Monday, August 26, 2019

56. The Kif Strike Back by C.J. Cherryh

Argh, I thought this, the third in the Chanur series, was the final!  I cry out in half-joking terms because while the Chanur series has not so far been the easiest of reads, I am starting to really get into it.  Cherryh herself even writes an explanatory and appreciative afterword about her publisher allowing her to write a long, complex non-trilogy where each book doesn't end neatly (and with an interesting explanation as to why there are so many trilogies in sci-fi and fantasy).  I realize that this "series" should really be written as a single massive book, like Cyteen.  Also, like Cyteen, while the Chanur series has a decent star map, it would have really helped to also have a list of the various players and which species they were attached to and maybe even the various factions of the Hani (the lion species of whom the Chanur house are the main protagonists).  There is a summary at the beginning of what went on in the first two books that really helped a lot.  I actually learned stuff there that I hadn't gleaned while reading the actual books!

What makes this series challenging is that Cherryh doesn't spell it out for you.  Much of what actually happens is expressed in dialogue or thought by the various characters and the characters themselves often don't know everything or are alien and express themselves in ambiguous ways.  The most extreme case of this is the knnn who communicate in grids of words that can be read with meaning horizontally and vertically because they each seem to have multiple consciousnesses, at least from what the rest of the galaxy understands of them, which is not much (except they breathe methane, have super bad ass ships and just kind of come in and wreck shit from time to time).  So it require careful reading and memory, two of my weaker areas.

Like in Cyteen, the attention does bear rewards.  The politics are complex and made more so by the differences in the competing species (and as we learn more complex by their internal conflicts).  This is the kind of stuff I love and by making it hard to parse, Cherryh makes it all the more realistic.  Also, there is a new threat to captain Pyanfar Chanur and her crew, coming from home-grown bureaucratic conservatives in the form of a kind of police ship that keeps fucking with them.  They really piss me off and I now must get the next book to see how they are dealt with.

I suspect that with most of Cherryh's books, you need to be prepared to invest some time and patience and attention but the end result will be quite satisfying.  I went with these Chanur books after Cyteen because I thought they would be more easily digestible, which was not the case.  Now I know and will prep myself accordingly.  Any suggestions on what would be a good next long read by Cherryh?


Hedgeguard said...

Correction: It's the tc'a, who have multipartite brains, who speak in multi-compartmental grids, not the knnn.

Hedgeguard said...

As for your next Cherryh read, have you read "Downbelow Station" yet? It's arguably her best single book (I vastly preferred it to "Cyteen" myself). And how about the ongoing "Foreigner" series (19 volumes and counting so far, in groups of 3); the first is a bit slow (in order to present the "atevi" culture in sufficient detail, she explains in the second book), but speeds up in the last 100 pages and the subsequent volumes are all fine. There are also the four fantasy volumes of the "Fortress" series (1995-2000) ("Fortress in the Eye of Time," "Fortress of Eagles," "Fortress of Owls," "Fortress of Dragons") and the later 5th 2007 volume "Fortress of Ice."

OlmanFeelyus said...

Ah thanks for the correction! Right, the tc'a, who are also methane breathers, have some form of contact with the knnn, but other than that none of the oxygen breathing races have ever even had any communcation with them.

And thanks for the recommendations. I am curious about how she would do a fantasy setting, so I may keep my eyes out for the Fortress series. 19 volumes, though, for Foreigner, makes me gulp! :)