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C.J. Cherryh

c.j. cherryh(1942- )
C.J. Cherryh
is the pseudonym of Carolyn Janice Cherry. Her editor used her initials and added the silent h so she wouldn’t look like a romance writer (It’s still pronounced “Cherry”). Her science fiction and fantasy works have won three Hugo Awards, a John W. Campbell Award, a Locus Award, and other awards. You can learn more about C.J. Cherryh at her website.


Gate of Ivrel: A seamless blend of science fiction and fantasy

Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh

Gate of Ivrel is one of C.J. Cherryh’s entries into the science fantasy genre in which we follow the adventures of Vanye, the bastard son of a minor lord in a seemingly medieval world who is cast out for standing up to his oppressive brothers and inadvertently killing one and maiming the other. As he makes his way across the harsh landscape of his world populated by clans who would like nothing more than to end the life of a miserable outlaw he stumbles across a ‘miracle’ in the person of Morgaine: a figure of power and fear out of legend seemingly magically returned and to whom he becomes joined by bonds of duty and obligation. What the reader knows already is that Morgaine is actually an agent from a high-tech society sent to seek out and destroy the many ‘gates’ that were created by the alien... Read More

THE FADED SUN: An epic tale of clashing civilizations

THE FADED SUN by C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh’s FADED SUN trilogy (1978) consists of three books: Kesrith, Shon’jir, and Kutath. They’ve been bundled into an omnibus edition and Tantor Media sent me a review copy of their recently released audiobook version.

The three novels make up a continuous story of clashing civilizations that takes place in the far future with a few alien species on several distant planets. One of these species is the Mri, a race of excellent fighters who hire themselves out as mercenaries to other races. For two thousand years they have been acting as the military arm of a more technologically-advanced and power-hungry race called the Regul. The Regul are not suited to combat because they become heavy and immobile as they age, so they... Read More

The Pride of Chanur: What does it mean to be an alien?

The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh

Cherryh’s The Pride of Chanur combines space opera with some gritty “hard-ish” SF elements in the beginning of a saga that deals with the political and economic ramifications of first contact. In this first volume of the CHANUR SAGA we follow the exploits of a crew of Hani (lion-like aliens) on the eponymous merchant space freighter The Pride of Chanur. Expecting nothing more than a routine run across their trade routes, Pyanfar Chanur, captain of the Pride, imagines the worst trouble she’s likely to have to deal with is her headstrong niece Hilfy. Of course she’s wrong and what was proving to be a rather boring trip becomes deadly as they run across trouble in the form of an alien stowaway while they are docked at the Meetpoint space station.

The reader is thrust into the middle of things which quickly come to a head as Cher... Read More

Downbelow Station: Machiavellian intrigue in space

Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

I’ve had C.J. Cherryh's 1982 Hugo Award winner Downbelow Station on my TBR list for three decades, and was glad I finally got around to it via Audible Studios, ably narrated by Brian Troxell. It’s an intense, claustrophobic, gritty space opera with a huge cast of hard-nosed characters battling to survive the Machiavellian intrigues of freelance Merchanters, Earth bureaucrats, Company fleet captains, Pell station administrators, Union space forces, secret agents, stationers, and (incongruously) cuddly Downer aliens. It's a big, complex story, and not easy to follow on audio, but well worth the effort. I emphasize the word effort, because it takes some serious concentration to keep track of all the moving pieces, and Cherryh’s tough, muscular prose and clipped dialog only reveal enough to keep t... Read More

Merchanter’s Luck: An entertaining space opera

Merchanter’s Luck by C.J. Cherryh

Tantor Audio has recently released two of C.J. Cherryh’s ALLIANCE-UNION novels, Merchanter's Luck (1982) and Forty Thousand in Gehenna, together under the title Alliance Space. I’m going to review the novels separately since that’s the way they were originally published and can still be purchased. However, I love that you can get them both in one Kindle edition or one 22-hour long audiobook! The narration by Daniel Thomas May works well.

