Read: Emergence, by C.J. Cherryh

Cherryh‘s nineteenth Foreigner novel. Wow. I never thought that they’d end up so many, not to mention that I’m still interested in reading them… and there’s more to come. Some five or six books back I started to think of them as episodes in a long-running SF TV series, and as time passes and episodes, sorry – books, gets added to the story that impression gets ever stronger.

Emergence is the first book in the 7th 3-book arc, if form holds up, and this episode focuses on two main stories – Bren, sitting in Port Jackson waiting for Cajeiri’s Reunion associates to land, and Cajeiri, visiting with Uncle, in Tirnamardi.

Both Bren and Cajeiri are participants in bringing in a new age, but while Cajeiri is active and due to circumstances has to start act in a more lordly role in Bren’s case it means sitting back, spending his time waiting, in a isolated house on Mospheira.

Some of the characters that the regular reader has come to enjoy, such as Ilisidi and Tabini, are almost absent in Emergence. Instead some supporting characters of whom we’ve seen quite a lot through the years, but perhaps not in the most favourable light, are being allowed some space and some positive character development: I’m specifically looking at Damiri, but also at Tatiseigi, and both are welcome. Had they continued in their established tracks the story had been much less interesting.

I did enjoy the book (of course) but to be honest I kind of long for something of the dignity of a Hellburner, Cyteen, Downbelow Station, or, well, the first four Chanur books.

That said I am amazed that CJ Cherryh has managed to write the Foreigner books with such consistency: that the over-all story and the development of many of the characters that we get to meet holds together, over so many years and so many changes in the world. I do look forward to the next instalment, whenever it’s due.

And until then I look forward to a brand new Alliance-Union story, or two: one regular book, Alliance Rising, and a short story which is said to be available at Closed Circle, as soon as Alliance Rising is released.

Yes, she’s one of my favourite authors.


Read: Convergence, by C.J. Cherryh

Eagerly anticipated Convergence is the 18th instalment in the Foreigner series, and while Cherryh has run out of -er words imagination has not.

Convergence is two parallel stories but bot starting with Bren, the dowager and Cajeiri as they return to the atevi earth after the kyo encounter. One story is Bren’s, the other Cajeiri’s, and Bren’s is, in some ways, rather in the background.

Circumstances has Bren and his aishid going to Mospheira, to present the human population and their representatives with both the kyo agreement and with Tabini’s demands on removal of the Reunion group from Alpha station. This story is not centre of interest for the book, though: that honour goes to Cajeiri and his solo trip to Tirnamardi – a gesture to show that the aiji still stands with the Atageini, despite a rather unfortunate turn of events in the search for a new Ajuri clan lord.

Convergence sees a upping of the tempo, but also a more concise prose. Some books back (Deceiver, Betrayer, and thereabouts) each of these two stories could well had taken up several books, and now they are both packed into this unusually short text.

This is not a bad thing, all in all. We get to see how the heir has grown up, despite his still young age, and how he comes to understand his role and responsibilities, and maybe, just maybe, a shift in focus from Bren, who is now a rather established personality whose journey is coming to an end, developmentally speaking, while Cajeiri is just taking off.

My only complaint is that the book is too short, not to mention the cliffhanger ending. As no. 18 it is the concluding book in the 6th 3-book Foreigner story arch but it leaves off at a place were you expect to turn the page and find out what’s next… and next up is another year in the future.

I think I need to pick up some other Foreigner book, in the interim, to ameliorate the abstinence.

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: Tracker, by C.J. Cherryh

I often think to myself that C.J. Cherryh must be one of the must under-appreciated authors of our time and surely the reason for this is that she writes in the SF genre, and that inside the genre neither conforms to archetypes or is part of the mainly libertarian stream that finds its roots with the now old cyberpunk cadre (many of whom I read and enjoy, even as I often don’t agree with their politics).

A running theme (and I’m not sure she’d agree with me in this but once a story has left the author the reader is free to interpret it in her own way) in all Cherryh’s writings is how macro-politics affect the everyday people. Her style – commonly described as “tight third person”, means we often get to experience things as we, figuratively speaking, sit on the shoulder of the protagonist – from the sidelines, but so close as to depriving us of knowledge of goings-on affecting but not known to the protagonist.

Bren Cameron, former paidhi, a minor official and one-person diplomatic corps, now Lord and sometime mediator for all and sundry, and a force in himself, is one such person. In this sixteenth book, first in the sixth three-book story arc, we find him on the last of his handful of days off. His near-future plans includes negotiating the finer points of the East – Marid treaty, among other things, and it may look like we’ll be treated to one more arc of downworld politics. Instead he finds himself faced with the delicate dilemma of an insular and entirely unreasonable Mospehiran stationmaster, up above, confounding the situation with 5000 unwanted refugees, co-inhabiting already crammed areas. And as this situation grows increasingly volatile a foreign spaceship suddenly makes itself known, days from reaching Alpha Station and the planet…

Reading Tracker without first having read the previous fifteen books might be possible, as in anything is possible, but all characters (except the Mospehiran stationmaster), all back story, and all interpersonal and interculture interactions and conflicts are long since established so appreciation of this book rests on pre-existing knowledge. That might, at this point, feel like too huge a commitment. I’d never the less encourage giving the Foreigner books a try.

