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4.44  ·  Rating details ·  590 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
On the newly discovered planet, Lassti, in the flashing forests of bioelectri c plant life, the body of Oloitokitok, the survey team's physicist, is found. Has he been murdered? And if so what will this mean to the survey team? High-voltage adventure from the author of Uhura's Song.
Paperback, 407 pages
Published July 1st 1988 by Tor Books (first published 1988)
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Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sharon Lee
Sep 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I re-read this book more than any other book I own.
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)
Kind of an old style sci-fi, reminiscent of John Varley. I enjoyed the characters and plot.
Apr 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 chal ...more
Deborah Ross
Mar 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 perspe ...more
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 sent ...more
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
Jun 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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. Understandin
Jul 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who loves a GOOD book
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 cult ...more
Jun 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-star-reads
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
Lilia Ford
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Complex 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 sc
Nov 10, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 an ...more
Maria V. Snyder
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 ...more
Jamie Collins
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 s
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geekery, scifi, psych
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."
Matthew Galloway
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 th ...more
James Swenson
Aug 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Emily Crow
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?
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
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).
Oct 12, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy-sci-fi
Terrible cover doesn't do it justice. A classic
Perfect SF for a lover of linguistics & cultural contact, but more. This not-recent book was in a recent recommendations list on BookRiot, I think it was, or I might never have come across it, and I'm so glad I did!

It combines many of my favorite things:
● science fiction that's about individuals striving to understand each other despite conflicts of culture, language, and even species, *not* about military tech;
● mysteries (Was Oloitokitok murdered, and if so, by whom? Are the sprookjes r
C. Cornett
Dec 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi-fantasy
Hands-down, the best science fiction book I've read in a good, long while. Forget the space military. Forget all manner of intergalactic opera and imperial space cadets. Forget all those crapsack dystopian nightmares. The heart of this book brings us back to a time when science fiction was colorful and more content to explore strange new worlds than to colonize and repeat human earth history but in space this time.

Hellspark (pronounced "Hell-spark" or "Hells-park", depending entirely on whicheve
by Janet Kagan

My take: A science fiction story rich in alien background including strange customs, names, and bits of language. Published in 1988, this is the sort of science fiction common then (or at least it is what I read back then). Sitting on my shelf all this time, I had forgotten everything about it until a re-read. This one though is a little more heavy on the terms, names, and cultures that aren’t explained with exposition. I appreciate a book that does this sort of thing with
Mary B. Grove
Jun 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
wonderful story, terrible cover

I got this book because Sharon Lee and Steve Miller recommended it and I really like their work. I'm very glad I did.

Janet Kagan is an excellent writer. She writes amazing characters and has created a rich, unique and fascinating world, given it individual races and ethnicities, each with a nuanced culture, language and history. I haven't read any other SFF author who ventured so deeply into the roots of language, and that made the book especially memorable. The p
Except for a few details such as the mention of a tape recorder early in the book, this could have been written today.

I read it because Sharon Lee and Steve Miller mentioned that it is one of their favourite books. Reading it, I can see the influence it had on them. The AI that is learning, the character from a group of people that is conversant in many cultures, the attention paid to how different cultures use their body while speaking a language all have similarities to the same elements that
Feb 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a periodic re-read, which I hadn't (re)read since joining GR.

The blurb makes it sound like this is a mystery and/or adventure story. While that is part of it, what stands out is the intricacies of language and culture. Tocohl Susumo is a glossi, an expert in languages, who is called in to help determine the sentience of a alien bird-like species. The sprookjies imitate human speech, but don't initiate it or respond. To complicate matters, the survey team on the planet where the sprookjie
S.A. Gibson
I enjoyed this incredible ride of a story. Set in a future world and space, with most of the time spent on an alien planet with different biology and social animals, the story was about how we communicate.

The strongest theme and storyline is about how language divides us and bridges gaps between us. This aspect of the book is fascinating to me.

This has one of the most impressive heroines in fiction. Her preferred approach to hostility is to prevent a fight with words and cultural knowledge. That
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