Thursday, 2 October 2014

Langue[dot]doc 1305 by Gillian Polack

Langue[dot]doc 1305 by Gillian Polack is a time-travel novel set mostly in 1305. It basically documents the expedition's stay in 1305 and the contemporaneous goings-on in the town of Languedoc. It is the second novel I've read by the author, the other was Ms Cellophane, which is unconnected.
There are people involved. That's the first mistake.
Scientists were never meant to be part of history. Anything in the past is better studied from the present. It's safer.
When a team of Australian scientists — and a lone historian — travel back to St-Guilhem-le-Désert in 1305 they discover being impartial, distant and objective just doesn't work when you're surrounded by the smells, dust and heat of a foreign land. They're only human after all.
But by the time Artemisia is able to convince other that it's time to worry, it's already too late.
Langue[dot]doc 1305 is an unusual book. It's told in a series of short scenes, switching between characters from the present (or, I suppose, near future, since they can time travel) and townsfolk in 1305. Commonly such short scenes would be an indication of a fast-paced, action-heavy plot, but that is not the case here. It is not a long book, coming in at just under 300 pages, but it is a slow, languorous read. The short scenes (and I should note, not all of them a super-short, but many are) give snapshots of minor events both in the lives of the expedition and the locals. Although seemingly unconnected at first, these do tend to lay down context for later happenings.

The characters are not at all what I expected. Artemisia, the only historian on the mission, is positioned very much as the main character, even as she is isolated from the rest of the expedition due to a clash of personalities and (research) culture. The scientists, quite frankly, often acted very pettily and put me in mind of the public servants in Ms Cellophane (in particular, I found similarities between the two antagonist characters). I felt like I should be on the side of the scientists (because I am one) but they were mostly such annoying people that I was very much on Artemisia's side throughout.

Gillian Polack is a historian, specialising in Medieval France, so I have no doubt that all the history included was as accurate as possible. I am also quite sure that there were jokes that I didn't pick up on because I am not a historian, but that did not make it an unenjoyable read. Instead, I suspect others with a stronger medieval background will get more out of it than I did.

I recommend Langue[dot]doc 1305 to anyone with a passing interest in history (especially Medieval France), speculative fiction reader or not. On the other hand, those looking for action and adventure would be better off looking elsewhere.

4 / 5 stars

First published: November 2014, Satalyte Publishing
Series: No.
Format read: Paper! Uncorrected Proof
Source: LonCon purchase
Disclaimer: Gillian is a friend but — as always — I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge

2 comments:

  1. This sounds very interesting and unusual - it appeals to me - thanks for the review.

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  2. Lovely review. Gillian Pollock is a great writer. You might also like "Illuminations" published in 2002 by Trivium Publishing. I'm off to the book shop - I have some reading to catch up on.

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