Christie Meierz writes space opera and science fiction romance set on a world of empaths at the edge of a dystopic Earth empire. Her published works include her PRISM award-winning debut novel, The Marann, two additional novels (Daughters of Suralia and The Fall) and a collection of short stories, Into Tolari Space. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America, spent 10 years raising sheep in upstate New York, and has been declared capable of learning Yup’ik.
Christie now lives in Pittsburgh with her mathematician husband and an assortment of stuffies. When she’s not writing, she writes about writing on her blog, Meierz Musings, her personal Facebook page, where she welcomes comments and friend requests, and her Facebook Author Page.
I started reading CJ Cherryh not long after she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, back in the 70’s, beginning with Kesrith, the first volume of the Faded Sun trilogy, and going on from there. She became something of a hero to me. A woman, a writer, bringing alive whole universes, several of them, and blowing my youthful mind—I was 18 when I first read Kesrith—right out of the water.
Life got in the way, however, as life will do, and by 1994, Foreigner slipped right past me, along with each of its sequels: all fifteen (soon to be sixteen) of them. Oh, I was aware of them, of course, but I didn’t pick up a copy of Foreigner until January of this year.
And couldn’t put it down. These books are like metaphorical potato chips—you can’t read just one.
The first opens as the colony ship Phoenix experiences a navigational error and drops into normal space not at the friendly yellow sun they were aiming for, but a deadly blue-white one. The colonists and crew manage to collect and refine enough fuel to get the heck out of there, but not before losing their best and brightest to its hard radiation, and they never do find their way back either to Earth or their original destination. They make their way instead to a nearby yellow star, which just happens to host an inhabited planet peopled by a steam age civilization: the humanoid atevi.
And so the stage is set to follow, 200 years later, the life and adventures of Bren Cameron, human, diplomat, and translator, the sole interface between the human colony on the island of Mospheira and the aiji, or ruler, of most of the planet, whose name is Tabini. By this time, humans have leaked enough technology to get the atevi into the computer age, and Bren’s job, as he understands it, is to keep that technology flowing at a rate that doesn’t disrupt atevi culture or cause damage to the environment. He comes to the job young, and Tabini is also young, and they get along very well.
So far so good—or so he thinks.
What grabs me about these novels is that they’ve got a little of everything: adventure, drama, deep introspection, political machinations, space travel, more aliens, and even a touch of romance. Cherryh paints a vivid and richly detailed culture in her atevi. Though head and shoulders taller than a tall human, they are humanoid to the point of being sexually compatible with humans. But appearances are deceiving, and neither species is equipped to truly understand the other. Add into the mix family drama on both sides, particularly Tabini’s grandmother, Ilisidi, who becomes a continuing character throughout the series: powerful, indefatigable, and scandalous, she tests new human associates by poisoning them. And with the ninth book, Cherryh begins to treat us to scenes through the eyes of Cajeiri, Tabini’s young son, to give us more insight into the way atevi think and view the world.
Meanwhile, Bren Cameron matures, and develops, and dodges bullets. And since I read Kesrith, I’ve matured, and dodged bullets, too. I think that is one of the delights of discovering the mature work of a writer you love. When I was 18, I wanted new vistas, and adventure, and something exciting and different. I still want those things, but experience has taught me about consequences, and choices, and regrets. Happy endings have to be fought for, and you can never be the person you were at the beginning of the story. Not really.
Cherryh’s Foreigner stories reflect this reality. Unlike her early novels, they’re not self-contained. They can’t be, for the same reason that Bren still has to deal with a meddling mother and other domestic crises while trying to keep the peace between the humans and atevi. Things like that just happen in the real world.
Which is not to say that the stories are predictable. (Well, the trouble that Cajeiri gets into could be an exception; he may be atevi, but he is very much a little boy.) Cherryh displays a historian’s touch that lends a definite sense of unfolding history to this series, and the dilemmas and achievements of the characters are very real.
The stories I grew up with, have grown up too. I find that realization, like the Foreigner series itself, deeply satisfying.