C. J. Cherryh

A stand-alone fantasy book.

Publisher: Del Rey

Publication year: 1992
Format: print

Page count: 308

Maggiar is a small and rural kingdom. Lately, it’s in trouble and king Stani’s old (and only) wizard Karoly insists that he must seek advice from his witch-sister. Nobody knew he has a sister or that she lives over the mountain where nobody ever goes. Except that Stani’s mother came from a country over the mountain. Trolls and goblins haunt the forests.

Stani agrees to send Karoly with the escort of guards, the master huntsman, and Stani’s two eldest sons. Bogdan is the heir, a brash and proud young man. Tamas is the middle son, quiet and studious. The youngest Yuri is just fourteen and over his protests, he needs to stay. Tamas doesn’t want to take his foundling dog, so he makes Yuri promise to look after him.

The journey up the mountain is hard. The weather is constantly against the small group and Karoly behaves oddly, speaking rarely and then in riddles. When they near Karoly’s sister’s tower, they are ambushed.

Meanwhile, Tamas’ dog runs away and Yuri decides to follow him. Yuri thinks that the dog is following Tamaes, so Yuri takes his pony and little provisions and follows the group.

Russian mythology has clearly influenced this story. The goblins and trolls aren’t what you’ll find in a European-inspired fantasy. Also, while the story has a lot of magic, it’s not clear-cut spell casting. It’s dreams and not being able to do or think what you want to. Willing things to happen and other people’s will is against you. It wasn’t really clear in the book, either.

Tamas and Yuri are the two main POV characters. Both are very young and trying to understand what’s happening around them. Tamas is trying to figure out who he can trust and that’s not easy. But he thinks things through rather than brashly leaping to conclusions. Yuri knows how to take care of himself in the woods, even though this is the first time he’s done it alone. He’s scared but determined to find the dog and later to find his brothers. For his age, he’s very brave. The third POV character is the master huntsman Nikolai, an experienced woodsman who is trying his best to protect the foolish people under his care. The other characters are quite distinctive, even the dead ones.

Most of the book has a claustrophobic, fearful atmosphere. The rambling, repetitive style adds to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, it’s not very clear in places.

I liked the characters and the world, but the writing style didn’t really work for me.

The first book in the Foreigner SF series.

Publication year: 1994
Format: Print
Page count: 426
Publisher: DAW

Other people, including the back cover of this book, describe the Foreigner as anthropological SF and I have to agree. The main draw and attraction in this book is the alien race, the atevi and their culture, and the interaction between the humans and the atevi. This is not an adventure book.

At first glance, the book can be confusing as the first two “books” are just a prelude to the actual story which starts at “book 3” on page 65. Essentially, in book one a human spaceship is lost in hyperspace and after three dangerous years it makes its way to the atevi planet. They don’t contact the locals aliens whose tech level has just reached steam power. In book 2 we see the first contact between the atevi and humans where one atevi kidnaps a human but they’re able to communicate a little. The back cover summarizes the events better than the chapters. Apparently, the humans were able make an alliance with one atevi lord. The humans have far better tech than the atevi. Some atevi attacked the humans wanting their tech and also because the humans had insulted them. The war was ended with a truce in which the humans got a small section of land where their only city Mospheira is now. Also, one human at a time is accepted into the local atevi court, acting as a diplomat and a translator. He or she will slowly give atevi access to tech, so that it doesn’t hurt their planet or culture. However, the atevi way to think is so different from humans that even after generations of cautious contact, humans don’t really understand the aliens.

However, the real story starts on page 65, some 200 years after the treaty was signed. Bren Cameron is the current translator/diplomat (paidhi). By law, he’s not allowed to have any weapons. He’s attacked in the middle of the night. Luckily, the local lord Tabini has given him a firearm a few weeks previous. Bren shoots the assassin but they get away. Because of the attack, Tabini sends him to Tabini’s grandmother’s place in the countryside where they barely even have electricity. The grandmother, Ilisidi, is a strong-willed woman who isn’t happy that she lost the lord position first to her son and then to her grandson. She’s also a very traditional person who hasn’t had contact with humans. Bren has no idea if he can trust her or her staff.

Unfortunately, nothing much else happens. There are a couple of assassination attempts against Bren but he’s kept away from them and only hears about them. Nobody tells him anything. Ilisidi tests him a couple of times, but mostly Bren just sits and wonders what’s going on and thinks about the local politics. I’m afraid it’s not very exciting.

