C. J. Cherryh Reread

Burning bridges and making alliances: C.J. Cherryh’s Invader

Invader is the second of the Atevi books, following Foreigner, and it is a much smoother read, more confident, more enjoyable, and knowing where it is with the universe. It opens out and expands from the first book—we have much more information about the alien Atevi, who are no less alien for being better known. We learn a lot more about the initial human settlement of the world, and about the present-day human politics and society. Bren, the paidhi, the translator-ambassador between humans and Atevi, is starting to know what he’s doing. The ship remains mysterious in its motivations, setting events in motion without us ever finding out what’s going on.

I don’t know how much sense it would make without having read Foreigner first, as they’re written in chronological order and I read these sensibly in order as they came out. If anybody did that, I’d be very interested, because I always feel that Foreigner is a very prickly book to recommend.

Spoilers for Foreigner and Invader.

So who is the invader of the title? On the one hand, it’s the ship, which is pretty much a MacGuffin until the second trilogy, which focuses on it. The ship has come back to the solar system, it wants things, it is certainly an invader. On the other hand, I think it’s Deana Hanks. She’s invading the mainland, and Bren’s peace of mind, she’s the main antagonist in this volume, and her brash style is invasive.

As far as Bren goes, he has two big developments in his personal life. One is that Barb breaks up with him without us ever having seen her as a character, as opposed to being in the background. We’re told in Foreigner that she likes a good time, and that she says certain things (“The hell with it”, as Barb would say) and Bren doesn’t think about her when he’s threatened. In Invader we get messages and phone calls but still don’t meet her, and the big action is breaking up with Bren and marrying Paul, then thinking better of it. From outside Bren’s point-of-view, where the book doesn’t want you to go, she could well be justified. Bren rationalises a lot, and he’s quite contradictory about Barb. This is written in a very tight third which follows Bren’s trains of thought very closely, and the way he understands her changes a lot. The other development is the hint of a possibility of future romance, or at least sex, or at least something, with Jago. This is a cross-species relationship and that both does and doesn’t bother Bren—it doesn’t seem to bother Jago, but it would be interesting to know more about what she thinks.

In the wider world, there are the human factions on Mospheira, which seemed monolithic in the first book, and also the glimpse of what it’s like—long vacations and early retirement and a comfortable level of tech and people not looking very far from the routine of their lives. There certainly are human societies like that, but this one seems to be formed by looking away from Atevi as hard as they can. Then there are the Atevi factions, and the unholy alliance between Hanks and the humans-first Mospheirans and the Atevi conservative human-haters. Tabini keeps things on course, but Bren burns bridges with Mospheira and lies to Jase and the ship about how safe it is to come down, which will have consequences.

Ilisidi has become a friend. Banichi and (especially) Jago have become friends. Geigi is an antagonist who changes sides. The whole numbers issue is introduced here—in Foreigner it seemed as if the counting was superstitious nonsense, here we see it as a hard-wired mathematical ability that needs precision that human engineering doesn’t provide. We also start to see the sub-associations and the history, which was very broadly painted before, and now filled out in some detail which we won’t get back to until the third trilogy.

The cast and the bandaging issue is done brilliantly—Cherryh’s really good at discomfort and tiredness and the way things work. (If you ever find yourself in a Cherryh novel and think you’d like a shower and a good night’s sleep, you’re in for a lot of excitement.) It’s also not as traumatic to read as the tea poisoning in Foreigner. The lily incident is also terrific, and so is the pizza—so many good moments in this volume. It starts a day after the end of the previous volume and it ends on an upbeat note with a pretty good volume conclusion involving the successful retrieval of the paidhin from the ship.

When I was thinking about Deana Hanks, I thought about how both Atevi and humans have gender equality, but in both cases it’s men who happen to be in charge. Deana is just as qualified to be paidhi, but Bren is better, and there’s no issue of women being considered less suited for gender reasons. Well, 50/50, reasonable. But the same goes with the aiji, Ilisidi was passed over twice, for her son and her grandson, though gender wasn’t a disqualification in itself, they didn’t have her because she was too ruthless (she probably murdered her son) and too conservative. Again, 50/50, how many societies would ever have considered her? We have Banichi and Jago as a pair of licensed assassin guards, and Jago is the junior partner, but we see women (Saidin) as senior in the Guild too. But it’s interesting that Cherryh made these choices, in showing a society that is equal. When we get to ship’s captains, there are three, one female—and that made me wonder if it’s doing that thing where there are more women than we’re used to and so it looks like equality when in fact it’s just another step on towards it without actually having got there, if there is still sexism working against Ilisidi and Deana, and Sabin too. This is interesting too, of course. Cherryh has a tendency to write about powerful competent women and powerless flailing men, and I expect the paidhi’s position in the beginning influenced her choice of Bren’s gender. (I don’t know if she does this because it reflects her world experience, or as a tic, or as a calculated bit of redressing balance, but she does it across enough books that I’m confident it’s a pattern.)

On to Inheritor.


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

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