Friday, September 30, 2011

Ringworld - by Larry Niven

Ringworld... it's a world that is also a ring
I am not even going to bother reviewing this book. It's number 44 on NPR's list of the top 100 sci-fi/fantasy books of all time. Nerds everywhere agree, it's worth a read. But, here is where they are wrong. If you are going to read anything by Mr. Niven, you are going to read The Integral Trees and then its sequel The Smoke Ring.

East takes you out, out takes you west, west takes you in, in takes you east; north and south bring you back.

What I DO intend to talk about is phonetics and the concept of invented cuss words.

There is something perversely satisfying about saying the word "f*ck". Whole documentaries have been made to that effect. Other science fiction sagas have invented expletives with varying degrees of success. Some have even chosen to swear in an existing language not native to its core audience. Of all the myriad invented oaths, only one has ever really done the job: Frak.

You might think it's because it's the most similar to the F-word proper, and you are correct in part. I firmly hold to the opinion, because it is the correct one, that it is phonetically appealing as a curse word.

There is something deeply satisfying about the sounds of K's, T's, and hard C's. Possibly why the "C Bomb" is the pinnacle of the swearing pyramid. It grates on the ears, it's violent, and when you create a new curse, one meant to be interchangeable with the great F, you need to retain a measure of harshness.

Tanj. The word Mr. Niven invented was tanj...

"Tanj you! You tanjing tanjer!"

That sounds wrong, it's too soft. It glides to a slow stop instead of exploding to a violent end. It sounds like something I would order at an Indian restaurant. "An order of Aloo Tanj Paneer, if you don't mind".

It's meant to be an acronym-swear word, like FUBAR or SNAFU, but it's used like "f*ck". No one ever says "Fubar you!" or "Get to the snafu chopper before I fubar you up!".  Even those acronyms have the decency to contain an expletive.

Tanj - There Ain't no Justice

In Mr. Niven's defense, audio books weren't a commercial offering until sometime after the founding of Books on Tape in 1975. He didn't have to consider how obnoxious it would be to hear a somewhat nasal voice say that word a couple of dozen times. In his post-books-on-tape era work, his swearing was better, "Copsik" and "Checker". I think he learned his lesson.

Oh, and one more thing. A highly advanced society builds a habitable environment on a ring-like structure in outer space and seemingly disappears only to [highlight the spoiler] have it turn out that it was built by a previous society of humankind. [end]

Go tanj yourself, Bungie.

You should read this book with your eyes.

You should not listen to this audio book with your ears.

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