The atevi culture is in the middle of everything. It’s quite different from modern Western culture. They don’t have lands or nations. Instead, they have alliances to people. They also don’t have words for affection or trust. If they can still feel such emotiond, remains to be seen. Part of the legal system are licensed assassins. Most of them work as bodyguards and Bren’s primary protectors, Banichi and Jago, are both assassins. However, for assassination to be legal it must be declared and nobody has declared Bren a target. So, the situation is strange by atevi standards.

Also, they have very strict way in which they need to be seen to behave in public. The higher the rank, the more formal the person (male or female) must be. Personally, I also enjoyed Tabini’s attitude towards eating meat. He, and his household, eat only game:

“[Bren] preferred distance from his meal. Tabini called it a moral flaw. He called it civilization and Tabini called it delusion: You eat meat out of season, Tabini would say. Out of time with the earth, you sell flesh for profit. You eat that never runs free: you call that civilized?”

I enjoyed the atevi characters but I was frustrated by Bren who seemed to be doing noting but arguing with them and moping around. We did learn stuff about atevi history.

Cherryh’s dense style of writing here is similar to Chanur or Faded Suns on the surface. However, the repetitions and lack of action isn’t typical. I’m told that the series gets better. So far the only attraction in the series is atevi culture and characters. I’m hoping the second book will better.

A collection of science fiction short stories by very influential women writers. The oldest was written in 1933 and the newest 1989.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 267
Publisher: Baen

Lots of people are saying the women don’t write, and publish, science fiction. That’s simply not true. As Rusch shows us in her “Introduction: Invisible Women” women have been writing SF since the beginning of the genre attracting readers and winning awards. But readers and critics, both men and women, have many, many ways of marginalizing and outright forgetting women. They write in wrong subgenre, have wrong themes, the science is outdated etc. etc. ad nasaum. Well, Rusch and Baen are now bringing back some of the ignored women whom the younger generation of readers, and writers!, don’t know.

Much to my surprise this collection has only one writer I haven’t heard of before: Zenna Henderson. Actually, I’ve read only one story from these before: Bujold’s Aftermaths. So, I was delighted to read these stories and I dearly hope there will be more.

The stories are in a variety of styles and sub genres from horror to pulp fiction to time travel. I liked the introductions, too, because Rusch tells us the awards and honors these writers have won and the way they’ve influenced each other and the whole genre.

“The Indelible Kind” by Zenna Henderson (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1968): Miss Murcher is a teacher in a small school and Vincent comes to her school. Vincent is eight but he can’t read much. Otherwise, he’s very bright boy and perhaps something more.
This is one of the quieter stories, with the Other as its theme.

“The Smallest Dragonboy” by Anne McCaffrey (Science Fiction Tales, 1973): Keevan is barely twelve and the smallest of the boys who want to be dragonriders. But the more he’s bullied and teased by the oldest boy, the more he’s determined to impress a dragon hatchling.
It’s been decades since I read Pern books but this story brought the setting right back and made me want to read some of the Pern books I haven’t read.

“Out of All Them Bright Stars” by Nancy Kress (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March, 1985): Sally works in a diner. The US government has contact with aliens but Sally and her friends have only seen them on TV. Until one walks into the diner.

“Angel” by Pat Cadigan (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 1987): Angel is the main character’s (MC) friend. He communicates with the MC without words and do all sorts of little tricks. Then Angel sees a strange woman he clearly fears.

“Cassandra” by C.J. Cherryh (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1978): One of my favorite authors but I don’t think I’ve read her short fiction before.
The people call her Crazy Alis because to her only she is a solid person. Other people are grey ghosts walking around in a town which is in flames and crumbling down. Medicines take away her nightmares and allow her to sleep, but they don’t take away the things she sees when she’s awake.

“Shambleau” by C.L. Moore (Weird Tales, November, 1933): The oldest story in the collection mixes pulp fiction and horror.
Northwest Smith is an intergalactic smuggler and not the most gallant of men. But when he sees a girl running from a murderous crowd, he rescues her and even gives her a place to sleep. However, the girl isn’t human and then his real troubles begin.

“The Last Days of Shandakor” by Leigh Brackett (Startling Stories, April 1952): Another pulp story but this time with the subject of lost city. Set in Mars in Brackett’s Eric John Stark universe where Mars, Venus, and some of the other planets are habitable and have their own humanlike people.
John Ross in a man from Earth but he lives on Mars. He studies the local peoples and places. Then he sees a man who doesn’t look like anyone else John has ever seen. He calls himself Corin and at first he refuses to take John to his city, which is apparently dying. But reluctantly he agrees and the two set into a desert on the road to Shandakor.

