C. J. Cherryh's Morgaine Books

Teresa Edgerton

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After Andre Norton's Witch World books, these were perhaps my first introduction to Science Fantasy. The complexity of the story, the politics, the characterization is, of course, on a much higher level.

I think it was the emotional intensity of these books that hooked me, the fact that the characters never seem to be able to relax into complacency about what they are doing. There are always dilemmas, moral questions -- indeed, some of them can't be solved. There is no room for conscience in Morgaine's quest, and yet that seems to be Vanye's greatest value: that he challenges her to think before she acts. He sees questions of morality, ethics, honor, and humanity in a straight-forward way that contrasts with the many convolutions of her own thinking (which are the result of time and experience, loss and grief, and the many bad decisions that she and her original companions must have made along the way). No matter how old she actually is -- and Cherryh never tells us -- Morgaine is immeasurably older than he. It is interesting to have a heroine who is so much older and more experienced than the hero.

Yet Vanye has his own strengths. I can recall no character that I've ever read about who suffered more physical agonies and indignities, and yet kept going, in spite of many opportunities to turn back. Loyalty, endurance, and compassion are the qualities that he brings to the journey.

Cherryh is famous (and deservedly so) for writing aliens who are truly alien, who have alien minds, as different as they could possibly be from ours and yet still be comprehensible. Yet in the Morgaine books she explores the human heart and mind, taking Vanye and Morgaine from one world to another where humans are trying to survive under immense outside pressures.
 

Ray McCarthy

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She really needs him, otherwise she risks losing all objectivity and becoming worse than what she is trying to achieve. I think later she realises this and lets down her "defences" somewhat. I'm not sure if I have them all.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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She really needs him, otherwise she risks losing all objectivity and becoming worse than what she is trying to achieve.

I completely agree. Without him, she might eventually become another Thiye or Liell, so intent on her purposes that she forgets everything else.
 

J-Sun

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On another thread I was saying the Morgaine series was "only foreground fantasy and part of the depth and resonance is the background SF" and Ray was saying "the Morgaine series is really fantasy, more so than Pern (which gradually introduces SF), the SF aspect is to me a sort of a McGuffin to give her bizarre "quest"/Task meaning and explain the portals" and I figured I'd move that part over here.

I completely agree that Morgaine can be taken as plain fantasy and should appeal to fantasy fans. And it's odd that I'm usually the first to dismiss thin veneers or deep backgrounds of SF in a fantasy story. But, somehow, the Morgaine books work for me on an SF level. IIRC, Vanye sees her as sort of supernatural but not exactly and part of what makes it so cool is that double vision of the "distinguishable from magic". If Morgaine were just some weird witch I don't think the books would be as interesting. I feel like Cherryh lets us imagine whatever we'd like about "the other Morgaine" or "Morgaine from the other side" and she becomes much more tangible (to me) as someone from an advanced civilization grounded in the natural. I can more readily suspend disbelief in her as coming from an SF world. The SF background adds a great deal to the story for me.

Is it important to most people or does it not really matter? If it matters, does it help or hinder to look at it one way or the other?

And back on the earlier discussion regarding Vanye's agonies, these books are on the heavy side (along with Faded Sun and some others) of what is present in most Cherryh - without being sadistic, she's really hard on her characters. "It builds character." :) It's no cakewalk for Morgaine either and it's that grittiness without being just plain dull dark drabness, but true toughness, that I often really like about her stuff.

That's one thing that's kind of funny about the Chanur books - while it's no breeze for Tully (if I'm recalling his name right), the Chanur books are much gentler on the characters - it's a rough universe but Tully's actually pretty lucky to fall in with some pretty cool folks. But that's a digression itself - just saying the Morgaine books are among the tougher.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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It is gritty, I believe, in the truest sense of the word. Amidst the fantasy and science fiction elements, amidst the violence and cruelty of men, the characters are very much grounded in the physical world—which is not a forgiving place.
 

Connavar

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I hate it that the first book in this series is not one of Cherryh books i have unread at home thanks to you TE. Im a big fan of Science Fantasy. After SF i think i like good Science Fantasy way more than good Fantasy. Thanks to authors like Vance, Brackett,ERB,Powers, etc

I have just ordered 10 books through my bookstore, otherwise i would called them to order these Morgaine books too. Just to sample her SFF. Cherryh writing is so SF like to me i cant imagine how she would write Science fantasy. Just because there is this logical science fictional setting,worlds in her books about humans, aliens. I wonder does she change her prose style to be more stylised,fantastical like i have seen some SF authors do when they write fantasy.
 