In Merchanter’s Luck we meet Sandor, a good-looking, slightly dishonest, 27-year-old merchant with a tragic past who lives on a tiny 150-year old spaceship. Sandor was born a... Read More

Forty Thousand in Gehenna: A new human society evolves

Forty Thousand in Gehenna by C.J. Cherryh

Tantor Audio recently released two of C.J. Cherryh’s stand-alone ALLIANCE-UNION novels, Merchanter's Luck and Forty Thousand in Gehenna (1983), together under the title Alliance Space. I’m reviewing the novels separately since that’s the way they were originally published and can still be purchased. However, I love that you can get them both in one Kindle edition or one 22-hour long audiobook! The narration by Daniel Thomas May works well enough, though his voice is a little too deep to handle many female characters. That becomes noticeable in Forty Thousand in Geh... Read More

Port Eternity: Arthurian legend in space

Port Eternity by C.J. Cherryh

The history, legends, and myths surrounding the man known as King Arthur are some of the most enduring and inspirational material in the English language. Like Robin Hood, Arthur’s name resonates in modern history. The number of books, fiction and non-fiction, which have been spun off the man is increasingly difficult to quantify. Appearing in such a wide variety of Western media and culture, most people, in fact, have only a hazy idea of who he was or might have been (including this reviewer), Disney being as much a teacher as high school history class. C.J. Cherryh is an Arthurian aficionado, so she applied her interests in a science fiction novel. Knowledge of the legends is required for a full appreciation of Port Eternity (1982), a survival in space story that uses a strong sense of character to play with Arthurian myth to a satisfying degree.

Port Eterni... Read More

Angel with the Sword: An immersive introduction to a larger universe

Angel with the Sword by C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh has penned both science fiction and fantasy tomes (as well as the blended Science Fantasy that partakes of both) and much of her significant sci-fi output has been in multiple series that span time, space, and in some ways even genre. And yet all of her works are part of a much larger future history of mankind amongst the stars: Angel with the Sword is the first book of the eight-book MEROVINGEN NIGHTS series, as well as a peripheral part of Cherryh’s ALLIANCE-UNION universe. I love the idea of sprawling future histories with room to really explore differing political, ideological, and personal aspects of the human condition, along with all of that cool what-if technology, and even crossing into other genres (like science fantasy). I say that I like ... Read More

The Paladin: Oriental fantasy

The Paladin by C.J. Cherryh

The Paladin is a stand-alone novel set in the China of an alternative world. It's more of an alternative history than a fantasy — there are no mythical creatures or magic here, although superstitions of both remain. The story falls into two parts. In the first, a stubborn girl seeking vengeance for her murdered family arrives at the mountain home of an exiled hermit who was the greatest warlord in the Empire prior to the death of the old emperor and the takeover by an evil regent. The girl wears him down, and he agrees to teach her swordsmanship and so on, convinced that she will eventually tire and lose hope in her foolish quest. Instead, she perseveres, and he finds himself growing fond of her. Over a two-year span, she becomes a promising pupil; he finds his defenses against the world he left behind crumbling... and how much he now needs her.

In the second part, the two ... Read More

Cyteen: Exhausting study of clones, identity, and power

Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh

After enjoying C.J. Cherryh's 1982 Hugo Award winner Downbelow Station, it was a natural thing to move on to her 1989 Hugo winner, Cyteen. I know that Cyteen is a very different creature, of course. It is a hefty 680 pages long, and extremely light on action. In fact, if you removed the extensive dialogue and exposition, I think the story would be about 50 pages long. That means the story had better be pretty compelling or it could be quite an ordeal to get through. Unfortunately, at 36 hours in audiobook format, I found Cyteen to be more of a chore than a pleasure. There’s no question of the seriousness and rigor of its exploration of power politics, the ethics of cloning, genetic engineering, and social conditioning, and a very dra... Read More

Rusalka: I didn’t like it

Rusalka by C.J. Cherryh

I like folklore, and I like novels based on folklore, and I was prepared to like C.J. Cherryh's Rusalka, especially after seeing it reviewed elsewhere. It did hold my attention long enough that I was able to finish it, but in the end I had to admit that I didn't like it.

First gripe: the endless and tedious scenes of Pyetr, Sasha, and Uulamets wandering around in the woods acting like jerks to one another. Pages upon pages of one of the characters musing about what morons the other two are. The use of the word "woodcraft" on what seems like every page, as Sasha or Pyetr admires Uulamets' skill in navigating the forest. It begins to feel like we are reading the same chapter over and over after a while.

