Zumbs' Blog

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head

Review of City of Pearl by Karen Travis

Posted by Zumbs on August 5, 2012

city of pearls coverA few centuries into the future, Environmental Hazard Enforcement officer Shan Frankland is sent to a distant star system on a secret mission. So secret, in fact, that she will only learn the mission specifics as she needs them. Along with her are a number of marines and scientists (charmingly dubbed “the payload”) representing various academic and commercial interests. With a round trip time of 150 years, everyone they knew will be dead and gone by the time they return. The planet contains life and, possibly, the survivors of a human colony of Christian fundamentalists whose last transmission hinted that there could be alien life on the world.

Upon their arrival they discover that the human colony has indeed survived. But they are not alone. The seas of the world is inhabited by the bezeri. The isenj had colonized the surface and were polluting the seas, so the bezeri were dying. Yet, the isenj refused to stop. A cry for help caused the wess’har, who own a planet in the system, to come to the aid of the bezeri and exterminate the isenj colony on the planet.

The wess’har are fierce defenders of the bezeri and only just tolerate the human colony there. The isenj still claim the planet and (not surprisingly) consider the wess’har to be monsters. The fundamentalists would rather just be left alone. And the wess’har require that the scientists do not take living samples of anything.

The heroine, Shan, is somewhat like a female Dirty Harry. She is pretty buff and not afraid to apply physical force to do the job, even if it means bending or even breaking the rules. She has her own morality and puts a great deal of weight on that. Unlike Dirty Harry, her morality is not utterly conservative – her work in the Environmental Hazard Enforcement has left the leery of bio corporations and caused her to get some empathy for the eco-terrorists.

The major theme of this book is environmental destruction and the question of how we coexist with the other living beings in the world. As it happens in the future, a lot of the tendencies seen today are brought to to their logical next step. In this sense, Traviss poses the question if this is the way we want to go. The ecology of the planet in the distant solar system can be viewed as one, possible, path where our own destruction of nature causes our own destruction. These are important questions, and Traviss pack them into a readable book that is likely to cause you to think it over.

The wess’har are strict vegetarians and consider all animals to be “people” and are in general very protective of the environment. While they wonder why humans do not see things that way, they are never asked why they do not have the same respect for non-animal life, e.g. the plants that they eat. The question of dietary choices is a significant theme of the book, sometimes given too much space with too little discussion. Similarly, the vegetarian fundamentalists are put in a positive light, whereas the scientists are uniformly put in a rather unfavorable light. As in fundamentalists are part of the solution, scientists are part of the problem. Sigh.

Overall, this is a very readable book, well written, intelligent and thought provoking. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

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