I haven't read any real science fiction in ages. I can't say for why... I got hooked on various Fantasy series I think - that probably began with Harry Potter - which is a genre I always used to think was not for me. Of course it was, I just had to find the right books, which I did, and promptly ran off and abandonded science fiction. I thought I might try to put that right this year and Carl's Sci Fi Experience is an ideal starting point. My first book for this casual challenge is City of Pearl by Karen Traviss.
Shan Frankland is an Environmental Hazard Enforcement police officer. Within a month she's taking early retirement and can't wait. Then a call comes from higher up and Shan is suddenly offered the chance to lead a mission to Cavanagh's star. If she agrees, 150 years will have elapsed by the time she gets back, Shan having aged only a few years. She is not at all keen to go unless they have a good reason for choosing her but they won't say what that is. Under a Suppressed Briefing they tell her, but this information is only available to her on the mission - when it's needed. In the meantime it sits in her subconscious. Shan realises something must have persuaded her and agress to the mission.
The planet has been settled by a small group of Christian settlers but when they arrive Shan and her group, comprising scientists and marines, find that things are not that simple. An alien lives among the colonists, an individual Shan finds strangely compelling. Aras is Wess'har, from the planet's twin world, and it appears that he is the protector of the entire planet. The planet itself has an indigenous species but they reside in the oceans. Another race from elsewhere is interested in the planet and Shan and her group find themselves smack in the middle of a very complicated, hostile situation. It's further confused by Shan's growing fascination with Aras. He has a secret. What is it? And will the consequences of this secret bring her fellow humans from Earth to pillage for all they are worth? And if it does, whose side will she choose to be on?
Karen Traviss is an author better known for her Star Wars novels, I gather. I've not read any of those so have no idea of their calibre but judging by City of Pearl I would think they are quite good. I have to say I was very impressed by this novel. Sometimes you find with sci fi that the idea is good but the writing style fails to impress; actually that could be said of all books I suppose but I find it especially so with this genre. Anyway, not so in this case. The writing is excellent and the execution of what is quite a complicated, twisted plot is really very competent.
Shan herself is an excellent main character. The author has made her a strong woman but with a conscience - someone who constantly strives to do the right thing even when circumstances dictate otherwise. She is, quite frankly, torn between blind allegiance to her human roots and the increasing pull of a very alien way of life. The story is told not only from her point of view but also that of Aras, the Wess'har, and thus the reader is also torn - forced to face the reality of the destructiveness of the human race. This is very much an ecologically thought-provoking book and one that makes you ponder on the nature of sentience.
To be honest I think this book could be one of favourite reads of the year. Be warned, it is part one of a series and part two is out of print and quite hard to get hold of (the rest of the series is not) unless you have a Kindle, which I don't... not at the moment anyway. I certainly plan to read the rest though, and would highly recommend it to Sci Fi fans who like first contact or colonising type stories with a complicated, pacey plot.
This was my first book for Carl's Sci Fi Experience. It's also my first book for my What's in a Name challenge which is being hosted by Beth Fish Reads and covers the category for 'jewellry or a gem' in the title.