SURVIVAL: SPECIES IMPERATIVE #1
Julie E. Czerneda
DAW / 464 pages / May 2004
When you break it down to the most basic level, characters in fiction are the descriptions we read of them, the words they speak aloud and to themselves, the way others react to them, and, sometimes the image on a cover. Little puppets for the author to direct this way or that, and for us to imagine. They do the heavy lifting to move a story ahead. Often, they die in front of us by the millions. But! But…there are characters who appear so real to us that we fear for them and cry for them. These are the characters of an artist with words. Julie Czerneda has that very rare talent to make us care.
Dr. Mackenzie Connor wants nothing more than to use her biology degree to study the salmon runs every year. At the sufferance of a wildlife trust with the kind of power that today’s environmentalists can only dream of, Norcoast Salmon Research Facility sits at an ideal juncture of river and sea, and is host to a jumble scientists and graduate students. It seems like the last place on Earth for anything more exciting than whale pods to appear. All of that changes with the sudden arrival of the first Dhryn to visit the planet, with a mission: to meet the respected Dr. Mackenzie Connor to share the archeological theories that are dangerous to spout on his home planet.
But, is it coincidence or part of a larger plan when unexplainable, and then violent, incidents threaten Norcoast soon after the big, blue alien arrives? Before Mac can even begin to adjust to her odd new companion, they must literally run for their lives from the alien Ro. Fleeing will take Mac to a world she has never wanted to see; she and her escorts are heading as far from Earth as possible, and the formerly Earthbound scientist finds worlds she could never imagine. She will also find races she will embrace and at least one that threatens not only her life but the existence of every lifeform in its path. Earth, included.
Czerneda creates characters that may annoy and confuse, but that readers can marvel at and come to feel for. Brymn, the eternally delighted and curious Dhyrn, is impossible to resist, with his clumsy attempts to please and his stories of the horror of the Ro. Even as Brymn adopts some human mannerisms, he remains thoroughly alien, even amongst his own kind. And the Dhryn themselves prove equally mystifying and endearing, in all their myriad physical forms. Mac’s determination and amusement make for a very tangible and sympathetic human being — faults, fears, and obsessions, included. More elusive are the true personalities and agenda of Emily, Mac’s friend and research partner, and Nik, seemingly harmless bureaucrat, who accompanies Brymn. Both will turn out to be much more than they seem; whether that is for the better or the worse remains to be seen.
With Survival, Czerneda has begun the Species Imperative series with a very big bang and an engrossing prelude that makes the wait for the next volume seem painfully long. Just what readers have come to expect from this gifted and insightful author. Now, how soon is book two be here? Hmmm?