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Cards of Grief

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  455 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Jane Yolen’s award-winning story about an alien civilization forever changed by the incursion of human social scientists and a mysterious ancient prophecy

The year is 2132 when members of the Anthropologist’s Guild set down on the planet Henderson’s IV, or L’Lal’lor as it is known to the native population. Charged with the nonintrusive study of alien cultures, the crew disc
Paperback, 193 pages
Published December 1st 1984 by Ace Books (first published 1984)
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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 ·  455 ratings  ·  59 reviews

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Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tbr-clean-2020
A tough one to rate and review, the 4 stars is generally because I finished and was happy I read it and satisfied with the ending.

There were issues....The first part is overly poetical and made it hard for me to get into the story, the ending take home theme that I got out of it (view spoiler) was well done and impactful. I think some of the elements that Yolen put in the story were distracting, particularly how she dealt with sex. It was too
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi
Haunting and lyrical, Cards of Grief is a unique book, unlike any I've read before.

Told out of order in as a series of recordings and interviews, the story of first contact between the planet Henderson's IV and the Anthropologist's Guild is recounted. The people on Henderson's IV base their society around grieving, and the author creates a well-developed, interesting and alien culture. The inhabitants have a very different way of looking at life and death and as one of the anthropologists is dr
Very lyrical

4.5 stars. I have long admired Yolen’s poetry and children’s books. I’ve read at least one fantasy novel she wrote. She has a beautiful easy and lyrical wring style. There are several quite universal “truths” that I highlighted in my kindle version of this book. I found this to be a lovely saga, but because we do not stay with any one character very long it’s hard to be truly moved by it, though. Hence the rounding down rather than up.
Outstanding science fiction novel by one of my favorite authors. While browsing the online catalog at my local library, I noticed that several of Jane Yolen's books had recently been republished in electronic form by Open Road Media , so I borrowed Cards of Grief thinking that it would be a "nice" read. I mean after all -- this science fiction novel was awarded the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Yeah -- I wasn't so sure about a cross-over SF/F novel. I tend to like the ones that are clearly Science F ...more
Dawn C
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: loved, media-kindle
I needed a moment to swallow this before reviewing.

This has so many of the aspects I love in scifi: first contact, anthropology, exchange of culture, philosophy. And other aspects of writing I’m a sucker for: courtroom interogations, transcripts of reports, dialog only, stories within stories.

It’s in ways a classic scifi, partly because the focus is not technology but the human experience of meeting - and eventual consequences of humans interacting - with a culture they do not understand, even
Ironically, I think my instant hatred of certain aspects of the world-building and plot delayed my realization of how little I liked the rest of the book. I finished the book thinking, well, I found many of the author's choices awful, but maybe there's an interesting message underneath. Upon reflection, however (with the recognition that perhaps I just didn't understand what she was trying to say), Cards of Grief didn't manage to offer me anything thought-provoking on the topics of grief and dea ...more
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

This first contact story is told in single recordings that do not follow a chronological but a textual order. The narration structure is quite successful and takes different point of views in account. I loved how some of those recordings worked as short stories in themselves (no wonder: as I read in the afterword of the author the novel started as short stories). This story setup didn't allow for deeper insight into the characters, but made for a great mosaic overview over world and soc
I was in the mood for anthropological sci-fi and this delivered, with sparse but evocative depictions of a society whose values and morals are just far enough from ours to be disquieting. The short and fragmented nature of the book means individual characters don't get much opportunity to show depth, but neither do they quite vanish into the archtypes that the Cards designate for them. (The Cards themselves are one element I wish had gotten greater (or no) attention, as they show up toward the e ...more
Scott Allen
I have had this book on my Kindle for years. I bought it because it was on sale a long time ago and it sounded really good, but then other books caught my attention more than this one. The only reason I picked up this book at this point was because a colleague in my department suggested we participate in a informal book club. The idea behind the book club is the read things that we wouldn't normally read--trying to stretch ourselves in our reading habits. So, I got to choose the first book, and ...more
Jun 12, 2008 rated it liked it
A Jane Yolen that reads like an Ursula K. LeGuin, how curious! Of course, it doesn't actually read like an Ursula LeGuin, it merely resembles her greatly in form; the book is presented in the form of a series of documents, recordings, and debriefings, concerning the contact of anthropologists (xenologists?) with the people on the planet L'Lal'loria. The book explores their "grief-centred culture [which is:] as much art as religion," and Lina-Lania, chief griever to the Queen.

I'm just going to ge
I loved this and it only makes me wish Yolen wrote more for adults and teens. I miss her books. This is science fiction, but it reads like fantasy. Gray’s culture is centered around grief and she is being studied by anthropologists in a heartbreaking first contact situation.

I owned a copy of the paperback and lost it in a flood seven years ago. I read on this on Kindle.
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book brought me to tears by the end- primarily because of the subject, the end of life and the loss of loved ones, and also because most of the main characters had so little joy in their lives. But despite the subject it was not depressing, it was beautiful.
Pam Baddeley
Nov 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Firstly, the 'Cards' of the title do not appear until the very end of the story which is set on a planet where the whole culture is centred around the idea of "grief" but really mourning, as in commemorating the dead. The culture is matriarchial due to the peculiar biology of the race, or rather the two races who can interbreed, wherein the men are only fertile for about five years maximum in early adulthood. They are ruled by a Queen from the Royal race who turn out to have some odd biological ...more
Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: okc
sffbc buddy read march 2020
Reading as ebook from okc library.

