by Nancy Jane Moore
Review by Sam Lubell
Aqueduct Press Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781619760776
Date: 01 July 2015
The Weave is an old fashioned First Contact hard-SF novel that fans of Eleanor Arnason and fans of Larry Niven could both appreciate. It starts with two parallel storylines. Caty Sanjuro is a space marine on Ceres fighting a rebellion. After the military covers up sabotage that caused her squad to kill civilians, she quits the military to attend graduate school and become a xenologist. When the first alien species is discovered, the combination of her military background and training enables her to join the first voyage to Cibola as its sole xenologist.
Meanwhile, on Cibola, Sundown studies the skies and teaches astronomy. At first the technology level of the planet is not revealed although there are references to a "weave of minds", "planetary network of astronomers", and a computing "mathpad". Their technology is good enough that Sundown's father had observed a spaceship orbiting the planet many years ago. But the planet is divided into different regions with their own governments who occasionally go to war. So, the planet seems the equivalent of Earth's late 20th century.
During the five-year flight to Cibola, Sanjuro becomes reacquainted with an old Academy friend Kyo; starts a sexual relationship with Colonel Ian Masire, the commander of the ship's marines and head of security; and barely keeps her temper in check around Colonel Rao, the head of Sci/Tech who plans on exploiting the planet rather than studying it. The government plans to colonize Cibola, even if it has to bioengineer it, and mine the local asteroids for minerals.
Once the humans land, Sanjuro meets Sundown, and the two begin learning from each other. Eventually Sanjuro realizes that the aliens communicate telepathically and even have a way of using this power to fight wars and control others. While she tries to persuade Admiral Vargas and Colonel Rao that the Cibolans are not helpless and will take action to defend their planet, the leaders refuse to listen and accuse Sanjuro of going native. By this point, even the most na´ve reader can predict what will happen.
The best parts of the book are the descriptions of the aliens' society and Sanjuro's efforts to understand it, learning to communicate through images, and ultimately learning how to tap her own telepathic potential. The aliens' system of reproduction and gender is also different from that of humans in a way that surprises Sanjuro. The pronoun used for Sundown is "it', although there are references to having a father and mother.
Still there are a few flaws. The book takes a while to get going. They do not even reach the planet until page 109. A five year journey may be more realistic than the typical SF instantaneous faster-than-light drive, but it does slow the narrative down in the first third. Another problem is that the book never explains why the humans cannot mine the asteroids in a different system without the only non-terrestrial life ever discovered. And, considering they have the technology to bioengineer planets, they should not need to colonize an already inhabited world either. I also have to question why the human authorities would think that sending only one expert to study the alien life (and reluctantly at that) would be a good idea. Even a mission of exploitation would need a way of judging if the aliens pose a threat. In this book's universe, there does not seem to be any equivalent of the environmental movement. The author could have done more to heighten the urgent need for the planet's resources, perhaps by showing humanity near extinction and this planet its only hope.
Also, the idea of a human on an alien planet learning telepathy adds to the old-fashioned feel of the novel; Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series was using this as its standard plot in the 1960s and 70s. And the idea of a native people using their special abilities to overcome technologically superior invaders was a neat twist when Eric Frank Russell was writing in the 1950s, but trite and predictable today.
The book works well as sociological science fiction with an alien society that is different from those of Earth, with some interesting speculation about the customs that would develop among a telepathic species. Sanjuro and Sundown are both fully developed characters who have flaws and make mistakes while still trying to do what they think is right regardless of what other people claim. Both Masire and Kyo have believable struggles between obeying the chain of command and trusting Sanjuro.
Fans of traditional science fiction and those who like sociological science fiction will greatly enjoy The Weave. It may be predictable at times to those who have read much other science fiction, but readers will still root for Sanjuro and Sundown.