INVADER by C. J. Cherryh

In this second of the First Contact series, which began with Foreigner, nearly two centuries after the starship Phoenix disappeared into the heavens, leaving an isolated colony of humans on the world of the Atevi, it unexpectedly returns to orbit overhead, threatening the stability of both Atevi and human government.  It opens out and expands from the first book—we have much more information about the alien Atevi, who are no less alien for being better known. We learn a lot more about the initial human settlement of the world, and about the present-day human politics and society. Bren, the paidhi, the translator-ambassador between humans and Atevi, is starting to know what he’s doing. The ship remains mysterious in its motivations, setting events in motion without us ever finding out what’s going on.

Nearly two centuries after the starship Phoenix disappeared, leaving an isolated colony of humans on the world of the atevi, it unexpectedly returns, threatening the stability of both atevi and human governments. With the situation fast becoming critical, Bren Cameron, the brilliant, young paidhi to the court of the atevi is recalled from Mospheira where he has just undergone surgery. Upon his return to the mainland, he Cameron finds that his government has sent in his paidhi-successor, Deana Hanks—representative of a dangerous faction on Mospheira who hate the atevi.

Haunted by the threat of assassination, Bren realizes his only hope may be to communicate with the Phoenix as the spokesman of the atevi—an action which may cut him off for good from his own species. Yet if he doesn’t take this desperate action, he may be forced to witness the destruction of the already precarious balance of world power.

So who is the invader of the title? On the one hand, it’s the ship. The ship has come back to the solar system, it wants things, it is certainly an invader. On the other hand, it might be Deana Hanks. She’s invading the mainland, and Bren’s peace of mind, she’s the main antagonist in this volume, and her brash style is invasive.  She is working with a dissident faction of the human Mospheira government, and broadcasts divisive and outright lies from secret locations onto the atevi mainland.  She does her best to foment an outright war, but thanks to atevi manipulation, and the actions of Bren & Co, is thwarted and dies in the final battle.

Most of the above was blatantly stolen from several sources.  I am now on the sixth book and am beginning to forget which actions happened in which volume.

The darn things are like salted peanuts.  You can’t read just one.

 

 

 

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FOREIGNER by C. J. Cherryh

This series centers on the descendants of a ship lost in transit from Earth en route to found a new space station. It consists of a series of semi-encapsulated trilogy arcs (or sequences) that focus on the life of Bren Cameron, the human paidhi, a translator-diplomat to the court of the ruling atevi race. Currently twenty novels have been published between 1994 and 2018.  Cherryh has also self-published two ebook short story prequels to the series, “Deliberations” (October 2012) and “Invitations” (August 2013).

Cherryh calls the series “First Contact”. Four of the books were shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

A spaceship hurtles through hyperspace, and ends up not where they expected.  In fact, they have no clue as to where in space they are, the ship is not functioning well, and frankly, they are screwed.  They were on their way to build a space station and there are hundreds of folks on board.

After this opening explanatory sequence, we are plopped into the current world of the nearest planet to where the ship ended up, which turns out to be inhabited by a race of humans,  very tall, very black, whose technology has advanced to the steam age.  The people in the ship had built a station, and finally a kind of shuttle ship that could drop people off onto the world below, but not return.

The humans eventually fight a war with the inhabitants, the Atevi, and are pushed to inhabit exclusively large island, and after negotiating some peace terms, are doling out advanced technological info bit by bit in order not to distrupt the Atevi society, to maintain the political balance of Atevi’s various groups, but are doing so in order that the Atevi will eventually gain enough technology to build spacefaring ships so the humans can leave the planet. Only one human, the paidhi (interpreter), is allowed to live among atevi and learn one of their languages. All communication between the atevi and the humans is via this single point of contact.

One of the problems is that there are factions of the Atevi who believe in numbers, number counting and in felicitous and infelicitous numbers.  They believe the humans are secretly plotting against them in order to take all their resources.

Things are going along fairly well, with our protagonist Paidhi Bren building a good relationship with  Tabini (the Aiji, the head of the most powerful atevi clan, keystone of the atevi western association, and thus effective supreme ruler of the atevi government),  when the spaceship from which the humans on the planet came to the planet, returns from its 200 year journey to try to discover where in space they are.

This returns sets up fears on both sides of the planet inhabitants.  Why has the ship returned?  What do they want?  And the atevi want to know if they will be shooting death rays at them.

