Cherryh's Chanur Series

Bick

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I've started reading this - only a few chapters in to The Pride of Chanur, so no spoilers please - and as there isn't a thread on this series, while there is for Morgaine and The Faded Sun, I figured it wouldn't hurt to give it its own thread.

I'm so far loving this work, and its the most action-packed and engaging Cherryh I've read to date. By comparison, while The Faded Sun is a great SF series, it's rather slow here and there, Cherryh explains much less what the heck is going on and the reader is left to work much out for themselves. This is a Cherryh hallmark of course, but Chanur reads with much more immediacy and clarity I think. It's basically very well written space opera. I'll provide more commentary I in due course as I read more.
 

MWagner

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I look forward to your commentary. I'm currently enjoying the Morgaine series, my first Cherryh, and considering which of her series to read next.
 

J-Sun

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I love the Faded Sun books but I think your observations are fair. Faded Sun is a little tighter and fine-grained and can be described as relatively slow vs. Chanur's much more pyrotechnic, exuberant feel. Faded Sun takes relatively fewer parts and makes them complex by focus on details whereas Chanur has a lot more parts and stuff going on and has that type of complexity. Faded's more psychological and anthropological while Chanur's more sociological and political (not our politics, but their interstellar politics).

Or something like that. Your comments did ring a bell of some sort, anyway. :)

One sidenote (or endnote): I'm not advising avoiding it or anything but, as I've said before, I found Chanur's Legacy to be a fine but not really necessary sequel. Not spoiling anything but just saying that you probably shouldn't finish the fourth book thinking it's a sort of "middle" and expecting CL to be an "end." Whereas, with the Morgaine books, while you can stop with the original trilogy, I highly recommend the belated fourth book and it is basically of a piece with the trilogy.
 

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Thanks for your thoughts, J-Sun. I think you described my feelings toward Faded Sun much better than I did. Looking back, I have very fond memories of that series, and some of the imagery was very striking. I liked the biology of the Regal, and their use of floating beds in true adulthood very much, for instance. It is rather 'dense' though.

I'll keep your advice in mind once I get to the end of the first 4. I have the first 4 on my shelf and not the fifth, so as things stand I'm destined to miss out on Legacy unless I hunt in used stores specifically. I want to read some other Cherryh, such as Hunter of Worlds, which are also on my shelf, so I'm likely to step away after 4 for that reason at least in the near term. I should hunt out the last Morgaine book - I've not seen it though...

Do you think Cherryh is stuck for evermore in her Foreigner rut, or will she ever write anything else? I've read they are a bit hard work, and there are now 18 of them, so I've not rushed to start the series.
 

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I look forward to your commentary. I'm currently enjoying the Morgaine series, my first Cherryh, and considering which of her series to read next.
In contrast to some, I loved Downbelow Station, and as its a single novel, you could always try that next. So far, I would probably recommend Chanur ahead of Faded Sun, but I would definitely recommend you do read the latter once you're accustomed to her writing tics and style.
 

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Do you think Cherryh is stuck for evermore in her Foreigner rut, or will she ever write anything else? I've read they are a bit hard work, and there are now 18 of them, so I've not rushed to start the series.

She did throw out Regenesis while doing the Foreigner series. (That's still in the pile because I feel like I need to re-read Cyteen before starting in on it and the idea of those two mammoths has kept me away.) And she apparently is about to embark on another U/A book but I definitely get the feeling U/A is on a permanent backburner. As far as the Foreigner series itself, I did read a few of them but gave up when there seemed to be no end in sight. They're fine (and have some devoted fans like Parson) but didn't really grab me.

I hope the new U/A book is something at once fairly stand-alone but which broadens the U/A canvas (or at least fills in more of what is there). If that's the case, I'll definitely be looking forward to it.
 