But that's the little gripe. The big one is what seems like a big continuity mistake. It's a spoiler, so highlight the following text if you want to re... Read More

Foreigner: A familiar culture with outstanding characters

Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh

“Sometimes the clothes do not make the man…” sang George Michael. Fortunately the cover of C.J. Cherryh’s literary sci-fi offering Foreigner can boast the same. The story contained within is (pun intended) light years from the throwback sci-fi cover. And the back cover is only slightly better than the front. The Publisher’s Weekly quote reads: “Cherryh’s gift for conjuring believable alien cultures is in full force here, and her characters… are brought to life with a sure, convincing hand.” Copy which is often overstated, and this statement is only partially true. The first part is a twisted untruth (or an insult to traditional Japanese culture), while the second part strikes the truth square on the head. In other words, ignore the publisher’s contribution to Cherryh’s 1994 Foreigner... Read More

Invader: Builds upon the foundation laid by Foreigner

Invader by C.J. Cherryh

While the first book in C. J. Cherryh’s FOREIGNER series, also titled Foreigner, took its time in establishing Bren Cameron’s character and the dilemmas he faced attempting to adapt to a culture entirely foreign to him, Invader wastes no time. Picking up precisely where Foreigner left off, Bren is in the hospital suffering from injuries he sustained in the previous book. Though he goes on the mend, life does not get any easier. The spaceship which suddenly appeared at the end of Foreigner threatens to disrupt the tentative peace which the treaty between the atevi and humans had created.

Pushing the ball up-court, Cherry winds Cameron’s tension even tighter in Invader. As if the aut... Read More

Inheritor: Characters and drama reign supreme

Inheritor by C.J. Cherryh

Something must be done about the art decorating the covers of C. J. Cherryh’s unheralded FOREIGNER series. No offence to Michael Whelan, Dorian Vallejo, or any other of the artists who’ve been chosen to provide cover art, but their Golden Age depictions of alien life simply do not suit the temper of the books. Shame on DAW. Cherryh writes with subtlety and sensitivity regarding intercultural relations that the comic book renderings of guns and fantasy animals simply fail to parallel. Making matters worse, the crowd willing to buy the books based on such art will more than likely end up disappointed. The books’ focus on character and societal development toward peace and cultural understanding is far from scene after scene of gun fights and explosions. Like placing a scantily clad Barbie doll with elf ears and flaming sword on a... Read More

Fortress in the Eye of Time: Different slant on an old story

Fortress in the Eye of Time by C.J. Cherryh

I loved Fortress in the Eye of Time. To be honest, the first half of the book doesn't move very fast, but you come to appreciate how C.J. Cherryh controls the flow of the story based on the progress of the main character. It's a very interesting technique that takes a little patience to enjoy.

The story centers around a young man who is called back from a distant past and who's soul has already lived a life. His challenges in adjusting to life with no real past are very well written and yet his native intelligence and personality begin to grow quickly.
The characters that surround the protagonist are fairly well written and far from perfect themselves. For me, the frailties of people are often neglected in most fiction unless it is overly depicted in the bad guy. In this case, Cherryh is very effective when describing the... Read More

Fortress of Ice: Great author, decent book

Fortress of Ice by C.J. Cherryh

I have really enjoyed C.J. Cherryh's Fortress Series, and I enjoyed Fortress of Ice.

That being said, this book was the worst one in the series. The plot was kind of boring and the transition to the new characters didn't draw me in with the same connection that I had in earlier books. My biggest gripe is that the main character of the first four books is left as a supporting character, which makes sense for the book, but is disappointing for someone who enjoyed his role.

I was very disappointed with the direction that Cherryh has taken the Fortress series and I had hoped for something different.
It's good reading if you are a fan of the series, just understand that things have changed a great deal and you m... Read More

Wings of Fire: I thought I didn’t like dragons

Wings of Fire edited by Jonathan Strahan & Marianne S. Jablon

I don't like dragons.

This is probably not the first sentence you'd expect to find in a review of Wings of Fire, an anthology devoted exclusively to dragon stories, but I thought it best to get it out of the way right from the start.

There's nothing inherently wrong with dragons. They're just terribly overused, one of those tired genre mainstays that people who typically don't read a lot of fantasy will expect in a fantasy novel because they were practically unavoidable for a long time. To this day, I confess to having to suppress a mental groan whenever I encounter them.

For a long time, I actively avoided reading any fantasy novel with the word dragon in the title. Granted, I made several exceptions to this rule in the past, most notably The King's Dragon by Read More