Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Julie Czerneda
(2009, DAW Books)

Stratification, book 1

A world held in delicate balance between three species is destabilized when alien humans and their allies arrive, searching for ancient ruins left behind by an extinct race.


-- First reading (paperback)
November 10th to December 11th, 2018


I was totally amazed by the world and its people. The author’s writing captivated me, especially in the way she described the forest, the culture, and the mannerisms of the main characters. The use of non-familiar words for familiar concepts was brilliant, and I thoroughly enjoyed figuring out what they meant. I thought there were too many ancillary characters who didn’t really contribute to the story, except to present a clan presence, and whose relationships were hard to remember, but that's a minor complaint.

Spoiler review:

It takes several chapters to figure out what’s going on in this story, to know who these people are, and what they mean to the world. We are dropped right in, and are forced to live in Aryl’s world from the start. She knows things that we don’t, and she takes them for granted -we are forced to catch up quickly. It’s not an impossible task, and it’s a lot of fun to do so.

There is so much to like about the world that Aryl lives in, that it’s hard to notice that the story is very lean. This is about the virtual destruction of Yena clan, due to the interference from “strangers”- humans and other aliens who have to come to Cerci to discover the origins of some ruins they’ve found there. The Watchers, giant horns that the wind blows through, are obviously artificial, made by a race long gone.

Most of the early part of the story takes place in Yena clan, as the human probe is caught in the seasonal M'hir wind, which blows the rastis fronds, usually enough to feed all of Yena for an entire year, including their trade with the Tikitik. But the device crashes, and all the harvesters fall to their deaths. Aryl, not a harvester but there to watch, manages to hang on, and using her mental Power, saves the man she loves.

What follows is a description of the culture and the horrible conditions Yena has to survive. Facing the swarm every night, held at bay by the glow-lights provided by the Tikitik, has made them strong, though cautious. There is some sort of Agreement between the Om’ray, the Tikitik and the Oud, which the Yena council believe must be adhered to at all costs. This is disastrous as the Tikitik demand half of the harvest anyway. The next day, a significant portion of the hard workers, including Bern (Aryl’s heart-mate) are told to leave on Passage, to find their Chosen mates in another clan.

Aryl serves gladly in finding additional food, but it doesn’t last long. She’s intrigued by the strangers’ device, and while out teaching a young Om’ray how to find rastis fronds, she sees them. The Tikitik abduct her because she has seen the strangers and their devices. They hide her inside a rastis to protect her from the swarm the next night, and then sacrifice some of their beasts to get her across the lake to where the strangers have set up camp, in a floating city.

I very much enjoyed the different culture of the Tikitik. Their minds are too alien to fathom, which is such a vast difference from other human copycat aliens (such as Foreigner). Still, their desires are easily known -they want the strangers gone, or at least to know how they factor into the Agreement.

When Aryl gets onto the floating city, she meets Marcus, a human, and his wonderful alien counterparts. Even more than the Tikitik, these aliens were characterized as alien. Part of the fun was hearing English words from Aryl’s point of view, and trying to figure out what they meant, in context, and helping them learn her language. Although humans look like Om’ray, they have no telepathy, so cannot communicate mind-to-mind, which deprives them of so much. I love the way Aryl is horrified that they are not “real”, because they have no inner voice. Om’ray use this not only to communicate, but to see the edge of their world, because they can sense all other Om’ray clans, to be more intimate than any other species could be, and to share memories. Aryl especially has the ability to travel through the mysterious “dark”, which is how she saved Bern.

The Tikitik are an impatient race. When Marcus and the others take Aryl to a spot near the Watchers, the Tikitik catch them in a giant net, from which they escape, but end up crashing, with only Aryl and Marcus surviving.

There is another main character in this book, but he is introduced only briefly every few chapters. Enris of Tuana lives in a very different land from Yena. His is safe, and they are able to produce things like metal, which the Oud use to build their machines. Due to unwanted romantic attractions from a woman of his clan (the attraction is a mental thing unique to Om’ray), he is forced to leave on Passage, where he plans to find the builders of a strange machine part the Oud brought him. At first it looks like the strangers built it, but Enris finds that it responds to an Om’ray touch. Instead, an Oud abducts him, and brings him to help rescue Marcus and Aryl, because they know of the Om’ray ability to sense each other (something the Om’ray councils always tried to keep secret).

Things get even worse for the Yena clan when Aryl senses death from her clan, and transports her and Enris from the mountains directly to Yena, where they see the Tikitik taking back all the glows, after which the swarm starts its nightly attack. She and Enris burn all of the Yena houses to keep the swarm at bay, and in the morning they take refuge in the Cloisters, where her mother resides as an Adept amid the Council.

Instead of trying to reason with the Tikitik, the Council decides to send away all those with rebellious Power, new abilities not part of the Agreement to which they adhere. The Tikitik are waiting for them, though, so Aryl calls to Marcus through his spy-machine, who comes to rescue them in his aircar.

The Yena are taken to the nearby Om’ray clan of Grona, where they don’t fit in, and where Bern resides. It looks like Bern’s Chosen wants all new Powers for herself, so Aryl decides to leave. Enris joins her, and so do the rest of Yena clan. I’m not sure where they’ll go, but without the Swarm to prey on them, they’ll have a safer journey.

There is so much to experience in this book, from the jungle and the animals and plants that inhabit it, to the Om’ray culture, to Aryl herself, the Tikitik and Oud, and even the mystery of what the humans and their allies are after. It’s impossible to describe it all. It should be experienced, anyway. Suffice it to say that the book was very enjoyable. The lack of a real story doesn’t hurt it much, as it will continue in the next few books, which I look forward to reading.


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