Wed
May 12 2010 6:20pm
By no means unlikely: C.J. Cherryh’s Inheritor

Inheritor is the third Atevi book, the conclusion to the first trilogy. Do not start with this book, it will not make sense.

It’s in this volume that Cherryh really hits her stride with the language. The book is written in English, obviously, but she manages to give it a terrific feel of alienness by use of vocabulary. We, the readers, understand the words “scoundrel” and “rascal” and the constructions “by no means” and “one will inquire” but they’re not naturally part of everyday usage, and by making them part of Bren’s stream of consciousness she successfully makes it feel like a translation of the alien.

The working title for this book was apparently “Bren goes on holiday” and there’s a certain element of that about it. Six months have elapsed since the end of Invader, and in that time things have gone pretty well, and the shuttle is on the way to construction. But the book is really a struggle between Bren and Jase, as Jase tries to sort out the planet and his loyalties. There’s a lot of Mospheiran politics, a lot of personal stuff, including (huzzah!) Bren finally getting together with Jago. Bren’s a lot more confident, but still out of his depth, and this is the last book where he really is out of his depth.

So, who is the inheritor here? There’s a lot of it going on. The atevi are inheriting human technology, and Bren and Jase are inheriting Atevi culture. The human heritage party don’t want either of those things to happen—the end of the book heads off a human invasion.

This is a different book on re-reading knowing what’s going on—that Jase’s father’s death is a deception, and what’s going on with Yolanda and the island. I find myself very sympathetic to Bren’s desire to have a few days peace and Jase’s to go fishing. It’s also interesting to see Bren’s increasing comfort with servants and being dressed and all of that—and the question of whether he’s giving up his humanity, and whether he likes the atevi too much. Again here we have the fracture lines across Mospheiran and Atevi society, and the ship remains very much mysterious—until the revelation that opens things up.

The other space station is an odd thing. This paragraph contains spoilers up to Explorer! In Invader, it’s stated to exist, which nobody on the planet knew, a second space station around another star. Now we find out that it has been destroyed by hostile aliens, and that they’re out there somewhere, a third intelligence, a threat. This certainly opens things up and makes them more interesting. But we’re asked to believe first that there is a space station and then that it’s been destroyed, and then at the end of Defender we’re going to find out that it hasn’t after all. Each of these revelations opens things out, but when you look at the books individually and these revelations sequentially what you have is the ship being unnecessarily cagey. Which is like the ship, let’s face it.

Inheritor ends happily, the invasion is foiled, Jase has told the truth, Ilisidi is victorious and Bren is happy in love, or whatever you call it with an ateva, who certainly don’t use that word. It’s a good upbeat volume conclusion, and indeed trilogy conclusion, but I’m very glad Cherryh didn’t leave it there.


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 ›
1 comment
Eugene R.
1. Eugene R.
C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner novels truly give the lie to the notion that science fiction is not about characters but about ideas. She manages to provide both the type of depth of characterization that is hailed in mainstream novels, while also adding in a good measure of speculation on the process of translation and the ability to accurately understand (intellectually, emotionally, even genetically) the Other.

I wonder if these dual strengths of her works play against their popularity, leading to few nominations for awards, for example. Are they too mainstream for genre readers and too sf for mainstreamers? Speaking as a fan, I must admit that living inside Bren Cameron's head for hundreds of pages can be a daunting prospect, even if Ms. Cherryh is dangling another fold of her origami of a mystery ahead of me.

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