Read Hellspark by Janet Kagan Online


Murder, Mystery, and Interstellar Intrigue Hugo Award winner Janet Kagan's Hellspark is now back in print Lassti, a newly discovered planet, is the center of political intrigue. Recently, Oloitokitok, the planet survey team's physicist was found dead. Was he killed? If so, by whom? One of his fellow surveyors? Or by one of the Sprookjes, the birdlike natives of Lassti? AreMurder, Mystery, and Interstellar Intrigue Hugo Award winner Janet Kagan's Hellspark is now back in print Lassti, a newly discovered planet, is the center of political intrigue. Recently, Oloitokitok, the planet survey team's physicist was found dead. Was he killed? If so, by whom? One of his fellow surveyors? Or by one of the Sprookjes, the birdlike natives of Lassti? Are the Sprookjes intelligent? If so, then parties that want the planet for development will lose it. Why is the survey team having so much trouble finding out? Into this situation arrives Tocohl, a Hellspark trader who just wanted to have a vacation on Sheveschke at the St. Veschke festival. After being attacked, rescuing a young woman, and going before a judge, Tocohl has learned all she ever wanted to know about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now she is on her way to find Lasti to find answers to the mysteries there....

Title : Hellspark
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 1056201
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 311 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Hellspark Reviews

  • Sharon Lee
    2019-01-23 05:52

    I re-read this book more than any other book I own.

  • Andrew
    2019-01-03 07:42

    This is an old favorite -- what the hell, 25 years old. I am not okay with that. (Not okay with the author's having died in 2008, either.)Many people have praised _Hellspark_. I will skip the plot squib and say what I love about this book: the joy. All the characters are having *so much fun* learning and understanding and realizing and connecting and figuring it out. The reader is absolutely in on the game, as well; there's a running stream of little details about people's cultures that you can pick up and run with.(Trivial example: early on, the protagonist introduces her computer (and starship) to a new friend: "Lord Lynn Margaret", meet "Tinling Alfvaen". Elsewhere, the ship is the _Margaret Lord Lynn_ -- therefore, it must be that Alfvaen is a personal name, Tinling is a family name, and the protagonist is politely transforming her ship's name into Alfvaen's native idiom. *And also* that, at some point, "Lord" as an English-idiom title has become gender-neutral... All of this is completely unremarked in the narrative. You just go with it.)Also: the puns. I don't mean the narrative is a groanfest; you just run into these little bits of translation that work out to be bilingual puns (in two fictional languages). Or bilingual puns between a fictional language and English *body language*. For posture, gesture, distance, and all such nonverbal communications are part of language; thus they can be spoken with an accent, translated poorly... and punned in. Delightfully.It is not a perfect book. The points of view of the various cultures is never quite smooth, from the inside. The author needs to convey the unconscious assumptions of each character, but does it more by explicit description than by clean implication. The story is presented as a murder mystery, and less formally as a first-contact SF story (which is of course always a mystery plot). But the murderer is unmasked several chapters before the end, and the pacing of revelation of both mysteries is awkward. I never had the moment of "Of course, how could I have missed..." -- in either plot thread. I'm also unhappy with the guilty faction, the "Inheritors of God", who are shallow villains with no sympathy to them -- too easy to dismiss. Conveying *their* interior assumptions and viewpoint would have turned a delightful book into a brilliant one. We do not complain of these matters, because we're having too much fun hanging around with the characters. I mean, the non-murdering ones.Obligatory amused complaint: I have the first-edition Tor paperback in which the *title of the book is misspelled on the front cover*. The fact that this is possible -- and yet not noticeable to the reader until chapter 3 -- is one of the charms you will have to discover.

  • Stephen
    2019-01-07 10:51

    4.0 stars. A well-written, original science fiction story that focuses on something that most SF books dealing with multiple races simply gloss over...mainly how both language and cultural differences can make communicating a very difficult proposition. This novel explores the way gestures and words and even the amount of personal space can differ from culture to culture and how these differences can lead to signaifcant challenges. Recommended.Nominee: Locus Award Best SF Novel.

  • Laura (Kyahgirl)
    2018-12-26 08:54

    Kind of an old style sci-fi, reminiscent of John Varley. I enjoyed the characters and plot.

