City of Pearl by Karen Traviss (2004)

City of Pearl by Karen Traviss (2004)City of Pearl (Wess'har Wars #1) by Karen Traviss
Published: Harper Voyager (2004), eBook, 400pg
Source: Scribd
Genres: Fiction, Sci-fi

Three separate alien societies have claims on Cavanagh's Star. But the new arrivals -- the gethes from Earth -- now threaten the tenuous balance of a coveted world.

Environmental Hazard Enforcement officer Shan Frankland agreed to lead a mission to Cavanagh's Star, knowing that 150 years would elapse before she could finally return home. But her landing, with a small group of scientists and Marines, has not gone unnoticed by Aras, the planet's designated guardian. An eternally evolving world himself, this sad, powerful being has already obliterated millions of alien interlopers and their great cities to protect the fragile native population. Now Shan and her party -- plus the small colony of fundamentalist humans who preceded them -- could face a similar annihilation . . . or a fate far worse. Because Aras possesses a secret of the blood that would be disastrous if it fell into human hands -- if the gethes survive the impending war their coming has inadvertently hastened.

Somehow I accidentally read two scifi books, fairly close together, which have a heavy environmental conservation/protection/etc. slant. The first book was The Margarets, which was more about the effects bad environmentalism politics have on a planet of people. The second book was City of Pearl, which is more about the after-effects of radical environmentalism on one planet and what happens when humans come to mess things up.

Human beings are not a special snowflake species in City of Pearl. In fact, we’re pretty much the antagonists. We’re too focused on ourselves and what benefits US, and that causes problems for lots of people–both aliens and animals–and most of the plot comes from the tension between the human scientists/government and the alien government. The humans want to poke things and take lots of samples to experiment on; the aliens want to protect the planet and its people from being poked and sampled against their will.

There are two POVs: one human, Shan, who isn’t a scientist but who IS a environmental cop, and one alien, Aras, who’s got a parasite that makes him invincible. Shan is brash and hardcore and I really liked her. She has principles, and she sticks to them even when they make people upset. She’s also kind and friendly and HUGELY empathetic. Likewise, Aras seems scary on the outside but he’s actually pretty kind, too. Only his kindness doesn’t mean letting the scientists run around free, which is where the conflict happens.

It’s emphasized over and over that the human group is not the party in charge, that the planet is not theirs and that they can’t just go around touching whatever they want because they want to. It’s like rules for a museum: look, don’t touch. But of course they don’t wanna do that, because they’re huge babies and also terrible future!scientists.

They have all these scanning machines and whatnot OF! THE!! FUTURE!!! and yet they just HAVE to take an alien baby and vivisect it? For “science”? Because they do, and it’s terrible. It’s terrible because they killed a child, but it’s MORE terrible because they didn’t even recognize it as a child. It looked like an octopus, so it’s a thing. And even after 300+ pages of “people are more than just humans and/or beings who can speak like humans,” they still didn’t get it.

Ponyo rain gif

And then some more aliens show up who (funnily enough) are basically human-style expansionist and wasteful and totally into taking what they want, when they want. And of course the stupid human government is like “yes, we will totally join up with you!” And then it all goes to shit.

So the characters in City of Pearl are very frustrating! Never have I been more disappointed with future!scientists than these ones. They’re ALL horrible. There is not one good scientist! There’s a decent journalist, and some space!marines, but really the powerhouse good guys are Shan and Aras. Luckily, I liked them a lot.

I also liked the story a lot, despite the depressing plot points that made me want to cry. I think some of the points about environmental conservation were maybe hammered in a little too hard, but it’s for a good cause so I didn’t mind too much.

On the whole, I really enjoyed City of Pearl. I’m definitely picking up the next book. Yay!

Read: December 29, 2014

Sidenote: the Wess’har society is matriarchal and it’s pretty awesome because Shan is a very powerful person and that gives Aras feelings. I never knew I was cool with inter-species romance before this book, y’all. But Aras and Shan are super cute together! And Aras’ parasite gave him a human-ish face so they could totally kiss if they wanted to. You know I like kissing in my books, y’all.

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