Dec 15 2010 6:08pm
A girl on a haunted spaceship: C.J. Cherryh’s Merchanter’s Luck

Merchanter’s Luck by CJ CherryhIn the comments on my post on Family Trees of Fantasy, Ben JB and I were talking about Gothics, and Ben JB asked if you could have a Gothic on a spaceship. My immediate response was Merchanter’s Luck, a 1982 novel by C.J. Cherryh. It has a girl and a haunted spaceship and a mysterious man with lots of secrets in his past. But on re-reading it, I have to admit that it doesn’t quite work as a Gothic. The book is about equally divided in point of view between Sandor, the man with a spaceship and a past, and Allison. But Allison is far from a gothic heroine—she’s empowered, and most of the time in the novel she is the one in the position of power. She goes onto the spaceship and goes into abandoned cabins, full of the possessions of the dead, but she doesn’t go alone. She’s not virginal, not isolated, and never helpless. And the antagonists are outside the spaceship. But it was an interesting angle to take to the book, a new way of thinking about an old favourite.

No spoilers beyond what you could get from the cover.

This is the Alliance-Union universe, and Merchanter’s Luck was the second novel written in it, after Downbelow Station (post) (1981). (Maybe next time I’ll read these in publication order, rather than internal chronology.) Downbelow Station is a book about the end of a war that has stretched between and the stars and lasted as long as Troy. This is a post-war book, about people whose lives have been scarred by the war that has shaped the universe they live in. The powers in the Beyond are Union, the star systems who rebelled from Earth, and Alliance, the merchants and space-station who made a side rather than get ground between two sides who cared nothing for them. Earth is still there of course, but far away. Earth’s old fleet are very definitely there, they have become pirates preying on the ships they used to claim to protect. Alliance and Union are working together to fill in the holes where the pirates and marginers operate, and Sandor Kreja is running out of places to hide.

This is a close up book about people who live with their complex history and the complex history of their societies, just like us. It’s not a book about anything that makes history or changes society, it’s a book about a boy and a girl and a spaceship.

This is Sandy’s book much more than it is Allison’s. The spaceship and the ghosts are Sandy’s—the ghosts are his family, killed by pirates in the war. Closest of them is Ross, who programmed himself into the computer—so Sandy thinks it wasn’t so much that he died as that he went invisible. So Sandy is fabulously wealthy, he owns a starship, and on the other hand he’s flat broke, he has no money, and his papers are false. He’s skimming, living close to the edge in all senses. And then he meets this girl—he falls in love with Allison before he knows her, and he thinks of her as a Princess. And she sees him and his spaceship as her route to command. And that’s why it isn’t a Gothic, despite what I was thinking. She knows what she wants and she goes for it.

Like most Cherryh, this can be claustrophobic but feels absolutely real, and again typically it speeds up a lot near the end. I talked about the appeal of these books before. I’m extremely fond of them, and I recommend them highly.

SPOILERS—minute spoilers, not really for this so much as for the Chanur books, plus it won’t be interesting unless you know what I’m talking about:

There was speculation as to what it was to be strung out in the between, and speculation about what the human mind might start doing once the drugs wore off and there was no way back. There were tales of ships which wafted in and out of jump like ghosts, with eerie wails on the receiving com, damned souls that never came down and never died and never made port in time that never ended...

Merchanter’s Luck, p.14, Sandy POV.

You know what those “ghost ships” wailing on com and coming in and out of jump weirdly are? Not just atmospheric writing. And not people lost in jump either. They’re knnn. Knnn, the wailing aliens from the Chanur books, who we know share a border with humanity! Just thought you might like to know.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and eight novels, most recently Lifelode. She has a ninth novel coming out in January, Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. 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. 12stargazers
"Claustrophobic" is a an understatement. Parts of it were downright suffocating. Out of all of Cherryh's books, I read this one first and missed a lot of context and connections. The story held toghether though. Every so often, I feel the need to go back and re-read it to see what I missed, now that I've read a bit more in the Alliance-Union universe.
2. Steven Oerkfitz
Guess I need to try to read a Cherryh book again. Have tried several over the years but have never managed to get past 50 pages in any.
Jo Walton
3. bluejo
Steven: It's not obligatory. Cherryh is one of my very favourite writers, but she really isn't for everyone, and that's OK.
4. namelessfrankie
Ooh, I'd never connected the wailing noise with the knnn before -- thats a very neat link.

