Flashback Review: Lost in Translation

No. Not the movie. The book, by Saskatchewan author Edward Willett. I actually wrote this review almost eight years ago (I can hardly believe it!) and decided to haul it out of mothballs. This blog has been woefully short of science fiction offerings. I hope you enjoy it.

*****

OK, you can come out of heck now, Edward Willett. You have redeemed yourself.

The cardboard-wrapped Lost in Translation turned up in my mailbox yesterday afternoon and I successfully refrained from cracking it open until after supper. Those who know me realize that bibliophile is too weak a word for me. Biblioholic would be closer to the mark. Which makes that much restraint, little as it was, rather remarkable. Proof that I can, on occasion, behave like a responsible adult.

Maybe the cover art helped. It was, quite frankly, dreadful. It fell into the trap the author didn't, that of cutesy sentimentality. The artist probably hadn't read the book at all, or if so, with remarkably little attention. Not that this is unusual, cover art often seems to have little regard for what actually lies between the covers. The paperback, due out in October, has a much more promising cover, conveying much more effectively the menacing appearance of Jarrikk, one of the two main characters, contrasted with the blond fragility of Kathryn, his human counterpart.

The contrast between the two main characters is one of the driving forces behind this science fiction novel. Jarrick and Kathryn, S'sinn and human, have every reason, both racial and personal, to hate and mistrust the other as the two translators are thrown into negotiations which each side fervently hopes will fail, thus allowing them to wage the war they ardently desire.

Translation, in this far off future, is accomplished by forming a profound empathetic relationship between two translators, by means of a genetically engineered link. Seldom had there been two more unwilling participants. But the privileged understanding of each other created by the translators' link creates a radical shift in their attitudes and births an unlikely alliance.

Willett very effectively makes us share this empathy. The S'sinn, predators rather like panthers with bat wings, are not natural candidates for our understanding, but understand them we do. The obvious analogies to understanding between human races can be drawn, but the author never falls into the trap of preaching it in any way, which would have weakened the book considerably.

The characterizations are, for the most part well handled, with most of the characters in book presented in a believable and usually sympathetic manner. One or two of the secondary characters would have benefitted from a more complete fleshing out. Jim, in particular, is hard to get a handle on. Willett would undoubtedly argue that this is deliberate, indeed, that his inscrutability is essential, but I think he pushed it a wee bit too far. This character never really comes alive for me.

Which in no way prevented me from turning pages. Until the very end. Seeing as I read fast and the book was not unduly long, that didn't keep me up too terribly late. Given a decent dead spot, I would have put it down for the night, but I didn't really get one. The plot twists and turns through personal intrigues, political intrigues, spatiopolitical intrigues...

All in all, a good entertaining read with substance to it. So Edward Willett can come out of heck, because I don't regret buying the hardcover edition. You've really got to hand it to an author who can make you rather like a creature with tentacles around his beaked face who engages in Realpolitik.