Alternate Realities Mass Market Paperback – 1 Jan 2008
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About the Author
C. J. Cherryh planned to write since the age of ten. When she was older, she learned to use a type writer while triple-majoring in Classics, Latin and Greek. At 33, she signed over her first three books to DAW and has worked with DAW ever since. She can be found at cherryh.com.
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In Port Eternity (1982), the story is set on the planet Brahman, where the rich are rejuvenated and their servants are genetically designed humans -- the azi -- grown in artificial wombs and indoctrinated by sleep learning. The azi are normally terminated when they reach forty, but some few are rejuved and live as long as their masters.
In this novel, Lady Dela Kirn is a descendent of a founder of Brahman and is very rich. She owns many azi, but only a few are allowed aboard the Maid of Astolat, her starfaring yacht. Four are the crew and the other three are her staff. All are named for characters in a drama tape about King Arthur.
The narrator of this story is Elaine, named for the original Maid of Astolat. Elaine is probably the most independent of the azi. Her household function is personal companion and she performs a variety of personal services for Lady Dela.
Lance is the steady lover of Lady Dela, available for times that she lacks other lovers. He has been with her for twenty years and is coming up on the age limit. Lance is Elaine's best friend, but he has been conditioned to only love Lady Dela.
Vivian is Lady Dela's accountant and estate manager. She is the most narrow of the azi, focused on her job and obtaining rejuv. She treats the other azi as if she was a born-man and too important to do menial work.
Gawain, Percivale, Lynette and Modred are the crew. They are closely focused on their jobs whenever the ship is activated. Modred is the most narrowly focused, operating by reason only and insensitive to his own and other's emotions. Modred is named such for his dangerous appearance; even born-men step aside when Modred approaches.
Griffin is Lady Dela's current born-man lover. He is young, having never been rejuved, and is full of energy. He and Lady Dela are in love, which is unusual for Dela. Even Lance is convinced that they will be married.
In Voyager in Night (1984), Trishanamarandu-kepta is very old, 100,000 years in ship time, but it has spent so much duration in jumpspace that it is much older in terms of normal spacetime. It is also very large, with the mass of a starstation.
In this novel, the Company Wars are over and Alliance trade routes are expanding. Endeavor Station is being constructed and ships are converging on the system to provide needed raw materials and products. One of these ships is the Lindy, a very small mining ship, jury rigged from scraps and salvaged parts, with a crew of three.
Rafe Murray is the Old Man of the Lindy and his sister Jillian and her husband Paul Gaines are the crew. The Murrays are Merchant brats who were orphaned during the Company Wars and Paul was a stationer on Forgone. The trio has put everything they have into the Lindy.
Having no jump engines, the Lindy was brought to Endeavor aboard the can-hauler Rightwise. It is quickly put to work bringing in rock for the oreship/smelter Ajax. The crew has just finished their first tour and are going out for another load.
While they are gathering rock from the belt, Endeavor longscan detects a tandem jump into the system. At first they think that one of their supply ships is being pirated, but the John Liles sends transmissions claiming that the bogey is alien. The Lindy is within its projected flight path and pushes its puny engine to avoid the oncoming ship. Then they discover that the approaching craft is the bogey itself and they increase the acceleration.
Nothing works, for the bogey is aimed for them and decelerating to pull alongside. Rafe throws on the automatic pilot, but it throws them into a spin. He tries to disengage the autopilot, but blacks out with the spin only getting worse.
In Wave Without a Shore (1981), the story is set on the planet Freedom, where humans coexist with ahnit -- the indigenous aliens -- but have little interaction with each other. The planet is mostly agricultural, with few industries. The only spaceport is outside the town of Kierkegaard on the continent of Sartre.
In this novel, Herrin Alton Law is a gifted child -- at least according to the instructional supervisor -- who will surely go on to University in Kierkegaard. When he hears the news, the seven year old Herrin immediately feels a sense of distance from his family. This feeling is strengthened by the reaction of his family and others in his home town.
