Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Books about learning to talk to aliens

Here is a post by Martha Wells on tor.com: 5 Books About Learning to Communicate with Alien Species

By a not terribly remarkable coincidence, I’ve read all five (well, six really) of her choices. (This isn’t remarkable because I read one of them on her recommendation.)

Her choices are:

Leviathan’s Deep by Jayge Carr — I loved that book and read it to pieces. I should re-read it again. The aliens aren’t too very alien in this one.

Survivor by Octavia Butler — ditto for this one, though if I remember correctly, Butler herself didn’t like it and never had it re-issued. I’m glad I have a copy because I love it. Like Martha, I read it when I was a teenager; just as she says, it had a big impact on me.

The Chanur books. OF COURSE.

A Judgment of Dragons
by Phyllis Gotlieb. This is the one I read on Martha’s recommendation.

Uhura’s Song and Hellspark by Janet Kagan. YES YES YES. Both are wonderful. The first is a Star Trek tie-in and the second is an original-world SF novel. I love them both soooo much. What a shame Janet Kagan didn’t write two dozen more novels.

Okay, so, click through and read Martha’s comments about her choices.

Now, let’s make this a list of ten rather than five (or six). It’s trickier than it might be because Martha Wells already got so many of the ones I would have thought of. But let’s see:

6. Embassytown by China Mieville isn’t my favorite book ever, but what he did with the aliens and the humans and the attempts of each to understand the other was fantastic. Not totally believable, mind you.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, … cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

It’s a wild idea, and as I say, not entirely believable. But fantastic anyway.

7. FOREIGNER! The entire Foreigner series! It is this! I mean, you could put a lot of CJC’s books into this category, but the Chanur books and this series are the ones that really make communication-with-aliens the central thing.

8. Oh, I know! A Darkling Sea by James Cambias. There’s a great choice right there. Wonderful aliens, two kinds; one much more alien than the other. There’s one I truly do need to re-read, and sooner rather than later. Communication issues abound between humans and both alien species.

9. The only really believable telepathic aliens ever: The Tines in A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. Those two kids who are lost on the planet; what a challenge they face as they try to figure out how to communicate with the aliens and whom they can trust.

10. Your entry here: ______________________________________________________________________________

What novels can you think of that showcase communication between humans and aliens?

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9 Comments Books about learning to talk to aliens

  1. Maria

    Jao series by Eric Flint, K.D. Wentworth (book 1-2), David Carrico (book 3). The aliens in book 1-2 are particularly fun and alien. The new aliens in book 3 are maybe less elaborate. Kathy Wentworth, who (according to Flint’s website) was the one creating the allied aliens, only collaborated at the beginning of book 3 because of her illness and later death, and the change of style shows a bit. Less creative details on the alienness somehow.

    On the other hand we have lots of new details on the enemy aliens (apparently created by Flint) and they are weird enough.

  2. SarahZ

    How about The Sparrow? The whole plot hinges on cultural assumptions and misunderstandings in a first contact situation.

  3. Hanneke

    A lot of C.J. Cherryh’s SF is about this, making contact with aliens and learning to communicate with them. Not just the two great series mentioned, but a lot of the standalone stories and books as well. The one of those I like best is Cuckoo’s egg, a novella that feels like a proto Foreigner situation; thus a good place to start if you’ve never read Cherryh and want to find out if you might like her writing, without committing to a long series.

    For someone not yet mentioned, the first three books of the Starbridge series by A.C. Crispin each feature learning to communicate with another alien species: Starbridge, Silent Dances, and Shadow World. They are YA SF, and I especially liked Silent Dances, with a deaf young woman as the protagonist. The later books in the series (there are seven) grow darker, and were less to my taste.

  4. Pete Mack

    I second the Jao series. Also, Earth is conquered by aliens, who DON’T eventually lose to the plucky humans.

  5. Rachel

    I’ll have to check out the Jao series! Especially since “Earth is conquered by aliens who don’t eventually lose to the plucky humans” sounds GREAT as a plot.

    SarahZ, yes! Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell are definitely this. I had this duology on the tip of my tongue yesterday, but couldn’t quite get it to come to mind. I will add, since you didn’t mention this aspect of the story: this is a very grim story at times, and contains possibly the very worst thing that I’ve ever seen happen in fiction. That’s just something a reader might want to know before diving in.

    Hanneke, yes, you could practically do a Top Ten list on the topic using nothing but CJC novels. I adore Cuckoo’s Egg, one of my all-time favorite books, and absolutely agree that it makes a great starting point for Cherryh.

    Thanks for the tip about Crispin’s series, which I’ve never read.

  6. Hanneke

    Please don’t get your hopes up to high. I should gave said ” Of these three, I liked Silent dances best”. They were OK, but nowhere near Cherryh; I’m not likely to reread them.
    Same goes for Mansfield Park Revisited, for me.

  7. SarahZ

    Sparrow is definitely rough, although at least you know that it’s going to be right from the start, because of how she structures it. But, that’s firmly in the category of books that are very good, but which I don’t think I’ll ever reread.

  8. Rachel

    Sarah, I completely agree. I haven’t given Sparrow and Children of God away … for some reason … but I can’t quite imagine re-reading them.

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