The title of the book "Semiosis" was an unfamiliar term to me, and perhaps to others as well.

A literal definition of "semiosis" is:

Semiosis is any form of activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, including the production of meaning.


This may not be the ultimate definition but others I have read include similar elements.

What I am interested in is the interpretation of the title in terms of the story. As far as I can recall, the word "semiosis" is not used in the story at all nor do I recall characters directly discussing topics included in this definition. But the ideas of signs and meaning rings very true as relevant to the story and obviously the title was chosen for a specific reason.

So in summary, what does the title of this book tell us?


This entire answer is probably a spoiler.

In short, communication is the use of signs to convey meaning. The book is a collection of progressions in inter-species communication achieved through signs and symbolic actions, almost all of them non-verbal. I suspect the title itself is meant to be thought-provoking in a way that naming the book "communication" wouldn't be!

Communication with the vines was via planting or maintaining the friendly vines, and planting against the unfriendly vines. With no direct communication possible, those were the only signs that could be used to communicate.

Communications with fippolions and fippobats was simple and involved both words and actions:

"Pitman!" I kicked hard at a bridge railing and howled. I hoped his tiny [Fippolion] brain would see and understand: destroy the bridge.

Communication with the bamboo started out just as simply as the vines - doing what would make the bamboo prosper, and receiving bounties as a result. But it advanced when the bamboo began calculated displays designed to communicate:

Along the road leading to the riverside gate, the leaves and stems of thigh-wide, sky-high stalks of bamboo had changed color, one stalk per color on either side. Red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, indigo, and violet. The bamboo had re-created a rainbow on either side of the road.

Sylvia clearly states how this sign is intended to communicate meaning:

"We all know that the bamboo has become much more healthy with us here. We've given it water and fertilizer, and it's given us fruit and keeps improving it. Now, the bamboo seems to want our attention. I propose appointing Higgins to communicate with the bamboo for us."

And the bamboo attempts to communicate with more complex signs:

The next day, the bamboo flower buds opened, smaller and not as showy as the others, half of them white and the other half black.... The white flowers pointed up, the black ones pointed down. The thistles at the base of the culms with the black flowers died, white flowers' thistles lived.... The nectar tasted different, one acidic and one alkaline.

which, as described by the bamboo, are ambitious in their meaning:

No response. Did they fail to understand? Dualism. The universe consists of fundamental and antagonistic entities and forces. Animate and mineral. Plants and animals. Parasites and producers. Creation and destruction. Acids and alkalis. Sickness and health. Sky and soil....

Answer me! Dualism is a simple idea. Light, dark. Up, down. Live, dead. Communication, silence.

Even if you do not understand, show me that you wish to communicate.... A small action will suffice. Speak to me.

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