#SciFiMonth Audiobook Review: Interference by Sue Burke
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of Semiosis Duology
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (October 22, 2019)
Length: 12 hrs and 12 mins
Narrators: Daniel Thomas May, Caitlin Davies
To be honest, I was a little surprised when I found out Semiosis was getting a sequel. I had felt the book ended in a good place, with a satisfying conclusion that capped off a multi-generational narrative in the best way possible. But because I enjoyed myself so much, I certainly wasn’t going to complain about a chance to return to Pax, the alien planet on which these books take place—not even when I discovered the story will be set some two hundred years after the first novel and follow a new group of explorers from Earth.
In fact, even though the series has been marketed as a duology, this second book, Interference, can technically be read on its own, but having the background knowledge from Semiosis will help a lot. A considerable time has passed since the first humans set foot on Pax, learning to adapt and share this strange and wonderous new world with its native fauna and flora. Over the generations, the colonists have settled into a comfortable equilibrium with the sentient alien life on the planet, becoming one with Pax itself. And watching over this entire process to make sure everything runs smoothly is Stevland, a bamboo-like lifeform and prime mover of this utopian society.
But now, that fragile balance that Stevland has so carefully developed is about to be disrupted. A new group of scientists from Earth have arrived on Pax, and they are as clueless as the original explorers were when they first landed on the planet more than two centuries ago. These humans want to know why communication with the colony has halted, yet they are completely unaware of the unique nature of Pax and its wildlife, nor do they understand the complex relationship between Stevland and the settlement. The scientists bring with them unfamiliar ideas, concepts, and technology—much of which Pax humans have forgotten over the generations. But more than that, the expedition also brings chaos in the form of disturbing new information about a genocide on Earth, and a couple of their team members who carry knowledge that can threaten Pax.
To start, while I really enjoyed returning to this world, I didn’t think Interference was as good as Semiosis, but I think that was because I went with certain expectations. In a look back at why I liked the first book so much, one of the main reasons was the theme of colonization and the characters’ first contact with the new planet’s unique animal and plant life. Obviously, with a settlement already established on Pax and humans having been integrated into its ecosystems for generations, this element was not as prominent in Interference. Semiosis also had a compelling narrative structure made up of points-of-view from multiple generations, and as a result, the novel had the feel of a collection of short stories that fit together to form a complete picture. Personally, I loved that format, and that it was a brilliant move by author Sue Burke to turn the focus onto the colony rather than the individual characters. Interference also features an attempt at its own unconventional narrative style, but this time, I didn’t think it was as effective. Following a more linear timeline, chapters are told from the perspective of different individuals, but paradoxically, I actually found it harder to engage with any of the characters even though we were able to glean more information overall about their personalities, behavior and culture.
Still, one aspect that remained spectacular was the biological science factor, as well as the social insight into human behavior. Of course, this time we also had the added element of the alien societies. Humans now exist peacefully alongside a race of beings called Glassmakers, who are themselves the descendants of non-native colonists who have come to Pax. Granted, you have the usual sources of tension whenever you have disparate groups sharing a living space, but on the whole, society runs like a well-oiled machine. This in part is thanks to Stevland, who is just one of the best concepts I’ve ever encountered in a science fiction novel. The sheer imagination behind the world-building is just incredible to behold, especially the way Burke has managed to seamlessly combine her hard science fiction ideas with ecological theories. This time, we explore the disastrous consequences of a system disrupted with the arrival of the new humans, some of whom have attitudes that are completely incompatible with Pax and its inhabitants. As a result, I also have to say the conflict is much more intriguing in Interference, which is probably the one key advantage the book has over its predecessor.
At the end of the day though, I just didn’t feel as invested as I did with Semiosis. That said, Interference was still a great read. As long as you go in expecting the changes and differences from the first book, you’ll no doubt have a blast. One of the smartest, most unique and mind-blowingly imaginative science fiction I’ve read in ages, this duology is well worth your time especially if you enjoy stories about space exploration, colonization, and unique interactions with alien species.
Audiobook Review: I listened to the first book in audio, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to stick with the format for the sequel. Narrators Caitlin Davies and Daniel Thomas May reprise their roles, and between them, they’ve once more captured the essence behind the voices of multiple characters, and even more impressively, this time there are non-humans thrown into the mix. As a result, there were lots of subtle nuances in the text, but portraying each of the different perspectives was not a problem for either of them. I am especially a big fan of Davies, who always delivers a great performance, and Interference was definitely no exception.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Semiosis (Book 1)