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No Road Among the Stars: An InterStellar Commonwealth Novel Kindle Edition
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First, to set the scene ... Some hundreds of years into the future, Earth has become part of the Interstellar Commonwealth, an association of planets inhabited by intelligent lifeforms. The ISC has set up a space station/university (the Shel Matkei Academy) where citizens of all worlds can go to study. This book focuses on the areas of language and diplomacy. David Asbury, a mistreated human orphan, is a linguistic genius, and a scholarship to the Shel Matkei Academy is his passport to freedom and the future. He doesn’t want to be a diplomat – he only wants to study languages – but he gets forced into joining one of the “pods” at the Academy, groups of miscellaneous aliens who play a computer game among themselves with the purpose of learning how to deal diplomatically with each others’ species in the real world. Each pod has to have a linguist, and Green Pod is in dire need of a person with David’s skills in order to break the code of Violet Pod and reestablish Green Pod’s power and credibility. Not everybody plays the game honestly, and Violet Pod is headed up by the real villain of the piece. This has the potential to lead to violence.
The plot is a bit episodic, particularly in the early going, but when I came to Chapter 9 (Sing Not Oh Stars), that’s when I knew I had to give the book 5 stars. In this chapter the members of Green Pod read poetry from their own cultures to one another (David reads from Hamlet). We learn so much about these aliens in the ensuing discussion. Of course, A. Walker Scott had to write all this alien poetry, and it’s amazing stuff. There is another chapter where the participants introduce the others to their indigenous music, but for me the poetry chapter is the best.
Some of the aliens are unique in SF, I dare to say. The Tvern An, Dvarin Tkal, who becomes David’s close friend, is vaguely reptilian, having green and yellow stripes and golden eyes, but others are much more bizarre. Dai-Soln, who often plays the voice of reason, is notable for his expressive frondlike eyebrows. Xtp is an insectoid who speaks a vowelless click language. Enemwenu is a three-legged cephalopod, whose people have 5 genders. And it gets even weirder and more fascinating. There is a gentle-souled, three-winged butterfly who hovers about. And then there is Red-Shimmer Gold Streak, an Iridian, who speaks a color language like a cuttlefish but looks like a boulder that tiptoes around on many tiny legs, a bit like the walking box in the Disc World books. She’s one of my favorite characters.
And then there is Gronorgh, who is David’s principal nemesis. He is a huge Gravgurdan who is reminiscent of the Klingons only perhaps more so, and he despises David for being small and weak and supposedly cowardly. I’m going to quote a description: “Gronorgh crossed rippling, corded forearms like gnarled mahogany tree trunks over his massive chest and made that gravelly Gravgurdan laughter sound. ‘Looks like there’s some fire mixed with his water after all. Beware lest you die in your sleep, Tkal.’ Then he laughed like an avalanche of ringing pebbles.”
The relationship of David and Gronorgh leads to one of the strangest events you’ll ever encounter in SF – a duel using a weapon that you would never in your wildest dreams think of. I won’t play spoiler by revealing what it is, but it certainly goes to prove what an original imagination A. Walker Scott possesses.
It should be mentioned that Scott is a terrific and prolific conlanger (creator of constructed languages). He’s worked out most of the languages referred to in the book in greater detail than can possibly be revealed in a novel.
This is character-based science fiction, my favorite kind, and the characters all grow as they learn about and from one another and experience adversity together. They become part of each other – David absorbs a little bit of the Gravgurdan and becomes stronger, and Gronorgh actually begins to understand that the human perspective has merit. It’s a great story, and there will be additional volumes about the Interstellar Commonwealth and its remarkable inhabitants. Can’t wait. Strongly recommended!
Character building and dialogue is excellent, and I loved the 'Cultural Exchange' class where the team (the main characters) selected various poetry and music from their own culture and discussed it.
In doing this the book also continues on The Great Conversation in that it refers to Shakespeares play Hamlet, along with other cultural references including a vague reference to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
An enjoyable well paced story were you fall in love with the characters.