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Looking Through Lace [Kindle Edition]

Ruth Nestvold
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $1.49

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Book Description

As the only woman on the first contact team, xenolinguist Toni Donato expected her assignment on Christmas would be to analyze the secret women's language -- but then the chief linguist begins to sabotage her work. What is behind it? Why do the men and women have separate languages in the first place? What Toni learns turns everything she thought they knew on its head.

Originally published in Asimov's in 2003, "Looking Through Lace" was a finalist for the Tiptree and Sturgeon awards. The Italian translation won the Premio Italia for best work of speculative fiction in translation in 2007.

Looking Through Lace is a novella of approximately 20,000 words (55 pages).

Editorial Reviews


"'Looking Through Lace' by Ruth Nestvold is terrific science fiction. I want to read more of this writer's stories."
- Andi Shechter in January Magazine

"... 'Looking Through Lace' by Ruth Nestvold [is] an intelligent, complex story illustrating the difficulties of learning and understanding the nuances and intricacies of an alien language and culture, particularly one so similar to our own that we persist in viewing it (wrongly) on our terms.... The reason ... why there are so many differences between the languages of both men and women are logical and well thought out, and the final revelation about the true nature of the relationship between the women and the men comes as a nice twist."

- Phil Friel in Tangent Online

"Two strong stories stand out from the rest of the fiction. Ruth Nestvold's 'Looking Through Lace' rests on a relatively simple reversal or secret, but the rest of it is solidly written and convincing. The main character is a young female xenolinguist named Toni -- she is called to a planet named Christmas to study the Mejan culture. Nestvold presents a neat puzzle, and she takes the time to present it just-so."

- James Schellenberg in Challenging Destiny

From the Author

If you enjoyed this novella, be sure to check out Beyond the Waters of the World, Book Two of Looking Through Lace.

Product Details

  • File Size: 340 KB
  • Print Length: 72 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Ruth Nestvold; 2 edition (February 23, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004P5NSKA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #600,949 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great sci-fi story from Nestvold. February 25, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
"'Looking Through Lace" 'is the story of Toni, a xenolinguist who is assigned to work with a first contact team. She's been relegated to doing grunt work until now, and is really excited for the opportunity to prove herself.

The alien world in '"Looking Through Lace" 'is fascinating - although the inhabitants are descended from humans, they have a unique history and culture. The women speak an entirely different language among themselves that the men are not allowed to learn, and Toni is determined to figure out how and why that happened. However, she has a jealous senior colleague and the affections of an attractive native (who just happens to be in a group marriage) to contend with.

I enjoyed reading a science-fiction story by Nestvold; all the other work I've read by her has been fantasy. She keeps up the excellent worldbuilding and characters. I found the revelations concerning the history of the world very interesting. The antagonist xenolinguist seemed like a bit of a caricature, but the interesting alien world more than made up for it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful world, and the virtues of hard work April 30, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I like how much easier it has gotten for me to read novellas. Yay for ebooks, because I never read Asimov's.

I thought this highly polished story was a perfect example of how to work through one's own expectations. At first, our viewpoint character arrives on the planet Christmas, expecting pretty much what people told her. She got invited because she is the only female xenolinguist available, and it appears that the women have a second language that the men don't use.

She does all the things a sophomore expert does -- starts figuring things out, falls for a local, gets squashed by her boss, the usual. The twist is when she starts using her linguistic skills to tease out the cultural differences between what she has and expects, and what is actually going on.

I spotted the twist coming, but that didn't ruin my enjoyment watching her figure out what was going on.

Read if: You like watching people have to re-evaluate their assumptions, your are having a bad week with your boss.

Skip if: Linguistics scare you - you don't have to understand the details, but they are a big part of the story. You were hoping for a full book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
I won this novella from a member giveaway on librarything in exchange for an honest review.

Looking through Lace is a book about discovering alien languages, and how a language is set up can reveal so much about a culture.

I really liked the protagonist, Toni. She was strong, not to be bullied by the antagonist. I will not reveal the secrets of this book, but as a woman, I really enjoyed how things turned out. I thought the book was well written, and written by someone who loves and understands languages. I also loved how the title is a perfect one for this book.

This is a delightful gem for anyone who likes science fiction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Enjoyable March 20, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was a compelling and fascinating story. Toni's challenges on Christmas relate to more than just a new experience in her career. Beyond the sheer intellectual fascination, she deals with the emotional component of a team member's hostility and the evolving relationships with the planet's residents.

The story is well written and flows easily. The author strikes a good balance in terms of the amount of background information and Toni's task; we are given enough to keep us from feeling lost or uninterested, but not so much as to detract from the larger story. Toni grows in strength and confidence over time in a believable and consistent way. The central issue is handled well without belaboring the point, raising questions but not beating the reader over the head with rhetoric.

