Invader: Builds upon the foundation laid by Foreigner

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsInvader by C.J. CherryhInvader 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 author were once a cultural attaché herself, every little nuance and ramification that hang from political decisions are described in insider fashion — and there are so many cultural toes to step on in atevi society. Making matters both better and worse, Cameron’s relationship with his protectors goes even deeper. The details of their personal lives pull them together while the atevi’s natural indifference maintains the unnatural distance between them.

Cherryh also takes the time to expand the reader’s understanding of the relationship between the atevi’s grammatically challenging language and cultural behavior. Without out a doubt one of the most well-thought-out ideas in the genre, other sci-fi writers should take note. Instead of simply stringing together gibberish and calling it alien language (who is to dispute?), Cherryh is erudite enough to not only create the rudiments of a language (like Tolkien, but to a lesser degree), but to intertwine it with her aliens’ behavior, and it’s a plausible marriage. A culture that sub-consciously uses calculation to formulate correct sentences would naturally be adept at not only picking up theoretical mathematics, but likewise always be concerned with the larger chains of events under discussion, as well as potential inputs and outputs for a given social situation.

In addition to language, Cherryh takes the time to unpack the other ideas injected into her story. Rather than glossing over something as simple as a spaceship suddenly appearing in the atmosphere of a society that has never known life from outside their planet, she digs into what effect this would have on them. If a UFO were to appear over the Earth — for example, somewhere outside an Oklahoma cornfield – imagine the explosion, not only in the media, but in the government offices of every major country around the world. What does it want? Are they hostile? How do we communicate with them? It’s these most basic yet most essential questions that Cherry attempts to answer. No superheroes here, only people making rational and fallible decisions based on what they know and can comprehend.

In the end, Invader is better than its predecessor, and Foreigner was worthy of a much larger readership. The details, back-history, and continued character development all fit within and expand upon the framework of the first novel. Likewise, where Foreigner contrasted an individual and a culture, Invader goes to the next level by contrasting the two cultures (human and atevi), thus enlarging the diameter of the looking-glass to incorporate all of the sub-groups the societies are broken into, and examining the tension created by the enmity between them all. Fundamentalists, conservatives, liberals, altruists, libertarians, and traditionalists are each represented, and in turn push the book – and the series – closer to the realist side of literature than the unfortunate book cover allows. But that’s another story…

Foreigner — (1994- ) Publisher: The first book in C.J.Cherryh’s eponymous series, Foreigner begins an epic tale of the survivors of a lost spacecraft who crash-land on a planet inhabited by a hostile, sentient alien race.  From its beginnings as a human-alien story of first contact, the Foreigner series has become a true science fiction odyssey, following a civilization from the age of steam through early space flight to confrontations with other alien species in distant sectors of space. It is the masterwork of a truly remarkable author.

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JESSE HUDSON, one of our guest reviewers, reads in most fields. He lives in Poland where he works for a big corporation by day and escapes into reading by night. He posts a blog which acts as a healthy vent for not only his bibliophilia, but also his love of culture and travel: Speculiction.

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