  • Deborah Ross
    2018-12-27 07:41

    Janet Kagan's death in 2008 ended a brilliant but tragically short career. She wrote only three novels, Uhura's Song, Mirabile, and Hellspark. Although published almost a decade and a half ago, Hellspark remains as rich in fresh ideas and wonderful characters as when the ink was still wet on the pages. The story begins as a murder mystery, a pilot versed in languages enlisted to help solve the death of a member of a multi-cultural survey mission. As an outsider, Tocohl Susumo brings a new perspective to the community and the planet it is investigating, a wonderfully inventive world in which plants use lightning-generated electricity for energy. She also understands that language is more than words, it's culture, gestures, and proxemics as well. The pivotal question faced by the expedition is whether the native species, bird-like bipeds who echo human speech with uncanny accuracy, are sentient. Kagan's depiction of how different cultures view the same behavior through the filtering lenses of their own biases is fresh, startling, and ultimately satisfying. Highly recommended.

  • Charles
    2018-12-31 05:48

    The first time I opened this book I hit the names "swift-Kalat" and "Oloitokitok," closed my eyes, closed the book, and sighed. The book went on a shelf. Several years later, wanting to read something, I picked it up and tried again. Having matured past the "you've gotta entertain me" reading stage, I read deeper and longer, feeling the texture offered by the pen of Kagan as she opened doors to questions. I found that I was entertained, the story has a "feel good" resolution, but I was also challenged to look past the end of my street, past those who spoke and thought as I did, past the areas of comfort to the edge of grasping that my town is not the world. This book edged me into the study of American Sign Language, for there are those living among us that use their "feathers" to speak.

  • Wealhtheow
    2018-12-25 02:50

    Finally, an author who pays proper attention to communication! Unlike Star Trek or any of the other sf that uses a "universal translator," Hellspark makes great use of the importance of body language, personal space, and other unmentionable things that no one ever thinks about when conversing with aliens. A great deal of this novel is taken up with emphasizing the differences between various cultures, while at the same time asking, "so with all these differences...what exactly defines us as sentient?" Very good, although again, I felt it fell apart a little by the end and moreover, didn't identify with the characters that much.

  • CatBookMom
    2019-01-08 11:00

    I really enjoyed this. The information about proxemics (how comfortable people are at what distance between each other) and kinesics (the study of nonverbal communication by how people move their hands and bodies) was fascinating.

  • Julie Davis
    2019-01-21 06:08

    After the simplicity of Kagan's novel Mirabile, I didn't expect to get dropped into the middle of a rich, complex sci-fi world. How delightful to find that it is so much more than I expected!The planet itself is interesting because it's got an overabundance of electricity ... plants, bugs, electrical storms out the wazoo. The sprookje natives, which I kept thinking of as huge birds thanks to their feathers, though they are clearly humanoid, are a mystery in themselves. It seems as if they should be sapient or is that just because we want them to be? There don't seem to be any clues leading to that conclusion. Except, perhaps, the murder of a survey team member who was trying to prove their sapience. Or was it murder after all?Into this dizzying set of variables and inconclusive information comes Tocohl and her extrapolative computer Maggy. Tocohl is a Hellspark trader which means she's a specialist in communicating with every sort of culture in their own language and body movements. That turned the book into a fascinating look at our own blind spots when it comes to culture, communication, and the assumptions we make about others. All in all this is a good old fashioned science fiction story which is a pleasure to read.

  • Betsy
    2019-01-12 04:09

    One of my very favorite books. I've read it many times.The survey team on a recently discovered planet are in trouble, in several ways. Many of them are at odds with each other, the planet is dangerous, they cannot prove the sentience of an obviously intelligent native race because they can't determine if they have language, and now one of the survey team has been murdered. Tocohl Susumo is sent to the planet to assist the team. She is a Hellspark, one of a race of polyglot traders. Understanding that language is a great deal more than just speech, she is able to diagnose some of their problems immediately, but deciphering the language of the native Sprookjes and finding the killer among the team members are a little more difficult ... but very urgent.I'm not sure why I return to this book again and again. I often reread it when I need a lift. It just makes me feel good.

