Thumbs up for Hellspark by Janet Kagan. Science fiction.
Just to be upfront, Kagan’s Star Trek novel Uhura’s Song is one of my top five favorite books of all time. (Judge as you like—but only after you’ve read it.) I have for years possessed a copy of Hellspark, unread partially due to its itty-bitty type, but mainly due to the morbid fear that it might not live up to my hopes. But, upon the acquisition of a copy with sensible type, it finally came to be time: and damned if it didn’t live up to my hopes after all! I wish there was a word for this kind of science fiction: “anthropological science fiction” doesn’t cut it, because that implies to me a monograph-ish Left Hand of Darkness sort of thing, which makes my eyes glaze over; maybe “culture clash sci-fi”? But here the main character Tocohl is, in fact, an expert cross-cultural navigator and linguist, and the other characters, despite their differences, are trying to the best of their abilities to work together to both solve a murder, and settle a scientific question with important ramifications: much the same kind of thing that I loved so much about Uhura’s Song, in fact. Would everyone like this? No, of course not. It lacks in epic conspiracies and space battles (though it does have an adorable AI spaceship.) But if you like Le Guin, or Kate Elliott, or Ann Leckie, or my books, or (I’ve been told) C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series, you should pounce on this wherever you can find a copy.
Judge Darragh slid her spectacles into her hair. Tocohl did not follow suit. On Dusty Sunday, wearing one’s spectacles in conversation was a deliberate insult. It said plainly that one would rather be listening to someone else, watching someone else. Nevelen Darragh flushed a vivid scarlet.
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