Visions of Paradise

Saturday, July 21, 2007


I reviewed C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner on my blog on May 14, 2005, followed by a review of Invader on May 06, 2006 in which I said:

Anybody who likes carefully-developed alien races, well-thought-out cultures, and a slow-paced, thought-provoking look at human-alien relations should enjoy Invader, and its predecessor Foreigner, as much as I did. I await the third volume Inheritor eagerly, and hopefully will not wait an entire year to finish this wonderful trilogy.

Well, it has taken me fourteen months to read the third and concluding novel in C.J. Cherryh’s first Foreigner trilogy Inheritor. Of the six main characters in Invader, four of them play major roles in Inheritor as well:
  • Bren Cameron, the paidhi who serves as intermediary between the human_populated island Mosphiera and the nonhuman native atevi who, while humanoid in appearance, are totally nonhuman in philosophical outlook and emotional makeup;
  • Ilisidi, Tabini’s grandmother who was overlooked for aiji twice, the second time in favor of her grandson. She resents that double slight enough to be a wild card whose loyalties are uncertain to the other main characters as to whether she supports Tabini or to the rebels struggling to overthrow him;
  • Jago and Banici, Bren’s bodyguards who are totally loyal to Tabini and hence to Bren as well, since Tabini considers Bren’s position utterly important to his rule;

The original story was set forth in Foreigner:

A colonizing starship from Earth jumped into normal space and realized that it was totally lost and in dire trouble. Eventually most of the would_be colonists decided to emigrate to the nearest habitable world, which was already inhabited by a race called the atevi. The atevi did not welcome the humans, and the unexpected invasion eventually lead to war between the two races. The atevi won, but the humans had considerable negotiating chips in the form of advanced science which they agreed to dole out to the atevi slowly and carefully in exchange for the humans being allowed to live autonomously on a secluded island.

In Invader:

The original colonizing human spaceship returned after two hundred years and begin negotiating both with the humans and with the atevi through Bren. Much of Invader concerns plans for the ship to send two emissaries to the planet, one to negotiate on Mosphiera, and the other with Bren and the atevi.

This brings the fifth important character into Inheritor, Jason Graham, the emissary from the ship to the atevi who is having a very difficult time dealing with being away from his spaceship for the first time in his life with no way to return home. The ship had no space-to-surface capabilities, so the two emissaries parachuted to Earth and are now awaiting the atevi and humans to build their own spacecraft to enable the two emissaries to return to space.

As is typical of this series in particular, and a C.J. Cherryh novel in general, much of the novel consists of inner dialogue on the part of Bren Cameron. The reader learns from his thoughts the political and cultural situation on the planet, as well as both his and Jason’s personal growth and emotional crises. The politics is very complicated indeed, and has grown more complicated since the first book:

  • the atevi are always on the verge of civil war, with various lords forming alliances against others. Tabini is the most powerful lord, equivalent to the planetary ruler, but some lords are determined to overthrow him, while others, such as his grandmother, lie in the vast twilight zone where their loyalties are undetermined;
  • the human government has been take over by an arch-Conservative group which is determined to overthrow Tabini and install another atevi lord friendlier to their interests. One of their cronies is Deanna Hanks, who replaced Bren as paidhi briefly in Invader after he was shot. Eventually she was exiled back to the human island by Tabini, but human public opinion has so turned against the atevi that Bren’s family have been the targets of harassment. Bren does not dare return to the island fearing he will be arrested by the government [Inheritor was published in 1996, so this is in no way a statement about our current federal government];
  • none of the people on the planet, atevi or human, are secure about the motives of the spaceship and the dealings of the two emissaries to the planet.

The first half of Inheritor is a bit overwhelming: too much politics, too much inner dialogue, not much happens. But as in the first two books, as events begin happening, the characters develop into people and the tension grows steadily. By far, the finest character in the entire trilogy is Ilisidi, Tabini’s tough old grandmother who reminded me of Kate Hepburn when she was a senior citizen. Her loyalties play a very large factor in the political outcome of the book, perhaps the largest factor overall, but she was such a likeable old coot that I had no doubt where her loyalties would ultimately reside.

I realized that Cherryh had completely won me over when I got to Inheritor’s climactic scene. It was corny, somewhat deus ex machina, but I found myself so emotionally involved in what was happening that I went back and reread that scene twice, something I almost never do. Halfway through the book I had been questioning whether I was willing to follow up this trilogy with another long, slow Foreigner trilogy, but by its conclusion I was ready to jump into my car and drive to the book store (which I did not do, knowing it would take me another year to fit it into my reading schedule anyway!).

If you enjoy well-developed alien cultures with strong characters, I recommend the Foreigner trilogy highly.


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