Survival by Julie E. Czerneda is the first in the Species Imperative Trilogy about a mysterious eradication of clumps of civilization throughout the Interspecies Union. The book focuses on Mac, a biologist at an oceanic research center in the Pacific Northwest at some point in the future. Mac's a workaholic scientist, interested only in one thing, the study of salmon.
Her placid little world is interrupted when an unwelcome visitor arrives, a member of a species, the Dhryn, which has never set foot on Earth before. Yet, this member, whose name is Brymn, has not only come to Earth, but he insists on visiting Mac. The study of biology is forbidden to the Dhryn, but Brymn is an archaeologist who has noticed a strange pattern in the mysterious eradication of several colonies and he believes Mac is the only person who can help him prove that the attacks are related to the ancient enemy of the Dhryn, the Ro.
Mac resolutely refuses to get involved, preferring to remain on earth to continue her studies, until a nighttime attack results in the capture of Mac's best friend and fellow scientist Emily. An Interspecies Union representative, Nik, convinces Mac that she is also in danger and Mac ends up traveling with Brymn to the Dhryn home world.
If this all sounds confusing, it is, and I had to read the first few chapters a couple of times, and then constantly refer back to them until I had everything straight in my mind. There are long interludes of minutia broken up by fast and furious action passages, however, I really did enjoy the book and had a hard time putting it down.
I liked, first of all, the depiction of the scientific research engaged in by Mac and the other scientists in her community. I also like the way that she and Brymn slowly developed a very close relationship and friendship, and how when Mac is finally forced to leave her beloved research station and is subjected to long periods of boredom while serving as a "guest" of the Dhryn, the biologist in her studies the Dhryn in an effort to learn as much about them as possible.
I also liked Mac as a character-- again, she fits the stereotypical scientist, concerned only for her research, but beyond that, she exhibits a fierce sense of loyalty, and a social awkwardness that is rather charming as she tries to puzzle through the attraction she feels for Nik. I also like the way that even when all evidence points to the fact that Emily has betrayed her and is working in concert with the Ro, Mac manages to keep an open mind-- again, a trait of a true scientist.
I did not mind the interludes of minutiae as much as many of the other reviewers of this book because I actually enjoy reading about people's day-to-day activities. To me it was a pleasure to read about how Mac tried to stay alive when the Dhryn failed to provide her with water, and it was fun reading about how she inadvertently invited Dhryn scientists into her quarters to experiment with her food preparation. I appreciated Czerneda's attention to detail and the fact that she took the time to tell us about all these processes rather than buzzing rapidly through them to get to the action scenes.
The ending of the book was a complete surprise to me-- I was in no way prepared for what happened, and I found myself feelings as bereft as Mac in the final pages of the book. Once again, however, I did have to read the ending a couple of times before I figured out exactly what happened-- I would have appreciated it if Czerneda could have spelled that out for me a little more clearly. It's ironic that she takes her time in writing every detail of daily life, but when it comes to the climax of the book, she spends a mere two pages on it.
If you are looking for an action book, you will probably not enjoy this book. But if you are looking for a book that deals with the complexities of interpersonal relationships, not just between humans but also between humans and aliens, AND if you appreciate science, you will probably enjoy this book. You might want to keep a notepad handy, however, for jotting down the key points in the first few chapters because otherwise, you'll find yourself having to refer to them repeatedly throughout the book.