Regular readers will doubtless have picked up that I’m not the biggest fan of xenolinguistic SF, so you can imagine the sinking feeling upon the editorial intro revealing the story ahead offering ‘some of the most daring linguistic gymnastics ever attempted’ in the pages of F&SF. Yarblockos, sez I. But I was in a mellow mood, and gave the story as much chance as I could.
But, nope, it didn’t grab. There was stuff I would normally like. The narrative isn’t linear. It is quite clever in its structure. It even had some French in there, and the juxtaposition of English, French and alien was a nice one. But in fact the alien lingo wasn’t in itself a problem, although for my money it did get in the way of story – if you’re going to use alien words, let it flow like Burgess did in A Clockwork Orange, adding richness and texture, and leaving the reader wondering, rather than having lengthy unpronouncable words dotted with punctation and providing the translation.
But what tipped the balance was the terrible, terrible representation of human dialects. There was a Texan who was presented as virtually a Foghorn Leghorn caricature (‘Ah say, Ah Say’), and a New Zealand who was even more winceful. So I ended skimming through to the end, and missed the benefit of the non-linear narrative (I’m assuming there was one!). Also, somewhat confusingly, the story started being introduced as a character relating the adventure of a historical figure. So, shouldn’t there have been a concluding paragraph to bookend that narrative? Or maybe that was part of the clever structure?