Book club study guide

Book Club

Here are some book club discussion questions for Semiosis, specifically the study guide for the Apocalypse Book Club, which has graciously allowed me to share it.

This club, in Oregon, attacks books with extreme ambition. Its meetings feature not just discussion, but costumes, arts and crafts, and meals based on the book its members have read. For Semiosis, they planted lucky bamboo and painted the pots in rainbow colors. Some members wore beads and painted their faces. Finally, they feasted on fruit, salads, and roast poultry — with wine, although we know Stevland disapproves of alcohol.

Their questions:

• Discuss the significance of the colonists referring to themselves as Pacifists. Their goal when they set out was to blend seamlessly into their new environment, but the events of the novel include decidedly non-peaceful elements. Is there a more fitting name that the people of Pax should or could have utilized?

• The use of certain accessories or styles are worn by the Pacifists to show membership to a certain generation. Do we have anything like that to define the generations currently?

• Discuss sex and sexuality. What does it mean to be a woman on Pax? A man? A child? What kind of isms were present in the new world and why?

• The book spanned a significant amount of time and introduced us to many characters. Did you feel drawn to a particular one? Why or why not?

• Discuss the overall writing style. What worked and what didn’t? Was there an intentional message in the structuring of the book?

• The Glassmakers became a shadow of their former selves. Was this a believable evolution? Do you agree with how the Pacifists interacted with the Glassmakers, both in times of peace and of confrontation?

• How did the lack of a long-standing human culture on Pax affect the individual’s sense of identity and in what ways, negatively and/or positively? Can any parallels be drawn to American culture and how we identify with our past?

Additional questions I suggested:

• How do attitudes change over the generations to the meaning of the colony, of work, and of their own community? The generations contrast especially strongly in Chapter 2, but throughout the book each generation has its own way of understanding what it means to be human and how problems should be approached and solved.

• Except for thinking (and scheming), everything that plants do in the book are things they can do here on Earth. Acacia trees keep their servant animals, ants, dependent on them in a way that even Stevland might consider excessive. Many plants use false scents to attract pollinators. Plants communicate with each other and sometimes help each other. What can that mean for our relationship to plants here on Earth? What if Stevland could grow among us?

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