01/09/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: University Of Georgia Press. 257 page indexed hardback. Price: about £23.00 (UK) although I got it for a lot less. ISBN: 978-0-82030-487-8.
check out website: www.ugapress.us/edu
At this time of year, I can squeeze in the odd book for my own research and picked up on this book, 'Aliens And Linguists', which explores everything from first contact to handling alien languages from the reality of the situation to its Science Fiction counter-parts.
Many non-fiction books dealing with the practical knowledge useful for any Science Fiction writer, whether pro or amateur, are invariably out-of-print and you have to know what you're looking for to dig them out of the second-hand market and because of their rarity can be expensive to obtain. Luckily for you, this book although nearly thirty years old is still in print so can be obtained at reasonable prices and often still sealed up in its plastic wrap. Whether this is because few bought it, too many in print or badly promoted is hard to say.
The only limitation being its age and a bibliography that a search for some of the titles finding them completely unavailable although I did spot a few that took my interest and you might see reviews of them in the next few months. Author Walter Meyers does recognise this problem when it came to his varied fiction selections, especially short stories, and when it comes to anthologies, points out where he got them from and saying that the stories would be reprinted in if you want to check out his resource material. I did find the précis of stories he demonstrates with which I've read to be accurate which lends credibility to the whole book.
Communication whether it's in first contact with aliens or a hibernating renaissance man being revived in the future tends to be acknowledged in the same way as space or time travel these days. It's seen as a means but not the whole story and unless you want countless stories of communication problems than other issues, I can understand probably better than Meyers himself why there has been some necessity to move on from this. Saying that, the multitude of examples he gives in this book clearly shows many of the grand masters of Science Fiction have covered a diversity of such problems already.
As such, if you want to know what's been done up to the late 1970s, then you will come away informed from this book. There are some areas where he didn't look too closely, like Frank Herbert's use of Arabic in his 'Dune' novels nor Anne McCaffrey's word contraction and such in her 'Dragonriders Of Pern' books but considering that most of you people reading here should have some passing knowledge about that already we'll let that pass. If anything, communication is something that is rarely explored in SF these days and you might have second thoughts yourself after reading this book that it should be no longer ignored.
After all, we take it for granted that other people know what we are talking about, especially those of us locked into the English language, which I include myself in here. When you have aliens with different senses and metaphors, then there is always a need to find a common base. One of the best examples included here is 'The World To Space' by Isaac Asimov showing how slowly it took for humans to find a common ground in mathematics with aliens by radio communication which would certain mirror any problems we would have if such happened today, let alone moving on to the Periodic Table.
If you believe that one day we're going to meet sentient alien life then this book is essential reading whether you're going to write SF about it or not. It's certainly enlightening and has given me pause for thought for a chapter on communication for my own Science Fiction Nomenclature series but that's only concerned with finding solutions than problems. Add a copy to your collection and more importantly, read it.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA