Visions of Paradise

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sunfall (The Collected Short Fiction of C.J. Cherryh, part one)

Sunfall was originally published in 1981 as a collection of stories showing life in six great cities as Earth’s sun nears the end of its life. This premise has been used previously, most famously by Jack Vance, but Cherryh is neither interested in magic nor frivolity, concerning herself with an incisive look at the people who might be living in those ending days.

The book was republished in 2004 as part of the omnibus The Collected Short Fiction of C.J. Cherryh, which included the complete Sunfall (with the addition of one more city Venice), her general collection Visible Light, (from 1986) and an additional 300+ formerly uncollected pages. Cherryh is one of my favorite writers, and her stories are nearly all detailed studies of people struggling to cope with difficult situations. They are generally well-plotted, and the characters always progress in one direction or another, often ending in carefully-paced thrillers.

Sunfall differs slightly form a typical Cherryh story, being more poetic as it deals with the aura and feeling of each city as it nears the end of its long existence. The first city is Paris in “The Only Death in the City,” where most people are reincarnated endlessly, renewing their former lives each time. Thus two men Pertito and Legran have hated each other for centuries, and end up fighting and killing each other every reincarnation. But Alain is a newborn, a rarity in Paris, trying to live among all the ancients who have lived for centuries at least, perhaps even millennia. He falls in love with another teenage girl who actually is the reincarnation of one of the oldest people in Paris. She is amused by his passionate love, but has no interest in such a youngster. Still he pesters her until she agrees to four years of love followed by his death, presumably to be reincarnated again. Until Death herself takes an interest in the couple, and when Death takes one’s life no reincarnation is possible.

“The Haunted Tower” (London) tells the story of the mistress of the Lord Mayor of a future London, who has somehow offended him and is imprisoned in the Tower of London. She believes she will regain the mayor’s affection when he speaks to her again, but she begins doubting herself when she receives nightly visitations from the ghosts of former inhabitants of the tower, such as the two princes, Anne Boleyn and the Earl of Essex. This story builds to a suspenseful climax, which is totally unexpected and very well-done. This is one of Cherry’s finest pieces of short fiction.

“Ice” (Moscow) is one of Cherryh’s most poetic stories, strongly reminiscent of the short fiction of Roger Zelazny. It concerns a hunter who is one of the few people who ventures outside the gates of the city into the endless snowstorms to capture food for Moscow’s residents. He enjoys his work until a pack of wolves begin stalking him, endangering his life and making his occupation seemingly impossible.

“Highliner” (New York) tells about teams of people who do repairs outside the immense skyscraper which has become the entire city. One team is approached by a mysterious man who offers them a bribe to overlook certain structural deficiencies in the building. Reluctantly, they agree, but soon afterwards they find themselves trapped outside the city as one-by-one their lines are cut and they fall to their death. This is a crime story, with an unexpected conclusion which I found very satisfactory.

“The General” (Peking, since the book was published before the western world began using the pinyinization Beijing) is based on the historical Mongolian hordes which swept out of northeast Asia and conquered China as part of its overall conquest of much of Asia and Europe. The general is old and as he weakens physically, so does his hold on the various tribes under his command. As his horde nears the walled Forbidden City, he struggles with his army as the inhabitants of the city prepare for the invasion.

“Nightgame” (Rome) was both the shortest and weakest story in the book, a minor misstep in what was otherwise a superb one-author theme anthology which never lost sight of either the overarching theme or the fact that each story must be a complete tale in itself.

Anybody who reads Sunfall as part of The Collected Short Fiction of C.J. Cherryh got a seventh story “MasKs” (Venice) as part of the collection, and it is definitely a worthwhile novella set during carnevale about the power struggle between a young doge who came from the middle class and an aristocrat from Verona who wishes to overthrow him. The story is told from the point of view of the intended bride of the aristocrat who falls in love with a mysterious stranger whose identity remains hidden behind the masks of carnevale. While the ending is a bit pat, the story itself is as fine characterization as Cherryh has ever written.

For the sake of reading “MasKs”, I recommend you buy The Collected Short Fiction of C.J. Cherryh, whose further review will be continued...


  • I am woefully behind on my Cherryh reading. She was one of my favorites back in the 70s when she first appeared. I enjoyed reading the serialization of The Faded Sun: Kesrith in Galaxy. Her Morgaine books impressed me when they were first published. Somehow, I have not read much of her work since then. She is one of the authors I plan to read this year because of your reviews.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 6:17 AM  

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