Review: The Aphorisms of Kherishdar

“I am the Calligrapher, and I serve Civilization. You know my people as the Ai-Naidar; my empire as Kherishdar. It is a society that spans five worlds and several thousand years, with laws and customs that have served us for as long as we have walked these earths.”

The Aphorisms of Kherishdar

With these words, author M.C.A. Hogarth introduces us to a civilization that is truly alien. And the way she does it is brilliant: the “author” of the book is an alien, a proud member of the Ai-Naidar, and is attempting to help foreigners understand how his empire functions.

He does this by telling stories from his own life and pairing them with concepts that describe various ideals that form the cohesive glue that keeps society together. Each chapter focuses on one of these concepts, and is titled with the name of the concept—for example, the first chapter is “Ishan (Full Living)” and the story illustrates how that concept (or law—this is a society of laws rather than suggestions or ideals) contributes to the way the people of Kherishdar interact with each other and life.

In this respect, the story can be thought of as an instructional guide to a society rather than as a more traditional science fiction tale. Certainly, the story focuses primarily on how this civilization works more than it focuses on any personal plot arc. That said, each story is chronological, and you see the narrator change over time. In the chapter “Pauser (To Acquiesce)”—one of the more poignant chapters in the book—the narrator is faced with the prospect of personal loss that I, as the father of a daughter of my own, found heart-wrenching. The ramifications of that chapter echo in many of the chapters that follow.

But primarily the book is about the society itself, and the society is fascinating. It is not, I think, a place where I would be willing to live, under any circumstances. On a deeply personal level I would find it horrifying—but Hogarth is able to clearly show how that culture finds it beautiful, and does in a way that made me see the beauty through the narrator’s eyes, even as I would find it ugly through my own.

M.C.A. Hogarth is an inspired writer, and the language she uses to tell this story is beautiful. It has a soothing quality throughout—the narrator finds the rules and structures of his world comforting, and the comfort and love of his world shines through in every sentence. Readers looking for a plot-driven story will probably be dissatisfied with this book, but those looking to lose themselves in the culture of an alien world will find it fascinating and compelling.

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