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The Color of Distance

(The Color of Distance #1)

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  784 ratings  ·  74 reviews
Juna is the sole survivor of a team of surveyors marooned in the dense and isolated Tendu rain forest, an uninhabitable world for humans. Her only hope for survival is total transformation--and terrifying assimilation--into the amphibian Tendu species. Juna will learn more about her own human nature than ever before.
Mass Market Paperback, 480 pages
Published July 1st 1999 by Ace (first published 1995)
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Average rating 4.27  · 
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 ·  784 ratings  ·  74 reviews

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Oct 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
See also my blog review:

The depth of world-building and character development in this book is amazing. The style of world-building is different than what you get in Herbert's Dune universe or Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Maybe it would have been nice to get more of a sense of the whole planet or what happened on Earth in the last few hundred years, but the world-building here is more tightly-focused on the main characters and their immediate environment. And i
Jun 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Science fiction fans
Shelves: science-fiction
One of my pet peeves is a sterotypical first contact story in which the aliens vaguely resemble anthromorpic Earth animals, have limited technology, and are protrayed as 'noble savages'. I tend to dislike any of those things and think that they somewhat harm the story, especially when they come together.

This story has all those 'problems', and yet I enjoyed it alot because, quite honestly, it is the single best story of the type I've read in that well travelled path. This is the one by which I t
Mar 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aliens, first, contact
I first read this book in middle school and have been trying to get my hands on it ever since. Having purchased it online and reread it instantly, I can confirm that this is one of my most favorite books. The world of the Tendu is painted so clearly that I actually smelled the forest, tasted the fruit, felt the allu'a. A lot of concepts in the book (connecting to each other and the world via allu'a, a human partly transforming into an alien body) remind me so much of James Cameron's Avatar that ...more
Lisa H.
Apr 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
One of my main criteria when rating a book - and, when skillfully done, one aspect of the writer's art that can just leave me in awe - is the author's ability to bring the reader into an unfamiliar culture with a minimum of pedantry or obvious explication. Given that the culture of this book is one where the inhabitants communicate by shifting patterns and colors (like squids), scents, and other chemical signatures, Thomson's world-building ranks right up there with Frank Herbert's, IMO.
Luca De Rosa
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
The world building, the characters, the emotions and the descriptions... They take you to far away worlds and places.
On a side note I think the author spent a bit too much time making me feel miserable about humanity, thanks not.
Taken as a whole, it is quite the read, really enjoyed it.
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Survey biologist Juna Saari is left for dead on an alien planet after her team's flyer crashes into the jungle. She is rescued by the previously unknown sentient aliens known as Tendu, but only through their extreme medical intervention. Although she contacts her spaceship through radio, they will not be able to return for her for five years - for the meantime, she's stranded, and must learn to adapt and survive in an alien culture.

Sometimes slow-moving, the book is more concerned with the rich
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy-fluff
This was an awesome read. I could hardly put it down. It put me in mind of the Daniel Quinn book 'If they give you lined paper, write sideways'. It was a study in learning an alien culture and then trying to explain why yours is so messed up in comparison. Lots of fun. :)
Brian Smith
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-stars
Engrossing, deeply emotional story of first contact. I really connected with the characters. Not much high tech, mostly biological / ecological science fiction.
Sarah (CoolCurryBooks)
The Color of Distance was one of the most compelling first contact stories I’ve come across. At first I was a bit skeptical, sure I would be getting a story that I’d seen a million times before. However, The Color of Distance won me over with it’s focus on characterization and underlying sense of optimism.

Juna is the only survivor of a crash landing of human surveyors on an uninhabitable world. Luckily for her she is found by three aliens who are able to keep her alive. However, she is now adrif
May 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
This novel breaks some interesting new ground in the interpretation of how humans will deal with the exploration of other planets. It sets the stage for our not being able to cope with the environments of other worlds, and the issues this would bring - a very different view than the Star Trek concept of "exploring strange new worlds" with no problems or issues. Ms. Thomson also choses to hold the state of the current human condition constant, which adds a tension to the story as well as a realis ...more
Tracy Marks
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
Absolutely superb novel - I just finished the novel, and know that I will continue to care so much for the characters and this world for quite awhile. My favorite sci fi (or should I say anthropological sci fi) novel for decades has been Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood series, though I also have favored C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet and some of Ursula Le Guin's writings for believable and meaningful creation of aliens and their world. But The Color of Distance has just moved into first pl ...more
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars.

I was totally enthralled with the first 200 pages of this engaging first contact story. The world building and character development were impressive and even though it was a bit slow moving, I was pretty sure this was going to be one of my favorite books of the year so far. Sadly, I began to lose interest at about the halfway point and actually started to get a bit annoyed at how repetitive the narrative became. Unfortunately, there are no lyrical passages or profound descriptions to b
Jul 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This science fiction novel has all the elements of a great read, and deserves a place alongside great social science fiction classics such as Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness. Thomson puts together a fascinating world, a compelling non-human point-of-view character (alternating with a human point-of-view character so we can have some familiar place to hang our hats), and a carefully thought out social system that values sustainability. Then she throws in an interesting plot, plenty of character d ...more
Jan 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An amazing novel about what it means to be human. The main character is the sole human survivor of a ship that crashed on an inhabited foreign planet. She must survive and even acculturate into the extremely foreign culture. Superior writing and character development make this the best science fiction book I've ever read.

