Sunday, April 11, 2021

Review of Visitor by C.J. Cherryh

The tides of the Foreigner universe shifted at the end of Peacemaker. The conflict within the atevi resolved, sure enough, right on time arrived another source to fill the void of drama (that every series needs to maintain momentum). The count actually shifting to two in Tracker, Bren faced both the kyo bearing down on the scene and a cabal brewing on the space station. One resolved and the other un-, it’s up to Visitor (2016), seventeenth—seventeenth!!—book in the series, to tell us how or if it remains un-.

The title seeming to make things clear <wink-wink>, in Visitor the reader finds the atevi and humanity adding to the list of sentient species encountered in atevi space by one. Difficult to write a plot intro without spoiling how un-simple that encounter is, what I can say is that the first chunk of Visitor is spent cleaning up the mess of Tracker. A new, more competent human station chief is installed. The children are taken care of after the kidnapping attempt. And big questions are started to be asked of Braddock, and his actions during the Phoenix mission. These things handled in Bren’s periphery, the paidi is clear to prepare for the arrival of the kyo—if it is even them.

While the child-kidnapping sub-plot of Tracker was a bit cheap, there’s no denying Cherryh has become entirely deft at handling human-human and human-atevi relations in the Foreigner world. The tension of a third, possibly aggressive species arriving on the scene playing havoc in Visitor only adds to Cherryh’s skill set at portraying the interaction of foreigness—of Otherness. Getting back to the basics of the Foreigner universe, the focus is on the basics of culture, linguistics, emotions, and social behavior—regardless the species. Thus, where Bren’s first meeting with the kyo was handled with extreme delicacy, Cherryh proves that in the thirteen, fourteen books between it’s possible to acquire an even more subtle touch. Another way of putting this is, Visitor reminds the reader in rich, attractive, soft-science fiction colors what the Foreigner universe is all about.

I said it in Tracker, and Visitor confirms it; events have shifted beyond internal atevi conflict, giving the series an organic move in a direction that breathes fresh air into the series/reader’s imagination. Somewhere around book nine or ten I certainly doubted whether Cherryh had lost the Foreigner plot (literally, natch), but the past handful have proved not only that she has the reins firmly in hand, but that the internal atevi conflict now serves as the best possible mirror to the events of Visitor.

I don’t think I’ve ever ended a review in this fashion, so after +/- thousand it’s probably time: in Visitor Cherryh manages to spring the biggest surprise yet in the seventeen Foreigner books to date. Read on to find out. In some attempt to justify this cheap hook, all I can say is I never saw it coming, and I doubt you will too. Enjoy!!

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