In Koraalen, Heather Murata Explores Human-Environment Links

(NOTE: The author provided me with a copy of this book to review, but all opinions expressed herein are mine).

Some people commune with nature, and others communicate with it. In her novel “Koraalen: Planetary Symbiosis, Heather Murata constructs a character who revels in doing both.

Nerissa, an up-and-coming star in environmental activism especially as it pertains to saving coral reefs, is asked on her first assignment for the Koraalen Marine Biology Guild to assess what may be causing an illness among this fragile animal. She happens to have a unique ability to “talk to” the coral telepathically, thereby gaining a fuller understanding of their experiences and sensations. Even so, she and her partner Shan find it difficult to get to the root of the problem, as they tackle obstacles that lead them off-planet to consort with others in search of solutions.

Murata has constructed a futuristic “universe” called the United Interstellar Economic Cooperative that most closely mirrors something like the European Union or United Nations. Only this grouping is made up of planets that have been colonized thousands of years after humanity has basically rendered “old Earth” unlivable. A primary goal of the UIEC and its member guilds is to ensure that the same does not happen in these new worlds.

This might sound like heavy science fiction, but in general it is not. The author aims instead to show readers how small changes in our behavior and a willingness to at least attempt to find a way to live in balance with the environment can lead to desirable outcomes. On Koraalen, for example, many residents live in sustainable platform cities just off of the continents and islands, leading to less urban development on land. Nearly all transportation is by air, whether through flitters, which I assume are a sort of flying car; air taxis, or air buses, which resemble long haul commercial airplanes. But everything is powered by means other than fossil fuels.

While there is considerable emphasis on environmental infrastructure and how best to handle it, with some jargon that only true insiders would fully understand, Murata spices things up with the sweet and powerful love that develops between Nerissa and Shan as they power through testing and experimentation. They first encounter each other as he, Shan, monitors Nerissa during a traditional Luau, and the sparks keep flying from there, growing stronger as adversity mounts. In fact, much of the story occurs against a backdrop of primarily Hawaiian-type culture, with lush descriptions of waterfalls, ocean scenery, pineapple fields, and other tantalizing tropical tidbits.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious about the work people do in trying to diagnose and save coral reefs here on this planet, work that I know is vital and not very easy. The characters though present the overall optimistic view that if we make the effort, the coral can do the rest and that healing and regeneration are still possible. And if, after reading this, you want a good nonfiction perspective on the plight of coral, check out Ocean Country, by Liz Cunningham. I read that one last year and found it informative. The bottom line, and I would venture to say that both authors would agree with this assertion, is that we must continue to work to save the Earth, even in the face of natural and man-made disaster.

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