Recently, as can be seen in the set of reviews I have posted here, I have read Julie E Czerneda’s Species Imperative trilogy. For some reason it blew me away. It was so intense, even when the story paused for a bit – I just HAD to read this chapter, and next, and next, and… It really is one tale chopped up into three physical tomes, and it felt almost impossible to write a separate review for each of them. Also, it felt hard to put it down after the last word was read.
What, then, was so great?
The plot as such is off-the-shelf science fiction – mysterious entity/species threatens all life; enter stage left, dark horse in the form of a scientist; everyone doubts but in the end scientist is vindicated; happy ending. Czerneda manages to take this truly unimaginative device and make something great of it, and it is her characters that do it. Dr.Connor – Mac – is mono-focussed bordering on obsessive; something that works both with and against her throughout the story. This makes her strong but with built-in weaknesses that makes her vulnerable and voilà the danger of the too perfect hero is avoided.
Part of the charm is Mac’s interactions with other species. Prior to the happenings in this trilogy she has had no interest in anything outside her research field. While other humans travel the stars she has less than no idea of what people from other parts of the universe can be like. Because she looks at them all from the biologist’s point of view she wonders about the environments they evolved in and many of them soon switch from ‘alien’ to ‘person’, both to Mac and to the reader. I have no idea what, say, Fourteen looks like, despite Czerneda describing him, and in many ways it’s unimportant, just like skin colour is – in a multi-species universe personality and motive is what matters, nothing else.
And talking of motivations, Nik is another piece of work. A classical superhero – educated, intelligent, skilled in both diplomacy and killing – struggling with his feelings, sometimes getting it right and sometimes not. Despite this Czerneda manages to pull the stunt and make him believable. I still wonder how she did her trick. What did I miss?
Also there’s those small things that makes up the larger picture. The Dhryn don’t use water, at all, so of course Mac is threatened by dehydration while staying with them. And then there’s species that are allergic to other species, which makes perfect sense. The list could go on.
There are some flies in the soup, though. The first part (Survival) is riddled by infodumps; in the second part (Migration) the main character frequently talks to herself in the form of addressing her absent/abducted friend; and in the last part (Regeneration) sidekick Oversight harrumph one time too many.
These are minor issues, though. Because in the end Julie Czerneda has managed to write a 1500+ page story that is consistent in tone and attitude from the first page to the last, the while handling a “threat to all life” scenario in a way that makes it anything but derivative, daring the reader to become friends with the characters. And the ending? A Sinzi would be proud.
I have found a new favourite author.