12stargazers@1: Yes, definitely an understatement! I've been re-reading a lot of Cherryh recently and I'd forgotten just how engrossing they are -- I find I feel physically anxious towards the end of many of her Alliance/Chanur books.

I must go find my copy of Merchanter's luck now...
Tony Zbaraschuk
5. tonyz
I liked Rimrunners better, but there's a lot of interest in this one as well. It's not a bad introduction to the Alliance/Union universe, since the focus is always so small that you've got the two main characters firmly in view and never lose them. Of course, that does contribute to the claustrophobia feeling. Sandor's a bit of a paranoid twit, but then I'd probably be one too if I were in his boots; Allison needs a tact implant, but handles pretty well despite that.

It just occurred to me that this is also a novel about a larger corporation taking over a smaller corporation, with sex added in. Wonder if that would be a useful blurb?
6. chemster
Wouldn't Port Eternity be a Gothic Cherryh? Or, um, Voyager in the Night?
Richard Boye
7. sarcastro
No....... shit.

So those are the knnnn.

That's amazing. I've read these books piecemeal over the last 15+years, and not in any particular order (neither publishing order or in-universe chronological), and I would never have made that connection.


All I really want now is some reference about the Mazianni world mentioned at the end of Tripoint.

(also, what Cyteen makes of Eversnow)
Clifton Royston
8. CliftonR
I was about to say the same thing as chemster, as regards Voyager in Night. It's been a long time since I've read that, but it might merit analysis as a gothic. Doesn't the main character there have that helpless streak that a number of Cherryh heroes do? (Though her heroines seldom do.)
j p
9. sps49
I never made the knnn-ection, probably because I didn't read or re-read this after the Chanur books. I probably still wouldn't've.

Second the love for Cherryh, but stuff can get piled on a reader- but that makes for better re-reads!

I never ever found Union sympathetic- Josh Talley was my first info about them, and the azi deal also made them seem inhuman (perfect for enemies, right?).

I did feel sad reading Hellburner when Ed Porey was assigned to command the protagonist's crew, and did not like the notion that they were apparently going to become part of one of the worst of the Mazianni. I was upset enought to ask Ms. Cherryh, via her website, about it; she assured me they would not be. Subsequent review (and 'Net data) shows that Porey must have commanded the unnamed ECS4 only temporarily, as he was CO of ECS7 Africa during the War.

Agree with sarcastro re: the Mazianni planet. Time fior a revisit!
10. Sam Dodsworth
The new ebook edition of Hellburner on Cherryh's website has a note at the end about the fate of the protagonists - they end up serving under Mallory, on Norway. I'm actually a bit ambivalent about that... I quite liked the sense of "this sounds like a happy ending, but history is still happening" that I got from Heavy Time and Hellburner. And putting them on the most famous ship in the Merchanter universe seems a little too much of a fanfic move for my tastes. (I'd be prepared to argue that Cherry's most significant fault is a tendency to write fanfic in her own universes.)

Cyteen is the place to go for a sympathetic view of Union, obviously. At the very least, it shows all their institutions as reasonable responses to real problems... but I've always had a soft spot for Union, if only because I've never quite seen what's so noble and worthwhile about the Alliance.
Jo Walton
11. bluejo
Port Eternity strikes me as fiction from within the universe, one of the stories they tell each other about ships that get lost in jump. I don't like it. It's a long time since I've read Voyager in Night. Hmm.

Sam: I always thought there was supposed to be a third Belter novel, in which we saw Porey get his scars. We know Graff ended up on Norway, why not them too? The one named ridership person in DS is Almarshad, who we also see in Hellburner.