“All Cats Are Gray” by Andre Norton (Fantastic Universe, August/September 1953): Cliff Moran is a down-of-his-luck captain. Steena of the Spaceways, and her gray cat Bat, are a legend among the spacefarers. When she says that the legendary haunted luxury liner Empress of Mars is drifting close by, Cliff believes her and they head out to capture it.

“Aftermaths” by Lois McMaster Bujold (Far Frontiers: The Paperback Magazine of Science Fiction and Speculative Fact, Volume V, Spring 1986): Bujold is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read this little gem several times.

Falco Ferrell is a pilot and new to the Personnel Retrieval and Identification branch of the Escobaran space military. He and his new partner, MedTech Tersa Boni, have been assigned the rubble of space battle. Their task is to retrieve the bodies, identify them, and send them home. But soon, Falco starts to suspect that Tersa has been in the service for too long.

“The Last Flight of Doctor Ain” by James Tiptree, Jr. (Galaxy, March 1969): Doctor Ain travels around the world and everywhere he goes, people fall sick.

“Sur” by Ursula K. Le Guin (The New Yorker, February 1, 1982): This story is alternate history without any SF elements.
Since she was a little girl, the main character has been fascinated by the reports and books by men who have gone to the South Pole. But the dream of going there herself has seen unattainable, until she gathers a group of determined women who share her dream.

“Fire Watch” by Connie Willis (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, February 15, 1982): A story about the time traveling historians! I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this one.

Time traveling to the past is hard. But it’s even harder when you’ve been preparing to walk with Saint Paul himself – and are sent instead to St. Paul’s in the middle of air raids. The main character tries to prepare as well as possible, but it might not be enough.

Not all of these stories worked for me but most of them are strong and some of them are real gems.

Rusch has a related website: http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/

By the way, some of Leigh Brackett’s work is available on Audible.com if you like audio books.

This is another stand-alone SF.

Publication year: 1980
Format: print
Page count: 250 (The Deep Beyond omnibus)
Publisher: Daw

In typical Cherryh style, the reader is thrown in with little explanation and is expected to deduce things on the fly.

Serpent’s Reach is set in an isolated region of space. The whole constellation is forbidden for outsider humans to settle and they’re only allowed to visit one planet. The reason is the local alien lifeform which is considered very unpredictable. The Majat, as they are called, are an insectoid hive mind species which at first can’t even understand the concept of individuality. Before the constellation was quarantined a group of humans settled there: humans and their genetically engineered slaves, the azi. By the time of this book, the humans have divided into two further groups: the House humans and what they call the Betas. The House humans (called Kontrin) are virtually immortal and possess limitless funds. They rule over everyone else and work with the Majat. They also sell azi to the Majat.

Raen is a young woman in the House of Meth-Maren, a high born human looking forward to a rigid life of duty. Then her entire House is slaughtered but other humans and Majat working together. She’s the only one to escape and she runs to the nearest Majat hive. The Blue Majat Queen agrees to help her and she wants revenge. She and the Blue hive warriors manage to attack Raen’s former home and kill all the invaders there. However, Raen is captured and the hive slaughtered.

Raen is brought before the Kontrin council. Many want to kill her too, but the two eldest Kontrin (Lian and Moth) protect her and just banish her. Raen still has her funds and is allowed to travel freely in Serpent’s Reach. She wanders seemly aimlessly for years, surviving assassination attempts and burning with the need for more revenge. When we see her again, she’s on transport to the corner planet Istra which is the only planet where outsiders are allowed to come. And she has a plan.

The book has several point-of-view characters and none of them are particularly sympathetic. Most of them are only interested in their plots and schemes; the rest are people caught up in them. Raen is driven but near the end she starts to have sympathy towards the people she’s trampling under – and even saves a large group of azi from a horrible fate. Jim is an azi dedicated to Raen. His viewpoint is interesting but also quite focused

The book doesn’t have a happy ending. In fact, it’s quite dark and melancholy in tone. Some of the scenes might even qualify for horror.

The Majat are the most interesting part of the book to me. They don’t have individuals but just units that know everything that the all other similar units know, except when one is given a message to deliver. If they are cut off from the hive mind, they go crazy and the others kill them.

A stand alone SF book. I have it as part of the Deep Beyond omnibus.

Publication year: 1985
Format: print
Page count: 208 in the omnibus
Publisher: Daw

The Cuckoo’s Egg is set in an alien world and the people who live there, the shonunin, look like lions. Duun is a shonun and belongs to a group called hatani; they seem to be a kind of jedi-like warriors and judges. However, they don’t own anything so they aren’t a ruling class.

