Migration

by Julie E. Czerneda

Cover image

Series: Species Imperative #2
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: 2005
ISBN: 0-7564-0260-3
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 453

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Migration is the second book of the Species Imperative, and this is the old-fashioned type of trilogy that you very much want to read in order. Start with Survival. There is a (slightly awkward) recap of the previous book at the start, though, if it's been a bit since you read it.

In my review of Survival, I praised Czerneda's ability to capture the feel of academic research and the sense of real scientists doing science. I thought I went out on a bit of a limb, not being a scientist myself (just someone who worked at a university for decades), but Czerneda was still holding back. I'm now completely convinced: whatever else this series is, and it contains a lot of politics and world-building and fascinating (if very human-like) aliens, it's some of the best science fiction about practicing scientists I've ever read.

I cannot express how much I adore the fact that the center of this book is not space combat, not daring adventure across alien landscapes, but getting a bunch of really smart experts in their field together in a room with good equipment and good computers to chase an intellectual problem from their own individual perspectives. And if Mac is perhaps a bit *too* good at quickly overcoming interpersonal conflict and suspicion, I'll forgive that for the deft sense of politics. Mac's success may be a bit unrealistic, but the direction and thrust of her tactics are spot-on. This is how interactions between smart and curious people often work, at least if they're sufficiently motivated to put aside pettier political infighting. This is also how the dynamics of emergency war rooms work: if you can give people a focus and divide up the work, the results can be amazing.

The second best part of the book is Oversight. The first book opened with the latest round of Mac's ongoing war with Charles Mudge III, the oversight board of the neighboring wilderness trust. He shows up again at the start of this book, acting completely consistent to his stubborn idealism shown in Survival, and then develops into one of the best characters in the book. Unexpected allies is one of the tropes I love most in fiction in general, but this one resonates so deeply with the way grudging respect and familiar patterns, even patterns of argument, work on people. Czerneda had me grinning. It's just perfectly in line with Mac's character, her single-minded focus on work that tended to miss a few points of human connection, and the sort of deepening respect that builds up even between adversaries when they know deep inside that they are following different interpretations of the same principles.

I'm going to be rather sketchy on the plot, since Migration follows closely on from Survival and is concerned almost entirely with the aftermath of the climactic events at the end of that book. But as you can tell, this is more of Mac, and she's not managed to separate herself from Dhryn problems or from the Ministry of Extra-Solar Affairs. She does, however, get rather far away from Norcoast for a while, an interlude in the wild northern Canadian wilderness that once again proves Czerneda to be the type of writer who can make the quotidian as engrossing as alien dramatics. She's also suffering from nightmares, anxiety, and a lot of circular thinking, making this one of the series that shows the realistic toll of dramatic events on human psychology.

There was a bit of a nascent love story in Survival; there's a lot more of that here. It's the one bit of the book that I have mixed feelings about, since it feels a touch unnecessary to me, and therefore a bit intrusive. It also involves a fair bit of love at, well, not first sight but surprisingly fast, which is something I know intellectually that other people think happens, but which always undermines my suspension of disbelief. That said, Czerneda gives Mac a clear tendency in how she forms emotional attachments and sticks with it throughout this series to date, which I do like, and she keeps the romance consistent with that. It thankfully does not get too much in the way of the plot, although I could have done with just a few fewer determined proclamations that the characters won't let love get in the way of doing what they need to do.

That quibble aside, this is fantastic stuff that avoids most of the cliches of this sort of story of alien politics and possible war. The focus is firmly on analysis and understanding rather than guns and action, the portrayal of scientists, analysis, and problem-solving is spot on, the aliens are delightfully different (and different from each other within the same alien species, which is important depth), and Mac is a fantastic protagonist. She's vulnerable, wounded, and out of her depth, but she knows how to map new situations to her areas of competence and how to admit when she doesn't know something, and her effectiveness is well-grounded and believable. Oh, and there are some amazing descriptions of the Canadian wilderness that almost make me want to find a secluded cabin without Internet access. (At least if it had all of the convenient technology that Mac's future Earth has.)

It's a rare middle book of a trilogy that's better than the first, but this one is. Much better. And I already liked the first book. Highly recommended; I think this is one of Czerneda's best.

Followed by Regeneration.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2017-05-31

Last modified and spun 2017-06-01