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These discussions of Morgaine make fascinating reading - I've not read them yet, but I do have the trilogy in the single book format on my shelf (recently picked up for $6). I think it's just gone to the head of my TBR pile.
 

Ray McCarthy

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Is that
Gate of Ivrel
Well of Shiuan
Fires of Azeroth
as The Chronicles of Morgaine?

I have also Exile's Gate

I have read some short Morgaine stories, one perhaps just with the Gates. Not sure if in "The Collected Short Fiction" 724 pages, 29 stories.
Edit:
"The Threads of Time" is about the Gates, but without Morgaine. In that collection

It's disconcerting how many books have different titles USA and UK/Ireland.
Here in Ireland we get both UK via Easons imports and US versions via other importers. (Easons has almost a monopoly on UK import books and Magazines here)

The trilogy collection has had THREE titles!
The Book of Morgaine, The Chronicles of Morgaine, and The Morgaine Saga

In 1987, Tor Books published an interactive novel set in Morgaine's universe, The Witchfires of Leth.
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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Short stories about Morgaine? I didn't know that. Definitely something I would like to find and read. Were they before or after she joined forces with Vanye? There must be a complete bibliography somewhere on line.

The way Exile's Gate ends, it really looks like she planned to write more, but it's been a long time. There were some intriguing characters who went through the gate at the end of that volume, and it seems like that must have happened for a reason, in terms of further plans for the series.
 

Alex The G and T

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I hold in my hand, the SFBC omnibus, from the early '80's; The Book of Morgaine:
Gate of Ivrel
Well of Shiuan
Fires of Azeroth.

I re-read it about 10 years ago. Mostly what I remember is the relentlessness. From Gate to Gate, nonstop through three novels; a breathless chase.

These people never had a moment to rest. There were no banquets or healings in safe havens. A glorious, nonstop, running battle from beginning to end.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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That's a good description of the story, Alex.

After a little look around the internet, I couldn't find any reference to short stories about Morgaine, but there seems to be a movie in the works. The screenplay has already been written. Not sure how I feel about that.
 

Rafellin

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Four stories that portray the daimyo-samurai/ronin mindset so well. Still favourites of mine. Powerful, gritty adventure only exceeded by Mary Gentle's 'Ash'; but that is a tale of scope far removed. These two works, for me, stand triumphant as examples of science fantasy where the fantasy/magic element obeys the "one man's science" rule so very well yet so naturally.
 

BAYLOR

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The first 3 books are terrific ,the 4th not as good.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I didn't like the 4th book as much as the others the first time I read it -- but by then the first three had been reread a few times and were like old friends. The new one felt a bit like an interloper. But with each subsequent reading I've liked it more, and I think it may be as good as the others.

One thing that annoyed me is that it almost answers some of the questions I'd had all along ... but not quite.
 

J-Sun

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One thing that annoyed me is that it almost answers some of the questions I'd had all along ... but not quite.

That's what I liked about it actually - if it had been wrapped up in a perfect bow with not a hint of shadow left, I don't know that it would have worked as well. And if it hadn't answered some of the key questions, it might have felt disappointing. I thought she hit it perfectly. But, naturally, where that "perfect line" is would vary from reader to reader.

Also, late sequels often don't mesh with the earlier ones - this book was much longer than the originals but it still felt about the same to me. I liked it a lot.

I mentioned this on the booklist but, while Chanur's Legacy was fine, it was a book that didn't need to be written and didn't feel the same (having a different focal point made that pretty much unavoidable). But I think Exile's Gate sort of needed to be done (though the trilogy would still be great without it) and was done well.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I would have been quite happy with the answers she gave in Exile's Gate if there had been another book to follow. But I felt she left us with more questions than there were before she wrote the book. And then there were such intriguing new characters she had created and sent through the gate, and I was eager to see what developed with them.

It all felt as though she left us dangling. I would be very happy indeed if there were another book in the series one of these days.
 

BAYLOR

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I would have been quite happy with the answers she gave in Exile's Gate if there had been another book to follow. But I felt she left us with more questions than there were before she wrote the book. And then there were such intriguing new characters she had created and sent through the gate, and I was eager to see what developed with them.

It all felt as though she left us dangling. I would be very happy indeed if there were another book in the series one of these days.

Somehow , I doubt there will be a 5th book.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Somehow , I doubt there will be a 5th book.
Why is that? The 4th book was written and released a long time after the trilogy. I have no idea whether she will or she won't, but it seems like she must have had some idea of another book when she wrote that one.
 

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