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I'm not quite sure how I feel about Semiosis. In some respects, it was one of the best novels I've read of late, and in others it was a little bit boring. The reason for this is down to the structure of the book: each chapter is told through the perspective of a different character and, at least initially, each also jumps forward to the next generation of colonists on the world that the book is set. We start with one of the first humans to set foot on the new world, and continue down through their descendants as they learn to survive on a very different planet to Earth.

As a literary device, it is an affective way of condensing down a span of a few hundred years into a single book, but it does inevitably mean that the subject matter depends heavily on the viewpoint of which character is currently being followed. The first and third chapters, which are told from the viewpoint of colonists attempting to understand the unique biology of the world's flora and fauna, are magnificent; Burke has a great talent for writing fascinating, but also believable alien organisms. Without giving too much of the books later plot away, her ideas for alien intelligence, and which organisms exhibit that in a fashion that might allow communication with humans, are some of the finest examples of the genre I've yet read. When those sections also merged into a puzzle about what had happened to previous colonists I really had difficulty putting the book down.

Unfortunately, the chapters of the book that dealt with early schisms in the colony, or what amounted to a bit of a murder mystery, were simply not as riveting. While the descriptions of alien biology and behaviour felt playfully inventive, the early (but brief) descent of the colony into an oppressive dictatorship felt artificial and perhaps a little like it had been written purely to add drama to the narrative. Fortunately for me, these more 'sociological' sections did not form the majority of the plot, and were more an annoying distraction from the good parts, rather than a serious problem with the book.

These criticisms could all be a matter of personal taste, however. When you mix genres a little like Burke has done here it's difficult to please everyone, and other readers may well find they enjoy those aspects of the book that I did not. Even where I felt the quality of the writing declined, the better parts of the book more than made up for it. I believe there is a sequel, and I suspect it will not be long at all until I read it.