Almost halfway. The exploration of ritualized grief is interesting. The examination of racism/ classism and what-we-would-call pedophilia bother me. But these humanoids have developed a culture that works for them well enough, it seems. At least the book (at least so far) qualifies as "post-scarcity" and "SF w/no bad guys!" (For all our attempts to have enlightened social structures, we still starve, torture, and kill one another....)
Aug 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
I keep meaning to read more of Jane Yolen, so when I found this little volumn at Half Price Books I snatched it up. It's relatively short but rather engrossing. Very reminiscent of Ursula LeGuin's anthropological space opera novels, Yolen brings her own very interesting perspective and style to the first contact story. The story centers on the first human studies and interactions with a humanoid culture that is centered around grief (although not death); I found it very interesting in deliberate ...more
Jan 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, fiction, owned
I've read this book several times, enjoying to poetry of the writing, the uniqueness of charactor, the wonderful alien culture. But it wasn't until this last reading that I fully followed the story. This time, I read the chapters in the order listed in the timeline and fully followed the storyline. Then I read it again from beginning to end. Jane Yolen is often considered a children's or young adult author. The simplicity of style is deceptive.The themes in this story of love, betrayal, death an ...more
Sep 16, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a strange book. It is filled with interesting ideas but it always feels distant and disconnected, not because of the "recordings" format, but because of something else missing. I never felt drawn to any of the characters.
Sep 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
More beautiful and sadder than I remembered. I’ve learned more of grief since I last read this, long ago.
Mindy McAdams
May 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: by-women
This was short and fun to read. Anthropologists from Earth visit a small civilization on an Earth-like planet where the people are ruled by a Queen from an ethnic group called Royals; six other ethnic groups make up a very striated society in which everyone but the Royals is a peasant, basically. Grieving is their art form, and death is often handled as a choice — although maybe not the choice of the person who is to die. Among the anthropologists we have a young man and his mentor, a much older ...more
Camilla Hansen
I'm at a loss for words after finishing this piece. I don't think I could find the words to describe the book either, even if I gave myself a week to think it through. It was such a special journey, one I enjoyed the entire way through although I was not sure what to expect at first.

It certainly contains a lot more poetic feeling than science fiction in some sense, but it's not the dry and perhaps rather presumptuous type of poetry that at least I have encountered countless of times during my li
Sara Hagen
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Jane Yolen's first novel for adults. Probably not her most polished work, but definitely an interesting concept.
This book is beautiful, sad, and strange.

I didn't even know Jane Yolen had written any novels for adults until I found this the other day. It reminds me a lot of some of Le Guin's works, like Always Coming Home -- and how could that ever be a bad thing?

Cards of Grief is a very short SF novel about first contact told via recordings and interviews, of a matriarchal planet that has essentially perfected grief. And nothing else. Their lives revolve around grief. Naturally, one of the anthropologists
May 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jane Yolen writes a wonderful adult scifi. Is there anything she can’t do?

Through recordings and interviews, this is the story of humans first contact with a planet whose culture revolves around grieving. The study was unfortunately tainted by anthropologist Aaron Spenser, who is under review for Culture Contact Contamination and has gone native.

Through revealing Spenser’s mistakes, the novel must first explain the backstory — beginning as prince B’oremos discovers prodigy griever Lina-Lania an
May 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
A most original fantasy by an author of the status of Ursula LeGuin and Patricia McKillip. The book explores sexuality, culture, and minds unlike ours. It's a grief driven culture with no passion or laughter. Grief for the L'Lal'lorians is a way of remembering. There is no war, no infanticide, little murder except when ordered by the ruler, and no theft. Cards of Grief is a most interesting read that is haunting, almost dirge-like in its simplicity as gathers momentum towards tragedy. I liked it ...more
Judith  Lund
Mar 30, 2015 rated it liked it
A beautiful and poetic book. I think Jane Yolen is a wonderful writer. The idea of a culture that centered on grieving was fascinating but I didn't think the intersection with technological humans and such a society was worked out very well. I just don't think the characters acted in character. The "military" seemed a bit too forgiving of the "interference" be the protagonist and the "griever" seemed to be less rounded than I would have expected. The "betrayals" were just a bit too contrived as ...more
This is a book about how first contact changes both the people who are contacted by anthropologists and the anthropologists themselves. The brief book is written in unusual style, and a lot of information is conveyed in this brief novel. I really enjoyed this book, and it shows the range of an author whose only other book I'm familiar with is "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight" which I read to my daughter when she was small.
Jul 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
So far this is a really interesting sci fi. It's based around people from future Earth studding a culture that instead of focusing on materials or sex focuses on grieving because they don't believe in an afterlife. The only way a person will be remembered is by the elaborate rituals in place and the songs people write and sing.
Julie (Manga Maniac Cafe)
3 stars

I loved this book when I read it years ago. I didn't love it so much now. While it's an interesting book, I thought the world building was slim, and was frustrated that we only heard briefly from Gray's POV. Still, it's a quick read, so if you can borrow from your local library, it's worth a check out
Teena R.
Sep 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
A little confusing in the beginning but then the story unfolded nicely. Strong characters, beautiful prose. The culture is a little bit too fantasy for my taste (it's SF!) but believable. I just love the ending.
Jul 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Such a delicate story on some ways, but with a core of steel. I had read only Jane Yolen books for kids before... This is a remarkable story. I think I liked how it was told better than anything else about it, though it was all excellent.
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Jane Yolen is a novelist, poet, fantasist, journalist, songwriter, storyteller, folklorist, and children’s book author who has written more than three hundred books. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities in Massachuset ...more

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