Book Review: Foreigner Series,  C. J. Cherryh

Book Review: Foreigner Series, C. J. Cherryh

 

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Science Fiction: Foreigner Series, C. J. Cherryh

 

The first Foreigner book was published in 1994. C. J. Cherryh won her first (!) Hugo Award in 1979. Sustained excellence is hard. Bands come and go. Companies wax and wane. Even countries rise and fall. In any walk of life, maintaining a high standard is a constant struggle. After twenty-four years, nineteen novels and two short stories, she could perhaps be forgiven if she went through the motions on her latest offering. Instead, she continues writing must-read books in a must-read series. In a genre that has tended to overlook talented women, Cherryh’s body of work demands respect.

 

Bren Cameron is the main protagonist through the series. Cameron is the “paidhi,” an intermediary between the native (non-human) “Atevi” population and the human colony on the planet. The role developed almost 200 years earlier, created to maintain peace between the species after a war almost wiped out the humans soon after they landed. Traditionally, the paidhi translated documents, negotiated trade deals, and basically tried to stay out of sight. Largely ignored by the atevi and forgotten by the humans, for two centuries the paidhi was kept in the dark and left to his own devices, unable and unwilling to serve the needs of either species.

 

A young Bren Cameron accepted the position straight out of college, about the same time as a new ruler became “aiji” of the Atevi. “Tabini” became supreme leader of the Atevi with a vision to unify the Atevi and to reconsider the relationship between humans and Atevi. In these goals he found a willing ally in Cameron. The need for change accelerated when a new spaceship appeared in the sky. The space station humans had built and abandoned two centuries before still orbited the planet, but when a new ship with humans arrived, the Atevi realized they needed to catch up technologically to their visitors and the guests they shared their planet with.

 

Through the Foreigner series, Cameron strives to be the impartial mediator that the “paidhi” role requires. He redefines it multiple times, developing it under Tabini’s direction into essentially a cabinet role within the Atevi government. He becomes a negotiator, not only between the island community of humans and the mainland population of Atevi, but between the spaceship humans and the planetary populations, between different Atevi factions and Tabini’s government, and ultimately between a new species, the Koh, and the two populations he serves. Cherryh does a remarkable job shepherding Cameron’s growth as a character through the series, changing his perception of himself from that of a human serving a human function to a human serving an Atevi function to a person–still human–but representing people of whatever species they may be.

 

The other main character of the books is Tabini’s young son, Cajeiri. Cajeiri is born early in the series, but as he becomes a boy his role in the books becomes more prominent. The most recent books in the series split their attention and their perspective between Cameron’s activities and Cajeiri’s. Cajeiri starts as a brash, immature child who tries to escape his caregivers and find adventure. Not appreciating that as the son of the ruler, adventure could quickly become danger, Cajeiri is wont to make poor choices and rash decisions–just like many 7-year-old humans do. As he ages through several of the books, though, Cajeiri matures. He learns from his mistakes, he embraces his role as future ruler of his people, and he begins to attract followers who are loyal to him personally. A bright and precocious child, he brings a point of view to the books that is both childlike (and sometimes childish) and distinctly non-human. He deeply admires both his father and Bren Cameron, and they in turn grow to trust him. Through his adventures in space with Cameron, he develops his own human friendships that violate tradition and precedent. Cajeiri will clearly become a leader who takes his father’s vision of interspecies cooperation to new heights.

 

Cherryh is remarkable at switching perspectives from human to Atevi, from adult to child, and from planet to space. Atevi dialog is distinct from human. Relationships are different. “Love” and “friendship” mean very different things to humans and Atevi, and those relationships and the words we use around them figure prominently through the series. Loyalty and service, politics and tradition, all the sundry inner workings of family and clan and city and community are outwardly similar in many regards between the species, but the devil is in the details and without understanding the differences misunderstandings are easy–and potentially deadly. Cherryh weaves a tapestry that is both familiar in its threads and yet deceptively intricate in its stitches.

 

The Foreigner series is actually several series, each a trilogy. The most recent book (2018) is Emergence. Although you can enter the series at almost any point and quickly capture the direction, it is well worth the investment of time to go back to the original book (Foreigner, 1994) and start from the beginning.

