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Books : reviews

Janet Kagan.
Meisha Merlin. 1988

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 11 October 1998

I have been searching for Hellspark ever since reading Uhura's Song and Mirabile (those 'also by' lists in the front of books are very useful), but it has been out of print for ages. When I learned that it had recently been rescued from oblivion and reprinted by Meisha Merlin Publishing, I ordered a copy immediately. It was definitely worth the wait.

A badly mismatched survey team is checking out a newly discovered planet, and is divided over whether the native Sprookjes are intelligent or not. And now one of their team is dead. Killed by accident, by a fellow team member, by an 'animal' Sprookje, or by a sapient Sprookje? Tochol Susumo, a Hellspark captain and glossi, with her extrapolative computer Maggy, arrives in the middle of the mess, and has to judge the truth.

I usually dislike multiple PoV stories, because I feel I get jolted out of the flow too often. But here, everything is jolting all the time as the various puzzles are explored, and the electrical plants go zap, so it is not a problem. (It is actually an advantage, because we get to see characters through the eyes of several other characters, and see how different they seem, depending on who is doing the looking, which is one of the themes of the book.) Although there are villains, most of the characters are just decent, fallible people trying to do a difficult job under almost impossible circumstances.

There are lots of fun puzzles: the cause of death is determined about half way through, the matter of Sprookje sapience is settled about two thirds of the way through, and then other problems arise. Each time I'm wrapped up in that particular problem and think: oh dear, resolution coming, it's nearly over ... oh no it's not, there still pages to go -- great! But, sadly, it does eventually end.

This is a wonderful story, packed with detection, language and proxemics, human and non-human sapience, cultural taboos, alien biology, art, electric storms, and morality: deep problems explored with a light touch. I now want my own Maggy, and a 2nd skin!

Janet Kagan.
Tor. 1991

rating : 2.5 : great stuff

When the colonists were sent to Mirabile, the animals and plants sent along with them had their 'junk' DNA replaced by 'backups' of other species. Something is going wrong, and mutants and sports are being born, but the colonists have lost some vital information.

Essentially a great bunch of connected short stories.

Janet Kagan.
Uhura's Song.

rating : 3 : worth reading

The crew of the Enterprise set off to find the lost home world of the cat-like Eeiauo, hoping to find the cure for a devastating plague.

A great story of alien first contact, culture clash, and how the Universal Translator is not a panacea. Possibly one of the best Star Trek novels.