Fast forward a couple of hundred years or four. Civilization in space consists of hundreds of thousands of space born humans, scattered about at space stations and space ships – stationers and spacers. But these stationers and spacers are only subsets in a larger cultural rift – that between a basic market economy, however tightly controlled by the big movers, in the form of the Merchanter Alliance and that of the radically positivist culture of Union, formed by dissident and renegade scientists.
In most of the books set in the Alliance-Union Universe Union are depicted as elitist and conformistic. We learn that they breed genetically and psychologically engineered humans, born in birthlabs. We learn that they program people so that some become free humans and some of them become what we would call slaves, or at least servants.
And we learn that they are all the same, and evil.
Much like the how the western world viewed the Soviet union, in fact.
For a long time the book Cyteen was the only one to give us a glimpse behind the scenes in Union, and while most of us felt revulsion at the basic premise of this society we were none the less shown that there lived people of all sorts, and with a wide range of ideas and opinions. We also gets to understand that this lesser breed of humans – azi, in the language of this universe – is, YES, basically humans, too.
The back story is one of power play, politics, and a murder, but the premise is this rational and positivist culture driven and ruled by scientists and the true theme is the exploration of what a rational mind can do, under the ‘right’ circumstances.
Since the end of December 2008/beginning of January 2009 this story is continued in Regenesis. It takes up the threads left dangling back in the late 80’s, when the first story was published, and continues to reveal new takes on the old issues while at the same time elaborating on the ideas of social and psychological engineering.
I think one of Cherryh’s greater strengths as an author (obviously not counting her abilities at words and pacing) is her ability to discuss difficult issues while at the same time creating believable characters – to show how big scale politics affects the reality of the individual, through the eyes of the individual. This way we get to see that Enemy is just a label and that yes, They is just like Us – just trying to survive, making the best of their situation with what means they have.
This should not be controversial. But in this time it might well be a very lonely voice in a choir screaming hate, at the top of their lungs.