Survival: Species Imperative #1
(DAW, US $23.95 / Canada $36.00, 401 pages, hardback; 2004; ISBN:
This is a story of idea, and the idea is right there in the series
title: "species imperative." It refers to the need for protecting your
from a threat so serious that it could wipe out all humanity, and thus,
all humans are morally and legally obligated to render service to the
best of their ability whether they want to or not. This is the only
reason for drafted service -- and the main character does get dragged
very unwillingly into a ghastly mess of galactic intrigue -- that has
seemed really valid to me. It's just the sort of story that a biologist
would tell, and it works. Species imperative: the name says it all.
Dr. Mackenzie Connor studies salmon. She chooses to study deep, instead
of wide, to learn one thing to completion. Her river is her world. All
her interest focuses on watching these fish recover from the environmental
degradation of Earth. So when an inquisitive alien seeks her help for
his special project, she blows him off: "I study salmon." His entreaties
that her work is relevant to his are met with disdain and indifference.
But then something breaks into her bedroom. Scurry, skittle!
Dr. Mackenzie ("I study salmon") Connor flings a shoe at
it, then takes off in hot pursuit through the forest night. The intruder
escapes. Mac comes back to discover her station in an uproar, her best
friend abducted, and everyone expecting her to do something about it.
One of the humans overseeing the situation plays the species imperative
card, despite her ("I study SALMON!") protests. So it's up to Mac to
save the galaxy from a nameless "something" that devours all living
tissue, leaving entire planets sterilized.
The science in this novel derives quite elegantly from what we know
or think we know, from the way that life faces challenges, leaping from
"what if?" to "what if?" like salmon hopping up the rapids. The aliens
are carefully designed. The descriptions of salmon, their habits and
habitat are fascinating. The process of recreating the sounds of the
mysterious intruder is the coolest bit of science I've come across in
some time, completely new to me and firmly ensconced in the plot.
Special note: If you ever get the chance to hear Julie E. Czerneda
at a reading, go! She has a delightful voice and much storytelling charm.
Survival is very, very dark science fiction. The "Portent"
sections would not be out of place in the Cthulhu Mythos; indeed, there
are things in this story that would make the Great Old Ones mumble an
apology and shuffle out of the way. If you like biology, you'll love
this book. And the next time you read about impending biological disaster
... the phrase "species imperative" will pop into your mind.