Sarcastro: Oh me too. I do have a sort of theory about that world. Actually two. One is that it's Haven, where the capital of Alliance has been moved in the Mri books. The other is based on the cover of Tripoint, where Capella looks -- have you read the Morgaine books? That's supposed to be the far future of Alliance-Union. At some point they have to develop gate-walking tech, and what out of but nightwalking jump? (I've been told that in the Cherryh-authorized comic of Gate of Ivrel, the person sending Morgaine and friends off is an iteration of Ariane Emory.)
12. Michael S. Schiffer
Sam@10 Obviously, there are no angels in Cherryh's universe, at least on the political level. But while the Alliance melange of clannish traders, corporate-feudal stationkeepers and renegade mercenaries isn't exactly edifying, their opponents are an aggressive, hegemonizing state founded on slavery and mind control.

By now, we've seen more of Union from the inside and we know a lot about how and why they got where they are. While Cherryh isn't above the occasional mustache-twirling villain (some of the Mazianni, Lukas in Downbelow Station), Union is driven by perceived necessity and believed ideals. But still, they depend on using manufactured, brainwashed human beings (so thoroughly conditioned that they mostly can't even desire autonomy) on a wholesale level.

Ari Emory, at least, intends for their descendants to integrate as citizens-- but as part of a project to reshape society and humanity that she feels no particular need to consult anyone but the occasional acquaintance on. And it's clear that other comparable power centers in Union, like the military, don't share that goal of generational integration.

From what we know of the timeline, Union will continue to exist (though I'm not sure we know what happens with azi long term), and Alliance will go through at least one repressive period. But in the period of Downbelow Station, Cyteen, etc., I'm still rooting for Alliance against Union. I don't find Union's internal organization or its pressing need to own everything in space to be particularly compelling, especially as an argument for blowing or forcibly annexing stations and ships that aren't theirs and don't want to be.
Karen Frederickson
13. chazzbee
I love and adore Merchanter's Luck, and think it's an excellent gateway into the Alliance/Union books  My second favorite is Rimrunners,  going by the number of times I've read it! - though I have a soft spot for the family ships and would love to read another about them (even though some will say 'same-old same-old').
14. Sam Dodsworth
Jo - There's no reason the characters from Hellburner shouldn't end up on Norway. I just found it a bit cozy in a way that, for me, went against the anything-but-cozy feel of the novels. But if Graf appears in Downbelow Station (which I don't really like, and haven't re-read in years) then that does feel a bit less arbitrary.

Michael - Your view of Union is pretty clearly Cherryh's, too, but I think there's an unearned use of the "free-spirited traders vs totalitarian state" trope in the early novels. Ships and stations are actually rigid hierarchical societies with (at best) a small oligarchy at the top. Union at least attempts to create a democratic structure, even if their subsequent development pulls them away from that.

As for azi... you say "brainwashed humans", I say "artificial intelligence". Are they really that much more creepy than the talking ship's computers and AI assistants in other SF novels? All three are examples of made minds designed to serve - it's just that azi are biological. (Arguably, we should find the talking ships and AI companions more creepy than we do... but that's a question for another day.)

I read Ari's intended goal in Cyteen as a society in which the human minority are socialised to azi norms and not the other way around. That's totalitarian in the sense that she's trying to construct a stable self-perpetuating society (not an uncommon goal for politicians, although she's got a more effective toolkit) but it's more like an alien culture than slavery to me.
15. cranscape
"she's trying to construct a stable self-perpetuating society"

Yeah, the point to the azi wasn't to be slaves so much as finding a way of expanding into space without losing a shared identity. If you look at Pel vs Earth you can see how quickly time and distance changes the touch points for each group of humans to the point that they are no longer compatible. The homing mechanism of humans to Earth and the Earth experience isn't that strong. Even in Hellburner you see that just a few generations off Earth loyalties shift away from the traditional seat of power and it starts getting hard to communicate on a 1-1 level. 10,000 in Gehenna was an interesting look at how quickly that a group of people disconnected for a few generations not only lose that connection to the larger group but also take on characteristics of their environment. Azi can be given experiences and loyalties thus Union could expand (expansion would happen one way or another...that's how we work) without the problems that Earth was facing in their expansion. The last thing they want is years on down the line exploring space and running into a branch of humanity that isn't really human anymore.
16. cranscape
That should have been "40,000 in Gehenna". Also, wasn't there tape that would essentially "free" the azi after a point? You'd think my recall would be better since I only started reading Cherryh in the last 5 years. Her books are like crack to me. She's taken over an entire bookshelf somehow.
17. wayspooled
Nice commentary and review!
Matthew Brown
18. morven
@cranscape: yes, there is citizen tape that azi can be given that teaches them to be self-sufficient and not depend on a supervisor. Mentioned numerous times in "Cyteen". It seems fairly common for military azi of retirement age.

