Almost a review: The Foreigner series, by C.J. Cherryh

My first encounter with the fiction of C.J. Cherryh was the Foreigner books. An online acquaintance (‘Fox, I’m looking at YOU!) thought I might like those books and he wouldn’t let down until I tried. So I did. Rough going, initially, and I’ll admit that I perhaps would had not gotten to the real story had he not told me to keep at it.

Later I learned that those initial parts were requested by the publisher, and I’m in two minds about them being there – they do explain some of the back story but they also feel pasted on.

Anyway, I got hooked more or less on the first page of the real story, and while waiting for #9 to be published in paperback (it felt infelicitous to buy the third of the third in another format) I went on to read – and enjoy – Cyteen, and then DownBelow Station… and the rest of the Company Wars books. And The Faded Sun omnibus. And Chanur. And some more, notably 40,000 in Gehenna and Wave without a Shore. And as I reread the Foreigner books I came to think of them as rather lightweight and feelgood, compared to those other books.

Still, loved them, and have reread them times innumerable. Most recent time was these past few weeks – I was in the process of starting Green Mars but had a monumental two-day headache – NOT what you need when you deal with Kim Stanley Robinson! – so I decided to read the first Foreigner story arch. I ended up reading most of the books, just omitting the two dealing with the Reunion situation, which I have reread more than the others. And I can’t help but feel that despite the sometimes not top-notch editing, and with some problems regarding continuity (for example in Deliverer it’s Geigi’s niece that wants to marry but then in Conspirator it’s the nephew, or Bren suddenly not knowing which province Banichi is from, despite being told that in book #1), and with a lot of the story going on inside the head of Bren, it’s still a fantastic and worthwhile piece of storytelling.

The way the tale deals with topics as language and culture, and how language reflects culture, is informed, as is the topics of alienation and assimilation – might I even mention Stockholm Syndrome, when I’m at it? – and while, yes, it’s, for the most part, lightweight in comparison that IS in comparison with works like Cyteen, which could be read as a Russian classic turned crime story. Which means people expecting a lightweight space opera probably thinks it too dense. Me? I just love it. And with #10 – Conspirator, the first book in the forth arch – the whole story took a new and unexpected and very political bent, leaving the reader crave for more.

Luckily book #11 – Deceiver – is announced for April. And – of course I have pre-ordered it, from the brick’n’mortar SF bookshop in town. Because I do want them to stay in business.

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