The Cosmic Codex
The Cosmic Codex
A fragile peace

A fragile peace

New science fiction from SFWA Grand Master C. J. Cherryh
“When doves fly”, by Brian S. Pauls, 2023; Digital illustration created using Midjourney

I first encountered the work of C. J. Cherryh when I was in high school. My dad was a counselor, and worked with Terry Bachus, the father of my good friend Ty. One day when I was in Dad’s office, Mr. Bachus popped in and told me he wanted to show me something.

Something was a gold mine of science fiction. As a member of the Science Fiction Book Club, Ty’s dad frequently received hardcover sf novels in the mail. He'd filled a cardboard box with several books he'd finished. Knowing I read sf, Mr. Bachus was curious if I'd like to borrow any of them. The volume that caught my eye was Cherryh’s Downbelow Station. Released in 1981, it's one of the earliest books in her Alliance-Union universe.

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I found the novel tough sledding, but rewarding. It’s hard sf, and Cherryh’s style is drier than I prefer. But the experience has stuck with me all these years.

I recall a mechanism Cherryh describes for keeping a spinning space station balanced. People and possessions moving around the wheel could throw it off-kilter. On Cherry’s station, water in the ring shifts to maintain equilibrium. This makes sense to me, although I’m not a fluid dynamic engineer. That didn’t stop me from thinking I'd improved on the idea. If water was good, wouldn’t mercury be even better?! It’s heavier, reducing the amount of fluid required. But my brainstorm has its issues. Mercury is rare compared to water, and it’s, you know, poisonous to humans.

Although Downbelow Station was a challenging read, it made me think—the quality I value most in science fiction. It won the 1982 Hugo Award for Best Novel. The Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) gave Cherryh the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award in 2016.

She has other sf universes besides Alliance-Union. These include the Chanur novels and the long-running Foreigner series. Later this year, she will release Defiance, her most recent entry in the latter.

The Foreigner books center on a planet where humans first contacted the intelligent atevi species. Cherryh’s main protagonist is translator-diplomat Bren Cameron. He must engage skillfully with both the human and the atevi societies to serve the needs of the two species.

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Defiance follows Bren’s attempts to preserve peace as factions threaten wider war.

Astra Publishing House describes the book as follows on their website:

“In the east, outright warfare has tied down the Assassins' Guild, and that region is in confusion. Ready to hand is an age-old feud in the west, where the Master of Ashidama Bay has long hated the Edi people of the north shore and equally hated the Aishidi’tat for bringing the Edi to his shores—and hatred is a resource the Shadow Guild knows how to use to its advantage.

Bren Cameron is tasked with getting Ilisidi, the aiji-dowager, back to the capital alive, on an urgent basis. But events are cascading down on the south, the Guild is stretched thin in the east, and the Shadow Guild is within striking distance of critical targets that could bring war to the entire south.

Two lives stand in the breach, two lives the aishidi'tat would not willingly risk—Ilisidi and Bren—and the Shadow Guild will spend anything and everything to take them out.”

The cover credits Jane Fancher, Cherryh’s wife and sometime collaborator, as co-author. But the details on the publisher’s site otherwise credit only Cherryh. I suppose we’ll find out for sure once the book is available.

Defiance is due out October 17.

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