Monday, August 19, 2013

Noise, by Hal Clement (author),

Audible Frontiers, March 2013 (original publication 2003)

Mike Hoani, a linguist/historian from Earth, has come to Kainui, a true water world, to study the languages of the Polynesian-descended inhabitants. Kainui is an interesting world, and a challenging one to live on. Tsunamis, waterspouts, and electrical storms with accompanying thunder are all constant. It is, as the title implies, noisy. There's no land at all, and the inhabitants live on artificial floating islands that maintain generally the same latitude, but otherwise have no fixed position. The main economic activity is mining the ocean for its dissolved metals, which the cities can trade among themselves as well as with other planets. The technology is mostly biotech pseudolife, and essentially all forms of long-distance communication are impossible because of the constant electrical activity of the atmosphere. Mike is conducting his research as a passenger-cum-junior crewman on a small family trading ship.

It's an interesting experience, and it gives him wonderful opportunities to encounter and learn the ways that the original languages of the colonists have evolved in the generations since. He's also valuable to the crew as a translator when they encounter other ships, because he knows, at least, all of the original languages.

But when they have ship damage and drift further than normal into the southern hemisphere while repairing it, they meet a totally unfamiliar city--living on a carefully maintained iceberg, speaking almost pure Maori, harvesting an unfamiliar metal from the oceans, and oddly uninterested in the kind of trading that is the lifeblood of most Kainui cities--they wonder if they've found a city of pirates, and if they'll ever get home again.

As is typical with Clement, Noise has good, serviceable, likable characters, but the real main character is the world itself, and the plot is an excuse to explore it. I enjoyed it, and I think any fan of Clement's work will.


I borrowed this book from a friend.