C. J. Cherryh Reread

“Actually, you’re the alien”: C.J. Cherryh’s Defender

Defender is the fifth Atevi book, the second book of the second trilogy, and more than any of them it feels less self-contained and more like set-up for the next volume. These books don’t stand alone, and make only a gesture at it, but most of them are complete stories within their volume, opening out at the end to more possibilities. Defender looks forward to Explorer and isn’t complete without it.

Do not start the series here!

So apart from being a piece of middle, Defender is a good solid book that I like a lot. More space station, and a spaceship!

More time has passed, the pace of technology has speeded up again, Phoenix is fuelled and Bren is bemused to be called down to the planet for a memorial service for Tabini’s father. Then Ramirez dies and the crew find out that Reunion, the other station, wasn’t destroyed, a mission is put together and Bren, with Ilisidi and Cajeiri, Tabini’s six year old heir, head off to the stars. The resolution of the volume is poisoning Sabin and asserting the atevi right to self-determination aboard the ship. Of course there’s a family crisis on the island too, which Bren can’t see to—his mother is in hospital. Everything moves very fast and is very exciting, but there’s Atevi formality, starched lace and tea. (I love that the fashions change. This shouldn’t be unusual, but it is.)

The books have a habit of making something seem strange and threatening in one volume and have it become friendly and familiar in the next. They do this with people (Banichi and Jago, Ilisidi, Lord Geigi, Ginny Kroger), and they do it with places, and things too—mechieti. Here it’s the space station, which in Precursor was new, unknown, and dangerous, and is now home for Bren and his staff.

So who is the defender? Phoenix? Bren, defending his new province of the Heavens? Ilisidi? Jase, forced to defend the ship whether he wants to or not? I usually re-read these at breakneck speed and don’t think much about the individual volume titles. but she chose them for a reason and I’m finding it interesting to consider. Sometimes it’s clear, and other times it really isn’t.

We have ship politics and the wider human universe interacting with atevi planetary politics and with the constant threat of the aliens out there. Bren reminds Sabin that it’s not the atevi but she who is the alien, which is true on the planet but not really in space. Humans and atevi are alien to each other but they get along, it’s the unseen potential third force that they’re seeing as alien, or, in atevi terms, foreign. We only see a tiny bit of atevi politics—in the memorial service, which isn’t going to connect up to anything until Destroyer.

On to Explorer!

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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