Almost a review: Chanur series, by C.J. Cherryh

I’ve made several tries at starting this post, the first as far back as 12 March. Why has it been so hard? If I question myself I think the most probable answer is “the scope”. Some people reads the five-book series as a space opera adventure. Others reads it as a treatise on gender. Yet others as a discussion on culture and politics. And to me it’s all of these.

At the most visible layer the books tells the tale of one Pyanfar Chanur (with the last book having a different perspective and protagonist). A trader travelling between space stations bringing wealth to her down-planet clan she get caught up in interspecies politics, quite by accident, and her life takes a hard turn.

Pyanfar is female. So are all other hani in space; hani being her species. In hani society the women runs the show for the feeble-minded and rash males, of which only a few survives to maturity. Males are viewed as unreliable, ruled as they are by their feelings rather than their minds.

Other species we encounter are the mahendo’sat, a primate (I imagine them as a wee bit more human-proportioned gibbons because if I start thinking of them as baboons or any other of the ‘great’ apes I’d die laughing), who like humans travels space male and female alike; the stsho, with three genders and ability to change gender throughout life; the kif, who seems almost exclusively male, but who know? They are almost reptile, or at the very least rodent-like; and then the methane-breathers – the knn, the t’ca and the chi, with only the t’ca able to communicate with the oxygen-breathers, and then only via complex multi-tiered matrices.

There’s also some stray humans, most notably Tully whose escape from a kif ship is what get Pyanfar entangled in the conflict in the first place. But we don’t get the story as seen by humans – rather humans are the most alien species of all, in this setting.

Against this backdrop it is possible to discuss almost any topic there is concerning culture, politics, societies… and that is exactly what’s going on, if you want to look further than the action.

Some people might be put off by the ‘cats in space’ theme put forward by the cover art but I really do recommend these books.

The Chanur series consists of the books The Pride of Chanur, Chanur’s Venture, The Kif strikes back, Chanur’s Homecoming, and Chanur’s Legacy. The first and the last could be viewed as standalones, while the three in the middle is one story split over three volumes.

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