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Looking Through Lace – Ruth Nestvold

Toni Donato is a xenolinguist, normally working behind the scenes, cataloging inflection, grammar, and structure of alien languages in massive databases, but she’s finally gotten her big break to do field research.  On the planet, Christmas, the women appear to have a distinct, secret language from the men, and as the only female xenolinguist available, Toni is chosen for the research job.  She’s excited to be a part of the first contact team, but that enthusiasm takes a hit when the chief linguist on the project blocks her every move, and sabotages her research efforts.  Culture and language misunderstandings abound, and Toni finds she needs to overcome her basic assumptions about the inhabitants in order to understand them and gain their trust.

This book is a sci-fi novella (about 55 pages) that would especially appeal to those with a love of the academic.  World building is excellent, and the author does a great job of showing how Toni teases out the differences in a language, using context, culture, and structure to break the code.  I found it all fascinating, but those looking for more of an action-oriented sci-fi might think Looking Through Lace moves rather slowly.   The “alien


  1. Thanks! I’ve always been interested in how languages are structured, and how the human mind learns. Arabic – very cool!

  2. Excellent review, Debra. Languages can be so interesting as a book element. Just from learning Arabic I’m able to pick out similar words in Hebrew, Aramaic, and even the much older language of Akkadian. Not much, but it sounds good when I can identify a word and know what it means 🙂

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