In fact, Duun has been grievously hurt and his people can’t even bear to look at him. Still, he seems to have a very high status among them. He takes upon himself the task of raising and training an male alien almost from birth. He gives the hairless, clawless alien the name Thorn and trains him according to the best Hatani traditions. Essentially, he teaches the boy to become a warrior and not to ever trust anyone. We see glimpses of the political situation from time to time and more, of course, as Thorn grows.

This is again a tight book. There aren’t much descriptions and the reader has to infer pretty much everything from context.

Thorn is clearly an outsider just from the way that he looks and he wonders often about it when he’s growing up, but Duun never explains anything until the very end. However, Duun also raised Thorn as an outsider from shonunin culture; Thorn grows up on an isolated mountain and doesn’t meet other (shounin) people until he’s almost grown. Duun himself seems to also be an outsider but perhaps more by choice than birth.

Many times I felt sorry for poor Thorn who is thrust into to situation which seems quite cold and harsh both emotionally and physically. Sometimes I wondered if Thorn was even physically capable of the feats Duun demanded of him and surely in a human society Duun would have been accused of child abuse. But Duun doesn’t do it to be cruel but to prepare Thorn for what is to come.

However, I wasn’t really happy with the ending. I don’t think Thorn should have been able to do what was demanded of him based on just his genes.

A stand alone SF book. Part of the Alliance Space omnibus.

Publication year: 1983
Page count: 388 in the omnibus
Format: print
Publisher: Daw

This book is anthropological SF about a colony on a planet which the human inhabitants call Gehenna. It’s written in short scenes and discussions and mission reports and memos. The reports and memos tell things which the characters either don’t know or don’t have to infodump in a conversation.

The story starts on Cyteen where the Union is launching a top secret mission to build a base and colony on Gehenna. Most of the people going are azi who aren’t even told where they’re going or why. Yet, they’re expected to be the workforce of the colony and start their own families, with which they don’t have any experience. The others seem to be mostly military and scientists who are either traveling with their families to get a new start or retiring, like the governor-to-be who has lost his wife and any interest in life.

Unfortunately, the colonists don’t know that they are set to fail. The Unionists are predicting that the Alliance will expand its reach to that part of space, so the colony is sent there are a complication to the Alliance. The loss of life is seen as unfortunate but required for the good of Union.

We follow the start of the colony through the eyes of the governor colonel James Conn, scientist Marco Gutierrez, and azi Jin. Gutierrez especially is excited about the alien life forms on the planet: the ariels and the calibans which are sort of lizard like. The ariels are small and fly around while the calibans are very large and the recommendation is to avoid them. The calibans build mounds but the scientists don’t know much about them. The previous survey decided that they aren’t intelligent. Of course, such a quick assessment leads into all kinds of trouble.

On the planet, things start to fall apart quickly. Conn decides not to do much research, to the frustration of the scientists, and the equipment breaks down. The colonists wait for a promised ship which should have more equipment and personnel but it never arrives.

The azi, and the others, start having kids but some of them behave in strange ways and the adults don’t really know how to deal with them. There’s a sad difference between the azi Jin and his born children who haven’t been been taught by tape but had to learn everything. The kids see Jin as limited and poor Jin picks up o that. Some of the children seek out the calibans and run away.

Alliance ship lands. At first they try to give humanitarian aid; helping people and even trying to educate them. This ends badly, though.

Then the story jumps ahead about a hundred years. The Gehenna people have broken into two different cultures: one is aggressive with strong class differences and gender roles. It has one male leader who is pretty much a tyrant. The other culture seems to work more with negotiations and while the most dominant leader is a woman, it has several lesser leaders, both male and female. Of course, the cultures are in conflict and the Alliance anthropologists get in involved, in both cultures.

I was really intrigued by the idea of the book. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a bit to be desired. There are a lot of people and a lot of years to cover, so the storyline tends to be choppy and jumps around. We don’t spend a lot of time with each character, so they aren’t terribly deep.

I was fascinated by the calibans and their alien ways. In some way, they reminded me of the way the mri bonded with their creatures (the dusei) in the Faded Sun trilogy, but calibans seemed to be far more independent and more alien. Yet, they were integral to the two societies in the latter half of the book.

The Union and Alliance are shown in very different light in this book. The Union’s actions are contemptible: they send thousands of people in a situation they aren’t expected to survive. Poor azi. The Alliance is ready to give humanitarian aid but their efforts aren’t a success. We see the results of their aid through the eyes of Dean who at first didn’t even know anything about planets. When the Alliance people have educated him, he doesn’t fit in with his fellow colonists but neither is he one of the Alliance people. Yet, if I understood things correctly, he was one of the people building the more moderate society.

