Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Review of Precursor by C. J. Cherryh

The following review is of the fourth book in a series of n books. (Cherryh just keeps pumping them out, the latest count seventeen.)  Therefore, I will skip the series intro and assume if you’re reading this, you are familiar with the first three Foreigner books, Foreigner, Invader, and Inheritor, and will jump into the review of Precursor (1999).

Three years have passed since the events of Inheritor.  Bren still lives among the atevi as chief human ambassador, with Jace working closely at his side as translator and linguistics expert.  The atevi have made huge strides in the three years to develop technology, including a functioning space ship.  With things going smoothly in the intervening time, and violence with the Mospheirans and orbiting station essentially non-existent, it comes as a major surprise to Bren when in short order he’s informed by Tabini of three things: Jace is being pulled from his staff and sent back to live with other humans in the orbiting station, secondly that Bren too is in for a space ride, his presence also required in the space station to find out why Jace was recalled, and thirdly Bren needs to take advantage of the trip to broker key trade agreements so that the personnel aboard the station get the resources they need and the atevi get access to the technology they desire.  Negotiations initially going smoothly, when an appointed meeting doesn’t take place, and no word is sent about a re-schedule, Bren starts to get suspicious.  But with rumors floating around that hostile aliens have been found in a nearby star system, things start to get tense.

Precursor is a novel that escalates slowly but steadily.  Cherryh maintaining the style of the first trilogy/story arc, her prose remains on point, unpacking all of the political nuances Bren must think of and handle in representing the atevi, even as the situation becomes less and less stable.  The diplomat-as-hero a tough one to pull off, Bren’s story is spiced up by just enough hostilities, and threats thereof, to make the proceedings engaging—Cherryh perpetually tweaking the threat dial with little details. A further interesting aspect is the reversing of the cultural tables.  With atevi in the human environment of the orbiting station, they are now guests and humans, hosts.  (Spoiler: it seems we are not as good as the atevi.)

In the end, Precursor is an organic (not ham-fisted) extension of the Foreigner story that plays with elements from the previous trilogy while introducing elements for a second arc.  Story content kept heavily focused on alien-human relations and the subtleties of diplomacy, fans of the original series will find nothing lacking as the second kicks off.

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