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I hope the new U/A book is something at once fairly stand-alone but which broadens the U/A canvas (or at least fills in more of what is there). If that's the case, I'll definitely be looking forward to it.
Looking through her site it sounds as though the new UA book will be a reasonable size but not a mammoth tome (120,000 words) and it will be co-credited to her partner Jane Fancher. Cherryh suggests that Fancher has helped write and edit other books, but not got her name on them, but that this will buck the trend. Anyone read any Fancher?

Incidentally, back on Chanur - I'm enjoying the fact that her universe is not peopled by races that have uniform hatred and war against other races. Her politics are more more subtle and real than that. So often, if the Klingon's (or whoever) are at war with the Vulcan's, its every single Klingon at war with every single Vulcan, as if the entire race across the galaxy gets a hyperspace text they have to obey. Cherryh's kif may or may not be aggressive, depending on their individual circumstances, and Chanur's fellow hani may or may not help out, depending on whether they are from a friendly clan and if its in their interests - though they're more likely to side with hani than any kif. I'm really enjoying those dynamics - it gives the story more options and makes it hard to guess what might happen next. I like the knnnn too - very wierd creatures that no-one "gets", though they are not aggressive, just perplexing.
 

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Looking through her site it sounds as though the new UA book will be a reasonable size but not a mammoth tome (120,000 words) and it will be co-credited to her partner Jane Fancher. Cherryh suggests that Fancher has helped write and edit other books, but not got her name on them, but that this will buck the trend. Anyone read any Fancher?

Interesting. I haven't read Fancher and I'm not sure how I feel about the "collaborative" concept.

Incidentally, back on Chanur - I'm enjoying the fact that her universe is not peopled by races that have uniform hatred and war against other races. Her politics are more more subtle and real than that. So often, if the Klingon's (or whoever) are at war with the Vulcan's, its every single Klingon at war with every single Vulcan, as if the entire race across the galaxy gets a hyperspace text they have to obey. Cherryh's kif may or may not be aggressive, depending on their individual circumstances, and Chanur's fellow hani may or may not help out, depending on whether they are from a friendly clan and if its in their interests - though they're more likely to side with hani than any kif. I'm really enjoying those dynamics - it gives the story more options and makes it hard to guess what might happen next. I like the knnnn too - very wierd creatures that no-one "gets", though they are not aggressive, just perplexing.

Really good points. I did love the really alien aliens. That kind of small unexplored spot - the idea of these mysterious vessels full of almost completely disconnected aliens - expanded the scope and added a great layer of mystery without obfuscating the main threads. Great economical art, to me, as well as just being plain neat. :)
 

2DaveWixon

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Really good points. I did love the really alien aliens. That kind of small unexplored spot - the idea of these mysterious vessels full of almost completely disconnected aliens - expanded the scope and added a great layer of mystery without obfuscating the main threads. Great economical art, to me, as well as just being plain neat. :)

This sounds rather like a thing some people used to criticize Cliff Simak for: throwing in strange elements that have no meaning in the plot and are never resolved.
Cliff's point, though -- and I suspect C.J.'s -- is simply that such is more realistic: no one really goes through life with everything he sees or hears bearing on his problems.
Gordon Dickson, citing to Robert Penn Warren, one of his college teachers, firmly believed that everything put into a story ought to be there for a reason -- if there's a shotgun on a rack on the living room wall, he said, there must be a reason why it's there. (Understand: Gordy didn't always manage to do it that way, but that represents one current of thought regarding the art of writing fiction...)
So: whether or not the "really alien aliens" in C.J.'s work play much part in advancing the plot, I would suggest that at a minimum they add depth to the story, as well as to the universe underlying the story.
(Think of it like this: in a mystery, you have to have such, simply so that our detective can busily sort the wheat from the chaff...)
 

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Interesting correlation with CDS, Dave. I think Cherryh adds aliens because she wanted Compact Space to seem colourful, but also to seem politically complex, and give it a sense of unknown and danger. In a sense, so far anyway, the T'ca and Knnnn are almost a kind of literary wallpaper - but they add so much by being weird and colourful. It also means that, if in time they do stuff that's directly driving the plot, they wont seem like they came out of nowhere (deus ex-machina style).

