In Wood’s (Collapse, 2018, etc.) sci-fi novel, a planet of insectoid creatures, already stricken by internal conflict, reacts fearfully to evidence of other intelligent life.
The previous two books in this series were conventional, if well-told, narratives of an Earth reduced to survivalist feudalism by a terrorism-inspired nuclear barrage. The remnants of American society then received a fateful visit from the inquisitive Qu’uda—amphibian extraterrestrials seeking habitable worlds. Here, in Book 3, the perspective shifts sharply to a faraway, exotic alien civilization. It’s a technologically advanced world that’s dominated by insectlike beings, with a matriarchy of divalike queens at the apex of society; the latter have exoskeletons with deadly retractable spines, and they communicate, in part, by scent. Earlier wars between hives tainted the planet’s environment; now, they’ve agreed on an uneasy détente for the greater good of their gene pool and adhere to a religion (“the Way of the Mother”) that bans fusion weapons, among other things. An unwary Qu’uda scout ship intrudes into the situation, triggering cataclysmic misunderstandings that will echo throughout the series’ overarching storyline. Middle chapters in multivolume sci-fi sagas often get little respect, as they’re often perceived as mere bridges to get from one major point to another. But in this third installment of the five-part Clash of the Aliens series, invested readers receive stylistic dividends. For example, Wood telegraphs the resolution by framing the story as a report by historian Kot-Nih, who pieces events together from various testimonies. The alien advises readers that there are no villains, and indeed, Wood’s tale doesn’t portray any of the three cultures as intrinsically evil—although all indulge in dangerous games of power, prestige, and social ostracism; indeed, Homo sapiens may come off as the worst of the lot. This volume isn’t as action-packed as Wood’s earlier books, but it moves things along in a fresh manner, and its total immersion in alien values is compelling in its own right. It may inspire its human readers to just leave those annoying carpenter-ant mounds in the yard alone.
An intriguing development as an alien-first-contact epic sprouts new characters.