It's worth remembering that Union society is in some ways based on Imperial Rome, especially the azi, whose situation has deliberate parallel to Roman slaves, who could be manumitted by their owners and given citizenship, and who, although slaves, still had many human rights under law (even though not uniformly honored).
19. Raskolnikov
Quite a good book. Not Cherryh's best--there are other works in the A-U series that anchor that degree of calustrophobia with more thrilling sociological exploration, but is an enormously vivid work. It also has what I remember as one of the most engaging openings of Cherryh's fiction.

Regarding the above discussion, I've never been sympathetic to Union, they're one of the SF factions I most detest. Sure, Alliance has lots of problems as well, but at least massive slavery isn't one of them. Even in Cyteen I never wanted that polity to succeed in maintaining itself, and my biggest criticism of Regenesis was the way it seemed far too comfortable rooting for the success of a really sociopathic faction.

And, as always, the attention to economics in the invented future is top-notch, one of the best of the genre. Cherryh's universes work, adding up in the nuts and bolts of material goods, in a way that most authors don't even try. I love me some Cultureverse and Xeelee Sequence, but neither universes evidence as much care to the smaller details as Cherryh provides, the small and often grimy components of the setting.

It's also notable that so little of her fiction actually involves shots-fired representation of combat. It's much more heavily focused on the wider political and economic forces and the drawn out, ambiguous aftermath. Which, again, shows Cherryh to be contributing something very unique and valuable to science fiction. We need more people like her, but I'm glad that we at least have the one.
Matthew Brown
20. morven
Yes, there really aren't many depictions of shots-fired combat. Downbelow Station has some, but even then, much of the combat happens "off-stage", in the jump-cuts between segments. We get the Mazianni haring off-station to meet the Union threat, but the actual, inconclusive combat that occurs is described afterward. We get Mallory and her crew pondering and plotting courses and threats but not much of the actual firing. Even the climactic battle near the end doesn't take many pages.

There's a bit more in the Chanur books, but most of it is more skirmishing than outright warfare. There's a very 'cold war' feel to Cherryh's combat operations -- each side knows the costs of a battle, and generally tries to avoid it, instead maneuvering and posturing and the occasional lightning strike when some enemy or enemy's ally is exposed and weak. I think that's a more realistic view of things. In Alliance/Union, only Union has the strength of force to take risks, and even they are spread thin.
21. Michael S. Schiffer
Sam@14 I agree that it's a mistake to idealize Alliance. Those merchant ships sound like a nightmare. I love my family, but being sealed up in a tin can with them and no one else for years on end in a hierarchical relationship rarely punctuated by short dionysian shore excursions isn't how I'd choose to relate to them, and it offers pretty much the opposite of social mobility. ("Merchanter's Luck" being an illustration of some of the problems that show up, with Allison and her fellows looking at a lifetime of being at the bottom of the totem pole barring the unusual circumstances of the book.) Norway is a more honorable outfit than the rest of the Mazianni, but it's not a volunteer force, and it's captained by a sexual predator. And Pell is a family-owned company store. Sandor Kreja isn't wrong to be afraid of them. (Though they're also not wrong to be wary of him, given the information they have.)

But Union's a slave society. Whether computer-based AIs designed to serve constitute a problem varies across SF, and there are certainly plenty of stories in which it's either the central problem or an underlying concern. But since their parameters are author's choice, it can also be backburnered or explicitly disclaimed. (Or, in some cases, prey on the reader even when the author is untroubled by it.)