Me, I’m looking forward to the next instalment, due in April 2016. Too far in the future for comfort, and looked at it that way coming late is a good thing – if you haven’t read these books before you have a year to catch up with the backlog before the next volume is due!

Read: Peacemaker, by C.J. Cherryh

Peacemaker is the 15th novel in Cherryh’s Foreigner series, and the last one in this 5th 3-book story arch… and even as I write these words I want to go back and say that this arc really started with book #7 – Destroyer. Which means this specific part of the tale spans no less than nine individual books. It has been a fun ride but with lots of loose ends left dangling.

Peacemaker is the book that FINALLY un-dangled (most of) them. At last.

In Peacemaker we at last settle the Coup. At last our protagonists have found the real cause behind the Troubles. At last they manage to amend it.

At last these people can move on, from on-world politics and into… well, that is an issue for books to come, surely, as Cherryh apparently is working on a yet unnamed Foreigner novel, but just as Bren don’t automatically adjusts to a life were he’s not allowed to meddle with Guild business it feels odd to look back at fifteen full length novels and feel that I’d be satisfied if the ride ended here.

That said Peacemaker is the best Foreigner novel in a long time, even despite some editing errors, one of which feels like a continuity error; I guess the scene was moved on the timeline necessitating a few minor adjustments that never got submitted? However which way the story starts in classic Cherryh mode, with a longish reiteration or build-up basically consisting of a lot of “telling”. But as the story shifts into instantaneous time the tempo picks up and the switches between Bren’s versus Caijeri’s viewpoints are tight, moving the story forward at a fast pace and with tension growing but ultimately ending with a satisfactory conclusion.

In my personal opinion anyone interested in interaction between different cultures, in the workings of different societies, in language usage and culture, in intricate politics and social structures should read something by Cherryh. Because even when the editing, as it sometimes is in the later books, is lacking the story as such, and the way she tells it, is often uniquely good.

If the sheer volume of the Foreigner series feels daunting there are many others to chose from, some of which are reviewed by me. Just click the “Cherryh” tag in the right-hand tag cloud and you can see what I thought of them.

Because you need support a living author who deserves a readership :)

Read: Protector, by C.J. Cherryh

Originally I read Cherryh‘s 14th Foreigner novel Protector as it was first released, in April 2013, but a casualty of my accumulated life stress, meaning I didn’t remember much of it, I decided to return to the book now when things are starting to balancing out again, leaving me the energies needed to process things outside my immediate personal sphere.

First of all I might need to say that I am partial to the Foreigner suite. Often riddled by bad proofing, not to mention inconsistencies to the tale, I still enjoy them hugely. They form an anthropological foray into unknown and strange lands, offering up a chance to reflect on what is human, what is culture, what is conditioned, what are we – watching humankind through a mirror. Or is Bren, the main human protagonist, a prime exhibit of Stockholm Syndrome?

Be that as it may, well into the suite, into book fourteen, bridge book in the fifth trilogy about the human paidhi and his adventures amongst the atevi, those questions are left behind; any reader who still follows the series is probably, like me, invested in the characters and how they fare, taking the rest for granted.

This time Cajeiri, 8 year old heir to the aishidi’tat, finally gets at least a part of his birthday celebration – his friends from the ship is finally down on the planet visiting. Meanwhile the tricky situation with renegade Assassins’ Guild is nowhere near a conclusion. Events in Protector, though, might speak of a solution coming up? It would be about time – it has been seven books now of upheaval down on the planet; four since Tabini was reinstated… Not that I am complaining. Foreigner is like a favourite TV series and I’d be happy for it to go on forever (even as I’d like Cherryh to write something new in her Compact space or Alliance-Union universe suites as well) ;-)

A worthy instalment in the series and I really REALLY wish for the concluding part of this trilogy  – Peacemaker, announced for April this year – to be out sooner rather than later.

Read: Deliberations (a Foreigner short story), by C.J. Cherryh

It can come as no surprise that I greatly enjoy the science fiction of C.J. Cherryh, and while my favourite books are in the Alliance/Union & Compact Universe I am also a fan of the Foreigner series.

Deliberations is something as rare as a Foreigner short story. Not a prequel, but a glimpse into the atevi world prior to when Bren’s story begin it lets us see into the minds of Tabini and Ilisidi respectively, at the eve when Tabini is about to come of an age and to claim the aijinate. Most of the text is retrospective, with Ilisidi reflecting on her two stints as “almost-aiji”, and we hear her version of the modern history of the Aishidi’tat.

I am in two minds about the story.  It is a Foreigner short story, and we get to meet two of the major players during a time we know about only through hearsay and rumour. Candy! But. The story is not true to history as we know it; it do fit recent developments but contradicts “common knowledge” and thus feel much like a retcon.

Which is fine. It is the author’s prerogative to do whatever the tale need.

It’s just that… it jars a bit, to someone like me. So. I am unable to decide on which side of the fence to set down; balancing precariously in the middle.

Sometimes that’s all one can do ;-)