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Damocles is not an action-packed novel. Most of the book is talking, describing the laborious task of humans and aliens trying to establish communications when they share no culture or language in common. The linguistics are not described in detail, but the process of constructing a bridge to translation is realistic.
This is also a "humans are the aliens" novel, in which it's the Earthers who come from outer space, to the shock and awe and terror of a less advanced civilization.
The setting the Earthers come from is barely fleshed out — humans have expanded to other colonies, but the message from an older alien race giving Earthers the secret of FTL travel and telling them that there are other races seeded from the same DNA as humanity is never described in more detail than that. It's a MacGuffin to send the crew of the Damocles out into space.
Damocles is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Meg Dupris, the linguist aboard the Damocles, and Loul Pell, a socially awkward nerd in a dead-end government job when the Earthers arrive.
Besides the realistic communications problems, the best part of Damocles is the realistic aliens, the Didetos. They are close enough to human that their psychology and physiology is understandable, but different enough that they're clearly not human. Their culture constantly throws the Earthers off-balance with its similarities and differences - Didetos don't sleep, and although they have an industrial society that has begun launching satellites, they have never in their history undertaken to explore their oceans. Yet, they have press conferences, a military-industrial complex, and comic book nerds.
Loul Pell is one of the latter. A disgraced scientist, now working as a cubicle drone because he once presented a paper speculating about alien contact, he suddenly finds himself whisked away by Dideto Men In Black when aliens actually appear, pretty much where and how he said they would. And so he accidentally takes the role of speaker-to-aliens, and befriends a strange, willowy, extraterrestrial named "Meg."
Although there are some misunderstandings and tension over miscommunications, and questions about whether the Earthers will be able to return home, there is no dramatic action in this book. It's a novel about inter-cultural communications, and if aliens ever do visit Earth, I can see Men In Black whisking S.G. Redling off to advise our first contact team on how to communicate with them.
A thoughtful, intelligent sci-fi novel that explores linguistics and alien cultures in a realistic way. Damocles is not a particularly exciting book, but it's a fine work of genuine speculative fiction.
I did not love the narrator, who particularly when listening at higher speeds (I usually listen to audiobooks on my Audible app) has a very high-pitched and sometimes annoying voice, though she was clear and did a good job switching between Meg and Loul's voices.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to Damocles the most enjoyable?
I've never listened to a book narrated by Angela Dawe before, but I think her performance on Damocles is one of the best I've experienced from a female narrator. The hang-up in most cases are the character voices and that can make or break the audio performance. I think Angela did an awesome job with all the voices (even the males) and it added to the enjoyment of the story. I've listened to some narrations where it totally ruined it. Kudos to Angela Dawe!!
What was one of the most memorable moments of Damocles?
The first-contact scene playing out. The headline of this review is a nod to that scene. That's all I'll say about it.
What does Angela Dawe bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
Again, the character voices. If a narrator does a good job, it totally adds another dimension to the book - and she did! I read some of the book on my own (thank you Whispersync for Voice) and it can be a little hard to read when working through the parts where they are trying to understand each other's language. It was much more enjoyable listening to it (for me) than reading it to myself.
Any additional comments?
I like first contact stories and this was enjoyable. Enjoyable enough that I finished it in two days which is rare for me (maybe a first.) There were some parts of the story where I rolled my eyes (a bit too silly) and some parts I would have liked explored more. Some of it was too un-realistic in my opinion. But hey, it's not my book. What I LOVED the most was the telling of the story from both viewpoints, the local Dideto and the alien Earthers, AKA "Urfers." Sometimes this viewpoint would just flip flop as the story continued, but most of the time it would rewind and re-tell the same scene from the other viewpoint. This was cool! Very cool actually!! All-in-all it was a fun story, had enjoyable characters, it flowed well, and I really liked it. That's what matters most, right? I highly recommend!
63 of 67 people found this review helpful
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
No, there is nothing new in this book. It is predictable, and a bit boring.
How could the performance have been better?
Personally I found her voice high pitched, and irritating. It was unpleasant to listen to. The character acting was bad. Strange choice for an audio book.
Any additional comments?
I love sci-fi, I read and listen to a lot of it. This is not worth your time.
tempted to say hell no, avoid, terrible audio, apparently it's a good book. 2 words remaining
Wasn't sure what to expect with this novel - but wow, what a great surprise!!!
This book is well worth getting, and re-reading two or three times, just to giggle with glee all the bits you didn't "notice" the first time (not that you have to do this, but I did just for fun)