Semiosis by Sue Burke

Posted On 12 March 2018

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semiosisI really enjoyed Semiosis.  It’s a thought provoking read that explores some intriguing notions.

The book begins by introducing us to a number of people who left earth to start a life on a far distant planet that they named Pax.  They left earth with the idea that they wanted to live a better life with less conflict.  A life without war where everyone would be equal.  A utopia if you will.  What a lovely idea – of course, the idea of a perfect world becomes inevitably messed up when you throw humans into the mix, then add in different life forms and sentient plants and take a step back and see what happens.

I think before I go any further I should point out that this book was different to what I had expected.  However, I would also point out that this isn’t a bad thing.  I confess that looking at the cover I got a creepy vibe and there are certain elements of the story that definitely sustain that vibe – but overall this is a different story. It’s also told over the course of seven generations which ultimately means you only really spend brief snippets of time with each of the characters before moving jumping forward a number of years.  Now, being the type of reader who enjoys character driven stories I didn’t have overly enthusiastic expectations when I realised this was the case but to be honest this story won me over and in fact I enjoyed the different pov stories that were told through each successive generation.  The way the story unfolds you move forward to a different perspective for the next generation but at the same time that storyline quite often includes information about the previous person you spent time with and in doing this you do have some closure about the previous storylines.

Overall I suppose this is a story of survival, adaptation and compromise.  It also takes a sidelong look at human nature and the fact that we are all so very individual and it concludes with the benefits of mutual symbiosis.  What I really found fascinating with Semiosis was the world building.  Pax was so well drawn, deceptively similar to the nature of our own planet and yet fundamentally different.  Here are plants that are capable of strategy – it just sounds bizarre when I write that and yet the book comes across as plausible.  It’s not overly explained but there’s enough detail to actually make you really think about what’s going on.  The notion here is that the plants are guiding the humans to behave in a certain way that will benefit the plant and in doing so the plant will then grow fruits that benefit the humans, like a reward.  This then progresses into a way of communicating with the plants.  It’s absolutely fascinating to be honest.

Mixed in with this there’s the discovery of a city – much more sophisticated and progressive than the community the humans are currently living in and which they eventually inhabit themselves, although the move itself is a source of conflict between the humans and eventually causes a rift.

To be honest, I can’t say too much about the plot without spoiling the story.  I can say that the pace is consistent.  The author did a really good job of creating tension in the storyline and also took a route that wasn’t obvious.  And then of course there was this contact with other life forms – that didn’t exactly go the way that the humans themselves had hoped for.

The writing here is really good, the way things are explained and described is just excellent and really helps to bring it all to life in the imagination.  The pacing is consistent, the storyline is good and on top of this it’s almost like a study of human nature – and that element gave me plenty of food for thought.  It was interesting to see the different generations develop and watch them start to rebel.  A bit like Animal Farm, they start off with ideals, they’re all equal, but eventually cracks begin to show and there’s always some who are going to rise to the top.  All in all a really fascinating and well written story.

In terms of criticisms.  As I said above you never really have the chance to develop any strong feelings for any of the characters because the story is moving on too quickly.  Also there are elements in here of a violent nature and also a rape scene which could be upsetting for some – I’m not trying to say it’s graphic or gratuitous but I did find it a bit of a shock because it was so at odds with the values of the people we were following, I simply wasn’t expecting it and thought I should mention it here.  The only other issue I had was the other life forms and the disparity with the ones we meet here and the ones who built that wonderful city and then upped and left.  I never really quite understood what was going on there because it would seem that rather than progress in nature they had devolved.  It was a bit of a mystery for me.

Other than that I really enjoyed this read.  It was unique.  Well Written.  Consistently paced, thought provoking and fascinating.  Perhaps a little ambitious cramming seven generations into a story like this but I think the author pulls it off.  It’s like a time lapse video in written form.

I received a copy from the publisher through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.



Friday Firsts : Semiosis by Sue Burke


Friday Firsts
 is a new meme that runs every Friday over on Tenacious Reader. The idea is to feature the first few sentences/paragraph of your current book and try and outline your first impressions as a result. This is a quick and easy way to share a snippet of information about your current read and to perhaps tempt others.  Stop on by and link up with Tenacious Reader.    This Friday I’ve just started Semiosis by Sue Burke



The war had begun long before we arrived because war was their way of life  It took its first victims among us before we understood what was happening, on an evening that seemed quiet.  But even then, we knew we could easily be in danger.

My wife, Paula, shook her head as she left the radio hut in the plaza of our little village.  “There’s too much interference again,  I’ll try one more time, but if they don’t answer, we’ll start a search.”

An hour ago, three women had gone to pick fruit.  They did not come back, they were not answering their radio, and the Sun had sunk almost to the top of the hills.

Around us, tiny lizards in the trees had begun their evening hoots and chimes.  Nine-legged crabs silently hunted the lizards.  The breeze smelled bittersweet, perhaps from something in bloom.  I should have known what, but I did not.

Uri and I were fixing an irrigation pump, but I knew his mind was on one of the women, Ninia.  He had just begun living with her, and he was squinting up the path through the fields where she had gone.  And then he was jerked back to the present when the wind tangled his long blond beard around the pump handle.  He knelt to free it.  I pulled a jackknife from my belt, stroking my own short beard.  He saluted with one finger.  He was a Russian Slav, and a proper Slav never cuts his beard.

Paula went back to her work at a rough-hewn table nearby, trying to make sense of weather data.  A wide straw hat held her red hair in place and protected her skin from the Sun.  She took a deep breath and stretched her stiff back.  We all struggled with the stronger gravity.  Finally she entered the radio hut again.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and listened.  The hut’s walls were panels scavenged from a landing pod and the roof was tree bark, so the sound carried.

“Hello?… Ninia? Zee? Carrie?”


“Hello?… This is Paula.  Do you hear me?”


My First Impressions

Wow, what a great start.   I’m hooked.  Firstly this talk of war and then three missing women.  I have to know what’s going on.  This is an intriguing start to the book.  Fingers crossed for this one.

What you reading this Friday??  What are your first impressions??