Some of the wildlings, the people who run away and live with the calibans in the mounds, kidnap people and gang rape them. Yet, nothing is done about it. In the two cultures which evolve, the wildlings seem to be like priests. I really didn’t like that.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book but I would have like to know more about calibans and how the two different cultures formed.

A stand alone SF book. Part of the Alliance Space omnibus.

Publication year: 1982
Page count: 214 in the omnibus
Format: print
Publisher: Daw

Sandor Kreja is the owner and the sole crew of the small merchant space ship Le Cygne. Unfortunately, his family was killed in an attack by one of the Mazian fleet warships. Since then, he has lived in fear and isolation. However, he needs other crew members to run the ship safely. He tries to hire people whom he judges to be harmless: people who won’t cut his throat in the middle of the night or sell him out to pirates. Because the Mazian fleet are technically military, Sandro has forged papers with a different name for himself and his ship. He is also afraid that the forgery will someday be found out but he loves his ship and he can’t give it up.

Then one day he sees a gorgeous woman in a bar and has one night with her. His lonely life has driven him almost crazy and he decided to follow her ship to Pell which is at the intersection of Union and Alliance space. Sandor also thinks that Pell might have better contracts for him. She’s Allison Reilly and she’s part of one of the biggest merchant ships and families around. Sandor knows that he doesn’t have a chance with her but he jumps after her ship anyway. And become something of a celebrity. In the end, Reilly’s ship offers him a contract which looks way too good to be true.

The book starts in a way that at first fools the reader to think that it could be a romance. But it’s not. Sandor (Ed Stevens is his assumed name) has lived his paranoia too long and Allison is level headed enough to know that she can’t trust a stranger. It might develop later into a romance, though, but not in this book.

Even though Sandor and Allison are both space merchants, they come from the opposite ends of the spectrum. Sandor is alone and paranoid and on the edge of legality because of his situation. Allison was born to the ship Dublin Again which has over 1,800 crew, most of them her kind. She works with her cousins and can rely on them to watch her back every time. Her biggest problem is that because of the rejuvenation treatment which allows people to live longer and in far better physical and mental health, her career is unlikely to advance. Ever. But she’s ambitious and willing to take risks. It’s also very hard for her to really understand Sandor’s life and past.

The setting seem to be sometime after the events in Downbelow Station. Union and Alliance have made a tentative peace and Union merchanters are now allowed to trade in Alliance space. The merchanters don’t seem to like either government. Sandor and Allison are Union merchants but they both seem to fear their government. Sandor is terrified that if his forged papers are noticed, he will be brainwashed into a happy citizen.

Allison reminded me of the Chanur traders: Dublin Again is a family ship and her closest crew are her cousins. However, while this book is a fun roller coaster ride, I didn’t click with the characters as well as did with the crew of Pride of Chanur.

A stand-alone SF book which is part of the Alliance-Union universe.

Publication year: 1981
Format: print
Page count: 477
Publisher: Daw

Downbelow Station focuses on political machinations and the misery it brings to people. It has over ten point-of-view characters and unfortunately that makes it somewhat chaotic and fragmented. Several different sides are actively scheming and there are also several people who are just caught up in the changing times. Most of the book is set on Pell Station with quick scenes on Downbelow and various ships.

Pell station orbits the planet Downbelow. The planet has an advanced ecosystem and an intelligent native species, the hisa, also called the Downers. The hisa are a peaceful race but sometimes difficult to understand. The planet has several stations which the humans have built to grow crops and work. The humans have also recruited the hisa to work for them.

Pell belongs to Earth Company but it’s a long way from Earth so in reality it operates independently. Now, Union, which is in war with Earth, has taken over Mariner station and Russell’s Star which are stations very close to Pell, and so war has come to Pell. Mazian Fleet is bringing thousands of refugees to Pell from Mariner and Russell’s. Because of humanitarian reasons, Pell has to take them on but in order to do that, several sections of Pell has to be evacuated and turned into Quarantine zone. Most of the refugees have come without papers and are desperate, so the situation is chaotic. Angelo Konstantin and his sons Damon and Emilio are in effect running Pell, and they try to minimize the chaos.

Meanwhile, Angelo’s rival and brother-in-law Jon Lukas has been running the Downbelow dome for four years. Now, he’s unceremoniously called back and Emilio is sent down. Jon is convinced that this is yet another way to undermine his accomplishments. When he hears about the situation on Pell, he tries to take advantage of it.

