Sherwood Smith's Reviews > Ascending

Ascending by Meg Pechenick
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bookshelves: sf, alt-history

In 1993, Earth made contact with aliens, the Vardeshi.

Skip up to the present, and for the first time in the very tenuous alliance, some carefully selected young people are being sent to the Vardeshi as diplomats and scientists, etc.

Avery is our first person narrator. She has been fascinated with the Vardeshi (who wouldn't be, they look kinda like elves without the ears, or like bishonen, woo!) and, after four years of mastering Mandarin, is ready to tackle the Vardeshi language, which has even more tones, not to mention alien ways of thinking. Their tech is beyond current human limitations, and they seem to have eradicated wars and personal difficulties. What's not to admire?

She is the sole human on board a ship destined to take her to the Vardeshi home planet. On the ship, she's the lowest ranking person, which means doing all the grunt work--while cooking all her own food, as the scientists are being very careful about inadvertent bio hazards going both ways.

Anyone who has ever gone to another country after studying their language for a few years, and assuming fluency, will resonate with how well the author has depicted culture shock in all its permutations, from physical to emotional.

This book starts off somewhat slowly, but I found myself engaged with the voice. Avery is a language and history nerd, but she also loves serial dramas. (Which becomes important!) Gradually the pace quickens, then speeds up to a terrific finish.

I loved the worldbuilding, the attention to detail, the development of the characters. I also really love high tech aliens who love beauty. By the end I was so involved I went straight out and bought the second one, though I have a huge TBR pile and I'd promised myself No New Books Till The Pile Is Not Threatening To Bury Me.

Well, I broke the promise, and read half the night in the second book!

Copy provided by NetGalley
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 25, 2019 – Shelved
September 25, 2019 – Shelved as: sf
September 25, 2019 – Shelved as: alt-history

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by Jacob (last edited Sep 25, 2019 09:22AM) (new) - added it

Jacob Proffitt Did this first book at least conclude adequately? I abhor cliffhangers and would hate to try this only to run into one...


message 2: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Jacob wrote: "Did this first book at least conclude adequately? I abhor cliffhangers and would hate to try this only to run into one..."

There is a good balance of resolution and setup for the next segment of her adventures. I didn't feel cliffhanger-bitten at all--I just wanted to know what happens next, as this is my kinda of sf.


message 3: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Proffitt Sweet! I'm definitely interested, though SF is a by-mood read for me.


message 4: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Jacob wrote: "Sweet! I'm definitely interested, though SF is a by-mood read for me."
This one is for language and history and culture nerds, I think.


message 5: by Francesca (new) - added it

Francesca Forrest I looked at another review and saw that the aliens have eight tones. Seeing as there are human languages with twelve, eight sounds not unreasonable...

The combination of the fact that the aliens look just like humans and the fact that linguistic difference seems to be indicated by like-human-language-only-more-so makes me wonder if this is essentially a human-culture first contact story. Nothing wrong with that! Breathtaking differences in human cultures are breathtaking! But I imagine aliens as a whole nother level of different. This sounds like maybe that level isn't there; that the story is Marco Polo meets the Khan, or the Spanish meet the Incas--only in space. y/n?


message 6: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Yes--which affords a lot of space for introspection. This is not science fiction horror, or science fiction weird. Unlike many SF novels, in which the tech/astronomical whoozis is king, plot a close second, and characters are paper dolls, this book reverses those. Character comes first, but there is plenty of plot and science/astronomical fun stuff.


message 7: by Francesca (new) - added it

Francesca Forrest *nodding* --it sounds like it's very good indeed


Casey Blair Sherwood I just started reading this last night and plowed through the first half and now somehow today I'm supposed to focus on things that are not just finishing the book???

(Thank you for bringing this one to my attention. As an inveterate language need and traveler I am smitten.)


message 9: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Hee!n I am so glad!


Stacey I read this based on your recommendation and enjoyed it a lot. Thanks!


message 11: by Sherwood (new) - added it

Sherwood Smith Stacey wrote: "I read this based on your recommendation and enjoyed it a lot. Thanks!"

I am so glad!


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