To Each This World by Julie E. Czerneda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have many books by Julie E. Czerneda, but this is one of her best. It's a stand-alone, which is relatively rare these days; but it wraps up its story in a most satisfying and poignant manner. It's a complex, hard SF tale of aliens, clashing cultures, misunderstood linguistics, implacable alien biology, and above all, one man trying to save the remaining Human population scattered across several planets.
Henry is the Arbiter on the planet of New Earth, in charge of maintaining the negotiated agreement between humans and the Kmet (who, as best as I can make out from the descriptions, are giant alien slugs with flippers). The Kmet have access to wormhole technology called the Portals. There are only two of them, and they swap out their Portals to allow travel to distant systems. Thirty-seven years ago, the first Arbiter negotiated an agreement that brought the so-called Duality into existence: a joint agreement to allow both humans and Kmet to flourish. But two hundred years ago generation ships were sent out from New Earth to settle other systems, and returning probes from those ships are throwing the Kmet into panic. They insist an entity called the "Divider" is going to kill the humans on these other worlds, and the Kmet insist on taking Henry and a pilot, Killian, to those other worlds to evacuate their inhabitants to New Earth.
What follows is a race against time to evacuate the inhabitants of the colony worlds, with their widely varying peoples and cultures, and a deepening mystery regarding the Kmet and their motives behind what they are doing. Since Czerneda is a biologist by training, the solution to that mystery lies in the Kmet's biology, and what happened to their ancestors centuries ago. It's pretty complicated, but she makes it understandable to a layperson.
The gems of this book, though, are the characters. Henry is a dogged, loyal, determined man trying his best to save the people on the colony planets and New Earth. The Portal pilot, Killian, is a grumpy, rough-edged spacer who comes to appreciate Henry and what he can do. But the best character of all is Henry's ship and companion, Flip, a "polymorphic matrix" (read AI, but contained in shapeshifting nanotech goo, given to the humans by the Kmet). Flip goes through hell to keep Henry safe, and at the end has to watch as Henry is stranded on the final colony planet. Henry ends up negotiating with the enormous underground beings who originally made the Portals to return the Kmet to their world of origin, destroy the Portals, and save New Earth.
This is a lovely read with excellent pacing and an emotional ending--the room got quite dusty as I turned the final pages. This is one of the last 2022 books I have read, and one of the best.
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