Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Color of Distance by Amy Thomson

The Color of Distance
Amy Thomson, author of Virtual Girl, has written an interesting tale of alien contact. A biologist exploring a new world, Juna, is stranded alone on a planet whose air is so loaded with spores, pollen, molds and biological organisms that humans without isolation suits die very rapidly when exposed to its atmosphere. The natives of the planet, however, are naturally advanced in biomanipulation techniques and alter her body and biochemistry so that she can survive unshielded.
Thomson does a really nice job of creating a totally alien culture, its mores and perspectives. Juna is alternately fascinated and repelled by their culture, but must learn to live within it after the Survey ship leaves the planet without her. Through her experiences, we learn gradually all about the alien Tendu, from their reproductive cycle to their political structure. While technically totally unsophisticated, their civilization, as it turns out, predates human civilization.
The only flaw in this novel, from my point of view, is that none of the potential conflicts that Thomson creates ever rise to the level of intensity where we might really get concerned, or even sympathize. The interactions between the Tendu and Juna, between Tendu and Tendu, and between Tendu culture and the returning Survey ship crew are just far too civilized all the way around. Even human to human relationships don't go smoothly - why would we expect alien first contact to do so?
Worth reading - but don't pay full retail.

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