Vindaloo

Jul. 22nd, 2007 01:06 pm
threemonkeys: (Waxlion)
I'm no kind of cook, but I do know that a little bit of spice can make a dish more tasty and interesting. Too much spice on the other hand can make a dish too hard to eat. So it is with exotic language in book. By exotic language, I mean words and phrases which are not part of the base language set of the book and therefore not part of the language set of the readership. SF abounds with skilful use of a bit of exotic language to make books more interesting. Frank Herbert used Arabic words to make the culture in Dune seem more exotic - he made up words too. Tolkien devised whole new languages for the races in Lord of the Rings. In her books, Ursula Le Guin invented words for which there is no corresponding concept in human society. And so on. But if you look at those works, you see that the actual occurrence of the exotic words in the books is pretty sparse. So it should be - the target audience speaks/reads modern English, so that is the language the books are written in. It isn't unreasonable to argue that the "real" language for most characters in SF work is unlikely to be 20th/21st century English - SF has too many settings and languages change too fast to assume that everybody speaks English. Therefore the author is, in effect, translating for us. The exotic words are there to give just a taste of the culture, but not overwhelm us. When done properly, as in the examples above, that is a good thing.

Which brings me to Dark Space by Marianne de Pierres. There are quite a few parallels that can be drawn between this book and Dune. Not the least of these is exotic language and culture taken from a non-English Earth culture. Where Dune features Arabic terms, Dark Space has Italian. In fact quite a lot of Italian in places. Most pages have at least one or two words and in places the density gets up to one every paragraph or more. It is too much - at least for this non-Italian speaker who does not have a sufficient language gift to be able to work out the meaning of a word from context without interrupting the reading flow. This ongoing interruption really messed up my reading process because I had to keep stopping to infer or translate. It helped make the book just too easy to put down. It seems to me similar to the situation where an author does lots of world building research for their book and then can't let go of it so leading to too much exposition. I actually went back to the books mentioned above for comparison and can see that the exotic language density in them is nowhere near as high.

As with food, tastes come into this. I like a really hot curry but I know it isn't for everybody. I just wonder if Marianne isn't restricting her potential audience too much by making the book too "language spicy". Not helping is that there is another "easy to put down" factor that counts against Dark Space. The pov characters are not all equally interesting - one is much more engaging than the others. Relatively speaking therefore the others become a chore to read. It is a pity really, because underneath that there does seem a really good bit of space opera struggling to get out.

Smeg it

Aug. 19th, 2006 11:50 am
threemonkeys: (wonderfalls)
I appear to have caught a virus of some sort - serves me right for going out and talking to people. Not really nasty, just annoying - for the last few days everything has just become a bit more of a struggle and my concentration is shot to pieces. So this week seemed a good time to work my way through my Red Dwarf collection. The only decision I had to make was what order to watch the series in because past experience shows that watching them in strict 1-8 order is not perhaps the best way to do it - it gets flat. So I came up with 5-7, 1-4, 8 as a screening order. It worked well with the very best episodes in the later stages of watching (excluding season 8 which is a bit of a special case).

I have also read Marianne de Pierres' Nylon Angel in my more lucid moments. Somehow I had expected that it would be rather lightweight. So much for expectation as it proved much more complex and gritty than I thought it would be. I can see why people have got into it in a big way.

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