I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
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.
Once again, I find myself fascinated by C.J. Cherryh’s aliens. The Atevi, although superficially humanoid-shaped, have an entirely different way of looking at the universe and Cherryh lets us struggle with those viewpoints along with her main character, Bren Cameron. I quickly realized that it was human psychology that was being explored just as thoroughly as Atevi psychology.
So, how do you maintain yourself as a diplomat among people who operate through only loyalty, not through affection, liking, or loving? Especially when they are very pragmatic about assassination? Bren is rapidly discovering that he hasn’t maintained emotional distance from the Atevi that he lives among--being the only human allowed in Atevi society has made him lonely and searching for attachments. However, his Atevi “friends” aren’t necessarily able to reciprocate his feelings or even understand his need for affection.
When Bren suddenly finds himself the target of an assassination attempt, all of these problems in understanding come crashing down on him. Has he been a romantic fool, believing that he can trust the Atevi around him? Did he not contact the humans in Mospheira because he has lost touch with his humanity in some crucial way? There is plenty of action, as Bren is taken here and there, tries to discover who he can actually trust, avoids death frequently, and sorts through conspiracy theories. But the big question is, if Atevi have no word for affection, can they still feel it?
I look forward to book 2 to see if Bren’s diplomatic career survives the crisis.
Book number 330 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.