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Explorer by C.J. Cherryh

01/06/2003. Contributed by Joules Taylor

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pub: DAW Books. 408 page hardback. Price: $23.95 (US), $34.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-7564-0086-4.

So, what can I say that hasn't already been said? Not a lot, really. Opening a CJ Cherryh book guarantees the reader a good and satisfying read even if, like me, you haven't been following the story so far.

'Explorer' is the sixth book in the 'Foreigner' series - so I've missed an awful lot of the chronicle. But it didn't matter. With consummate skill, Cherryh recaps enough of the story - using introspection, brief flashbacks and snippets of letters - to enable anyone to understand what has gone before.

Explorer by C.J. CherryhHumans built a space station - Alpha - orbiting the world of the atevi (humanoid but bigger and stronger than humans and with a fascinatingly complex culture).

The two species met. Some of the humans left the station to live on-world on the island of Mosphiera, the rest departed in the space vessel Phoenix search of Earth, eventually building another station - Reunion - in what appeared to be an uninhabited area of space.

Only it isn't... Two centuries later, the Phoenix returns with news that Reunion was attacked and destroyed by aliens and efforts are made to rebuild the now derelict Alpha. Then the captain of the Phoenix reveals, on his deathbed, that Reunion wasn't destroyed, only damaged, and that there may still be friends and family alive there.

The Phoenix is re-crewed and fuelled and sets off on a rescue mission, staffed mostly with humans but accompanied by Bren Cameron (native Mosphieran and liaison between atevi and human), his atevi guard (members of the Assassin's Guild) - and the atevi dowager Ilsidi and heir Cajeiri.

But they only know half the story - the rest they will not uncover until they arrive at Reunion... 'Explorer' is the story of the rescue mission. I have to confess though, for a while I really didn't think I was going to enjoy the tale.

Space-faring races who wear an analogue of seventeenth century clothing that requires a servant to put on and lace sharp enough that moving one's head threatens to cut one's throat usually irritate the hell out of me.

In context, however, the attire - and the efficient high-tech weaponry - are absolutely right, an external expression of the amazing formal complexity of the atevi civilisation, very much number based, where even numbers are unlucky, odd numbers felicitous, where behaviour and language is courtly, precise, and speaking too loudly can get you killed.

There are intriguing echoes of Japanese culture - insofar as I understand it, I'm still a student - in the language and behaviour of the atevi. I, also, for a while thought the story was a little slow-moving - until I realised I was half-way through and itching to know what happened next!

It's a fine book from a fine writer, gripping, full of complex and fascinating characters and the action, even though not a major part of the actual text (which is primarily concerned with convoluted diplomacy and the complex interactions between the characters) is tense, exciting and deftly handled.

An extremely satisfying read (though I could have lived without the handful of irritating typos). So much so that I now have to find the time to read the rest of the series.


Joules Taylor

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