August 31, 2021

Review: Spectrum

Spectrum Spectrum by Julie E. Czerneda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the latest entry in the second trilogy about this character: Esen-alit-Quar, the "blue blob" alien who forms an attachment to a human, Paul Ragem. The first trilogy set in this world (which I own) was published more than twenty years ago, and this second trilogy picks up the plot threads in the final book: Esen and Paul have built their All Species' Library of Linguistics and Culture, dedicated to promoting understanding between the galaxy's sentients.

As always, the appeal of this series is the character of Esen. This story is told from the first-person viewpoint of the alien, which in the wrong hands--indeed, in the hands of just about anyone except this author, who is a biologist and knows how to create believable alien species--could have been a disaster. But Esen is a delight. She is over five hundred years old, a slip of time to her all but immortal species (as I understand it, they can be killed but don't die due to old age), which works out to a child of about ten years in Human terms. Esen's character reflects this: she is childlike in many ways, naive and impulsive, still possessing a wide-eyed innocence despite the many things she has seen. She calls the Human Paul Ragem her "first and best friend," but they have more of a parent-child relationship. So much so that in the previous trilogy, Paul goes into hiding for over fifty years, faking his death, to protect the secret of Esen's existence.

This book tells the story of Paul and Esen battling an extradimensional monster called the Null that resembles what Esen describes as a "trapdoor spider," spinning out threads of energy to capture starships in translight (this universe's faster-than-light travel method) and suck their energy dry, in the process slaughtering the crews. This being has sucked Paul's mother into its maw, and is using her artificial robotic eye to track other starships. (In the process keeping her alive, or at least parts of her, in its gut. This is a horrifying fate, and one cannot blame Esen at the climax, when she enters the Null with a hidden bomb to destroy it, and finds all the remnants of Veya Ragem's body and ends them.)

The only knock I have against this book is that it takes a long while to get going. A goodly portion--nearly the first half--is devoted to shenanigans at the All Species' Library, depicting the relationships between the various characters. While seeing the immense variety (and in many cases, absurdity) of the aliens Czerneda can create is always interesting, I do wish the book had been paced a little better. But when the Null is identified and the stakes are revealed, the plot kicks into high gear and carries through to the end.

The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, promising a different storyline than the one so far (if it's picked up). This is a solid series with an interesting protagonist, and I will keep reading.

(Sorry for the belated adding of the actual review; Goodreads doesn't cross-post the text for some reason.)

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