Norway is the first warship out of the Mazian Fleet to arrive to Pell. In addition to the refugees, Captain Signy Mallory leaves a prisoner of war to Pell. Josh Talley is a Union operative who was caught in Russell’s and Mallory rescued him, sort of. Josh had been tortured by Russell’s security and then been at the mercy of the disciplined but cruel Norway crew and her captain. He doesn’t remember much of his past and requests Adjustment which would wipe his memory but allow him to continue with his life.

One of the point-of-view characters is Kressich who was a councilor at Mariner before Union invaded it. He’s lost his wife and child. A gang of thugs recruits him as their front man. On the face of it, they keep order on the Quarantine Zone, called Q, but also blackmail people and set up a black market. Kressich justifies this to himself that things would be worse without the gang.

These are about half of the point-of-view characters. Then we have a delegation from Earth who has arrived at a very unfortunate time to Pell and some people who deal with the Union side. I’m not entirely convinced all of these POVs were needed. In fact, until near the end I had no idea what Josh was supposed to do. He didn’t remember much of his past so he was a poor choice if the reason would have been giving the Union a human face.

The writing style is somewhat choppy with short sentences and sometimes a little hard to follow. For once, I would have wanted more details and more descriptions.

There’s an interesting difference in culture between the stationers and the merchanters. The merchanters identify themselves with their family name and the ship. When the ship comes to a station the crew can sleep with whomever they want without jealousy but the stationers don’t understand that. The merchanter ships seem to be somewhat reluctant to abandon Pell when the war escalates but they will do it, if needed. The stationers seem to want to grow roots to one place, a station, while the merchanters are happy to fly from one place to another. Damon Konstantin’s wife Elene is a merchanter who is trying out a life on a station. Unfortunately, we don’t hear much about how it would have worked because of the constant crisis situation.

Then there are the Mazianni, as the people in Mazian’s Fleet are called. The fleet doesn’t have much support from Earth anymore so it seems that they’ve started to raid the merchanters to get supplies. They forcibly take on people, too, whom they think are useful, much like Admiral Cain in the new Galactica (it would be interesting to know if the Galactica writers have read this). The warships are named after Earth countires and continents: Europe, Atlantic, Norway, Africa, Australia… The warships also have four raiders which aren’t capable of FTL jumps (again, like Raptors in Galactica). The warships are used to operating independently from each other, too.

The hisa are an interesting alien species. Apparently, they don’t have the concept of violence until humans came to their planet. They still don’t use violence themselves. We are told that they have strange religious practices but aren’t shown them. They don’t really have technology and they seem to worship the Sun. One of the hisa, Satin, is a point-of-view character but we don’t see much of their culture through her, either. They also don’t speak English very well. In fact, it’s very hard to understand them sometimes. I’m also rather surprised that they don’t have the concept of wife (and presumably husband) but they seem to be pair-bonders. (At least there’s no indication that Satin has more than one mate and there’s even non-violent rivalry between two males over her.)

The mood of the book is quite somber. It’s not a light read. Still, I think that the people trying to take advantage of the situation are very realistic. That’s what you do, when your whole life is threatened.

It was interesting to read Downbelow Station after reading Cyteen because here the Union is seen as the bogeyman who must be fought at any cost. Or if you deal with the Union, it’s the deal with the devil.

The third and final book in the trilogy. It’s part on the Sci-Fi Challenge in the Aliens/starships category.

Publication year: 1979
Format: print
Page count: 265
Publisher: DAW

The book starts soon after the startling events at the end of the previous book, Faded Sun: Shon’jir. Sten Duncan has proven to other humans that he has turned fully into a mri and left the human ship orbiting Kutath. He starts a long and painful trek back to the camp.

Meanwhile, the humans don’t know what to think. Admiral Koch commands the three humans ships Flower, Saber, and Santiago. They have followed the mri for long years to their ancient home world Kutath and they’ve seen dead worlds during their journey. The humans are convinced that the mri are the ones who destroyed the worlds. Combined with the forty years of war against the mri, the humans are quite suspicious of them. However, they can also see that the ancient cities on the surface of the planet aren’t inhabited and that the mri are likely a nomadic people living in tents, so they aren’t willing to just destroy the mri. Unlike their allies, the regul.

The regul are a non-violent species who have employed the mri as mercenaries sometimes against the other regul houses and most recently against the humans. However, the humans and the regul have signed a peace treaty and are investigating Kutath more or less together. The regul are in serious trouble: at the start of the journey they had only one mature adult and lots of younglings. The younglings can’t make decisions; they just serve the elders. Because of this biological imperative, the oldest of the younglings have started to mature which is a long and painful process. It matures as a male and a group of three other younglings mature as females. However, they don’t have any elders around to advice them, so they will have to decide what to do on their own, surrounded by the flaky humans and with the threat of the mri.