Bren is kidnapped by a dissident faction of Tabini’s government, and Tabini’s politically savvy grandmother may or may not be involved.  He is finally released, after being beaten up pretty badly and then finding out about the return of the ship, and returns to his job on the Atevi side to find his rival for his job, a woman named Hanks, firmly ensconced and unwilling to accept that he has returned, and claiming she took over because no one knew what happened to Bren and even if he were alive.

Thus ends volume one.

CHANUR’S HOMECOMING by C. J. Cherryh

This book ends the three-book central arc of the series.  There is one more to go, set much further in the future, but I think I am done with this world.

OK, kidnapping, conspiring, a little torture thrown in for flavoring, political machinations, bribery, and cultures who do not have a snowball’s of understanding each other…. no, I am not talking about the current world situation, this is sci fi, set FAR into the future.  We have no hope.  We are doomed to rinse and repeat endlessly the faults of our foreparents.

The Kif give Pyanfar a gift … a medium ranking Kif to be her slave, to do with as she will.  So now she has on board a human, (gasp), a male Hani (double gasp), and finally now a Kif, (triple gasp of horror).  Here’s the fun part of the whole book.  The kif do not eat dead things.  They eat living things which they either have just killed or eat them live.  Even each other, come to that, so don’t mess with them.   Pyanfar’s gift Kif has a problem on board … he is starving.  They have no food he will (or can) eat.  Finally, in a meetup with Goldtooth’s buddy, the buddy suggests that they go out on the docks and buy some live creatures that the Kif eat and bring them on board.  But in the unloading of the boxes and cages of these things, there is a confrontation, the boxes are dropped, pop open, the critters scatter to the far reaches of the ship, and for the rest of the novel, provide comic relief as they scatter around, giving everyone the heebie jeebies.  Pyanfar finally orders the Kif to go collect his dinner …. every last one of them, but the problem is they are like rodents, and multiply extremely rapidly, so are breeding faster than the Kif can eat them.  hahaha  I know.  My sense of humor can lean toward the macabre.

The Mahendo’sat governance is based on Personage, a person with a large following, considered very wise, and able to tread delicately between the various species and cultures in order to promote trade.  At the end of the book, Pyanfar is accorded Personage status, and is revered.

The end.

It was a fun series, full of an interesting universe of creatures and cultures imaginatively delineated.

THE KIF STRIKE BACK by C. J. Cherryh

The third book in the Chanur series.  Menagerie in space.  It’s the age old issue of us imagining aliens in the forms of creatures we are familiar with.  In this case, lions, rats, apes, birds, snakes, stick insects, and amorphous beings.  I think of those as jelly fish.

At the end of the previous book, one of the Kif factions has taken Pyanfar’s niece Hilfy, and the human Tully, and told Pyanfar that she can retrieve them at Mkks Station, at the border of Kif and Mahendo’sat space. Left with little option, the Pride of Chanur follows, along with another Hani ship (a hostile one press-ganged by the Mahendo’sat) and a Mahendo’sat hunter. In a blatant power-play the Kif Sikkukuk has taken over Mkks Station and has Pyanfar and her friends approach him as supplicants and potential allies. But Kif are ever treacherous, and Mahendo’sat are twisty as well, and the situation is incredibly dangerous and political. And behind the immediate problems, there’s approaching humans, hani and Stsho machinations and involvement from the methane breathers, all of which threaten disaster for the whole of interstellar society in the Compact.

What began as a simple rescue attempt soon blossomed into a dangerous game of interstellar politics, where today’s ally could become tomorrow’s executioner, and where methane breathers became volatile wild cards playing for stakes no oxy breather could even begin to understand.  Especially this human.

It’s space opera, folks.  Have fun with it.  Right?

 

CHANUR’S VENTURE by C. J. Cherryh

This Chanur series is actually in three parts.  The first book, The Pride of Chanur,  is pretty much stand alone.   Chanur’s Venture, is the first part of the middle trilogy of the series and ends with a “to be continued”, one of my pet peeves.  But since I had planned on reading the series anyway, I was OK with that.

