, but not consistently present. They, at least, weren't passive. The main alien character was the most sympathetic, but his characterization wasn't particularly deep either, because we were locked so tightly into Mac's PoV and she was most often alone. The infatuation between the main character and her human handler was juvenile and aggravating. Mac's mysterious best friend was the most intriguing, but wasn't actually around much so those depths were never plumbed. (I just realized that, perhaps, Czerneda chose the wrong story to tell. Emily's story feels like it would have been the many times more compelling one.)
The craft elements were what truly decided my poor ranking. Syntax was often odd and seemingly not intentionally so. The vocabulary was sometimes strange and ill-chosen. The pacing was excruciatingly slow with spurts of frenetic action. It's all well and good to have a protagonist who is an introvert and a little socially awkward, but things need to actually happen in the story outside her head. Keeping Mac cooped up alone in as office/a ship/various rooms does not a riveting, dynamic read make. She's always several steps behind, and when she is finally caught up to what is going on, it's not due to her own intellect or decisive action. No, it's usually other characters filling in the blanks for her.
The story is told in a very limited 3rd PoV, with bursts of internal monologue sprinkled throughout. The majority of the time, I was left wondering why those bursts were so clumsily put into italics: most all of them could have been folded into the narrative with no muss or fuss. Most of them never truly felt like interior thought that simply _had_ to be set apart in the way they were. It was unnecessary and annoying in the extreme. There were also page long overly arty and obscure passages that one ends up skimming because there isn't much in there to anchor them to the present action of the story.
There were so many words, so little meaningful action and so little point. The ending was not terribly surprising: I had anticipated the final position of each character on the board long before the final few dozen pages. What was unexpected, however, was getting to the end and feeling like the story was just left hanging. I don't, by any means, need everything to be wrapped up neat and tidy with a bow, but I need some sense of completion. The excuse that this is the first of a trilogy is no excuse at all.
I have a terrible stubborn streak in me, and I've tortured myself with sheer pig-headed persistence before. . . I think this book has helped me achieve profound personal growth: there is no chance I'm going to continue with the other books in this series. Halleluia!I have read assertions that other series by Czerneda are superior to this one. I will probably give one of those a try. Eventually. This one, though, I cannot recommend.