On the surface of Kutath the last two remaining mri, from the army employed by the regul, have taken over one of the planet bound mri tribes. The tribe resents the fact that the newcomers have killed their kin and tribe leader she’pan, and yet they have to obey the newcomers and trust that their new leader knows what she’s doing. Hlil and Ras are two mri who were very close to Merai, who was killed, and they both have their reservations. Niun, the tribe’s new warrior leader, worries about the distance between him and the tribe, and starts to even fear that someone might assassinate him. However, he fears most that someone will kill Duncan who is an outsider and none of the other mri have ever seen a non-mri before. The non-mri are despised by custom. He’s also afraid that the regul will just wipe out the whole tribe with space ships. However, the new she’pan calls herself the leader of all mri and she has a plan.

This is a satisfying ending to the trilogy. All three cultures clash while they are trying to understand each other. All of the cultures are quite different and they all wonder if they can trust or understand each other. The regul are non-violent, at least against other people; they kill their own younglings casually. The regul also don’t lie and because they remember everything, they don’t have much written records. They find both the mri and the humans quite baffling. The mri cling to their old traditions and notions of honor which have stayed the same even throughout the several millenia which the mercenaries and the planet bound mri have been apart.

There isn’t much violence in the book but there is a lot of tension. The characters are flawed in their own ways which makes them very human, no matter if they are mri or regul or human. We also find out about the history of the mri. Both the humans and the regul realize that this isn’t an isolated incident but likely will decide the fate of the mri, and also the relations between the humans and the regul for years to come.

A stand alone SF book.
Much to my delight the Finnish library system has four Cherryh books: Cyteen, Downbelow Station, Foreigner, and a fantasy (I think it’s Angel with the Sword).

Publication year: 1988
Format: print
Page count: 680
Publisher: New English Library

The story has several parts which have chapters. The parts are divided by reports or interviews which are, essentially, info dumps about various parts of the universe and the people in it. Luckily, I found them fascinating. The book starts with a description of how humanity spread to the stars first with slower than light vessels and eventually with faster than light crafts. Humanity split into various countries and when distant Earth tried to govern them, there was war.

Cyteen is a colonized planet and the center of commerce for the Union. The planet itself isn’t very hospitable but there are domed cities and space stations where the humans live. At the center of Cyteen is Reseune, a science center which provides all the azi clones. Azis are genetically modified human clones and essentially the worker/slave class. Reseune owns them all and rents them out to others as farmers, soldiers, or anything which is needed. They can also be killed without any repercussions.

Ariane Emory is the old woman who owns Reseune and is also the head of the Cyteen’s Council of Nine. She’s already over hundred and twenty years old. She has a lot of political enemies and is involved with a lot of scheming. The book starts with Cyteen’s ruling body, the Council of Nine gathering and a few of Emory’s enemies are trying to gather dirt about her. They contact Jordan Warrick who is working for Emory but is unhappy with his lot.

When Emory is murdered, the elite people in Reseune and Cyteen are thrown into chaos. Emory has made plans, though, and the administrators follow them: to secretly create a replicate of Emory; a being who isn’t just a clone but whose mind and experiences will be made to match as closely as possible with Emory’s life. They are hoping that they can replicate Emory completely. Emory was a brilliant scientist, a genius and one of the few Specials in existence. Specials are valued so much that the government gives them special privileges.

One of the scientist in Reseune, and a Special, Jordan Warrick, is forced to confess to the murder of Emory. Because he’s a Special, he can’t be convicted or even questioned properly, so instead he’s confined to another city while his “sons”, clone duplicate Justin and azi Grant, are kept in Reseune under close scrutiny. Justin is the secondary POV character in the book. The primary POV is Ariane Emory II when she growing up.

I found this book a fascinating read: here is a society which has been changed because of technological advances. Workers, the azi, are grown for specific needs and bred in tanks. At least some citizens are also bred in tanks and a citizen can have a clone made of himself or herself. Most of the families we see here have significantly older parents and are single parent families. (Of course, we don’t seem much people outside the elite.) Rejuvanative technology has significantly altered life. While it has made lifespans longer, it has made people less fragile in old age. It’s said that people on rejuv don’t have much medical cares until the last couple of years. Except for the side effects of the drug itself. There’s a brief discussion about how this has changed family structures and work life when people can keep on working when they’re 120 years old.