Azi are unequivocally human-- if anything, it's Alliance that's confused about that, not Union. (And certainly not Ari, who says as much.) The only inherent difference between azi and CITs is upbringing and the sort of tape they're exposed to. If human beings held in servitude from birth, whose wills can be overriden without their consent by whomever they're assigned to, who can be traded to other individuals or government entities without asking them, and who can be put down without any semblance of due process aren't slaves, what are they?

It's possible that Union is in the process of making itself into an alien culture, a la Bujold's Cetaganda (which has some commonalities with it). But while there may be a point of alienness where human standards no longer apply, the characters of Cyteen and Regenesis haven't reached it yet. At this point, they're still pretty much people-- people who've consciously decided to make a huge fraction of their society (a majority?) into human tools. Compared with that, AlSec's brutality, the merchanters' clannishness and protectionism, and Pell's parochial authoritarianism seem almost homey.

That said, I still like and sympathize with Ari II and Justin when I'm reading the books. Cherryh is very good at putting the reader into the characters' heads.

(Though she cheats a little by making the only abolitionists we see ruthless and incompetent terrorists. I'd guess there'd at least be some guilty, Jeffersonesque "manumit the azi and don't make any more, but not yet" sentiment floating around.)
Jo Walton
22. bluejo
Michael: The Centrist party held that view, and kept being embarrassed by their lunatic fringe. Corain anyway -- the whole Centrist argument was that they should absorb what they had and stop expanding until they saw what they did have. They're waiting to go "tech growth positive", where they have enough consumers to support a society that continues to advance, and meanwhile, well, Cherryh certainly knows it's slavery. The House and Yard terminology shows it. And she knows, at least in Cyteen (not necessarily in Regenesis: Three More Months of the Soap Opera that is Ari II's Life) that they are meddling with society on a huge scale and they don't really know what they're doing -- the computer models can't actually model what it's going to be like when the people who have artificial mindsets bring up children.

Gehenna shows they don't really know what they're doing. And if it didn't, the fact that the azi whisper about places where you get your CIT places in a year -- the fact that they are whispering at all, shows the designers don't know as much as they think they do about making people think what you want them to think.

Cyteen is one of my top five books, and I didn't read it for ages because I didn't want to spend time in Union.
Matthew Brown
23. morven
It strikes me Union is the product of a whole bunch of smart but socially dysfunctional scared people. Scared of Earth; scared of the hostile environments (Cyteen itself is just as scary of a place as space, given its toxic-to-humans nature), scared of the small worlds and small minds of the merchanters, scared of what humanity will become, scared of what humanity will meet out there.
24. Sam Dodsworth
Jo, Mike - Another slight fudge I've noticed is that although we know citizens sleep with their azi, it's always male azi in the examples we see. Power-relations being what they are in our society, the other way around would be considerably more shocking.

I absolutely agree that azi are slaves - I just don't feel the same degree of moral revulsion that I would if they were ordinary humans who were captured and coerced. The tape-training is part of that, as is the sense that azi were neccessary and aren't intended to be a slave class for ever - at least in Ari's plan. Perhaps Cherryh's historian's detachment is leading me to take too much 0f a pragmatic view.

Morven - Scared with good reason, I think. But yes - that's what I meant by "reasonable responses to real problems". Union began as a very small population of specialists. They needed to grow the population-base so they could resist Earth and they had to preserve genetic options so they didn't suffer from inbreeding. Cloning gets you lots of babies, but raising and educating them needs considerable resources. Tape-training turns that into an industrial process but creates personalities that are brittle in the way computer programs are... result: azi. The whole effort is dependant on the work of a few very talented scientists... result: Specials. But the way those institutions interact and develop is quite another thing. One possible end-point is something like the society in Serpent's Reach.

The irrational fear is Ari Emory's, I think. She wants to create a uniform society that behaves in predictable ways because she's scared of ordinary human society. And that, as I read, is because she was sexually abused as a child and grew up in an environment where her only safe companions were azi. (Disclaimer: I've not read Regenesis and don't intend to after Jo's remarks. I like Cyteen too much to want to risk spoiling it.)

