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Posted September 11, 2000
This is one of the best sci-fi books I've ever read, and the only book I can remember finishing and immediately turning to the first page to read it again. Perhaps it simply pushed all of my personal buttons, but I would recommend it to anyone wanting a good sci-fi read (without the overly hard edges too many authors indulge in). Ms Kagan spins a wonderful story, an engrossing mystery peopled with a wide range of entirely believable characters, many of whom are other than what we would call human. Her definition is something else again, and something you'll think about if you try the book.
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Posted June 8, 2011
Really original speculative fiction stories take a little longer to get into because the universe you find yourself doesn't have cliches to orient you quickly. This story is totally worth sticking it out until you get your bearings!
The one cliche it does have is the idea that before humans open a new planet for development they ought to send in a team to make sure there isn't an intelligent species already there. What happens if the team finds a race some members are sure must be intelligent but that is so different they can't prove it through the 3 requirements of language, artifacts, and art? Call in a specialist!
Polyglots are individuals with a special gift for learning many languages. Hellsparks are a whole race of polyglots who take it to a whole new level by adding in cultural clues like body language, postures, and gestures- all the nonverbal communication that goes with a language. The Hellspark they get is something special even for a Hellspark.
This book has a great plot with lots of twists and turns, but it is more character driven with even the most minor characters fully developed. Lots of humor, lots of thought provoking concepts that make you explore your own inner world while you are exploring hers.
My only regret is that Ms Kagan developed such a rich detailed universe, but never took us back to it with more books. I've seen 10 or 12 book series that weren't as well developed as this one book universe.
Posted March 26, 2011
Janet Kagan's death in 2008 ended a brilliant but tragically short career. She wrote only three novels, Uhura's Song, Mirabile, and Hellspark. Although published almost a decade and a half ago, Hellspark remains as rich in fresh ideas and wonderful characters as when the ink was still wet on the pages. The story begins as a murder mystery, a pilot versed in languages enlisted to help solve the death of a member of a multi-cultural survey mission. As an outsider, Tocohl Susumo brings a new perspective to the community and the planet it is investigating, a wonderfully inventive world in which plants use lightning-generated electricity for energy. She also understands that language is more than words, it's culture, gestures, and proxemics as well. The pivotal question faced by the expedition is whether the native species, bird-like bipeds who echo human speech with uncanny accuracy, are sentient. Kagan's depiction of how different cultures view the same behavior through the filtering lenses of their own biases is fresh, startling, and ultimately satisfying. Highly recommended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Unpredictable and unexpected without weak characters. I love the fact that the author uses strong female characters without making them ugly or witchy and strong male characters without making them muscle bound clods. I wish there were more books in the same story line, or even a movie--although I seldom enjoy the movie as much as the book that inspired it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.