Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Novelette by Alec Nevala-Lee
A medical mystery, wrapped in a murder mystery, against a backdrop of deaf linguistics and Japanese folklore. Hakaru is assisting in research into a new sign language which has developed in an isolated community with an enormously high rate of deafness. At first I was expecting a tale of linguistic research, or maybe politics when a councilman tries to shut down the research. But then the councilman is murdered, and the tale takes a turn for the strange.
The Kawataro is a water spirit, translated as "river boy", known for causing mischief. Nevala-Lee changes the appearance and behavior of the spirit a bit to suit the story he's trying to tell, but given the variability of folklore from place to place, it's believable. As the name of the story would tell you, it plays a major role in the story.
And aside from a biology-related infodump toward the 3/4 mark, this reads much more like a horror/mystery/fantasy than an Analog hard-SF story. Which is a nice change of pace in the magazine, and shows that Nevala-Lee knows how to stand out from the crowd.
The novelette goes through another sharp change toward the end, after an exciting chase scene it shifts to a sadder, more sciency story and wraps up with a nice resolution to the intellectual mysteries and plenty of bittersweetness for the characters.
I loved the science here, and the well-told story. And my girlfriend-who-doesn't-really-like-Analog enjoyed the hell out of it too. It read a bit like a horror story, a bit like a mystery, and a bit like hard SF. I always appreciate this sort of mix when it pops up in Analog, which is sadly not as often as I'd like.
The second sudden change was a bit too much out of nowhere, and I wish we hadn't been kept in the dark about what Hakaru saw toward the end of the chase. It felt not entirely fair to the reader, and made the subsequent infodump a bit more jarring and out-of-place. But aside from this one page of writing, I enjoyed the story and couldn't stop reading. More like these from both Analog and Mr. Nevala-Lee!
3.5 fish-monsters out of 5 carry knives.