One of my all-time favorite authors! I've decided to review her today, because she's just had an old favorite, Beholder's Eye (Amazon B&N), reissued in a gorgeous new trade paperback edition. This book, the first in the Web Shifters series, was my entry into Julie Czerneda's work, and - luckily - all three novels in the series were already out when I "discovered" her, because I devoured them over a period of about a week. (They're all being reissued, but you need to start with Beholder's Eye. It's the first, and the order matters.) I love all of Czerneda's books, but Esen-alit-Quar (Esen for short, Es in a hurry) will always have a special place in my heart.
Czerneda's work is mostly science fiction, with one fantasy series (so far). But, although she is a scientist (biology), her novels aren't the type of "hard" science fiction that focuses on technology, but rather on aliens and what makes them tick, told through the lens of their societies and their interactions with others.
Here's the thing about Czerneda's writing: It sparkles! At least, that's my word for it. I guess the shiniest sparkle is the wit and humor of her writing. And her characters are some of the best people in the universe! You'll want to know them, and they will all become dear friends. The action moves along at a brisk - and occasionally breakneck - pace. And those are all elements that make me love an author's work.
But there's more, for me, that makes her a special favorite: As you read, you might notice the layers of her sparkly prose. You might notice that almost no sentence only does one thing. For example, what seems to be a bit of physical description - of a character or a place or an environment - also turns out to illuminate something else - a twist of the plot, a quirk of the character, some essential fact about the culture the character lives in. Every paragraph is dense with information that advances the story, illuminates the character, or gives you a sense of the physical space the action is taking place in - but it never, ever feels like you're getting an info-dump. Because, sparkle!
Probably my favorite thing about her science fiction is that she uses her knowledge of biology to create really interesting, really different aliens. And not just physical biology. No. She thinks about what kind of culture might be a natural outgrowth of the biological characteristics of her aliens. They're not just different physically, they create different societies, with different goals, attitudes and interactions with others of their kind, and with other species. They react to stress differently, and they get stressed over different things than humans would get stressed about. Which often leads to conflicts. Which is what stories are all about, at the most basic level.
The Web Shifters series is a great showcase of this element of her writing, because the shape-shifting species to which Esen belongs has the capability of assuming the shape and characteristics of any species they come in contact with. As the youngest member of her "web" - which only consists of six individuals - she's less experienced than other members. But what she lacks in experience, she makes up for with enthusiasm. And, as is so often the way of exuberant young people on their first adventure, she lands smack-dab in the middle of big trouble!
Czerneda's other two science fiction series, the Clan Chronicles (a trilogy of trilogies) and the Species Imperative trilogy continue the emphasis on believable aliens and cultures. The Species Imperative trilogy is, at it's core, about just that - the biological imperatives that drive a species to do what it does. Of course, in a universe populated by several species, there are bound to be conflicting drives. The main protagonist, Mac (formally known as Dr. Mackenzie Connor), is a salmon researcher on the Pacific coast of the North American continent. At least, she was, until she got dragged across the galaxy to try to understand and resolve one such conflict. Sounds kind of dry when you put it that way, but trust me, it's anything but. Plus, this series give us one of my all time favorite secondary characters: Fourteen. But of course, that's irrelevant (as Fourteen would be quick to point out).
The final book of the final trilogy of the Clan Chronicles isn't due out for a year. I may pass out from holding by breath by then - due to the cliff-hanger of the penultimate book, just published in September. The overall arc of the story addresses a critical question: what if a genetic characteristic - one that could be enhanced through careful breeding - that provided great advantage to individuals, turned out to pose a risk to the survival of the species as a whole? (Again, biologist! Czerneda says got the idea (in a convoluted way) from a study of minnows.) The first trilogy, Stratification, shows how this characteristic developed, and what effect it had on the species and culture. The second, The Trade Pact, concerned the "end point" - a woman so powerful she was unable to find a mate she wouldn't kill. The third trilogy - Reunification - is about the search for the Clan's origins, in the hopes they will find some solution for their desperate plight. Again, sounds dry, but again, it's anything but. There is romance, adventure, danger and laughter to be found throughout the three trilogies. Also, HUIDO! (A giant crab-like creature who also owns the premiere restaurant of the galaxy. Which never, ever serves human meat to humans. Not on purpose, anyway.) And hockey. Sort of. In a Drapsk kind of way.
I haven't even mentioned her Night's Edge fantasy series, yet! The first book in the series, A Turn of Light, fulfilled all of my expectations for a "Czerneda" book, and then some. It's not the "usual" fantasy - medieval-ish society, quests, and such. Instead, it takes place entirely within a rural, pre-modern, very small village and the surrounding countryside. And yet, there is Magic! Also, romance. And dragons. And not-horses. Adventure. And, yes, danger of the world-shattering variety. Not to mention, coming-of-age, personal growth and self-knowledge. And also, Warrior Toads! All bound together in one book, in one story, told in witty and elegantly-flowing prose. What more could a bibliovore want? A second book, of course. Which also exists, and is entitled A Play of Shadow.
Czerneda also has a stand-alone science fiction book, In The Company Of Others, and has written several non-fiction books about science and science fiction. When not writing her own books and stories, she often edits short-story anthologies in both the fantasy and science fiction genres. The anthologies all feature both established authors and new writers - and she actively seeks out new writers to include, because she loves encouraging new writers. (Including me, once.) It's her way of sharing the joy she's found in writing her stories. Her signature hashtag is "#lovemylife" - and she most obviously does. That joy comes through in both her Facebook page and her website. You should check them out. And buy some of her books.