Technically speaking, it's called a novella. Speaking simply as a reader, I would call it a short story. The one error I noticed was a single instance where the culture name was spelled "Megan" rather than "Mejan." I enjoyed it very much; this sort of story is exactly why I frequently pick up SF anthologies.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable read!!! March 13, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
The plot of this novella centers around Toni, a xenolinguist who finally gets her big break being assigned to a first contact team exploring an alien planet. After landing on the planet, we see the team struggle to understand both different languages and cultures and even gender roles in society. I loved this novella, I wish there was more of it! Highly recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying little treasure June 6, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
Looking Through Lace, which is 86 pages on my Kindle, is appealing, intriguing and could easily be the basis for a full-fledged novel.

This well-written little gem is the story of a female linguist, Toni Donato, assigned to a quiet, nonviolent planet that lacks a written language. Women have a good deal of influence within the family here and they share a secret tongue spoken only among themselves.

Toni's up against three main hurdles: Her new boss, Dr. Hartmut Repnik, is overbearing, authoritarian and dismissive of females. The second is that the women of the planet won't allow her to study "the language of the house" unless she promises not to publish about it or teach it to any men. The third is that it's far too easy to evaluate a different culture through the lens of your own.

In a novella, almost any clue can give away the plot, so just know that in a matter of days -- a couple of hours for you -- Toni unravels the remarkable mystery and, in the process, bests Dr. Repnik. In addition, take special care to read the legend of the little lace-maker carefully so you can compare it to the story of the young poet.

This novella is satisfying, enjoyable and a quick read, easily deserving of 4 stars.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
Looking Thru lace tells the story of a linguist who finds herself on a first landing team to learn the language of women, which differs from the common spoken language. Read more
Published 4 months ago by shachar Finkelstein
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This was a surprisingly good little read. Well written and engaging. So much so that I just downloaded the next book in the series and am hoping for more about this world from her.
Published 7 months ago by K. Hoth
4.0 out of 5 stars A planet whose culture is based on women
This quick read tells an interesting tale of a female linguist sent to a foreign planet to study an unknown language spoken only by women. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Pam M.
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable
Excellent science fiction novella. What a great writer, and interesting story line. The author apparently is very knowledgeable on linguistics, and applied that knowledge... Read more
Published 8 months ago by jbetht
4.0 out of 5 stars I wish for a full novel
I enjoyed this short story, and I usually never pick one up...if it isn't at least 250 pages, it just isn't worth the effort. Read more
Published 16 months ago by mel_rose
4.0 out of 5 stars Different
I liked the premise that women were in control on this world. I think that I might have liked it better if it had been all in one book instead of spread out.
Published 19 months ago by simonze
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Sci-Fi Novella
Toni Donato is a xenolinguist, normally working behind the scenes, cataloging inflection, grammar, and structure of alien languages in massive databases, but she's finally gotten... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Debra Dunbar
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating approach to language and culture
I was reminded of H.Beam Piper's "Omnilingual" which also features a heroine/linguist who deciphers a language. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Barbara Paltiel
5.0 out of 5 stars What a lovely surprise.
My only complaint I have with this short story/novella is its length. I just did not want the story to end. Read more
Published 20 months ago by M. D. Pinto
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Story!
This is a great short story. A wonderful character in an intriguing world. I got it for free, but I'm going to go and buy the other stories set in the same world and look at... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Alvin Michalewicz
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More About the Author

Since about the age six, Ruth Nestvold wanted to be a writer (besides wanting to be a singer and an actress and President of the United States), but for too many years she put practical pursuits first and writing fiction second. After completing a Ph.D. in literature and working as lecturer and assistant professor at the University of Stuttgart and the University of Freiburg, she took time off from academic pursuits to attend the Clarion West Writers Workshop, a six week "boot camp" for writers of science fiction and fantasy. She learned more there than she could have dreamed possible, changed her priorities, and gave up theory for imagination. Two years later, she sold her first short story to the acclaimed science fiction magazine, Asimov's. Since then, she has sold over forty pieces of short fiction to a variety of markets, including Baen's Universe, Strange Horizons, Scifiction, F&SF, Realms of Fantasy, and several year's best anthologies. She has been nominated for the Nebula, the Sturgeon, and the Tiptree awards. In 2007, the Italian translation of her novella "Looking Through Lace" won the "Premio Italia" for best international work. Her novel Yseult appeared in German translation as Flamme und Harfe with Random House Germany and has since been translated into Dutch and Italian. It is now available as an ebook in the original English. It was followed in June 2012 by the second book in the Pendragon Chronicles, "Shadow of Stone" ( She taught creative writing for a semester at the University of Stuttgart, participates regularly in online writing workshops, and founded the Villa Diodati workshop for English-speaking writers of speculative fiction in Europe. She maintains a web site at

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