Explorer is the sixth Atevi novel, concluding the second trilogy, and it has more of the conclusion nature than any of the other books. The books immediately before it lead up to it, and all of the books that come after it stand in its shadow.
Explorer is the story of a confrontation between three sets of humans and two sets of aliens. It’s about communication and history and civilization. It’s terrific, it’s as good as anything Cherryh has done.
Spoilers up to Explorer.
So at the end of Defender, Phoenix was leaving for Reunion with an atevi mission and a Mospheiran mission. At the beginning of Explorer they’re about to get there. This book is perfectly balanced between human threats and alien threats, between accounts of communication and tense action. Bren is caught in the middle time after time, but this is not the naive helpless Bren of Foreigner but a Bren competent and comfortable with his resources. He communicates with the aliens, the kyo, he negotiates with the station and gets them to evacuate, he deals with Ilisidi and Cajeiri. Cajeiri is my favourite thing in this book, the seven year old heir to the atevi world who loves Dumas and racing toy cars. I also love seeing Bren making a bridge to a new language, sorting out what he needs and finding a way to get vocabulary. The kyo language isn’t seen as clearly as the atevi one—even the mistakes in atevi tell you something about the way the language works, “pregnant calendar” and “urgent meeting”, tells you about related words and so does Jase’s confusion between “bureaucrats” and “eavesdroppers”. But there’s enough of a hint of kyo—their issues about “we” and their lack of tenses—that it feels real, and certainly the reality of Bren trying to negotiate peace on the few words he has, and even before that, in pictures, is excellent. I love Prakuyo with the teacakes and Ilisidi taking over.
Explorer also has flat out more plot than most of the other books, more things happen, more is achieved. It’s also longer—520 pages when most of the others are around 400. If this had been the last Atevi book, as I assumed at the time it would be, it would have been a fine conclusion, having got the Arevi into space and into peaceful contact with another set of aliens. But it isn’t the end, so onwards to Destroyer.
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.