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The Faded Sun Trilogy
C.J. Cherryh
DAW Books, 775 pages

Art: Michael Whelan
The Faded Sun Trilogy
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. She was Guest of Honour at Bucconeer, the 1998 World Science Fiction Convention, in Baltimore.

The Faded Sun trilogy contains the novels: Kesrith (1978), Shon'jir (1978), and Kutath (1979).

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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

Cherryh's Faded Sun trilogy is another of the works I've recently had the guilty pleasure of rereading after a long time. This SF series is the second she wrote, close on the heels of the Morgaine trilogy [Gate of Ivrel (1976), Well of Shiuan (1978), and Fires of Azeroth (1979)], although publication intermingled the two series on bookstore shelves.

The Faded Sun trilogy opens in the uneasy aftermath of a galaxy-spanning war hard-fought between humans and humanoid mri mercenaries, hired by the decidedly inhuman regul. Regul scorn physical combat; they are, in fact, incapable of fighting or even walking once they reach adulthood and gain the mass which overwhelms their limbs and forces them to resort to moving via personal floating "sleds." To the regul, with their eidetic memories and downright horror of the abstract, humans are atavistic, possibly insane -- but potentially lucrative trade partners, for those regul with the stomach for it.

First, however, the new human governments must be settled into place on former regul worlds, including arid, alkaline Kesrith -- in spite of the fact that the regul long ago ceded the planet to the nomadic mri as a new homeworld. That hardly seems to matter now, however, since there are only about 500 mri left alive out of all the troops they began with. As the regul prepare to hand Kesrith's administration to the in-coming human governor, George Stavros, and his assistant, former Surface Tactical Forces Lt. Duncan Sten, aboard science vessel Flower, the final fate of the remaining 13 mri on Kesrith is up for grabs.

Niun and his sister Melein are the last of all the mri children of the Kesrith edun. As direct descendants of the She'pan, leader of the edun, they have been kept close to home -- a fact Niun resents bitterly. A warrior, kel'en of Kel caste, Niun should have gone to fight with the others of his generation, should have had a chance to test himself, to earn honour and even death in battle. No matter that the regul ruthlessly wasted their mri forces, sending them repeatedly into hopeless pitched battles where all mri concepts of honourable combat were rendered meaningless.

"Humans were mass fighters, animals of the herd, and simply understood no other way of war... Humans rejected a'ani, honourable combat, would not respect challenge, understood nothing but their own way, which was mass destruction."
Even so, in his youth Niun believes death is better than wasting away in a dying edun.

Niun isn't the only one feeling betrayed; Stavros' assistant, Duncan Sten, has similar concerns.

"Sur Tac. Surface Tactical Force. Like the scientific personnel of Flower, he was an expert; his skills, however, were no longer needed on Kesrith or anywhere. The War was over. He had become like the mri, obsolete."
Now with treaties signed, the contract between regul and mri is finished. But the regul still worry. What if... what if humans hired these pitiful few mri, and managed to find other mri too, on worlds the regul don't know about? What if humans and mri turned on regul?

When a ship arrives with more than 400 mri -- survivors of the war, all that truly remains in regul space -- and Niun's She'pan sends him to speak with them, regul suspicions turn deadly. A chance meeting between Niun and Duncan in the spaceport sets it off. The regul destroy the mri ship. Then they destroy Niun's home, the last remaining edun on Kesrith. Niun, and miraculously Melein, are the only survivors of what Duncan sees as out-and-out genocide, and Duncan is determined to keep them alive as long as Stavros will give him the chance. Even if it means further estranging himself from his own kind, even if the mri hate him for interfering, for keeping them alive when by rights they should have died with the rest of their kin.

"We either survive as we were, or we have failed to survive. We are mri; and that is more than the name of a species, Duncan. It is an old, old way. It is our way. And we will not change."
Before the trilogy is done, Duncan and the mri risk everything to find the original mri homeworld and to make places for themselves there, even as human and regul forces follow, with deep suspicion on all sides. After all, as the regul saying goes, "If all witnesses die... there is no event."

Cherryh's masterful skill at drawing the reader smoothly into alien mindsets and cultures is impressive. Using what is sometimes called an "intense" third person point-of-view, her writing achieves a depth and intimacy between reader and characters that few can match. Here too is the early treatment of what has become a consistent theme in so much of the author's work: the impossibility of understanding a culture without truly understanding its language. To understand the mri, one must understand shon'ai, the Game of the People, the passing-game. The Kel play shon'ai with knives while other mri play with wands or stones. To be mri is to play the Game, its player-to-player, hand-to-hand passing rhythm "as old as time and as familiar as childhood." To play the game is to cast oneself -- one's fate -- forth from the hand, to let go, to make the leap forward freely, and without fear.

Copyright © 2000 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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