Thursday, July 8, 2010

Foreigner - C.J.Cherryh

This is a huge series - 11 books and counting. I discovered it, the way I've discovered so many of the really awesome books I've been reading recently, via Jo Walton's blog.

The series is organized into trilogies which makes it easy to read and feel like you have a good stopping point. Getting started is a little tricky - there are two short 'Prelude' style stories which give some necessary background, but aren't really indicated as being only background. So you start reading, start getting really interested in this situation happening on a ship lost in space...and then you're years and years into the future as the descendants of those people have just landed on a habitable planet...and the story has just gotten going, they've just encountered the alien species, when you're suddenly thrust 200 years into the future into what seems to be an assassination attempt on a human who is living and working with the aliens. By this point you've become quite wary of getting emotionally involved in any of the characters, which is a shame because you've just met the main character of not only this book, but of the entire series to date.

It is a fun story. The aliens (Atevi) are very humanoid, but emotionally are nothing at all like humans - their language has no word for friend, and their entire society revolves around assassination being a reasonable alternative to conflict resolution. They do have emotions, but their emotional reactions are quite tricky for humans to logic their way through. Bren Cameron is the paidhi - the interpreter - the only human who is allowed to interact with the Atevi so as not to accidentally provoke another war, and the mediator of a technology turnover. Humans lost the last war and to prevent getting wiped completely off the planet, they have agreed to turn over all their tech to the aliens (who had worked their way up to railroads when humans arrived), at a pace that will not totally destabilize Atevi society.

The first time through this story is quite hard to follow. Bren doesn't understand what is going on or why until the very end of the book. Re-reading it, the story makes sense. There is a very good reason for what is happening. Bren has already spent many years living among Atevi, but this book is where he really starts to think like an Atevi. He doesn't have their emotional reactions, so he has to logic his way through what is going on - there are often pages and pages of him trying to figure out why people are doing the things they're doing - but it is quite fascinating and feels very genuine.

I've been totally enthralled by this series for most of the past month (which is why I haven't written much of anything at all), but I'm finally at the point of waiting for the last couple books to arrive from the library, so I've managed to stop reading for long enough to start thinking a little about what it is that I've been reading.

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