C.J. Cherryh, Foreigner

I've been cranky lately, and my reviews have been a little harsh as a result: I stand behind them, but I recognize that I've compromised less than I might've done.

C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner, now, I don't need to compromise for. Recent SF reading has gone smoothly, and I've been cranky about realist fiction and about nonfiction (especially scholarly work), so presumably there's something biographical getting in my way. For now, though, there's no point worrying about that.

The gist of the book: future humans travel extremely long distances through space, drawing on the (drug-assisted, tech-modified) talents of pilots whose resulting abilities are near superhuman. The book, though, isn't about that. It's about what happens when something goes wrong, something that never gets explained (at least in this first volume of the series), and a ship winds up at what might approximate entirely the wrong end of the universe. So lost, are they, that they can't figure out a single reference point from the star charts, which isn't at all the same as that time you went out the wrong exit at the mall and had to walk five minutes in the rain.

And so, some generations in, they wind up encountering the humanoids on the planet they're orbiting: first contact is startling and shocking and predictably disturbing. But just like the book's not about getting lost, it's also not about first contact.

Far more intriguingly, it's about prolonged contact with another humanoid species whose instincts and social prescriptions look similar but are so utterly different that there's been no substantial rapprochement whatsoever. (And yes, as a matter of fact I do know "rapprochement" refers to the concept of a return: give me a similar "come together for the first time" term, smart guy, and I'll use that instead.)

Foreigner is the first novel of an in-progress and hence still-growing 14-novel cycle, so there's no news to be found in my thoughts on it. I would say, though, that Cherryh's attention to detail about ecological function and environmental ethics fascinated me, especially because it's so far below the surface most of the time. It's rare to find someone thinking this carefully about such questions, who isn't then foregrounding the questions and answers. (Yep, I'm looking at you, Le Guin, as much as I've enjoyed so far my time spent with your work!)

Plus she's so damned normal, C.J. Cherryh, if her blog is anything to go by. Apparently, it just so happens that even successful SF/fantasy novelists who live with other successful SF/fantasy novelists do small-time renovations with their own hands, renos that do not always go smoothly. Cool to share this kind of detail, even if I won't be visiting the site very often given the amount of reading I've got ahead of me....

Comments

Fraser Hannah said…
Luckily for all of us, the novels run in threes. At the end of each trio there's a substantial wrapping up, so we can bail out there and not miss too much. Except that the sequels are equally good, dammit!

I recall that Foreigner is a bit like The Fellowship of the Ring: it does a good job of setting up the situation, but there's a definite lack of conclusion, not to mention rapproachment.

I particularly love the main character's job: he's sort of an applied academic, the best of the best at the job, which is diplomat/linguist/xenoanthropologist/ecologist.

Yes, ecologist, because a major part of his job is talking the aliens out of taking up humanity's destabilizing technologies. Like, you know, gasoline and roads and mass production.

Fucking foregrounded, I'd call that.

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