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Book Review: Foreigner Series, C. J. Cherryh

 

If you like this review also see,

Book Review: Redshirts, Celebrate First Contact in the Star Trek Universe, April 5th

Book Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

Book Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

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Science Fiction: An Unkindness of GhostsRivers Solomon

I love finding new books from authors with different voices. Often, their characters are refreshing and also speak with different voices, representing populations that open my eyes to people I might otherwise overlook.  Rivers Solomon is such an author, and the lead character “Aster” in An Unkindness of Ghosts has that voice. Aster is poor, mixed race, sexually ambivalent (“they” is the preferred pronoun for the character–and for the author), and leaps off the page with fire and rage.

 

The Matilda is a spaceship that has been searching for a new home for humanity for centuries. On board the spaceship, differences between race and class mean everything. A religious/military government, basically comprised of white people, rules harshly over the entire ship. Lower decks are lower class–and largely black or brown in skin color. Into this stratified world walks Aster. Aster is brilliant in many ways: studying under the ship’s Surgeon General Aster has learned traditional medicine. Aster has also learned from books and from experimentation how to grow plants and distill medicines that replace those withheld from the lower classes by the ruling elites. That genius is both recognized and resented by people throughout the ship. Others with darker skin appreciate the skill, but resent that Aster has access to parts of the ship they cannot visit. Guards and rulers also appreciate Aster’s skill, but feel compelled to remind Aster constantly that they are in charge. Aster is a freak, and few can see past the freakishness to appreciate the person inside.

 

An Unkindness of Ghosts is a powerful book, creating a world that pulls the reader in. It is dark. The book does not offer easy answers, it does not end with “and they lived happily ever after.” Aster is a survivor. Sometimes, survival is ugly. It is also triumphant, though. Aster’s answers may not be the answers they, or we, were looking for. But life often refuses to give the answers we want. What matters is what we do with the answers we are given. An Unkindness of Ghosts demands that we examine who the “freaks” are–those who are born differently, who choose a different path, who wear a different skin, who love fiercely the people they love whatever their gender, or those who draw lines between “us” and “them,” who use skin color and gender to divide, who treat power as the opportunity to abuse and mistreat. The Matilda may be a dystopian nightmare. Perhaps, that type of misery is the fertilizer needed for an Aster to fully bloom.

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Book Review: Redshirts, John Scalzi

Book Review: Redshirts, John Scalzi

Celebrate First Contact in the Star Trek Universe, April 5th

Book Review Science Fiction: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Along with spin-offs, movies, toys, and inspiration to generations of scientists, Star Trek has given us something almost everyone can relate to: the “red shirt” joke.

Star Trek red shirt meme
Star Trek red shirt meme

Several episodes of Star Trek involved a minor or bit character getting killed. Disproportionately it seems, these extras who were in the script only to die, were wearing a red uniform shirt. Thus a joke was born that has inspired comedians and those who think they are for fifty years.

This joke is at the heart of John Scalzi’s novel Redshirts, a 2012 science fiction novel that blurs the line between author and audience, past and future, and invites readers to share in the love of and amusement at Star Trek. Andrew Dahl is a newly appointed ensign aboard the Universal Union’s flagship. Soon after arriving aboard, though, he discovers that the honor is, for many, short-lived. The Intrepid goes through young ensigns fast. Every away team has a victim (or victims). Avoid decks 6-10, especially if everything is going well. And try to stay away from one of the five key officers–although their presence may save you randomly, you are more likely to die in gruesome and improbable fashion in order to save one of them.

Dahl and his friends must discover why the body count is so high before they become part of it. The question, of course, is whether they can promote themselves to main characters before they become victims of the redshirt phenomena. When you’re not writing the plot of your own show, hijacking someone else’s show leads to a very strange and yet funny end.

Redshirts

Also, Other Books by John Scalzi

Fuzzy Nation

A reboot of the classic science fiction novel Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper. Jack Holloway is put on trial for murder, for defending a Fuzzy under attack by a human. When an entire planet’s ecology and indigenous species is on the court docket, the case will be determined by answering the question — what is sapience, are Fuzzies only cute animals or beings with rights?

Old Man’s War

The first book in a five book series.  Here’s the deal, at age 75 after you retire, you can fight for the Colonial Defense Force; if you survive, after two years you will be given a homestead on a colony planet.  Any takers? At age 75, John Perry decides to join the army.

For more on John Scalzi see

https://whatever.scalzi.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Scalzi

Of course, Celebrating First Contact Day in the Star Trek universe wouldn’t be complete without a Star Trek marathon featuring Star Trek – First Contact.

Be sure to serve cheese pirogies (a Voyager episode said these were Zefram Cochrane’s favorite)!

For more on Star Trek see

http://www.startrek.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek

Share how you plan to celebrate Star Trek First Contact Day with your favorite Redshirt moment here: