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Finity's End
C.J. Cherryh
Warner Aspect Books, 564 pages

Finity's End
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 a MA 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 Honor at Bucconeer, the 1998 World Science Fiction Convention, in Baltimore.

C.J. Cherryh Website
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A review by Greg L. Johnson

The Company Wars are over. After nearly twenty years of accompanying the battlecruiser Norway on its mission to hunt down renegade members of the Fleet, Finity's End is returning to Pell Station with a bold idea, a return to the merchant trading business of which it had originally been the first and largest vessel. Finity's End also marks the return of C.J. Cherryh to the Merchanter universe that includes such well-known novels as Downbelow Station and Cyteen. It's great to be back.

Cherryh's Merchanter novels can generally be divided into two categories. First, there are big political epics like Cyteen and Downbelow Station. These novels showcase her sense of history and the way people in power make momentous decisions. Then there are novels like Rimrunner and Heavy Time that focus in on a single character, someone whose life has been torn up as a result of decisions made by other, more powerful people. These novels take advantage of Cherryh's greatest skill as a writer. No one in science fiction writes from inside a character's head better than C.J. Cherryh.

Finity's End combines the two approaches in one seamless package. The political question is how will the shaky Alliance -- Union -- Earth power balance play out now that peace is at hand. James Robert Neihart, Captain of Finity's End, is determined to find a settlement that will preserve the merchanter families and their trade routes.

The powerless character whose life is disrupted is Fletcher Neihart. His pregnant mother was left on Pell Station at the end of the events depicted in Downbelow Station. Seventeen years later, twelve after his mother's death, Fletcher is a troubled adolescent who seems to have finally found a calling working with the Downers on Pell. That ends when he is returned to Finity and his mother's family as part of an agreement between James Robert and Pell Station. He's not happy, to say the least, and much of Finity's End is concerned with how Fletcher fits in with his new family. The politics and intrigue eventually intertwine with Fletcher's life, culminating in an explosive ending to a riveting story.

Long time readers of Cherryh's work will find much that is familiar here. Old characters like Elene Quen, Damon Konstantin, and Satin make appearances. Ariane Emory, Mallory, and Mazian hover threateningly in the background. This makes the novel a more welcome homecoming for the reader than it is for Fletcher. It also means Finity's End could be a difficult read for someone new to Cherryh's universe. Downbelow Station and Cyteen are better places to start.

Over the course of the last two decades, Cherryh's Merchanter universe has grown into one of the great future histories of science fiction. The combination of realistic portrayals of large-scale power politics and intensely driven characters, many of them on the fringes of a rapidly evolving culture, make it impossible to judge the characters in simplistic, good or bad terms. This juxtaposition is especially effective in Finity's End. At the same time she is cluing you in on why James Robert has decided that the merchanters must put an end to smuggling, Cherryh makes you feel what its like to be part of a large trading vessel, with its day to day needs of laundry and lunch. And action is just as likely to erupt out of the laundry as it is a tension filled meeting with captains from other ships.

C.J. Cherryh writes novels that examine eternal problems of power and politics on a grand scale. And by focusing in on the internal doubts and troubles of her characters, she assures that the reader understands her characters and their actions on a personal level. The result is a body of work that engages both the intellect and the heart. Few writers of any kind can do more.

Copyright © 1998 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson lives in Minneapolis and fulfills his fan activity quota as associate editor of Tales of the Unanticipated.

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