Read: Visitor, by C.J. Cherryh

Book no. 17 in the Foreigner series. You’d think it would slow down, or peter out, or, well, just plain diminish in quality. Thankfully for us who follow the adventures of Bren and his aishid the opposite is true: Visitor is not only a good addition to the series but a very good one.

The Visitor picks up the thread just as the kyo – mysterious and secretive space-faring, and, in general terms, neighbours; neighbours who are engaged in war with another neighbour, as yet unseen – are approaching Alpha station. Bren spends his time worrying over his ability to communicate with the kyo, much the same way we all every now and then worry ourselves senseless at living up to expectations, and suddenly the Other are over the doorstep, pursuing an agenda no one knows about and everyone suspects… I’ll not delve on specifics; the spoilers would be too great. Suffice to say that one of the “what if’s” that I have been entertaining actually came true, and the resulting drama is simultaneously forthright and subtle, if such a thing is possible. But I really want to save that particular surprise for anyone who have yet to read the book.

Instead I will talk about the general.

The Foreigner series balances between sitcom and drama, in written form. At times it touches on interpersonal relations, political intrigue, personal feelings and insecurities… all the ordinary stuff. But looking not at one part at a time but at the over-all story you can see broader themes, such as the interplay between language and culture, or the debilitating effects of fear of the foreign.

In many ways the series offers a looking glass through which we can observe ourselves through the Other, from the outside; a means of analysing the cultural constructs and societally predicated behavioural norms that in/forms our everyday interactions. That can be a very uncomfortable place to be but Cherryh manages to masquerade it behind a screen of ordinariness, making it look like suspense rather than societal critique (which I’m not even sure she’s consciously offering – it’s in the eye of the beholder).

To me both aspects are enjoyable but it also means that you the reader has to analyse and interpret on your own. There’s no large writings on the wall telling you how to think. The many layers lets you chose what layer of the story that captures your personal interest.

Not everyone is up for that.

I, however, can’t wait for the next instalment, or for, well, anything from Cherryh’s pen and imagination!

 

Read: The Peripheral, by William Gibson

In some ways The Peripheral is William Gibson in good old form. Imaginative, and written in a tight prose (unlike some of the unsuccessful, abandoned and un-reviewed reads that have littered my path recently /Victorian authors, however famous and successful, may you rest in forgotten peace…/).

The story run in two parallel and partly connected tracks. I say partly, because one of them is in the past of the other while at the same time running in tandem. As soon as the future starts messing with the past the connect disintegrates while – and here’s the paradox – both past and future continue to exist, but now independently of each other… while still being in contact… Confusing? The standard premise of the time travel story is to say that if you go back to the past and kill a grandparent your future self will too cease to exist. It teaches us not to look backwards but ahead. Not so in this one.

In this particular story the aimless son of a ruling clan, heir to a future with immense technological means but almost devoid of real people, entertains himself and his friend by meddling with the past, employing people who live on the edges of what might be described as a lawless mob economy to unknowingly run security for the rich. In the future. Making the people of the past believe they are doing test runs of a game of some kind.

By chance one of them witnesses a murder, and from there on the entanglement of the two realities only grow more complex. By the end the past is infused with future tech, a president whose murder preceded the catastrophe that wiped out most of the population is still alive, and I am left wondering what this all was about, really. Kind of like when you listen to a charismatic speaker, greatly enjoying the performance, but trying to tell someone afterwards what it was all about you find out that really it was just smoke and magic – nothing of consequence was ever said.

That said I did enjoy the read immensely and while I might not reread The Peripheral I would not hesitate to recommend it to someone in need of a passing diversion, of entertainment. And I will definitely buy and read his next book too, whatever it may be.