As a mystery reader I was a bit surprised when nobody bothered to find out who had killed Emory. Considering the paranoid atmosphere in Reseune, and the whole book, I would have thought that would be a high priority. Instead, Giraurd Nye, Emory’s number two, brokers a deal with Jordan and forces Jordan to confess publicly to a murder he didn’t do.

I’m not entirely sure that I believe that Nye did everything he could to replicate Emory’s childhood. For one thing, it seemed that the technology was somewhat different (the rejuvenatory technology is especially mentioned as being inferior then) and Cyteen seemed to have been a much smaller place, a frontier. While in Ari’s time it’s a bustling hub of trade and government. Surely, that would have brought quite a lot of differences. I’m also highly skeptical about how different the Emories’ mothers’ fates where. Emory’s mother died when she was seven and so Nye decided to simply send away Ari’s mother. For a long time Ari fantasied how her mother would send for her and surely there would have been totally different feelings of abandonment for Ari. Unless here the administration is seen as inevitable and unopposable as death. Emory’s original parents where scientists but I don’t know if they were as wealthy as Ari’s mother. Also, two azi clones were given to Emory when she was eight, Catlin and Florian. They were killed after Emory died. Ari is also given the replicas of the two azi clones.

I found the dynamic between Justin and Grant to be a mirror image of what we’re told of the “normal” human/azi relationship and what Ari has with her nurse azi Nelly. Nelly has been conditioned to take care of infants and babies. She’s gentle and gets nervous easily so Ari has to tone down her own emotional displays so that Nelly won’t get nervous. Ari can’t shout at her or scold her, and when she grows up, Nelly doesn’t quite know what to do with her. In contrast, Justin is a nervous man and relies on Grant to be his emotional rock. Grant is the one who is cool and calm and collected, and he also often calms down Justin and gives him sanity checks when Justin is at his most paranoid. Of course, they both have a right to be angry about how they have been treated. Because of his experience with Emory, Justin is sexually a wreck and can’t even touch other humans, except Grant.

The azi I found to be interesting and creepy. They are clones, bred in a tank and trained by caretakers; most of them have never had a family. (Grant is an exception to this). They’re trained from very young to do the jobs they’ve literally bred to do. If that means that the azi is assigned to a human, then the azi has been conditioned to love and obey that human, called a Supervisor. It seems that often that human and azi become lovers, and that I found creepy; the azi doesn’t have a choice about it. The conditioning seems to be based on rewards and encouragement. However, the azi working in Security, such as Catlin and Florian, are trained pretty brutally since they just three years old. They don’t have a childhood at all which is sad. There seems to be a group of free humans who are called Abolitionists who want to free the azi. Of course, because of the psychological conditioning and because the azi apparently need the “tape” when they are upset, that’s unlikely to happen.

Little Ari is the main POV character. She’s quite a precocious little girl but of course, she’s very bright and often more intelligent that the adults around her. She learns how to manipulate them quite early. But she doesn’t have any real friends and because Emory’s maman died when she as seven, Ari’s mother is suddenly sent away when she’s seven, too, which was enormously cruel thing to do. She has to grow up fast and she learns not to trust people when she’s very young. The older Emory was given two security azi when she was eight, and Ari gets her replicas of Catlin and Florian, too. The two azi seem to be her only real friends and because Ari is their Supervisor, they have no choice but to obey her every word. That’s a lot of power and responsibility to an eight year old. Luckily, Ari takes her duty seriously.

The plot follows Ari from when she’s very young to adulthood and beyond. She isn’t told about her special standing at first. At the same time, Justin and Grant are trying to do their jobs and live quietly, hoping that one day they can be reunited with their father Jordan. Unfortunately, the administration is very suspicious of them. There are other POV characters but most of them are seen only briefly. There’s a lot of scheming and plotting, a lot. Pretty much everything seems to have political repercussions. The other focus is are the “tapes” which are used to condition the azi to their life and skills. There’s a lot of talk about how complex they can be and how they will affect the next generation.

The themes of the book is power and its use, and who you can trust. Sadly, the answer to the latter seems to be only those who have been conditioned to love you. The first Emory has recorded lessons for young Ari about a lot of thing and we seem some of them. Ari also wonders how much she can be herself and distinct from her predecessor.

The book starts slowly and rather confusingly throwing the reader right in the middle of politics. I had the disadvantage that I haven’t read any other books set in this world so there might be some back story to the politics which I’m missing.

There are a lot of characters in the book and pretty much all of them seem to be miserable even if they are rich and powerful. The atmosphere is very dark and paranoid.

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