In our galaxy, in a future far far away humans have happened upon a strange race, a hive mind. Only one Family is accepted, out of the trading families plying the heavens with their barges, but once accepted the human Alliance puts the whole area under quarantine. Thus isolated humanity develops in a carefully balanced symbiosis with their hosts. When we enter the story 700 years later the social and economic inter-species contracts are just about to crack…
Signature Cherryh, if I may say so, and even if it is an old one (first published in 1980) it is suitably disturbing in its challenge of what, really, is humanness, and what do happen when you isolate a group – deprive it of outside contact, of outside impulses; put humanity in a Petri dish, set aside for X time, and see what happens… and as usual with Cherryh the result she imagines is highly probable. Which makes it even the more uncomfortable.
Seen from a 2012 perspective Serpent’s Reach bear likeness enough to Forty Thousand in Gehenna (first published in 1983) to be a preliminary sketch, a study in preparation for a more elaborate – and much scarier – tale but despite that it stands well in its own right.
I would not recommend Serpent’s Reach as an entry point to the Alliance-Union books – my personal favourites remain the Company Wars books, and Cyteen. All those tell enough to make some of the implicit background add an extra layer to the other books set in that Universe.
Still, a good read and definitely on I’d recommend.