What makes a species tick? How does a species decide what it is going to do at the deepest biological level? We're not talking about making plans for dinner here or deciding which pants to wear with which shirt. What is the imperative that drives a whole species so that they will behave in a singular fashion?
For answers to questions like those you need a biologist who's made it her life's work and obsession to study the patterns of species behaviour. Enter Dr. Mackenzie Connor (Mac) the co-administrator of a facility off the West Coast of British Columbia dedicated to the research of salmon and their impact on the surrounding environment. Mac specializes in studying the nuances of the miracle that is the annual salmon migration – their ability to swim half way around the world only to return to the exact same spot in the river where they were born to spawn their own offspring.
In the first two books of Julie Czerneda's Species Imperative, Survival and Migration we learned how Mac had been chosen for these very skills by two races of beings. The Dhryn needed her to help them discover the truth of why they are being compelled to migrate. And what happened to them and their world 3,000 years ago to change them genetically so they transform into killers that devour whole planets and species.
The far more devious and mysterious Ro created the circumstances that saw Mac contacted by the Dhryn so they could follow her to the mysterious home world of the Dhyrn and destroy it. Although many species in the universe are of the belief that the Ro have done all this in order to protect everybody from the threat of the Dhyrn, Mac has her doubts. What is the species imperative that drives the Ro to offer this service?
By the end of Migration, Mac is convinced that the Ro are responsible for the corruption of the Dhyrn, but has little or no proof. Half the universe wants to still contact the Ro and wipe out the Dhyrn, while the rest want to find out the truth of what lies behind the whole mystery.
The question for the reader is, will Julie Czerneda be able to provide the answers to these questions in Regeneration, book three of the series, while continuing to maintain the quality of writing that has characterized the first two books? In spite of the action and the tension that she creates in the storyline, there has continued to be an underlying lightness and sense of wonder that can only be attributed to the feelings generated by a person being placed in circumstances that are truly amazing.
Prior to Mac's contact with the Dhryn representative, Brymn, who met her on earth, she had not even considered leaving the planet, let alone meeting other life forms. She had been perfectly happy studying salmon and getting on with her life as a field biologist, administrator, and teacher. To go from that to being the first person accepted by the Dhryn as one of their own, and the centre of attention for every known sentient being in the universe has been both a shock and a source of wonder for her.
It has also been the cause of many numerous, frustrating and eye-opening experiences. Who was to know the effect that cider would have on the Grimnoii, who to Mac's eyes look like gigantic terminally depressed Teddy Bears. These are terminally depressed, well-armed, giant-sized Teddy Bears who to Mac's eyes can only be told apart by their personal preferences in weapons. Who was also to know that they would be allergic to every other species?
But this confusion of species and circumstances as seen through the eyes of Mac becomes an escape from the terror of everyone's reality. Species differences don't have to be a reason for fear or anxiety. They can be a comfort in the familiarity of the emotions they trigger. As long as it's not abject fear for your life, even nausea at what you might consider inappropriate feeding arrangements is welcome and sometimes humorous.
But unfortunately for the all species concerned, the days of laughing at each other's supposed habits and getting used to each other look to be numbered. The closer Mac and her colleagues, friends and newfound partner Nik, come to the truth the higher the stakes are raised. Mac's discovery of the genetic flaw in the Dhyrn won't make an iota of difference if the Ro are able to destroy the truth and continue to control the enormous numbers of corrupted Dhyrn at their disposal. It becomes a race against time and the Ro to get to where the information is needed the most – Earth.
Czerneda has created one of those wonderful endings to a book where you dread reading the next paragraph but are compelled to keep reading every last word. No matter how tempting it is to skip ahead to reassure yourself of the outcome, I can pretty much guarantee that you won't. I would recommend that once you're into the last hundred or so pages that you be prepared to read without stopping. You may to take an occasional pause to get your heart started again, or to remember how to breathe, but that's about it.
Species Imperative has to be one of the first hard Science Fiction series I've read that manages to not get caught up in the bang, bang, shoot, shoot to the exclusion of characterization. Julie Czerneda has created the miraculous mix of humanity (or speciesity?) that characterizes all great fiction. Combined with the best elements of a true adventure story, generous dollops of leavening humour, and exotic locales, it sets a new standard for other authors to match in this genre.
Species Imperative: Regeneration is a fine conclusion to a great series. The only warning I would give is not to start reading the first book without having access to the second and third. You are not going to want to stop once you begin.