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Literature / The Color of Distance

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The Color of Distance and Through Alien Eyes are Science Fiction novels by Amy Thomson.

Biologist Dr. Juna Saari is stranded in the dense rainforests of an alien world. With no hope of survival on her own, she must brave many changes and work closely with the native Tendu species, breaking every rule about First Contact along the way.

In the sequel, she has the unenviable task of bringing two Tendu to Earth and with them trying to find a way to bring their very different worlds into harmony.

The Color of Distance and Through Alien Eyes contain examples of:

  • Alien Arts Are Appreciated: And they appreciate human aesthetics too.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The first time humans met living intelligent aliens it was disastrous. With that incident in mind, and thinking of Earth's godawful history of colonialism, extensive First Contact protocols were written. Juna has to break many of them to survive and assuage her conscience, but fortunately the Tendu are more robust than the first aliens.
  • Bandage Wince: The tinka Juna rescued is in obvious pain when she stitches its wounds. Her companions, who hadn't cared when they saw it was injured, are disturbed.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Three-beat hearts that are apparently weaker than human ones aside, they communicate with color-changing skin like squid and have those allu spurs with strange powers.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: The Tendu life cycle is pretty involved.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Tendu healing powers are incredible. Severed limbs can be regrown within a year, and most injuries take less time. They may be rare but there are injuries so severe that they can't be entirely healed - those individuals who suffer such injuries choose to "honorably" kill themselves. When hearing that this isn't the case on Earth with humans, some Tendu are baffled. After a brain injury late in the second book, Unkatonen ends up electing to live, much to the consternation of other enkar.
  • But We Were Both Supposed To Have Contraceptive Shots: Contraceptive shots are the default in this setting - but the Tendu innocently restored Juna's fertility, and the man she has sex with grew up in a community that rejected restrictions on conception and since then has just coasted by comfortably knowing that any woman he has sex with isn't fertile.
  • Convenient Coma: When treating a patient for something advanced that takes many allu-a sessions, the Tendu like to put the patient into a coma and dedicate all their energies to the healing.
  • Convulsive Seizures: The first Tendu to try and link with a human dies of these.
  • Deep Sleep: Quarantine makes Unkatonen's greensickness too powerful to bear, so he elects to go into a near-unwakeable sleep and dream of better surroundings until the crew is released.
  • Feminist Fantasy: Little point is ever made about sexism directly, but if you read through and tally up all of the characters in large and small roles, they are evenly divided between men and women. Women are in the highest and lowest levels of society without anyone batting an eye.
  • Healing Hands: Well, forearm spurs. A little girl cured by Moki claims he healed her by holding her hands, but she like everyone else they treat was gently impaled by a spur which healed the damage it caused while being withdrawn.
  • Instant Illness: Linking with humans initially means letting human cells into Tendu bloodstreams. Humans aren't the only species that can't handle alien proteins.
  • Instant Sedation: Humans have the usual needles. Tendu can administer these with their spurs.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averted. Humans on Tiangi have it worse than quarians would, being so allergic to all the proteins on every alien world that a couple hours without a suit spells death. When she's altered by the Tendu to be able to survive, Juna's whole skin, lungs, and digestive tract get a new coating.
  • No Such Thing as Alien Pop Culture: Not none, but it's stagnating.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: Juna is transformed by the Tendu, most notably getting a clammy amphibian skin that changes colors and which she can use to portray words and pictures, and having her own pair of spurs and thus powers. When humans return to pick her up she becomes self-conscious of the changes, especially when someone she's attracted to flinches at the feel of her skin, and asks a Tendu friend to change her back.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Juna is only five feet tall herself, but even the tallest Tendu are a few inches shorter than her. She stands out when surrounded by them.
  • Transhuman Alien: When humans return to Tiangi and initially don't realize the transformed Juna is human, she indulges in a spark of mischief and pretends she's an alien until saying "I believe the line is, Doctor Livingstone I presume?"
  • Xenofiction: Some chapters from each book are told from Tendu points of view.