Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review of "Invader" by C.J. Cherryh

While the first book in Cherryh’s series, Foreigner, took its time, establishing Bren Cameron’s character and the dilemmas he faced attempting to adapt to a culture entirely foreign, Invader wastes no time.  Picking up precisely where the events of Foreigner left off, Bren is in the hospital suffering from the injuries of the previous book, and though he goes on the mend, life does not get any easier.  The space ship which suddenly appeared at the end of Foreigner threatens to disrupt tentative peace which the treaty between the atevi and humans had created. 

Pushing the ball up-court, Cherry winds the Cameron’s tension even tighter in Invader.  As if she were once a cultural attaché herself, every little nuance and ramification that hang from political decisions are described in insider fashion – and there are so many cultural toes to step on in atevi society.  Making matters both better and worse, Cameron’s relationship with his protectors works goes even deeper.  The details of their personal lives pull while the atevi’s natural indifference maintains the unnatural distance between them. 

Cherryh also takes the time to expand the reader’s understanding of the relationship between the atevi’s grammatically challenging language and cultural behavior.  Without out a doubt one of the most well thought out ideas in the genre, other sci-fi writers should take note.  Instead of simply stringing together gibberish and calling it alien language (who is to dispute?), Cherryh is erudite enough to not only create the rudiments of a language (like Tolkien, but to a lesser degree), but to intertwine it with her aliens behavior.  And it’s a plausible marriage.  A culture that sub-consciously uses calculation to formulate correct sentences would naturally be adept at not only picking up theoretical mathematics, but likewise always be concerned with the larger chains of events under discussion, as well as potential inputs and outputs for a given social situation.

Not only in language, Cherryh really takes the time to unpack the other ideas injected into her story.  Rather than glossing over something so simple as a space ship suddenly appearing in the atmosphere of a society that has never known life from outside their planet, she digs into what effect this would have on them.  If a UFO were to appear over the earth – somewhere outside an Oklahoma cornfield – imagine the explosion, not only in the media, but in the government offices of every major country around the world.  What does it want?  Are they hostile?   How do we communicate with them?  It’s these most basic yet most essential questions that Cherry attempts to answer in her tale.  No superheroes here, only people making rational and fallible decisions based on what they know and can know.

In the end, Invader is better than Foreigner, and Foreigner was worthy of a much larger readership.  The details, the back-history, and continued character development all fits within and expands upon the framework of the first novel.  Likewise, where Foreigner contrasted an individual and a culture, Invader goes to the next level by contrasting the two cultures (human and atevi), thus enlarging the diameter of the looking glass to incorporate all of the sub-groups the societies are broken into, the enmity between providing plot tension.  Fundamentalists, conservatives, liberals, altruists, libertarians, and traditionalists are all represented, and in turn push the book – and the series – closer to the realist side of literature than the unfortunate book cover allows.  But that’s another story…

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