Monday, December 31, 2007

How many masses mean balance?

kw: book reviews, science fiction, space aliens

I haven't read anything by Julie E. Czerneda before, though it seems she's been writing well-received and award-winning SF novels for about ten years. She specializes in trilogies, with three in print already, and one "singlet". Reap the Wild Wind is #1 of her newest, the "Stratification" set.

The word Stratification is used but once in the novel, during a debate over the best use of new ESP-like Talents among the Om'ray, a human-like race of the world Cerci, which is host to two others, the insectile Tikitik and the huge, sluglike Oud. Subject to an ancient Agreement, the three share the world.

The balance is upset by the arrival of Strangers, survey teams from a collaboration of space races that includes humans. An accident involving Stranger technology seemingly dooms one clan of the Om'ray. Faced with a lost Harvest, they exile a number of their "unChosen", single males who must now seek another clan.

The lead character, Aryl Sarc, a young "pre-Chooser", a single female on the verge of coming of age, is one of many with new Talents. All Om'ray can sense the presence and direction of all other Om''s like an ESP radar. Aryl can also know who each one is, and she is able to send herself and others through "the dark", a kind of teleportation. This is a new, and very dangerous Power.

The conservative Council, afraid of upsetting the Agreement, suppress Talents deemed risky. The primary political thread is the tension between a paranoically conservative faction of the Council and the increasing numbers of new Talents whose Powers can no longer be denied or suppressed. The interference of the Strangers multiplies the dangers and the fears.

This first book ends in betrayal, further exile, and a hint that at least a fourth race is party to the Agreement. That will certainly figure into the following volumes.

Technology is not the main issue here. Ms Czerneda excels in characterization, particularly of aliens with their unique senses, feelings, and ways of thinking. By the end of the novel, I can't claim I understand either Tikitik or Oud, but they have become empathetic figures. A signal accomplishment!

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