  • Jo
    2018-12-30 07:49

    I've loved this book a long time, and have re-read it many times. It stays fresh for me. It's a very good first contact science fiction mystery. The characters are well drawn and you care about them. It is also an interesting examination of how culture shapes language, and language shapes thought. The book is one of the best illustrations I've ever seen that body language is as much a part of one's language as words and the the serious miscommunication that can result from violating another culture's body language taboos. The members of a planetary survey team are studying the indigenous life form (sprookje) of a newly discovered planet to determine whether they are sapient. The whole team is kept on edge by the weather and the wildlife, both of which are trying to zap them. The team members, all from different plants, keep stepping on each other's cultural toes. Then a member of the survey team is found dead, and no one knows whether it was done by a sprookje or one of the team. One of the surveyors hired Tochol Susumo, one of the interstellar traders known as Hellsparks, to learn the natives' language, if they have one. Hellsparks are cultural chameleons, fluent in not just the spoken language but also body language, customs, and taboos of the many planets where they trade. Tocohl, and Maggy - who is one of the most engaging ship's computers I've encountered in a story - soon find themselves embroiled in the murder investigation and in considerable danger of their own.The dialogue is fun & full of barbed verbal interplay. There is a comedy of manners, a comedy of language, a hint of romance, intrigue, conflict, and growth. It is one of my favorite books ever! It has finally been re-printed so I can recommend it to others again. (I'm not loaning out my copy; I lost three copies of it that way when it first came out.)

  • Tgarfield
    2018-12-29 08:05

    Really original speculative fiction stories take a little longer to get into because the universe you find yourself doesn't have cliches to orient you quickly. This story is totally worth sticking it out until you get your bearings!The one cliche it does have is the idea that before humans open a new planet for development they ought to send in a team to make sure there isn't an intelligent species already there. What happens if the team finds a race some members are sure must be intelligent but that is so different they can't prove it through the 3 requirements of language, artifacts, and art? Call in a specialist!Polyglots are individuals with a special gift for learning many languages. Hellsparks are a whole race of polyglots who take it to a whole new level by adding in cultural clues like body language, postures, and gestures- all the nonverbal communication that goes with a language. The Hellspark they get is something special even for a Hellspark.This book has a great plot with lots of twists and turns, but it is more character driven with even the most minor characters fully developed. Lots of humor, lots of thought provoking concepts that make you explore your own inner world while you are exploring hers. My only regret is that Ms Kagan developed such a rich detailed universe, but never took us back to it with more books. I've seen 10 or 12 book series that weren't as well developed as this one book universe.

  • Lilia Ford
    2019-01-15 07:45

    4.5Complex and lovely, and fully earning its "strong female protagonist" label--with some great female friendships thrown in there as well. The plot reminds me of favorite Star Trek themes, the challenges of communicating with a profoundly different form of intelligence. The approach is refreshing and ethical, without the usual blowhard militarism or pontificating that you see so often in sci-fi. All this in a book published in 1988--it holds up extraordinarily well, far better than any other sci-fi that I've read from that era. Strongly recommend.

  • Jasmine
    2019-01-03 07:43

    This book is a joy. Totally worth reading for its thought-provoking aspects re: the history we bring with us, non-verbal communication, the nature of sentience, and also worth reading just because it is a delight. Tons of cultures! Robot-spiders! Teen graffiti artist birds! Death curses! Murder! I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish we had seven thousand other books in this world.

  • Cheryl
    2019-01-02 10:54

    Yeah, I don't like intrigue or mystery. But the aliens are supposed to be really well-done in this. And look at the average rating!

