2013 Panglott Book Awards

The Panglott Book Awards (previously given in 2011 and 2012 ) are an informal recommendation of one or two of the books I read for the first time in the previous year. For 2013, the honorees are:

  • Embassytown, by China MiĆ©ville (fiction)
  • The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli (nonfiction)

I suspect I should be embarrassed not to have read Machiavelli until last year, but there are just too many good books in the world. The Prince is a short, readable, and quotable book.

Embassytown is an interesting novel. Linguistically-aware readers will surely find the premise implausible, and readers who know less of linguistics should be warned that a system of communication without a semiotic component isn’t something that we would normally call “language”. However, science fiction isn’t an engineering discipline; its value is in being speculative more than necessarily scientific, and MiĆ©ville wraps an interesting thought experiment in an engaging yarn.

I probably would have picked the runner-ups a few months ago. For fiction, that was Lyonesse: Suldrun’s Garden, by Jack Vance, who is better known these days for the wonderful Dying Earth series from the 1960s. The Lyonesse stories from the 1980s are now back in print, in an ebook edition. They are so distinctively Vancian: sprawling, picaresque, inventive, and weird, a marvellous reimagining of medieval romance and Celtic folklore.