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C.J. Cherryh
DAW Books, 408 pages

Michael Whelan
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: Defender
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 Cindy Lynn Speer

This final chapter of the second Foreigner series answers a lot of questions... not only from this sequence, but from the sequence before. Bren Cameron returns as the Paidhi and newly-made Lord of the Heavens, and it will take all his diplomatic skills and his deep understanding of the Atevi to keep the fragile peace between humans and Atevi alive. He has discovered that all their knowledge of the human past may be based on a lie. Recently, Ramirez, the captain of the human ship Phoenix confessed that he falsified reports that the human station, Reunion, had been destroyed by aliens. José, the newly appointed Junior Captain of the Phoenix, and Sabin, his Senior Captain, are fighting one another for information. She knows much much more about the situation than she is telling, leaving Jase to scrape and search for intelligence. Bren is helping him, because the mystery of why Ramirez would do such a thing, and what really lies out at the station worries him.

Explorer is an interesting meditation in psychology and diplomacy. Most of Bren's thoughts are centered around interpreting actions, explaining the likely reason for this being said, or that being done. The world he lives in is a fine-wire mesh of protocol, threaded with politeness that can become as dangerous as a shape knife. Every action has meaning, even the clothes he wears are carefully orchestrated to convey status, both in the world, and in the eyes of the Atevi leader, Tabini-aiji. This makes for a chess game of sorts, because every word is placed like a puzzle piece, making it is impossible to know the agendas of all the players. For instance, Ilisidi, grandmother to Tabini, and the heir to the Atevi are also on the ship. It seems to be a facet of diplomacy, showing the importance of Tabini-aiji, but also honoring anyone who they meet in a diplomatic talk. Yet knowing Ilisidi, one also knows that she would never take part in something so simple, that she has much more on her mind. But how does Bren discover it without insulting her? The last person who insulted her was poisoned in retaliation. I enjoy the delicate balance here, because it makes for a tense read. While Bren, ever the Paidhi, tries to explain and translate everything to the reader, we can see around the corners, discover things that he, despite his loyal network of spies, cannot. He is not in an easy situation, and the more he and his Atevi lover and guard, the enigmatic and wonderful Jago, discover, the worse off the situation seems to get.

The main theme of this whole series has always been, it seems, about being human in an utterly alien society... being the minority among a strange and almost incomprehensible race. I'm trying to recall if the Atevi even have a word for trust in their language. The humans are like dolls compared to the large strong Atevi... a regular human is about as tall next to one of them as a ten-year-old child would be next to us. They are terrifyingly strong, and paranoia and suspicion are refined into the purest of arts. They adapt to everything with an almost child-like exuberance that makes them even more terrifying, because they just leap into any perceived vacuum to keep their race as far ahead as possible. The contrast between the two races is huge, yet, there is optimism here. Despite the huge differences, they try and work for peace. The human Paidhi, for example, are translators and diplomats dedicated to this goal.

Filled with a complex and layers society, and enough intrigue to keep you awake half the night, Explorer is so finely and densely wrought, that you may end up dreaming of sable-skinned giants with gold eyes, and the silver spun delicacy of interstellar politics.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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