Perrin Law is his older sister, but she feels like the younger sibling after hearing about his test scores. From this moment on, Herrin is the center of the family, with Perrin relegated to the periphery. She can hardly wait until he goes off to University.
Keye Lynn is a student of ethics and soon becomes Herrin's lover. Herrin considers her probably the third most brilliant student during their time in University. Naturally, Herrin considers himself the most brilliant and Waden Jenks as the second most brilliant.
Waden is the son of First Citizen Cade Jenks, the ruler of Freedom. Waden is an indifferent student, but highly intelligent. He is still preparing himself to succeed his father.
These novels are typical of the author's early works, depicting relations between humans and aliens from the human perspective. As usual, the humans are less informed than the aliens. Wave Without a Shore is the least typical due to the numbers of humans effected; Port Eternity involves the crew and passengers of a private yacht and Voyager in Night only includes the crew of a very small ship. Much of her works depicts a single human encountering many aliens.
As the title indicates, these stories all involve some form of alternate reality, from another spacetime to computer simulation to altered perceptions. Although set within the Alliance-Union universe, they have little to do with other works in this universe other than the technology and an occasional reference to other worlds.
Highly recommended for Cherryh fans and anyone else who enjoys tales of human relationships with aliens.
-Arthur W. Jordin
These are profoundly intellectual books, examining thought processes in great detail. Sometimes not too much happens, except an examination of what the characters are thinking, perhaps a tiny bit reminiscent of "Waiting for Godot". I found this fascinating, but I wouldn't expect that it would be very interesting for children, for instance.
In the first book, two sets of people are trapped together on a space ship. One set are normal, born people. The other set were made in a lab and conditioned to serve the first group. Most of the book takes place inside the head of one of these lab born servants and looks at how she experiences people and events around her.
In the second book, a group of people end up in the clutches of an alien computer, who plays strange games with them, copying and combining them.
In the third book, a group of human colonists lives on a planet with an alien race, but somehow convinces themselves that they don't see the aliens right in front of their faces. The story examines the bizarre thought patterns they go through in rationalizing their denial of the aliens.
It's hard in summarizing these books to capture a feeling of what the stories are really like. They all move at a good clip and keep up suspense, so you keep wanting to read on, despite the fact that the approach is so intellectual.
Cherryh is an incredibly creative writer. Her work is totally different from any other science fiction that I have read. It is true science fiction from the old school (rather than fantasy) and yet also has an approach somewhat like a romance novel in the detailed look at people's internal lives.
I am definitely getting more books by this author.
Voyager in Night is definitely the weirdest of all of Cherry tales, and probably my least favorite. However that doesn't mean it isn't good enough for a re-read, I think I'm only four times for that story.
Wave Without A Shore is one of my all time favorites. It is a great story about philosophy, truth, bigotry, isolation and intelligence.
This group of stories is not the place to start if you want to evaluate Ms Cherry's work.
If you are new to Ms. Cherryh, start with Down Below Station, to begin an exploration of the Merchanter's Universe , or for something really different, try Rider at The Gate.
But if you want something to make you really ponder, give this collection a try, but read slowly and think as you go.
Putting all three novels together in an omnibus is not a bad idea, as these three represent more of her experimental side. She's not indulging in space opera political action or alien world building here as much as trying out philosophical concepts or teasing a scenario to see how far she can take it. On their own I can see why they would have been tough sells on initial release because while her writing can connect with its intensity, something it can fall victim to its own abstractions and while that never happens in any of these to the point where it ruins the novel, you can see it straining to walk that fine line and not fall over.
The novels, then, for the more detail oriented out there:
"Port Eternity" - Odd at first glance this one ultimately turns out to be the most normal of the trio. A ship owned by rich Lady Dela is crewed by azi, basically Cherryh's version of vat-grown people who are designed to servants and "imprinted" with certain personality traits. For whatever strange reason, Lady Dela decided to name everyone after figures from Arthurian legend (thank goodness I just read "Once and Future King"), which doesn't become relevant until the ship gets stuck during a hyperspace jump into whatever places exists between here and hyperspace. At which point the crew and Lady Dela and her new lover-boy Griffin have to figure out what's going on and whether they're stuck there forever. Oh, and they may have company.
