Cherryh, C. J. Tracker.

NY: DAW, 2015.

This is No. 16 in the “Foreigner” series — make that saga — so it’s the first of a new three-book arc in what is now a nearly 6,000-page continuous narrative. It picks up within days of where Peacemaker left off, with the cleansing of the atevi Assassins Guild and the return of Cajeiri’s three young human associates back up to the space station after a lengthy visit to the planet — and their first-ever experience of grass and trees and rocks. The atevi don’t have “friendship,” or even “loyalty,” exactly.

They have manchi, which is part of their physical and psychological make-up, and Cajeiri is obviously developing a thoroughly non-atevi sense of manchi toward those three, begun during his two-year residence on the starship that went to far-off Reunion Station and back. Cajeiri, now “fortunate nine” years old (perhaps fifteen in human terms), has been officially designated by his father, the ajii, as the heir to the lordship of essentially the entire continent. But the kid is growing up into a very different sort of atevi, which should make for some interesting developments in volumes yet to come.

But that’s really only the secondary plot, though it also accounts for the headlong action in the last few chapters. The main story is, the kyo are coming. Those are the humanoid aliens whom the starship ran up against, and who are obviously very dangerous indeed. Bren Cameron, the paidhi-ajii (the professional translator, go-between, explainer, and neutral negotiator between humans and atevi), along with Cajeiri and his great-grandmother, Ilisidi (a very formidable lady who runs her own district and also was regent of the ajiinate on two separate occasions) were able to open talks with the kyo, part more or less amicably, and get back to their own world. But the kyo said they would come and visit, and now they’re two weeks away from the station.

On top of all that, there are two human factions — the Mospheirans, who are descendants of the original hapless colonists several centuries before, and the Reunioners, who descend from those who brought the colonists inadvertently to the atevi world — and then went off and left them, which the colonists haven’t forgotten. Now there are five thousand refugees from Reunion Station (partly destroyed by the kyo) crammed onto the local space station above the atevi world, and everyone is cramped and there are shortages, and nobody knows what to do with them. But the atevi and the Mospheiran humans each control half the station by treaty, and there must be species parity in the station’s population, so the refugees can’t stay. And the current human-side Stationmaster is a small-minded paranoid idiot who has to be removed from office and from power before he starts a public quarrel under the eye of the visiting kyo — which would endanger everyone on the planet. And then, . . . it ends in a breathless cliffhanger. I want the next volume! Right now!

If all this sounds complicated, that’s because it is, in spades. But Cherryh is an expert at anthropological science fiction and she never, ever loses control of events or characters. She has also done a consistently amazing job of inventing and describing a fascinating alien species and their society in extraordinary detail. After sixteen volumes, a reader who pays attention — and you must pay attention or you’ll have no idea what’s going on — gets to where you can predict how atevi characters will respond in various circumstances. These aren’t Bug-Eyed Monsters. They’re real, fully realized people — who happen to be black-skinned, seven feet tall, and possess brains that are wired much differently from ours. I hope this saga continues for another couple of decades at least.

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