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22 April 2007 @ 03:01 am
Foreigner series, by C.J. Cherryh  
Title: Foreigner, + 8 sequels
Author: C.J. Cherryh
...unfortunately I don't have all 9 handy, so I can't give you all the names + total page count.

I passed by these on the bookshelves of various libraries and bookstores for years, and I hope this review will get someone else to stop passing them up too.

What Cherryh does best is create believable, intensely real worlds. I don't like most of her books; I own about six others beyond the Foreigner series and other than the Chanur Saga, I have yet to finish one. However, the worldbuilding in every single one is amazing. If you're into world building and you don't mind unsympathetic characters or storylines, then by all means, I recommend everything she's written.

But even for her, the Foreigner series is above and beyond. Not only is Bren Cameron a sympathetic protagonist, he's a genuinely good guy. He wants to do the right thing, and he wants it badly enough to die for it. Problem is, he's one human among aliens, and he's not always sure what the right thing is, or how to recognize it when it smacks him in the face.

The world building is even more above and beyond, in my opinion. The atevi feel so intensely real that every time I re-read one of the Foreigner books I find myself dreaming in an atevi world. I find phrases from the books creeping into every day speech---and I don't mean like silly references to transporters or the force. I mean like accidentally addressing my class as "nadiin" or my professor as "Tropea-nandi". I mean like catching myself shrugging and saying "Baji-naji" when something is fundamentally undecided, almost like the "inshallah" of the Middle East. What's even more impressive, this book has made me think about facets of being human that I don't think any other book (and that includes psychology texts) has ever caused me to question before. But not in a negative way, no; not question like the Inquisition. I mean take the time to seriously explore in wonderment that we are this way and not some other way. Why do we have friends? Why do we form tight nuclear families? Why are smiles infectious? Why do all our major religions think we should forgive our enemies? Why do groups of humans form the social structures they do? The aliens feel so real that, after re-reading one of these books, I feel that I am the alien.

These books are really in some sense "about" the question of what it means to be human, in the guise of Bren's discovery of what it means to be ateva. But they aren't some dry text. There's also intrigue, cut-throat politics (not quite literally), cross-species sex, and deep emotional involvement on the part of a character who knows that none of the other characters are his friends, and biologically cannot be his friends, ever. They're fast-paced---most of these books cover about a week real-time, each---and intensely addictive. She's contracted for another three, and I can't wait.

All in all, worth reading. One would be ever so grateful if you would, nandiin.
Teresa "Meepa"meepa on April 22nd, 2007 10:25 am (UTC)
PS: My first post. I hope I did okay.
Keilexandrakeilexandra on April 22nd, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)
I usually don't read much SF, but maybe I'll give the first book a try.