May 19 2010 3:52pm

How many sides are there in this?: C.J. Cherryh’s Explorer

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.

This article is part of C. J. Cherryh Reread: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Jo Walton
1. bluejo
I forgot to ask who is the explorer -- but it's really obviously Bren... except that it's also the ship, and there's a way in which it could be Prakuyo. These titles are subtle!
Joseph A. Clark
2. Joseph A. Clark
"...all of the books after it stand in its shadow." Say what? One gives credit to you as an SF & F writer, but one does not believe that the remark cited is true. There are subtleties to the titles that do not become evident until later books. It is unfair to publicly pronounce that all of the later books are mere shadows. There are many more things that Ms. Cherryh has in store for us, and it is not necessarily the case that any one person or group of persons are "Explorers". They are all explorers to a degree, including Cajieri, who is discovering that he has a talent for communicating with not only atevi, but with humans and with kyo. This will be invaluable when he becomes aiji, and I believe is a part of Ms. Cherryh's intent in later books, including after Betrayer. Her books are not cranked out in a rapid-fire succession of action figures, they are well-thought, well-planned, and well-written. Let's give credit to all of her books, please.
Jo Walton
3. bluejo
All the books I have read post-Explorer (which doesn't include the new one let along ones not yet published) seem to me to rely on the events of Explorer. This may not be the case in twenty years when the series is complete, but I stand by that as of now.
Declan Ryan
4. decco999
Certainly, the most satifying and enjoyable of the series so far reviewed. Perhaps to its very slight detriment, but benefiting the reader, the mindset of the Atevi became slightly more familiar - more "human" - through the personal interactions on the ship, taking away that feeling of complete Atevi strangeness that was so apparent in the earlier books. Indeed, this humanisation continues into future books in the series - my opinion, anyhow.

Personally, I also found a familiarity between the new space station & the new aliens and the universe created in Ms Cherryh's "Chanur" series that added to my enjoyment of the read. Indeed, I was almost hoping for an overlap that would bring both series within touching distance of each other.
Jo Walton
5. bluejo
Decco999: They can't be: hyperspace works differently. They're different universes.

But I know what you mean.
Joseph A. Clark
6. warriorofworry
I heard a quote last night that crystallized a thought that had been kicking around my brain about these excellent reviews.
““The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” - George Bernard Shaw
Imho, the theme of Foreigner – the book and the entire series, highlighted again in Explorer, is that ignorance in the interface between cultures is dangerous. With the atevi (Foreigner) and kyo (Explorer) it could be deadly.
I don’t think Bren starts off as incompetent so much as underinformed; sent forth with all the humans know about atevi, only to find how woefully little information he really has. That tight 3rd person POV lets us eavesdrop on his uncertainty, giving a skewed view of his actual abilities. As he learns more about atevi, his communication improves. By Explorer Bren’s confidence in his own ability to manage the interface has grown, but he consciously pits himself against the station leadership, and likens the kyo interface (iirc) to skiing breakneck down a mountain.
Another theme, of course, is alienation/belonging. Bren begins Foreigner as the human ambassador to the atevi, firmly human-identified; by Explorer he represents the atevi. In contrast, the heir, Cajeiri, is seen as too human. Who is foreign – and to whom – shifts constantly through the arc of the narrative.
Gabriele Campbell
7. G-Campbell
An aside - could the Management Service perhaps put up a master post that links to all the Cherryh related posts? It would be easier to have only one bookmark instead of half a dozen.

The same could be done for the posts about Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs, btw.

Thanks in advance

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