Funnily enough, I just re-read Tolkein's LOTR, and a point of criticism I would make of that work (how dare I), is that JRRT throws baddies at the fellowship with no prior warning, presumably to add some spice on a semi-regular basis. The balrog in Moria and Shelob in Cirith Ungol are not forewarned. After they've appeared, Tolkien gives us some fleshed out back-story, but the reader sees a very linear progression - go to point A, run from creature A, go to point B, fight creature B, go to point C, have a chat with creature C. There is no plot connection between many of these, and the overall sense is for a slightly 'disconnected' novel (though I do still love it for other reasons). Cherryh, by showing us the full canvas from the get-go, creates two things: a work in which the reader is suddenly immersed (sometimes to their confusion, as noted with Cherryh), but also a broad sweep of a world wherein many things may or may not happen, and it all seems like cohesive plot progression thereafter on account of that. I'm becoming a fan, clearly.
 

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I'm not sure how I feel about the "collaborative" concept.
Nor me. I tend to distrust them a bit - but by all accounts Fancher has proof read and edited all Cherryh's work for some time, and she is a published author, so perhaps you wont notice any variation in quality. The new book seems to be nominally called "Alliance Rising", but is probably a year off.
 

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Well, I finished The Pride of Chanur some little time ago, and I did really like it. I felt the dynamic between the planet and off-planet social rules of the hani was interesting, and the place of the males very nicely done.

I have finished the next in the sequence too: Chanur's Venture. For much of it, this felt like a re-boot of the first book. The plot is very similar and for that reason it came across as a slight step down for me. That said, the interesting politics and expanding story arc are good, and I'm looking forward to the next book: The Kif Strikes Back. Given that the plot took a new turn at the end of Venture, we wont be treading quite so much of the same ground again going forwards I assume, so that should be good.

Incidentally - the story behind the title of the 3rd book is funny. As a joke, when asked by her publisher for a title, Cherryh gave a silly answer (riffing on Star Wars of course), and the publisher went with it. She's commented that it taught her not to joke about novel titles again!
 

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I finished the Kif Striking Back a little while ago but omitted to comment. I'm not sure what to say. Let's start with the positive. It's well written, engaging and at times shows real tension. Overall, I'd say its quite a good book. Here's the less good side of it: it's the same story told over and over again, essentially. (i) Aliens travel by hyperspace which makes them feel sick; (ii) aliens damage ship; (iii) aliens arrive at space station that is exactly the same as all other space stations and limit themselves to walking up and down the dock which is the same dock as every other dock; (iv) aliens are forced to travel to another space station for complicated political reasons... rinse and repeat. Nothing else actually happens much and it all gets a bit repetitive. I've now read the same book three times, but to find out how it all ends I need to read the same book a fourth time (i.e. Chanur's Homecoming). And I'm not convinced i can be bothered.

The Faded Sun series has much more plot variation/development, and so does Morgaine. Downbelow Station stands alone, and is the best Cherryh I've read. I really did like Downbelow and Morgaine. Chanur, tbh, I'm liking a little less. The first book almost stands alone and is great though.
 

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Been awhile since I read them so I may be off here but my recollection is that you may well be right about the itemized plot parts but I think that was supposed to give a feeling of breathless movement and action and it seems like it did for me. And you're right that the first book does basically stand alone but it's also the case (IIRC) that the next three don't but are sort of one big story in which Kif is just the middle. Middles often aren't as good as ends so maybe Chanur's Homecoming will turn out to be worth it for you in the end. (The fifth book is the most stand-alone and, while fine, isn't required even for fans of the series - just sort of "bonus coverage.") That said, while Chanur definitely has its fans and I can see the attraction, I like the core U/A books and Faded Sun more myself. :)

I guess I'd just say that, having gone two or three books in (depending on how you count) and being very definitely in the middle, it'd be a shame not to knock out the (essentially) last to find out how it (essentially) ends.
 

