In The Company of Others, by Julie E. Czerneda

in-the-company-of-others-by-julie-e-czerneda coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: DAW
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Michael E. Picray

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In The Company of Others is Julie E. Czerneda’s fifth novel. While the others are parts of two different series, The Trade Pact Series, and the Web Shifter series, In The Company of Others is her first deliberate stand-alone. In other words, what you see between the covers on this book may be all you get, but that’s plenty!

The story begins by acquainting the reader with the Way Things Are, which is Not Too Good. The people of Earth grew weary of looking for “Others” out there in space and decided that the only “Others” they would find would be themselves. So they set about terraforming suitable worlds to allow their teeming masses to expand outward into space. At the same time, explorers were searching deep space. These explorers found harmless creatures they named the Quill. But somewhere along the way things went horribly wrong and the innocuous Quill became deadly. They took over all of the terraformed planets, leaving the eager colonists stranded on the colonizing space stations. The people of Earth refused to let their colonists come home for fear that they would bring the Quill home with them and Humanity would be forever destroyed.

There is low-level conflict throughout the book, yet no enemies or bad guys. The Station factions are the Immies (immigrants), Stationers (station crew), and ‘Siders (Outsiders who live on ships attached to the station), all who co-exist in a delicate balance of needs and power. They dance around each other with their mutual needs just to survive. Value judgments are tricky things and Ms Czerneda’s training and experience as a research biologist has apparently taught her to be wary of them. Her books are filled with protagonists and antagonists, but no really ‘evil’ characters, which is not to say that the effects and actions these factions create are appreciated by those who must deal with them. The characters in In The Company of Others are engaging and likable whichever side of the conflicts they are on.

Ms Czerneda is extremely good at “putting you there”–where the action is. You can almost smell the recycling floor on the space station with its unusual staff. There’s Malley, a large muscular person who is really too intelligent to be where he is, but smart enough to know how to survive. There’s Pardell, a sensitive man with special problems and special abilities, both of which make him so dangerous that people can’t even touch him. Enter the Earther faction led by Dr. Gail Veronika Ashton Smith, biologist, researcher, and all around determined person who has a novel theory about the Quill and somehow manages to get the research funds to pursue it. The payoff? Seventeen terraformed worlds ready for colonists.

You can almost feel the wind on a virgin planet, and you may want to laugh and cry at the triumphs and frustrations encountered as you read this book. Unlike many books I’ve read recently, at the end of this one you care about what happens to the people, and the Quill. Whether you laugh, cry or think, “Gee. That could happen”, my bet is that you will have enjoyed the trip and will be looking for more from Julie E. Czerneda.

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