After reading Mirabile, I grabbed Kagan’s Hellspark when I saw it in the library. I finished it last night. While not as cheerful and comfort-book-like as Mirabile, it’s still a good read.
Hellspark is the story of a survey team on a new planet, internally split over whether the major animal life form is sentient or not. Adding to the tension, a team member has died—murder? accident? No-one knows. Into this situation comes Tocohl Susumo, whose planet of Hellspark emphasizes linguistic and cultural fluency. Since everyone on the team is from a different culture, and they were briefed by an idiot, and since one marker of sentience is language, well, she’s quite welcome. (Her extrapolative computer doesn’t hurt; I don’t read many AI stories, but Maggy seems like a good one to me.)
Some of the cultural tics presented seem a little extreme to me, and while I don’t doubt that body language is a very important component of language, I was starting to get a little jaded by the nth time some problem was solved by Tocohl’s noticing that a movement was wrong. Overall, though, it was a solid, entertaining, imaginative book.
[Hellspark has been reprinted by Meisha Merlin.]