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Reading the Bones Paperback – October 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Tachyon Publications (October 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1892391082
  • ISBN-13: 978-1892391087
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,150,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“This short novel is expanded from one of her stories, a Nebula Award–winning novella, and the result is her best novel to date.”
SF Chronicle

Reading the Bones [the novella] combines the best elements of the previous Xenolinguist stories. From the theoretical and abstract elements of linguistics to the characteristically brutal and savage violence marking several of the earlier pieces, all emotionally and artistically capped by the powerful denouement involving the redemption of the main character, Ries Danyo.”
—David Truesdale

About the Author

Sheila Finch is the author of more than seven books, including Reading the Bones>/i>, Infinity’s Web, and Birds. She is the winner of a Nebula Award and Compton Crook Award. She studied Medieval Literature and Linguistics at Indiana University. Finch is recently retired from her post as a creative writing teacher at El Camino College but continues to work with her former students.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Houston on November 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
All good fiction transports the reader into other worlds. Good Science Fiction often does this literally, transporting the reader through time and space, over the moon and across the stars. Ms. Finch, a master storyteller, and a true master of her genre does this in her journey over "Sorrow Crossing" into "Not Here", a world of mystery like and not-like anything this reader has known. Three races, each alien to the other, are wedded to this planet, native to none of them, to unravel secrets that can only be answered there, on "Not Here". At the heart of the mystery is the nature of language, and all that language does to shape us and reveal us, to warp us and obscure us. The mystery unfolds in an exciting tale of revolution that is wed to linguistics and biology; Ms. Finch's background in Linguistics is evident in the way she allows us to watch the birth of a people's written language, mining the situation for drama, while adhering to what current Linguistics theory suggests about the beginnings of all earthly languages that she extrapolates to the universe. There is an almost Medieval mood to the world created, especially in the monastic life of the Frehti mothers who renounce their routine lives to devote themselves to "Reading the Bones", taking their Frehti language from the air and putting it into physical form, first on finger bones and then on rolls "...of prepared tree skin" in order to keep the Frehti story from dying-urgency is everywhere, for the race is also dying, their story increasingly precarious. No one is more aware of the urgency than "First among Mothers", the human child orphaned in the long ago massacre of the original human colonists. Taken in by the killers of her family, she is the universal cross-cultural product, yearning to be Frehti, but haunted by human memories.Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
In "Reading the Bones," Sheila Finch shows herself to be a master storyteller in this sweeping yet intimate tale in which evolution and extinction hang in the balance of language development. What an imagination she has! For example, just the names of places in the cosmos--Sorrow Crossing, Separation River, Not-Here--transport us to other galaxies. Yet once in this world of aliens, I found myself caring about Finch's created beings as if they were people, for they have human-like emotions of fear, anger, love, and homesickness, as well as the human characteristic ofcuriosity and the fundamental need of communication.
The nun-like mothers of the Frehti race who struggle to shape a written language are hugely appealing, and suggest stages in our own planet's history when people struggled to understand the working of mysteries , often at the cost of great sacrifice. In fact, the novel explores one type of sacrific (I should let the author reveal it herself) which was thought necessary in the evolution of language. Thus, while Finch is unrolling an adventure story of alien races, she is also holding up a mirror to humanity.
Any story about language ought to be told in fresh and memorable language, and "Reading the Bones" certainly is. Phrases like "soul bone," and names like First-Among-Mothers, Born Bent, Rain-Catcher, Stormsinger are evocative and expressive. And the novel does not lack for thoughtful ideas, such as, "Language must balance between male and female or the race will eventually destroy itself." In her fascinating speculative tale of how one group of sentient beings shaped language, Sheila Finch shows us what marvelous achievements and pleasures language, writing, and reading truly are.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bill Ratner on December 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
Sheila Finch takes us on an incredible journey into a world of alien life complete with its own language and varied culture. She is an award winning sci-fi writer with a spellbounding flair for details and masterful command of the Englishs language. The alien linguists, in particular, are the real attraction to this novel. They travel the galaxy translating ancient alien languages. The hero Ries is caught up in a precarious situation when he must rescue a Frehti mother during a revolt. The Frehti mothers are so religiously dedicated to the translation of these alien dialects that they appear like monastic nuns. This is a truly well-written work of fiction. It's an exciting read, it's outstanding in its prose and it's a superb adventure story. Sheila Finch has written several works of sci fi, including trilogies and series. A must have for dedicated fans of science fiction. The most interesting part is that in Reading The Bones, it's an alien parallel world that mirrors our own, with a variety of cultures and languages, misunderstandings, love, death and as always war. Excellent work !
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By Norma on February 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have extensively explained the story and the background in this book. That is mainly why I bought it, because I felt fascinated by the ideas in it. Ms. Finch manages to create a completely believable society and makes you feel its strangeness. I was so enraptured I stayed awake up to 4 in the morning just to finish the book before I had to go to work. Considering this is definitely not an action-adventure book, that says a lot about the magic and interest the characters, the world and the story bring to the reader. Buy this book. You will enjoy it.
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