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Nothing else actually happens much and it all gets a bit repetitive. I've now read the same book three times, but to find out how it all ends I need to read the same book a fourth time (i.e. Chanur's Homecoming).
So, it turns out (encouraged by gentle persuasion from these boards) that I did go on to read the fourth book, Chanur's Homecoming. I finished it yesterday.

Again, I'm not entirely sure what I want to say. The good first: its Cherryh, so its well written and it immerses us in the kind of 'real-life' personal and political complexity that actually shape events, rather than the simplistic plotting more common in SF. The characters are quite engaging, and it does eventually wrap up the trilogy comprising the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Chanur books (though not to my satisfaction, see below). On a page by page basis, it holds the attention and has some quite exciting moments.

But... I'm not really a fan of these books taken as a whole. I've read a few of Cherryh's most famous books now and I would probably rank them something like this:

1. Morgaine trilogy
2. Foreigner (1st book in series)
3. Downbelow Station
4. Pride of Chanur
4. Faded Sun trilogy
5. Chanur's Venture, The Kif Strike Back, Chanur's Homecoming

The problem with the Chanur books are several-fold in my opinion:

(i) They describe very repetitive scenes that become rather boring with each successive book (see earlier post);
(ii) They need editing - the whole story-arc could have been half the length and would have been much the better for it;
(iii) The use of pidgin English (pidgin alien) is pretty annoying after a while, and makes it very difficult (purposefully impossible, I would suggest) to understand what characters are talking about exactly;
(iv) The Hani use of the word 'gods' as a swear word in just about every second sentence is quite grating;
(iv) Cherryh seems to delight in not really telling us what is going on, so we live in a fog of misunderstanding for hundreds of pages, little knowing what's really occurring, by who, for what purpose, and whether it will ever resolve (it doesn't satisfactorily). Moreover, the occasional clarity of plot you can glean from reading between the lines, doesn't especially hang together anyway.
(v) There's no particular story-line payoff at the end. It just kinda ends.

So, I wouldn't recommend these books, except for the first one, which stands alone. You get all you need from Cherryh's 'Compact space' books from The Pride of Chanur, you can actually follow the plot, which makes reasonable sense and it resolves satisfactorily.

All that said, I'm not put off Cherryh by these books. I read Foreigner recently and it was vastly better. I'll be reading more of those soon.
 

2DaveWixon

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Just in case they've escaped your notice, I'll recommend to you my own two favorites from C.J.: Heavy Time and Hellburner.
 

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I've always been enamored of them as well. But I would agree that the Foreigner Series is stronger. Cheeryh's World building at it's best there.
 

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The two series have at a basic level the same story arc. The Chanur series is written from an Alien point of view and the Foreigner series from the Human point of view. Tully (Chanur) is in many ways just like Bren (Foreigner), a human in the midst of Aliens. I like the Chanur series because you have to work at understanding whats going on, much like Tully,and have to accept that much will remain confusing because of a lack of understanding of Alien concepts and motivations. The Foreigner series has the same idea's but they are more defined because they are written from a human point of view. I find the parallels between the 2 series very interesting.
 

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The two series have at a basic level the same story arc. The Chanur series is written from an Alien point of view and the Foreigner series from the Human point of view. Tully (Chanur) is in many ways just like Bren (Foreigner), a human in the midst of Aliens. I like the Chanur series because you have to work at understanding whats going on, much like Tully,and have to accept that much will remain confusing because of a lack of understanding of Alien concepts and motivations. The Foreigner series has the same idea's but they are more defined because they are written from a human point of view. I find the parallels between the 2 series very interesting.

That is a really great insight! I would say that the Foreigner universe is built at a much greater depth. In the end I find that Chanur universe doesn't hold together nearly as well for me. I find the Foreigner universe more believable.
 

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