(Re-read it in Feb 2002)
Apr 19, 2013 rated it liked it
I'm going through a bunch of first contact books for my own project. This one looked promising but is in fact disappointing. The aliens are basically noble savages in frog skin. This anthropomorphism is what kills most alien- encounter books. There are some notable exceptions but this is not one of them.
Costin Manda
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
I got this book because I heard it was good and the synopsis reminded me of the Xenogenesis series by Octavia Butler, which I liked, despite its global rape undertones. In fact, The Color of Distance is also about a woman changed by aliens to be more like them, but it is an overly positive story.

Amy Thomson tells the story of Juna, left behind for dead after a shuttle crash on an alien planet inhabited by non technological beings that have deep social connections and the ability to see and cha
Jun 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Two points ruined for me what was otherwise a very good book.

The first wasn't a huge deal, but kind of irritated me throughout the novel. It's not really a spoiler to the story because it is mentioned a single time and never mentioned or addressed again, and it has little to do with the plot of the novel. The protagonist recalls the fact that she was gang raped by 5 older children when she was 8 years old. That's a rather huge bomb to drop and then do absolutely nothing with. I get that the aut
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kevin Page
Dec 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a really excellent take on the "first contact" novel where a single human is left stranded on an alien world for something like five years and her life is save by the indigenous intelligent inhabitants of the world that she must learn how to adapt to and survive in.

Really, really smart and emotionally effective world building and a cast of alien characters that are as sympathetic and layered as you might expect in a piece of contemporary literary fiction. I loved this book and was genera
Jan 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
I would call this reading experience ambient, immersive, sensual – but not particularly suspenseful. Generally it’s about a human living among amphibian-like aliens in the trees of the jungle. The aliens have unusual methods of communion, healing, and expressing emotion – and this novel is all about Juna (the human) opening her mind and trying to adapt while maintaining a hold on her humanity. Although the themes are rather common for science fiction, this novel distinguishes itself by envelopin ...more
Doug Farren
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amy has done a superb job of creating an alien species that is both believable and different from humans not only in how they look and act, but in their deepest beliefs. It is a remarkable achievement that has kept me reading this book from cover to cover and having a hard time putting it down. This is true science fiction!

I would like to tip my hat to Amy--a true master word artist.

[Full disclosure: I met Amy Thomson at Launch Pad but the fact that I spent a week with her did not affect my feel
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One nice thing about buying one's books is the opportunity to reread favorites upon a whim. This particular title is one of my favorites and one that I revisit every year or so. Why? I am a self-confessed Sci-Fi fan but that isn't why I hold this book in high esteem. Rather, it is the main character's journey of assimilation into a totally different culture and the discovery of what humanity means. The premise of this story is so unlike anything I've read before (of course I haven't read everyth ...more
Philip A.
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fantastic first-contact story! My only reason for giving this 4 stars instead of 5 is that the writing style mostly consists of short, simple, declarative sentences that are largely functional, which can lend a stiltedness to the tone at times. If the author had varied her sentence structure a little more often, with some complex sentences or more introductory or adjectival/adverbial phrases, it could've lent a more poetic tone to the work, which would've truly made the prose sing.
Michael Norwitz
Sep 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First contact science fiction novel with a female lead. A lot of the tropes utilised in the book will seem familiar, so there isn't much in the novel which comes across as innovative. But it's an engaging read, and frankly it was a relief to read a novel where plot points hinged on negotiating interpersonal conflicts and cultural differences, rather than on people being awful and violent to each other.
Imani Chestnut
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Honestly? I'm so emotional right now I don't know how to feel, like..... this book was so good and just!!!! It was amazing!! The author mentioned in the acknowledgments Octavia Bulter, and since I had read Butler's "Lilith's Brood" before I can say that if you liked that book then you will definitely adore this one for the writing and simple *feel* of it is similar. Just 10/10.
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
A type of story we've run into before, but pretty well realized. Avoided a lot of the things I was worried about with the setup. And it had characters that actually evolved - something that frequently does not happen in sci-fi.
I enjoyed this when I read it back in about 1997 and it's withstood the test of time. Thomson dedicated this book to fighting rain forest degradation in 1995 when this was published. Now it's 2018 and the rain forests are in even worse condition.
Jennet Sechrist
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite alien contact stories!!! So beautiful, and such a compelling journey.
Jan 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
A nice idea for a book but, I thought it was very boring, did not care for the writing and thought that it just got BAD by the end!
Solveig Singleton
This is pretty good science fiction, on the whole. That is, the story is more than solid enough to support the otherwise perhaps rather overdone environmentalist theme.
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Amy Thompson is an American science fiction writer. In 1994 she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Most of her work is considered hard science fiction and contains feminist and environmental themes.

Other books in the series

The Color of Distance (2 books)
  • Through Alien Eyes

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