Science fiction, for all its great successes over the decades, has at times earned a reputation for producing too many works that are cookie-cutter or derivative. That’s why it’s refreshing to see a book like Khe which, while taking the form in interesting new directions, still nails the basics—a sympathetic main character, exciting adventure, and world building that unfolds gradually and leaves room for surprises at the end.
The book opens with Khe, a female humanoid alien on a distant planet, living as a laborer in one of many agricultural “communes” (actually, it opens with a prologue which consists of a tense scene from the middle of the book, but the story proper begins at the commune). Khe’s species differs in a few ways from humans—the most notable being the mating ritual known as Resonance, where fertile females are guided to their mates by colors that appear to them in the sky. Khe’s life is turned upside down when, despite being of age, she fails to experience the Resonance, leaving her “broken.” An operation intended to allow her to mate appears successful, until she realizes its side effects: a mysterious power over plant life, and seemingly accelerated aging. Facing premature death, she sets out across the Wilderness towards the city of Chimbalay in search of help.
Aside from the detailed world, what I enjoyed most about Khe were the unconventional themes. Topics such as the meaning of fertility, acceptance in one’s community and self-sacrifice are rarely touched on in science fiction, and may resonate (sorry) with female readers. However, I found myself wishing at times that some of them were explored more fully, or some situations or characters fleshed out before Khe moves on to other parts of her journey. The ending in particular resolves very quickly, and doesn’t leave much room for closure on some of the themes explored in the narrative.
Also, Khe contains a set of illustrations interspersed throughout the pages, and while I thought they were generally well-drawn and helpful for visualizing the story, the last one sort of gives away the ending of the book. Reader be warned.
Still, I would recommend Khe to any fan of science fiction or science/fantasy adventure, especially those bored of the typical “man on a spaceship” archetype. I look forward to what Ms. Razevich’s wild imagination produces next.
Rating: Four Resonance sacs out of five.