  • Peter
    2019-01-21 07:06

    A multi-cultural science team is studying a newly-discovered planet teem with life... some of which, they think might be intelligent. But they're not sure, because they've been unable to establish any meaningful communication. After one of the survey team is killed, possibly by the natives, the team's leader is ready to declare them non-sentient and the planet ripe for exploration. But other members of the team disagree, and a human trader, a Hellspark, is called upon to investigate the issue and perhaps decide the fate of a whole world.On the face of it, this feels like a fairly standard pulp SF novel of the era. But the author does wind up having some really interesting points on communication and how culturally-instilled concepts and taboos that we're not even aware of can affect relationships between people and cultures. It's especially worthy of reading the book for the acknowledgement and examples of how important things like body language and positioning can be in how you relate to people. I can't even count how many different cultures the author creates in the book, each with their own set of biases and rituals, some which seem doomed to come into conflict, but also seems to show the idea that with a little work and a bit more understanding, these can be gotten around. This strength is perhaps also one of the flaws. In order to have so many different cultures, there have to be a lot of characters, and not all of them are distinctive except as exemplars of their unique culture. Also, a lot of them come off in a way where it's too easy to dismiss the differences as primitive superstitions that somehow persisted into a spacefaring race. Perhaps that is some of the point (that these world views are just as valid), but I think it would have sold that idea much more effectively if the author had also included, and skewered as completely irrational, some universal human taboos (or, at least, near-universal among the Western audience she was writing to) as well, as something that no other race thinks is necessary or good, to show how some of the reader's more sacred views could likewise be dismissed as primitive superstitions by an outsider. Those characters who do stand out of the crowd, though, are generally appealing. The main character does sometimes seem a bit too much of a know-it-all with understanding all the cultural traditions, but it's not so much it's annoying, and her AI companion is, for the most part, appealing, whoever they're interacting with. There's also a character who has a rather creative and interesting illness that I still think fondly on. As for the big mystery of the book... well, it turns out to be a little obvious, and the characters take too long to figure it out, but makes for a readable adventure regardless. The biggest problem of the book is that the ending drags on way too long after that big issue is resolved. There were certainly a few loose ends at that point that needed to be tied up, but the author took too long to do it, with long conversations involving the AI not understanding jokes and asking for clarification (and they weren't terribly good jokes) or other territory that was already well-trod. The last fifty pages could probably have been condensed into ten, and it would have made for a much better book. It felt like the author just enjoyed her characters too much and wanted to continue with them for a while, at the expense of the story, or perhaps that she needed to pad things out to meet a word quota. Either way, it's not a huge flaw, but it did blunt the book's impact. Instead of putting it away satisfied, my final impression was of getting to the end of the STORY and then having to read on, somewhat impatiently until I reached the end of the BOOK.But on the whole, I enjoyed it.

  • Maria V. Snyder
    2018-12-27 03:51

    This is a science fiction book written in the 80s and, at one point in my life, I would have loved it. The story had aliens from different worlds and a main protagonist who could speak all these different languages and knew all the various customs of the aliens. They're on a world trying to determine if these sprookjes are sentient and they send the main protagonist to help with the determination. Now I liked the main character and her AI computer, Maggie - they were both confident and competent. There was even a tiny bit of romance in the book which was fun and very unexpected for the genre.What I wasn't as enthusiastic about were all the different unpronounceable names and aliens and trying to keep track of the different customs. I gave everyone a nickname and I must admit, I skimmed over some of the explanations and really didn't care if standing on the left side of a Blue Sippian was important or not. I really don't have the time for that, but as I said, in college or high school I would have been all into it and tracking the various aliens.The world the sprookjes lived on was really cool and as an ex-meteorologist I liked the details about the planet and storms. I finished the book because I wanted to know if the sprookjes were sentient and to see who killed Olo (my shortening of Oloitokitok).So if you like all that alien strangeness and details, this is a book for you. I read it because a friend recommended it and I know why she loved it so much and it explained how she got the name Maggy for her dog :). Plus I have a new insight into her soul!

  • Jamie Collins
    2019-01-12 05:58

    This is one of only two novels written by the late Janet Kagan, who is probably best known for writing one of the better Star Trek novels, Uhura's Song. She was a Hugo-winning author of short stories, the most popular of which were her "Mama Jason" stories, published in Asimov's sci-fi magazine and gathered in a collection called Mirabile.Hellspark feels dated, somehow, even though the only thing I can point to as an anachronism is the use of the word "tape" for audio and video recordings. The story also feels a little rushed, with an implausibly short time frame, but it's still an enjoyable read.It's a first-contact novel: a human survey team has established a base on an exotic planet and is trying to determine if the dominant native species is sentient or not, which will determine whether the planet is protected or left open to exploitation. The survey team itself is barely able to communicate effectively with each other due to the vastly disparate cultures from which they originate. A Hellspark trader, experienced in dealing with with a multitude of cultures, is brought in to help determine if the native species has a language.

  • Amy
    2019-01-08 09:54

    This book! A lesson to me: don't judge books prematurely. The back/inside cover of these reads like the worst stereotype of a sci-fi novel - lots of names and weird words that are from "other languages," like somebody is trying to hard. "As he strolled among the Kenthellians, through the wide parndamets along the River Elinionenin, thrimbening his tometoria and his Almagister's scrollix, he though to himself, "Wow, it is sure convenient there's a glossary for made-up fantasy words on page 1048." - Stephen Young, Bulwer-Lytton winner for Fantasy, 2014But this book turned out to be one of the best I've ever read. It's got a lot of psychology, and a lot of linguistics, and a lot of world-building of the very sure-handed Le Guin kind (I'm not going to tell you 5,000 things, I'm going to tell you a story in this world, and you'll naturally discover what you need to know as you go along). It's got a bit of a mystery, and lots of amazing characters that will stick with me for a long time. Two Bluesippian thumbs-up!

