Cherryh, C. J. Deceiver.

NY: DAW, 2010.

Carolyn Cherry(h) has published sixty-odd novels in the past nearly forty years and has picked up every available award several times over. She likes to do trilogies and short series, but her best-known books fall into two categories: The “Alliance-Union” novels, which share a universe and are often connected by background characters, but each of which stands alone; and the “Foreigner” series (of which this is the eleventh), which are a continuing saga and absolutely must be read in order, beginning to end. The set-up is simple:

Several generations ago, a human colony ship was forced to land on an unexplored world already inhabited by a highly intelligent humanoid species — the atevi — whose civilization was at roughly a medieval level by human standards. After misunderstandings and misgivings and a brief, bloody conflict, the humans were ceded the large island of Mospheira, off the mainland, and have made their cloistered home there ever since. Part of their treaty with the atevi was the establishment of the office of human “paidhi” — a combination translator and explainer of atevi and humans to each other, hopefully a keeper of the peace, and a manager of how much earth technology should be released to the atevi and at what rate, in order to avoid cultural disaster. The atevi are in some ways very human-like — except considerably larger — but their psychology is decidedly different. Especially of interest is “man’chi,” the sense of loyalty and association that is hardwired into every (sane) atevi. Bren Cameron is the latest in the series of paidhi and he has developed immensely from nervous novice in the first of this series into the diplomatic near-genius of this current installment. As the years have passed, he has become less involved with the humans on Mospheira and is now more concerned with maintaining the authority of Tabini, the “aiji,” or head of the Western Association, which is now the preeminent political organization in the world. Bren is convinced that’s the only way atevi society will maintain its stability until it reaches a level of true sociopolitical unity, and he is now very, very good at his job. Being a theoretically neutral non-atevi has its advantages in dealing with the intricacies of atevi politics.

One of Bren’s own principal associates is Ilisidi, the aiji’s grandmother, a very powerful political force in her own right and sometimes a bit scary when pursuing her own aims. The word for her is “wily.” For several novels now, another important supporting character has been Cajeiri, the adolescent heir to the aiji-nate, who is bright, wayward, inventive, and always a handful — though he’s finally beginning to grow up. Cajeiri has spent part of his formative years in space (with Bren and Ilisidi) aboard a joint atevi-human ship going to contact another, much more alien species, so he’s also somewhat different in psychology and world-view from his father — or, indeed, any other world-bound atevi who hasn’t had his experiences. (I suspect that when Cherryh closes out this excellent series — if she ever does — it will be with the accession of Cajeiri to his father’s “throne.”) This volume picks up very shortly after the last one left off, with the padhi having to deal with the clans in the south of the continent who are trying to take advantage of the recent civil war (which broke out while Bren was off-world) in order to take over the west coast, which they’ve been trying to do for centuries. One thing leads to another, and Bren finally finds himself more involved than he ought to be, as a possible pawn of the aiji — but he’s a negotiator and he hopes he can handle things while keeping his skin intact. Unfortunately for those incapable of delayed gratification, the end of this volume leaves several points hanging, and I’ll be waiting impatiently for the next installment. As I said, if you haven’t read the first ten novels in the series, this one won’t mean a thing to you — so go and do that right now. And if space opera and ray guns are your thing, this series may not be (though there’s certainly plenty of sometimes violent action), but Cherryh is perhaps the expert among SF authors at political and anthropological detail and I find nearly all her books fascinating.

Published in: on 29 November 2010 at 4:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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