Er... sorry. This isn't really on-topic for Merchanter's Luck is it?
25. Anna_Wing
I vaguely recall an interview with Cherryh where she said that her inspiration for Union was "Brave New World". She wanted to see if Huxley's world could be made into an actual, viable society.
26. Raskolnikov
"not necessarily in Regenesis: Three More Months of the Soap Opera that is Ari II's Life"

I'm totally going to use that term. The book wasn't entirely a waste, and the political tension as the end was pretty thrilling, but there are certainly problems, well captured by that quote. Especially the first half of the book, that might be one of the slowest and less engaging things that Cherryh's ever written.

#25: Interesting. More than anything else the direct hedonism angle makes it creepy, as particularly occurred when Ari II started using her azi backguard for sex, it's one of the more thorough and pervasive forms of rape featured. Of course there's the horror of what was done early in Cyteen, but honestly the total helplessness of azi makes it even worse for me. Given that not everyone in Union is brainwashed drones, but citizens with relative degree of individual rights, it makes the abuse seem much more extensive compared with Brave New World.
Matthew Brown
27. morven
In fact, the vast majority of azi shown are male. There are quite a few female ones in the backdrop, but Catlin is about the only one shown in close-up. Catlin, unlike most of the male azi shown that way, is not a victim, particularly. Not that she doesn't get scared a few times, when younger, but never helplessly so.

And while she's shown having sexual relations with at least one citizen, it's from a position of strength, not weakness. Catlin was playing him the whole time, for her amusement and education.

Cherryh is very loath to put women in weak positions in her fiction, and I think that this is an extension of that -- has she ever been asked about this tendency in a published interview or anything? Would make interesting reading. I suspect that in general it's a concious avoidance of the excess readiness to write passive, victimized women in SF, but in this case, perhaps also avoiding the quick rush-to-judgment people would have if the azi victims we saw were female.
28. Michael S. Schiffer
Likewise, Cherryh frequently puts men in what would situations more stereotypically faced by women, including sexual exploitation. (Justin with Ari I, Josh Talley with Signy Mallory.) Getting back to this book, it's Allison who's brash, aggressive, and active, while Sandor is quiet, fearful, and passive.

morven: To give Union their due, we've seen enough of the universe to know that they're right to be scared. As it was, humans were lucky the first aliens they met were the Downers rather than the Sharrh or the mri and regul. (The Compact, at least aside from the knnn, don't seem to be a real problem-- if anything, humans are a potential problem for them, though if they'd made contact before inventing Jump that might have been another story.) And that's leaving aside serious wild cards like the qhal gates.

Despite Ari's best efforts, the Beyond does get some bizarro human societies which are at least arguably worse than Union, like Serpent's Reach (aka "What would an Alliance family corp do if they had azi?") and the planet of crazed philosophers in Wave Without a Shore. And of course Gehenna, though that one's Union's fault.

(I miss the Union-Alliance universe. I wish any of Cherryh's other series had grabbed me the way it did.)
29. Raskolnikov
The Mri were certainly problematic, but what was wrong with the Sharrh? They showed no real indication of being a threat to humans. Granted, they didn't like having a human colony dropped on their planet, and blasted them, but that's hardly terribly unprecedented. If there had been an alien settlement that pushed onto an Union world, I doubt Union would have been as merciful as 'hit them from space and ensure they stay at pre-industrial levels to never be a friend'. Now, granted, there is a certain callousness involved with that, but Union is in no position to cast stones.

Yes, having most of the citizen-azi sexual encounters be female-male respectively was probably a deliberate strategy to unsettle assumptions. It's still rape, though, and I'd say that even the "more empowered" azi the series has shown cannot meaningfully give consent.
30. Capeless

"Given that not everyone in Union is brainwashed drones, but citizens with relative degree of individual rights, it makes the abuse seem much more extensive compared with Brave New World."