  • Matthew Galloway
    2019-01-13 02:54

    As a librarian (and a book store addict) I have access to many great books. This one is one of the best I've read in a long time. I've rarely come across a book so fascinating -- the cultures, the aliens, the exploration of communication was all just perfect. I loved the characters (Maggie!) and the mystery and the ecology and... there are just so many different concepts and clever ideas and it should be far too many elements, but it works amazingly well. The book also does one of my favorite things in a science fiction novel -- it gives such a fully realized slice of the universe that I crave knowing more of what lies out there. I may never get to, but there is a whole new universe in my brain now.

  • James Swenson
    2018-12-26 02:53

    This is an excellent piece of hard science fiction. The plot is fine -- unmasking conspiracy and solving mysteries -- but the book is really about conflict between cultures, and the extreme effort necessary even among people of good will to avoid misunderstanding and unnecessary hostility.A couple of warnings are appropriate: in the first 30 pages, I had to really slow down and concentrate. It's necessary to absorb a fair amount of invented vocabulary, and a variety of unfamiliar names, and the author shows her faith in the reader by delaying exposition. Secondly, the novel is poorly served by its title and the blurb on the back cover, both of which make it look like a potboiler. It's not: it's a thoughtful commentary, and a good story.

  • Emily Crow
    2019-01-09 02:56

    DNF at 24%. I might go back to this one later. I kept struggling to get into it and finding myself stymied by the plethora of odd names and discussions about alien customs. I might enjoy it more when I'm in a different mood, especially as there are bird-like aliens on a distant planet and how can that not be a good thing?

  • s
    2018-12-30 06:08

    Excellent first contact story with a strong anthropolical / linguistic bent. Nearly perfect, but I felt the writing sagged slightly in the second half of the book, and some of the characters started to feel a little more superficial. Still, this book is a real delight: thought-provoking and witty, with many satisfying turns.

  • Li
    2019-01-07 03:50

    I kept on seeing recommendations for this book following Baen’s re-release of this book, and I’m glad I picked it up. Interesting sociological SF, with a focus on language. It’s a quick read but was totally absorbing (I could have done without the POV switches though).

  • Marie
    2019-01-24 10:05

    Terrible cover doesn't do it justice. A classic

  • T. K. Elliott (Tiffany)
    2019-01-09 02:39

    I read this book because it was recommended to me by someone else, and I can see why people love it so much/are impressed by it so much.To be fair, I thought the premise was interesting: this is a murder mystery, but the murder is very much secondary to much discussion of the various characters' cultures and languages.Unfortunately, the handling of what could have been very interesting was rather simplistic. Apart from anything else, I don't buy that a bunch of scientists working together on a newly discovered planet would all be quite so determinedly ignorant of each other's customs yet so single-mindedly adherent to their own. I've never encountered a group of people with less curiosity. But it was pretty obvious that these so-called scientists (who make their living studying other cultures and other planets, don't forget) had to be just that lacking in curiosity or knowledge, and just that rigid, in order to make the plot work, and to allow the main character (who is the only one who understands everybody's culture) to swoop in and save the day. It was a relatively entertaining story, with a lot of interesting ideas. But it had the potential to be so much more.

  • Lorraine
    2019-01-09 08:01

    This was fantastic. I just plowed through it. When it ended, I was sad I didn't have more time to spend with these characters.In Hellspark, a member of a survey team is killed under somewhat mysterious circumstances. The team is surveying a world that contains a possibly sapient life form, and the plot of the novel is largely concerned with figuring out how the surveyor died and whether or not the indigenous life of the planet is sapient.The main character is a language expert (and so much wonderful, wonderful stuff about language and how it's different across cultures), and her AI Maggy shows growing signs of sapience herself as the novel progresses.I love the world building, both the truly unique world they're surveying and the differing customs and mores of the characters.This is a book all sci-fi lovers should read.

  • Deborah Bell
    2019-01-17 03:00

    OMG loved loved loved. Murder mystery wrapped in an adventure wrapped in science fiction...all dependent on language, culture, religion and interpersonal dynamics, but in the wildest imaginary world I can remember in just about forever.

  • Beth
    2019-01-20 05:47

    If you liked The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, chances are you'll enjoy this as well.

  • Cfojas
    2019-01-18 04:00

    Weird aliens, and body language.