I’m not a big fan of xeno-ethnographic or xeno-lingual stories, as I find I can’t really take seriously dialogue like “Gunnug, you must be circumspect in your dealings with big-brother-fraction. Big-brother-subfractions are the simplest of the bnebene and easily upset. The struggle to grasp that a gunnug person may have only one body.”
McHugh also lists a table of different chromosomatic structures for what turns out to be nine different ‘genders’ in his alien race, which is a bit too much data for me. It’s a shame as I quite like his alien creatures and their reproductive and child-rearing practices – more tree-like than animal-like. But the use of an ‘ansible’ to make human/Bnebene conversation fairly straightforward isn’t a help. And the human researcher’s reference to text, audio and video messages, and computer tablets was just to close to 2014 technology – well, Google Glass would seem ahead of the tech available to the researcher in this story.
And worserer still – the scientists likens the jerky motion of those she is observing as being like ‘watching poorly made stop-motion animation’. Surely, several centuries hence, stop-motion animation will be a thing known only to historians of animation?? If you’re going to write SF, try putting yourself in the mindset of someone centuries hence and think of something relevant to the protagonist, not something relevant to the writer and the reader!
Which is a shame, as the race McHugh has created, and brief human/human interaction highlighting human attitudes to the ‘aliens’ could have been used in a way that this reader would have preferred, eschewing the tried and trusted trop of the research having a conceptual breakthrough about the species’ societal structures and beliefs.