But there is certainly widespread subliminal psychological (sociological?) manipulation of the Union cit population. This is hinted at by the paranoid fears of worms hidden in the commercial tape discussed by Grant and Justin in Cyteen, and explicitly stated by Cherryh in the supplementary material at the end of Angel with the Sword ("to ensure an underlying conformity", I think was the phrase used, without looking it up).
Clifton Royston
31. CliftonR
I think Jim, in Serpent's Reach, also gives an interesting other angle on the role of the azi as slaves and worse-than-slaves. After Raen wins him in gambling (with all the ship-board azi silently rooting for him to win himself and his freedom) she goes to some lengths to turn him into a free and free-thinking person, with difficulty. He ultimately ends, it's implied, as her equal.

Raen's motives are opaque, particlarly to Jim, but it seems that it was partly whim, partly her needing a reliable second in command, and maybe, just in part, feeling that the condition of the azi is wrong.
32. namelessfrankie
Doesn't Raen make various comments in Serpent's Reach about some Azi being `different'?

I thought the uncomfortable implication was that she saw only some of the azi as being capable of autonomy in the way Jim is, and perhaps suggesting that she only saw those Azi as being fully human, for whatever value the Kontrin place on that...

Although I did also got the impression that she'd moved more towards seeing the other Azi as equally human by the end of the book. (I think there is a mention about her offering to extend Merry's life past the programmed-early-death and he refused). The engineered short-life span of the Azi is one of the most disturbing parts of Serpent's Reach.

The role of the immortal Kontrin ruling over the Betas and Azi does sort of resonate a lot with the setup Union seems to be moving towards in Cyteen -- ever-replicated geniuses ruling the rest of the civilization for their own ends.
Dave Bush
33. davebush
In defence of Union, my reading of Cyteen is that most azi are not slaves, but are the "average Joes" needed to maintain a civilization. They are born in a lab because the union population is so low, and raised on tape because there are no human parents available.

True the military get azi slaves (janissaries?), but Ari never seems to approve of this.

Finally, yes there are the few Resune house azi which are definitely slaves, but these are very definitely a minority (and I suspect Resune's staff are very confused in this area.)
Matthew Brown
34. morven
@davebush: yes, the reason for azi is largely that Union cannot grow as quick as it believes it needs to without them. They are not supposed to remain a constant feature of Union civilian life on settled planets and stations.

As to the military: I think it's accepted that military azi are here to stay, at least in certain occupations. What Ari dislikes is not so much having / creating military azi, I think, but the idea that Defense has that Reseune, and thus Ari, are logically only a servant of the military, and should be under military command and control.

It's worth noting here that the way Reseune treats azi is not necessarily all that representative of the rest of Union; Reseune is its own strange, incestuous little world.

I recall, also, what Yanni (?) says to Justin about military azi: that while military azi are programmed to be able to walk into fire without flinching, they're not mindless automatons, that in fact they're much more likely than a citizen soldier to ask their commander what the gain is from doing that, rather than mindless obedience — and the officer in question had better have a good answer.
Pamela Adams
35. Pam Adams
This is my first Cherryh in a long time. Like Steven@#2, I'd tried them before, and not liked them. Thanks for the post- based on my positive reaction here, I may need to try again. (Like the to-be-read stack wasn't high enough!)

I admit that I was expecting something like the Lee/Miller universe, with Allison and Sandor learning to love one another with some happily-ever-after on the horizon. Definitely a different take here.
36. J. Clifton
With great respect, I disagree. I think if you define "gothic" as a story where women act like virginal idiots you're restricting that genre to the 1800s, or any situation where women automatically act like idiots -- which category would never include the humanistic and compassionate stories of CJ Cherryh.

The focal point of the Gothic should be the uncanny, untrustworthy, always-terrifying nature of falling in love itself. That we always, whether virginal idiot woman or 30-yo man, find those trapdoors and blindnesses and deal with them. More Wuthering Heights, less Northanger Abbey.

Making a necessary part of the rubric the idea that women act like fools seems like a step back, and frankly only makes Merchanter's Luck seem even brighter by comparison.

As for Union society itself... We're reading science fiction, right? The meticulous working-out of a society based on a large but limited number of criteria, and then the lives of those people who live in that society.

Lose your anthropological distance, you lose the intense, incredible, beautiful, wonderful, horrible truths -- truths -- that Reseune teaches us, in North America, today, here and now.

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