Interference: Cultures collide on an alien world

Interference by Sue Burke science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsInterference by Sue Burke science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsInterference by Sue Burke

The small colony of humans on the planet Pax, who left Earth a couple of hundred years earlier, have established a cooperative relationship with at least some of the sentient plant life on Pax, as well as a group of nomadic aliens called the Glassmakers, as related in Semiosis. Their technology now is more Stone Age than Information Age (Pax is deficient in metals). So it’s out of the question to return to or even communicate with Earth, which is 55 light years away. But Earth hasn’t forgotten about Pax.

In this sequel, Interference (2019), a scientific expedition of thirty people from Earth makes plans to travel to Pax to see what has become of the colony there. Different members of the expedition have varying reasons for going, ranging from scientific curiosity to a desire to escape the culture of Earth, where women are confined to submissive, secondary roles. But Karola has an especially compelling reason to escape Earth: she’s discovered that she’s a secret clone of a now-dead woman who is so hated on Earth for her crimes against humanity that men create clones of her for the sole purpose of psychologically torturing this woman in effigy, so to speak, until the clone dies. Karola is willing to do anything to get on the expedition to Pax and so escape the fate that the Earth government has in store for her … and she does.

It’s an intriguing beginning, but Karola has only a minor role in the rest of Interference, as author Sue Burke’s focus shifts to the broader question of how the arrival of the new group from Earth affects the inhabitants of Pax, and vice versa. Many misunderstandings ensue, as well as some understandings. Stevland, the highly intelligent rainbow bamboo plant who helps govern the Pax colony, considers whether to let the Earth visitors know of his existence, and how to arrange to send his seeds to Earth when the visitors leave. Meanwhile, the Earth group has its own in-fighting and drama to deal with.

Interference explores the relationships between various beings — plant, humans, and Glassmakers — but does so on a fairly high level. With the exception of its much-later epilogue (which opens the door for a third book that, according to Burke, may or may not get written), Interference doesn’t jump between different time periods and generations in the same way that Semiosis did, but Burke still frequently switches between different characters’ points of view. As a result, it’s difficult to feel particularly attached to any of the characters, with the exception of Stevland.

The SEMIOSIS DUOLOGY creates an intriguingly alien planet, and one does get a good feel for the many unfamiliar dangers that humans might face on such a strange world, as well as the difficulties that are created when people (or aliens) with different motivations, cultures and worldviews collide. Though there are some exciting scenes, the book felt overly long. I felt like it took forever to finish Interference. As I noted in my review of Semiosis, I find Sue Burke’s prose to be merely serviceable, and I didn’t see any noticeable improvement in Interference. Fans of Semiosis will likely be happy with this sequel, but if you weren’t enthusiastic about that book, Interference isn’t likely to change your mind.

Published in 2019. Sue Burke’s sweeping, award-finalist, SF Semiosis epic continues in Interference as the colonists and a team from Earth confront a new and more implacable intelligence. Over two hundred years after the first colonists landed on Pax, a new set of explorers arrives from Earth on what they claim is a temporary scientific mission. But the Earthlings misunderstand the nature of the Pax settlement and its real leader. Even as Stevland attempts to protect his human tools, a more insidious enemy than the Earthlings makes itself known. Stevland is not the apex species on Pax.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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