Novella Spotlight: diāria sīderum (The Star Diaries)

diāria sīderum is a personal favorite. I think this one is my best, honestly, though it appears to be an unlikely choice for the Classicist Latin teacher. Then again, they’re not the ones reading the book. Students are! The sci-fi/fantasy narrative has a bit of a “who dunnit?” feel to it, with students seeking to figure out what made the book’s ancient culture disappear. It’s in three parts using half cognates. The first part has 30 cognates and 30 other words (i.e., 60 total), and the other two parts add 20 and 20 words to that, respectively (i.e., 100 total). It was written so that my Latin 1 class could read a 1000-word long intro to “The Architects” in Part 1 to get a sense of what was going on just before their disappearance. Then, during independent reading, anyone interested could finish Parts 2 and 3 that provide more clues as to what happened.

And that might not be everyone…

The content is sliiiiiightly nerdy with the sci-fi/fantasy focus that makes up speculative fiction, but that’s one of the book’s benefits, giving students an experience reading about an entirely unfamiliar culture, something very common for students studying Classics. References like “The Tenth Age,” “The Elder Books of Knowledge,” and “Sector 3” all seem at home for those familiar with the genre(s). Nonetheless, the specialized vocabulary might require a closer reading. Students who aren’t into that kind of stuff won’t choose it during FVR (Free Voluntary Reading). And that’s fine. Alternatively, this could end up being just the right Latin book a kid didn’t even know they were looking for!

Each character, known as a “narrator,” has their own font, and own style to their diary entries. Here’s an example of one narrator’s diary entry finishing on the left, and a different narrator’s diary entry starting on the right:

Some narrators use “ego,” and others do not. Some write with words conveying feminine gender, others masculine. Some prefer very short messages, while others are somewhat verbose. They are all firsthand accounts. No dialogue between narrators. Details about what happened to these narrators’ culture are contained in the diary entries. There’s a particular narrator a little too interested in The Visitors. Keep an eye on that one.

This is an ancient culture, therefore products and practices differ, just like you’d expect when reading about Classical antiquity. For example, each entry is dated not by days of the week, but by nights. A chart in the Appendices lays everything out in one place.

There’s also a secret message conveyed through mysterious symbols towards the end of the book. The Appendices has Latin letter equivalents:

To help organize information, as well as guide discussions, a table of events and questions are also provided in the Appendices:

In sum, there’s a LOT going on in this book of a relatively low level in comparison to extant Latin and current novellas. It’s my most toppest pick.

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