Adrienne Martini Reviews Semiosis by Sue Burke

Semiosis, Sue Burke (Tor 978-0-7653-9135-3, $25.99, 336pp, hc) February 2018.

Beyond all else, Sue Burke’s Semiosis is a book about biochemistry and about the subtle dance that all living things perform to get the chemical building blocks they need to survive.

On this planet and in our actual reality, humans have the brains to think through how to get what they need. We’re experts at exploiting our environment, which is, as we know, a double-edged ability. Right now, it feels as if we’re poised right on the edge of some serious carbon-based chickens coming home to roost – but we’ve spent countless generations ma­nipulating other species, too. Look at all of the dog breeds we have, each bred for a specific purpose by a human hand. Look at all of the varieties of corn we grow, each selected for a human purpose. Semiosis posits what can happen when the natural word has the intellectual ability to do the same to humans.

Plants on Pax, a planet far, far away, have had millennia to communicate and exploit the less astute fauna around them. Enter humans who have left the Earth in search of a new, harmonious home. What unfolds is a wholly surprising and exceptionally crafted generational story of how these two worlds manipulate each other. While there are moments of authorial hand-waving that kind of fall apart upon too much scrutiny, the story is engrossing enough that you don’t really notice. Burke’s novel debut is a magnetic meditation on biochemistry and humanity.


Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.


This review and more like it in the February 2018 issue of Locus.

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