the Little Red Reviewer

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist by Lola Robles

Posted on: July 17, 2019

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist by Lola Robles, translated by Lawrence Schimel

first English edition 2016, originally published in Spanish in 2005

where I got it: purchased new







What’s twitter and social media good for, you ask?  Of course I can’t find the tweet now, but Rachel Cordasco recommended this book to me during a twitter chat. She knows I love anything having to do with language, communication, and linguistics, and she knows I love science fiction.  Without the power of social media, I would never have known this wonderful little book existed.


Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist, is exactly what it says on the tin – this is a short (too short!) memoir of Rachel Monteverde, the first linguist from Earth to visit the planet Aanuk.   Told through a combination of diary entries, excerpts from papers, and excerpts from interviews, Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist is part The Left Hand of Darkness, part A Natural History of Dragons, and entirely something new and wonderful and beautiful and glorious. Stories are words on a page, but language transcends.


I loved this book for the observations about how language evolves because of how it’s speakers interact with the world.  I know that sounds kind of obvious, but Robles takes it in directions I didn’t even think of, and she literally shows this to the speakers who are so steeped in their own languages, societies, and cultures, that they never before saw/heard what was happening.


Aanuk had been colonized by humans generations ago, a ship had crash landed there. . . and then forgotten about.   The planet had plenty of easily available food, plenty of sheltered areas, and no large predators, so the survivors of the crash did quite well for themselves in their new idyllic home.  Too far away to be worth travelling to, not enough natural resources to be worth developing, the forced colonists lost contact with Earth and that was fine with them.

When it was finally rediscovered, Aanuk gained the nickname “Paradise”, for its beautiful and vividly colored forests, it’s lovely beaches, and it’s rolling hills.  Aanuk has more than enough seafood, grazing land, orchards, and space for everyone. While there are small domestic disputes, there has never been war on Aanuk. The Aanukians are never in a hurry to get anywhere, they never seem in a hurry to have knowledge before someone else. Airplanes and the printing press never took off, as anything more than passing novelties.  To a foreigner, living on Aanuk seems like a never ending relaxed vacation. Rachel Monteverde was thrilled to get to spend a year there, learning the Aanukian language (and maybe even a few words of the Fihdian language). She has a secret mission, as well.

Over hundreds of years, the Aanukians developed their own languages and culture, eventually dividing into two groups – the mostly nomadic Aanukians who live out in the open, and the Fihdia, a cave-dwelling people who live seemingly quiet lives in the caves and near the tide pools.  The two groups communicate with each other as little as possible. It is important to note that due to a genetic mutation, the Fihdia are all blind.

Here’s where this book gets really cool, especially if you are a language nerd like me:


Language evolves and changes, just like societies do.  The Aanukians live on the edge of a forest whose plants are so vibrant they had to create new words to cover all the colors and intensities.   The Fihdia, who have never seen the sky, and wouldn’t know “red” if it bit them on the butt, their language is all the words for textures, for sounds, for distances between people and things.  Their language is literally designed around textures and distances.  But they don’t have a word for “sky”, as they have no reference for something they have never seen.


When your life is purely visual – what do your metaphors look like? How do you teach your children about the world?    Do words and phrases and metaphors with no visual aspect sound hollow and strange to you?


When your life is texture, sound, distance, touch, (and no visuals at all) what do your metaphors look like?  How do you teach your children about the world? Do words and phrases and metaphors that reference visuals you can’t see sound hollow and strange to you?  Do they sound like nonsense?


The Aanukians and Fihdia speak different languages, but they literally and metaphorically speak a different language, because their social constructs and experiences in the world are so completely different.  Even when they do learn each other’s languages, they struggle to communicate in a meaningful way.


The end of this book, it was so beautiful I didn’t even know what to do. I still don’t.


Props to the translator, Lawrence Schimel,  I don’t know how he did it, as this entire book seems to be something that can only make sense in the original language, yet somehow I understood it.


The next time Rachel visits Aanuk, she will know the Fihdian language. Upon her next visit, how will she describe the landscape, using only Fihdian words?


If you like science fiction stories about linguistics, about how cultures can be so close yet so far, if you enjoyed books like The Left Hand of Darkness, or Embassytown, if you’re looking for a short and highly satisfying read,  Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist is for you.

5 Responses to "Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist by Lola Robles"

Oh man, this sounds so far up my street it’s banging on the door! (you know when something just sounds SO good that you almost itch to read it right away? That’s where I’m at) 😀


oh, you will LOVE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!

Liked by 1 person

Squeeeeeee!!! 😀

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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