The victories of the Pride of Chanur are far behind Pyanfar Chanur, with the consequences proving long-lived, including the presence of her husband Khym on-board, controversially the first male Hani to ever crew on a starship. On her first visit back to where it all started last time, Meetpoint Station, Pyanfar and the crew of the Pride, are sucked straight back into trouble when Tully returns looking for help from her and the Mahendo’sat. There’s trouble with the Kif and the Knnn bordering human space which looks difficult to navigate, and even more difficult when the Kif appear divided.

Two years after the events of the previous book, Pyanfar returns to Meetpoint Station with the hani spaceship The Pride of Chanur to find her comrades Goldtooth and Tully. Goldtooth advises Pyanfar to take Tully, whom the enemy kif are hunting, and head for Mahen space. The Mahendo’sat, on the other hand, retrieved Tully from human space and are paving the way for a fleet of human ships to open up trade with the central Compact.

But the kif and the stsho oppose the humans’ presence, for fear of losing their place and influence in the Compact. The kif are themselves involved in a power struggle: two kif leaders, Akkhtimakt and Sikkukkut, are vying for the lofty position of mekt-hakkikt. Sikkukkut draws a reluctant Pyanfar into the feud, and her association with the kif puts her at odds with the han. Then, when the kif conflict spills over into hani space, all she and Tully can do is stay alive until Goldtooth and the human ships arrive.

As in all Cherryh’s work, her plots are highly politically involved, and ya gotta pay attention.  It isn’t all starships shooting hellfire weapons at each other and blasting planets to smithereens.  It is, in fact, more who can outwit and out think whom, and reminds you of cat’s cradles in intertwining complexities. The aliens are quite alien with opaque motivations and believable linguistic problems, so just when you think you’ve got the gist of what is going on, you’re wrong.   Neener neener.

 

THE PRIDE OF CHANUR by C. J. Cherryh

I did try to read some other genre to give you all a break from Union-Alliance space,  but pffffft, couldn’t do it. So suck it up, Buttercup.  We are on to a new area of space.

When I started this book, one of five in this series, I was like, whaaaaaaa?   The protagonist is a feline type creature,  really more lion-type creature, and I am not into that kind of fantasy stuff, but as I continued, I really got into it.   These creatures are the Hani, and they live on a planet somewhat like earth with an atmosphere and breathable air.  It is a matriarchal society (yea, us girls), and the males fight each other to be the Lord of a family with its lands and mansions, etc.,  They are considered basically unstable and unsuited for anything, and the losing males and young males born to the household, live out their days in sanctuaries, hoping for the time to challenge the reigning lords.  The women run the show and are the ones who go into space.

So.  How did a bunch of lions get spaceships and knowledge?  From the Mahendo’sat (singular mahe), black or brown primate-like creatures, human-size or larger. They are very curious, innovative and politically oriented. The Mahendo’sat political system is based on the concept of Personage, a charismatic figure with a lot of social credit.  The Mahendo’sat got the primitive Hani upgraded to modern day and space travel in order to enlarge their own sphere of influence and keep the Kif, very tall, grey rodent-like species, warlike, grabby, and essentially nasty, from taking over everything.

This all takes place in a different region of space many jumps (read far far far) from the area inhabited by the Union-Alliance humans, and it  inhabited by numerous alien spacefaring civilizations.  It is said that the Chanur novels are unusually realistic examples of space opera, with ship-to-ship shooting minimized in favor of coercion, manipulation, politics, pride contests, and clashing economic interests, driven in many cases by species-to-species miscommunication and misunderstanding.

This area of space has some cool beings in it.  For instance, the Stsho.  The Stsho are slight, slender, fragile, crested bird-like white beings (even their eyes are pearly white), xenophobic and non-aggressive. Stsho rely on wealth, trade, and alliances to keep their independence; they have devised the trade and legal procedures of the Compact. Although they are tame, stsho are great plotters and can cheat any other species. They hire other species for protection and order keeping in their stations, usually the mahendo’sat. They prefer delicate pleasures and pastel colors, their speech is exceedingly ceremonial and politically correct; they do not physically fight among themselves and their personalities are prone to change (“Phase”) under stress, which has many legal implications. They have three genders, gtst, gtste and gtsto, which can change with Phasing. Only the gtst (indeterminate sex) deal with other species; the gtste and gtsto (equivalent of male and female) do not normally present themselves to foreigners. There is a fourth state of being, gtsta, which is also known as Holiness. This is a sexless state usually achieved by an aged, honorable Stsho. A Stsho who is in the process of Phasing from one state to another is gtstisi. They permit no other oxygen-breathing species in their territory.

