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Defender
C.J. Cherryh
DAW Books, 314 pages

Defender
C.J. Cherryh
C.J. Cherryh attended the U of Oklahoma and received a B.A. in Latin in 1964 before moving on to Johns Hopkins for an M.A. in Classics. Her awards include the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and Hugo Awards for her short story "Cassandra" and her novels Downbelow Station and Cyteen.

C.J. Cherryh Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Hammerfall
SF Site Review: The Faded Sun Trilogy
SF Site Review: Finity's End
SF Site Review: The Dreaming Tree

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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C.J. Cherryh's Defender is very much a part of the Foreigner series in which it is the 5th volume. There is plenty of intrigue, starting in the opening paragraphs where Bren Cameron begins to suspect he doesn't know what's going on. There is an overriding concern with minute distinctions in the language and actions of the characters. And there is the marvellous attention to detail that makes the culture of the atevi one of the most complex, multi-layered creations in science fiction.

Bren Cameron is the paidhi, the human most knowledgeable about and ambassador to the atevi. At least that is true in Foreigner at the beginning of the series. By Defender, Cameron has become a force in atevi politics and close associate of Tabini, the most powerful Atevi ajii, or lord. It is Cameron who is in charge of balancing the negotiations between Tabini, the humans settled on Mospheira, and the humans living on the space station in orbit around the planet.

Cameron's problems quickly multiply. Captain Ramirez dies, and Bren finds himself out of communication with Tabini, the agreements made in Precursor, the previous volume, seemingly dissolving, and his own status in doubt. The novel proceeds as Cameron tries to grab hold of events, afraid that he no longer can control or influence them.

As the middle of a three part story, Defender suffers the usual defects. We're being set-up for the big finish in the next novel, so it's not a book to pick up if you're not at least somewhat familiar with the story. Better to start at the beginning.

And some will find that much of the action, from assassinations to Bren's mother's illness, takes place offstage. A large part of the novel takes place inside the head of Bren Cameron, with events learned of second-hand and after the fact.

But those criticisms look different if you read Defender, indeed the entire series, not as novels of human emotion and drama, but instead as examples of machimi, the most popular theatrical form of the atevi.

Machimi plays are akin to human adventure stories in some respects but are focused on the concept of manchi, the almost instinctive feeling of loyalty that ant atevi feels towards his or her leader. Manchi is a very personal and private matter; to question an atevis' manchi is a grievous insult and, if the atevi is powerful, doing so invites a visit from the Assassin's Guild. It is only in the machimi plays that an individual's manchi is ever discussed, and for the atevi the essence of machimi is determining where the main character's manchi truly lies. It is quite difficult to understand the motivations of the atevi characters without thinking in terms of manchi and machimi. If you compare statements in the novels about the style and requirements of machimi, you find that the books conform almost exactly to the model Cherryh lays out for them

In Defender, as it was in Foreigner, it is the paidhi's manchi that is in question. It is entirely appropriate that his thoughts and his worries are at the centre of the story. The other events are proof that when manchi is in doubt all relationships are in doubt, and the character's personal universe is in turmoil. Thus to an atevi reader the most telling moments in Defender are when Ilisidi, Tabini's grandmother, arrives on the station and doesn't invite Bren to dinner, and the moment when Jago assures the paidhi where her manchi flows, and not, as a human reader might expect, when Bren reconciles with his family or solves the problems of Captain Sabin.

Framing the novels as machimi also allows Cherryh to indulge in what she does best: to take us inside the head of a character for whom the fate of thousands literally hangs on every word. Not everyone likes this, and if you prefer the action in a story to be up-front and centre, Defender might not be for you. But for those who appreciate it, the Foreigner series is about as good as it gets.

Copyright © 2002 Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson lives and reads in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the best live machimi is rumored to take place across the river in St.Paul. His reviews also appear in The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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