Friday, March 26, 2021

Review of Tracker by C.J. Cherryh

Can we finally put the plots within plots within plots within plots regarding the assassin’s guild behind us? Can we finally stop the seemingly unending attempts at kidnapping Cajeri? Can we finally give Boji a moment of peace in his cage? Can we give the battle bus a deserving break in the garage for repairs? The sixteenth book in the Foreigner series, Tracker (2015), says Yes! Yes! Yes! to these questions. (The battle bus does make an appearance for an airport trip, however.)

Indeed, Peacemaker seems to have finally brought to an end nine books’ worth of internal atevi machinations. In Tracker, the focus shifts back to atevi-human relations. On planet and off, issues on the human side of things that have been brewing in the background since Explorer (sixth book) decide to boil over in Tracker (good timing, no?). Is it all germane? Yes—almost all…

Tracker is thus the breath of fresh air the Foreigner series needed. A fresh (albeit occasionally forced) conflict that goes beyond the state of affairs of the past nine books, Tracker returns to old relationships and feuds brought to light in the second Foreigner trilogy. The reader is at once reminded of the wider universe while filling out their broader impression of the series’ as a whole. As has been the case with most of the first novels within the series’ cycle of trilogies, Cherryh chooses to start slow, building the political backdrop appropriately (hence the cover—the most subdued of all Foreigner covers?), before unbagging the cats. Some of the cats green and purple (i.e. a bit of unnatural drama), but overall Foreigner moves forward positively.

With this in mind, I’d like to close the review in a different way than I normally do. (If you’ve read the fifteen prior books, there’s nothing about the sixteenth that should make you believe Cherryh has entirely dropped the ball; feel confident to continue investing in the series.)

Instead, I’d like to end this review on a defense of the nine books’ worth of atevi machinations. Yes, there were certainly repetitive elements. (Cajeri kidnapped, again. Battle bus riding out to save the day, again. And so on.) And yes, there was inconsistency; the quality of some books/trilogies felt lesser or greater than others. But overall, the books brought the reader deep-deep into the world. The first three Foreigner books did this reasonably well, but still retain a ‘classic sf’ feel. Going to space in the next three novels furthered development, but was almost entirely a “human mission”. It’s the nine books which follow, dealing with eliminating the secret plot to eliminate Tabini, that is the most illuminating of atevi culture. Whether it be Cajeri’s family relationships and the stress and strain clan place on it. Whether it be regional associations and loyalty that impact politics and decisions. Or whether it be Bren’s non-atevi stance which incites atevi reaction. All of these gave the reader a truly in-depth view of an alien/Japanese culture unlike any science fiction series, to my knowledge, ever has. I write “Japanese” not to call out Cherryh for cherrypicking, rather for the human elements of atevi culture that we readers understand but find foreign, the same way any Polish tourist in Japan finds their ways different but relatable in the overarching human sense. This was Cherryh’s mission in the nine books, and success. Atevi culture is as concrete, as real as any other imagined alien culture ever has been. All other interactions thus now have a fine mirror to reflect upon…

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