Then there are the methane-breathers, the Tc’a and Chi, and the K’nnn.  Tc’a are large methane-breathing five-eyed yellow snakelike beings, and the chi are yellow arthropod-like creatures. The two species are related in a way none of the oxygen breathers understand, but are (presumably) symbiotic. They are very technologically advanced and powerful, although understanding them is tricky at best, since their brains are multi-part and their speech decodes as complex matrices of intertwined meanings. They run the methane side of most space stations.

The Knnn, the third methane breathing species, multi-legged tangles of wiry black hair, are the most technologically advanced in the Compact. Unlike other known species, they can maneuver in hyperspace and carry other ships with them. Only tc’a can communicate with them (or claim they can); the Knnn are incomprehensible and therefore deemed dangerous by the other species, not to be provoked. They trade by taking whatever they want and leaving whatever they deem sufficient as payment behind; it is an improvement over their prior habit of just taking trader ships apart.

These groups are all linked by the Compact, an trading and anti-war agreement.

The Pride of Chanur is the name of the spaceship, captained by Pyanfar Chanur, and her all-female crew.  While at a station unloading cargo, a secretive creature secrets itself on board.  It is a human, escaping the viscious Kif.  His name is Tully, and by means of a translator tape, the crew begin to understand what happened.  So basically it is about the Kif chasing the Pride to get their prisoner back, and attacking the station of Chanur’s home world, where Pyanfar’s husband has been deposed by a younger man, and Pyanfar takes him onto the spaceship with her, and absolutely unheard of action.  Men did NOT go into space.

As are all of Cherryh’s books, it is highly political, full of manipulations, machinations, betrayals, treacheries, and some nifty ideas about the values of different cultures.

In the end, Tully and the husband stay on the ship, which, two males together can be really problematical for the Hani, works out really well, because it is not an issue for Humans.  Eventually, a Human ship arrives in the world, from Alliance-Union space, and Tully is reunited with his own kind.

So now we have Lions and Rats and Apes and Weird Species in Space.  Totally fun.

FINITY’S END by C. J. Cherryh

The last of the Company Wars collection set in the Union Alliance universe.  Definitely a stand alone, but it helps having some general background on the war, the three sides, Earth’s Union, (the Company), the Alliance, made up of rebel merchanters, and the former Company fleet commander Maziani and his 7 or so remaining rebel-turned-pirates ships, now lurking somewhere in deep space, and helpful to have read Downbelow Station,   which is all about the indigenous alien species living there, known as the Downers.

Finity’s End is a merchanter ship,  the oldest Merchanter ship in the universe, and the ship is coming home to Pell Station to reclaim her trade routes. Having lost an entire generation, the youngest crew members, bred and trained for war, must face their most critical battle of all–survival in a time of lasting peace.

The story follows Fletcher, born on the ship 17 years ago, whose mother and he were left by the ship on Pell because she was very ill, and the ship was going into dangerous territory.  Because he was on Pell when the ship was attacked, and so many were lost, he is the only one of his generation to survive, and the ship wants him back.   His mother was a junkie, addicted to the jump drugs, and committed suicide on Pell when he was only five years old.  He then spent the next eleven years being shunted from foster home to foster home, mostly due to his own behavior.  At one time, cowering lost in the utility tunnels of Pell, he was rescued and befriended by two Downers, which led him to his desire to study further their culture.

So he walked the straight and narrow,  has been studying planetary biology, and has been assigned to live on Downbelow, to continue his studies and work with the Downers.  He loves the rainy and dreary planet/asteroid, (whatever it is) , and is happy there when he is pulled out and sent to live with his cousins on Finity’s End.  He is really really unhappy about that.

The story is also about JR, who is on command track for captaincy of the ship, and has been assigned charge of all the juniors, and must deal  with the difficult task of handling the recalcitrant Fletcher.

It has a YA feel to it, yet not.   Stuff happens, Fletcher and his roomie save the day, and all’s well that ends well, as we Shakespeareans say.

This book is all about the people, and has very little political angle to it, whereas in comparison, Cyteen is very heavy political, political intrigue, the politics of the war, etc.

I am sorry to see this series end, but I am on to the Chanur series, about beings in a totally different region of vast space who mostly have never even heard of humans.