The ultimate SF wordsmith, [a:Frank Herbert|58|Frank Herbert|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1168661521p2/58.jpg] takes on an ambitious project with the classic book [b:Whipping Star|2012|Whipping Star|Frank Herbert|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1224556898s/2012.jpg|3634578].
In a universe made smaller by instantaneous travel, a mystery unfolds as the creatures who make such travel possible are disappearing. In fact, many have transferred their "connectives" such that there is just one, the Caleban named Fannie Mae. Jorj X. McGie of the Bureau of Sabotage (BuSab), an agency responsible for slowing down a hyper-efficient universal government, is specifically called to investigate. McGie uncovers a plot to kill the last Caleban which would trigger the "discontinuity" of all thinking beings (sentients) who have used the services of the Calebans. The means for Fannie Mae's "dissolution" is via a ritual flogging (the "whipping" part of the book title) whose nature McKie must understand in time to prevent the end of sentient life. If this sounds like a big pill of disbelief, it is, and needs much of the unguent of Herbert's story-telling ability for readers to swallow.
Although the overall framework of the book is that of a mystery, the bulk of the narrative focuses on the development of communications between McGie and Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae can perceive McGie only as the smallest component, an accelerated molecule. McGie must recognize the true nature of Fannie Mae despite the strange use of jargon by the alien (leaving readers with new appreciation for the use of "connectives", "discontinuity" and "dissolution"). Herbert shows great skill in depicting the growing understanding between the two. The topic of alien communication is seldom tackled well in SF. I would put forth as examples of good effort Sagan's [b:Contact|61666|Contact|Carl Sagan|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1334938928s/61666.jpg|2416056] (using math as language) and [a:Miéville|33918|China Miéville|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1243988363p2/33918.jpg]'s [b:Embassytown|9265453|Embassytown|China Miéville|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320470326s/9265453.jpg|14146240] (using action as language).
The preceding is perhaps the only part of the book which succeeds. The mystery, presented with Herbert's flair for the dramatic, is not as compelling as the villains are stock characters. The resolution seems abrupt and telegraphed. However, I say bravo for bravado. Herbert goes for yard and just misses. A high 3.5 stars. This book heightens the expectation for its sequel, [b:The Dosadi Experiment|2011|The Dosadi Experiment|Frank Herbert|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1312056547s/2011.jpg|6983472], which I look forward to re-reading next.