Dawn starts with humanity wiping itself mostly out and the titular Lilith waking up in the next best thing to a cell on what she later learns is an alien spacecraft. The aliens (the Oankali) are alien, with a culture and lifestyle built around exchanging genetic material with races across the universe, changing themselves radically along the way. They’ve given humanity a chance to survive–but only if we change ourselves along the way.
It’s a really interesting look into exactly what makes us human and what cost is worth paying for survival. In a few hundred pages, we deal with xenophobia, slavery, freedom, psychology, humanity (and our tendency to self destruct), and sexuality, all through the character of Lilith, one of the most ‘human’ protagonists I’ve read in a while. She’s stuck in a strange, wonderful, and terrible situation–and just has to make the best of it. It’s quite a world.
Side note: It’s particularly weird reading this book just after Third Shift: Pact. In both cases, humanity has done their very best to wipe ourselves out and in both cases, our point of view is in the followup. In the Silo books, the tone is somewhat cynical and negative, people trying to do their best to save humanity but with the feeling of ‘what’s even the point’. In Xenogenesis, we’re saved from outside and have to fight for our survival–but there’s less question about if we’ll survive… and more an exploration about what it will cost.