The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Off To The Side

Posted on | December 20, 2015 | 8 Comments

— by Wombat-socho

For someone who’s allegedly been spending a lot of his time studying up on stuff for the upcoming tax season, I sure have been doing a lot of non-tax reading…probably because after watching a couple hours of training videos, my brain turns to mud. Anyway, the main topic of this week’s post is going to be some books by C.J. Cherryh, who does aliens and alienation like few other SF authors. She’s mainly known for Downbelow Station, her Hugo-winning novel about the three-way clash between Earth, the almost-renegade Earth Company Fleet, and the rebel stars of Union. This novel is the launching point for her vast Alliance/Union universe, which includes most of Cherryh’s work aside from her fantasy novels and the Foreigner series. The first of these books that I’ve been reading is Forty Thousand in Gehenna, which recounts the tale of a Union colony deliberately abandoned at the tail end of the Company War and its rediscovery by the Alliance. This is a depressing book for the most part; the Union colonists have no clue that they’re being deliberately set adrift, their azi workers are completely unequipped psychologically to survive the breakdown of the colony, and matters only get worse when the native, reptilian (and possibly intelligent) calibans become involved. A very disturbing novel; one is never sure whether the humans on Gehenna have become used to the calibans or whether the calibans are using humans for their own inscrutable ends. Unfortunately out of print except as part of the Alliance Space omnibus, which also includes the short novel Merchanter’s Luck

Also from C.J. Cherryh are the Chanur novels, available in three volumes: The Chanur Saga, which contains The Pride of Chanur, Chanur’s Venture, and The Kif Strike Back, and the remaining books, Chanur’s Homecoming and Chanur’s Legacy which are available separately on Kindle and also as a two-book paperback collection which I can’t seem to find on Amazon. Anyhow, the Chanur novels are especially interesting because they’re told from the alien perspective of Pyanfar Chanur, captain of the hani merchant starship Pride of Chanur, which one day acquires a strange new crewman: a human by the name of Tully, whose very presence on her decks promises to destabilize the entire Compact between hani, mahendosat, stsho, kif, and the methane-breathing tc’a, chi and Knnn, who are difficult to understand at best and impossible at worst. Pyanfar finds herself unwillingly thrust into a position of political prominence among the hani – a Personage, as the mahedosat say – as she desperately copes with the political maneuverings of the mahendosat, the lethal infighting of the kif, the highly unstable and unreliable stsho, and the looming threat of a human incursion. Tully himself is a frustrating character – since the stories are all told from a hani perspective, most of the time you can’t tell what he’s trying to say any better than Pyanfar or Hilfy (Pyanfar’s niece) can. Tremendously tense novels, whose relationship to the rest of the Alliance/Union books remains unclear until close to the end of the original tetralogy.

I also picked up the second novel in Vaughn Heppner’s Lost Starship series, The Lost Command, wherein Captain Maddox has to get his crew back together to rescue the missing Professor Ludendorff, repair the alien, millenia-old starship Victory, and help a beleaguered Star Watch fleet pull out a badly needed victory against the New Men. This is a step up from routine enjoyable brain candy, and I’m looking forward a lot to the next two books.

I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Baen or somebody else hasn’t brought all of the late Joel Rosenberg’s books back into print. Perhaps best known for his two combat SF novels about the Metzada Mercenary Corps, Hero and Not for Glory, Rosenberg also did a couple of other novels in the setting of the Thousand Worlds, Emile and the Dutchman and Ties of Blood and Silver. These are listed as books 2 and 1 of the Metzada series, but they really aren’t; there is a character in Emile and the Dutchman who is a Metzadan, and in Ties of Blood and Silver one of the characters talks about hiring a Metzadan as a swordsmanship teacher, but neither of these books is at all like the other two, and if you go into it thinking these are going to be about Metzada and the MMC, you’re going to be disappointed. (SPOILER – despite Ties of Blood and Silver, being set on Oroga, you don’t find out if Shimon Bar-El took the payoff or not, either.) That having been said, Emile and the Dutchman is a pretty good string of first contact stories strung together with some connective verbiage (letters from the protagonist, mostly) and Ties of Blood and Silver is…different. The cynical protagonist, who makes his living as a thief in the seedier parts of Oroga’s slums, finds himself with an affinity to the alien schtann, and most of the novel revolves around his gradual realization that belonging to the schrift of the precious metal workers is in fact his destiny. It’s a good read.

This is probably a good place to mention that my new book, What Did You Do In The Cold War, Dad? is available on Amazon for the Kindle. Reviews are very welcome!


8 Responses to “Off To The Side”

  1. Fail Burton
    December 20th, 2015 @ 8:13 pm

    i’ll tell you two other long out of print mercenary SF novels but with loads of nuance Baen could make money on: The War for Eternity and The Black Ship, from ’83 and ’85 by Christopher Rowley. Two of the best I have ever read of any kind of SF.

  2. Wombat_socho
    December 20th, 2015 @ 9:28 pm

    People keep mentioning Rowley to me. I should go look for some of his stuff.

  3. Daniel O'Brien
    December 21st, 2015 @ 9:50 am

    Hugo awards these days are meaningless.

  4. Wombat_socho
    December 21st, 2015 @ 3:22 pm

    They still meant something 25 years ago when Downbelow Station won Best Novel.

  5. Daniel O'Brien
    December 21st, 2015 @ 4:13 pm

    I defer to the master.

  6. Unix-Jedi
    December 22nd, 2015 @ 8:44 am

    Some of his stuff is awful.

    Those two are very good.

  7. Unix-Jedi
    December 22nd, 2015 @ 8:46 am

    heir azi workers are completely unequipped psychologically to survive the breakdown of the colony,

    Have you not gotten to Cyteen yet? That’s actually a thread dealt with in that book, how Emory actually handled that.

    IMO, Cyteen (1988) is still the gold standard when it comes to Cloning Sci-fi.

  8. Unix-Jedi
    December 22nd, 2015 @ 8:52 am