As I said, this one is the most normal, touching upon her usual themes of exploring other mindsets and coming up with aliens that operate under a different internal logic. It's a first person narration from Elaine and it's interesting to see how Cherryh captures the thoughts of someone who is literally born to be a slave, knows it and doesn't seem that concerned by it. The psychological intersections of the crew (there's a love triangle, natch) and the "born-men" can be a bit frosty at times and with the threat outside being a bit abstract it runs the risk of being a chamber opera that spins its wheels. But she gets credit for not reenacting "Le Morte d'Arthur" with SF characters, only bringing in the traits when it works for the plot (the rising of Mordred to the foreground is well done in particular). However it does suffer from a "what the heck just happened" type ending, one of the few times when her ability to create workable aliens doesn't quite come up to par.
"Voyager in Night" - NOW things get psychedelic. By far the strangest thing I've ever read from her, space travelers Rafe, Jillian and Paul (first two are brother/sister, the last two are married) wind up colliding their junk heap of a ship with an alien vessel. Then things get weird. In the course of trying to figure out what humans are, the ship winds up killing two of them (maybe) but then proceeds to make multiple copies of everyone (maybe) and to make things better, the ship appears to have divergent personalities that are at war with each other. We're then taken down an absolutely bizarre series of circumstances as the people and the copies and the copies of the people all try to figure out what's going on even as the ship becomes both too good and terrible at explaining things. The alien mind(s) depicted here are more up her alley, even if this is a bit more abstract than previous ones like the mri and the Chanur saga, it's closer to her methane or hydrogen based aliens. Except those generally aren't the stars. This one takes some patience and while it's rewarding, it'll be up to you to decide if payoff is the reward or finishing is a reward to yourself. Interestingly, the back cover copy makes this one sound the most normal of the lot, when in reality it's so experimental I'm impressed they even published it as a standalone book. Still, her handling of all the voices and personalities are deft, considering it starts to turn into some weird SF version of "Waiting for Godot" at various points.
"Wave Without a Shore" - A better choice to end the collection on, it mixes the more straightforward plot of the first novel with some of the experimental tendencies of the second. On the world Freedom everything seems fairly normal except that some of the upper class are heavily into philosophy. First Citizen Waden and his friend Herrin come at reality from two different angles and are quite content to keep it that way. Herrin comes up with a plan of doing a complicated statue of his friend that will stand the test of time, and then proceeds not to pay attention to anything else going on around him. Meanwhile, strange robed aliens walk the streets but everyone ignores them figuring that if everyone collectively pretends they don't exist, they won't. It almost works.
This one be the most frustrating from a dialogue standpoint, as the main characters tend to talk in a very stylized fashion, like graduate students constantly defending a thesis. It's meant to sound highminded and slightly off I imagine but too often comes across as pretentious, to the point where you just want to smack every character because they're so insufferable. You imagine everyone with smug grins on their faces as they score imaginary debating points versus whoever they're speaking to. But she keeps the central mystery of "what is the deal here?" going on long enough that the book can almost sustain it and there's a welcome return to the space politics she's often very good at, even if most of it happens in the background (which makes it even more interesting). The downfall here is that the aliens, when they do appear, aren't up to her usual standards, coming across more as "noble savages" which is a bit cliche for someone of her caliber. But it provides a nice shift to the proceedings and out of all of these here, it has the most satisfying ending.
Definitely not for newcomers to Cherryh, this is for the person who has read most of the major works and wants to delve into some deeper stuff. It showcases other sides of her writing personality and shows how versatile her universe can be from a storytelling standpoint, and that it ultimately has room for the stories that don't make complete sense either. Which is sort of welcoming in a way.