Bureaucracy Over Tea: Convergence by C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series is a long one. With Convergence, the latest book, the adventures of paidhi-aiji Bren Cameron now fill eighteen volumes. Well, the adventures of Bren Cameron and Cajeiri, the young heir to the aishi’ditat.

For those unfamiliar with Bren Cameron and his world, Convergence is really not a good place to begin one’s acquaintance. It relies even more heavily than usual on the consequences of what has gone before not just for its emotional impact, but for any of the narrative to make sense. Don’t start here! (But do read the series. Once Foreigner gets properly started, it goes all kinds of interesting places.)

But for fans of the series, how does Convergence fit in? Does it live up to the best of its predecessors? Does it follow up the upheaval and revelations of Visitor with appropriate weight and emphasis?

Convergence is perhaps not the best and most engaging entry in the Foreigner series. Even for a series that is intimately concerned with the workings of politics and the politics of personality across cultures—a series that spends quite a large proportion of its time invested in the significant nuances of political manoeuvring that take place over invitations to tea and in the course of formal dinners, in meetings, in passing conversations and the choice of words, in translation and negotiation—Convergence is very full of meetings and bureaucracy and waiting to talk to the right person in order that the next thing can be set up to happen. This is a feature of the series, not necessarily a bug, and at this point most readers know whether or not they enjoy Cherryh’s measured approach to pacing. But with that acknowledged, Convergence does somewhat drag at points.

In Visitor, the alien kyo visited the planet shared by both humans and atevi. Bren Cameron, Cajeiri, and Cajeiri’s great-grandmother Ilsidi—the dowager aiji, and a political power in her own right—figured out how to communicate with them in more detail than they had previously managed. They negotiated a treaty while dealing with the knock-on complications of adding humans from the destroyed space station Reunion to the population of the space station above the atevi planet. And Bren learned, in the course of these negotiations, that the kyo are at war on the far side of their territory—at war with other humans.

In Convergence, absent the immediate crisis of a kyo visit, the consequences of the extra humans on the station must be dealt with in a more permanent fashion. As, too, must the ramifications of earlier political upheaval in the aishi’ditat: the overthrow and restoration of the aiji Tabini has left two clans leaderless, and the political fallout from matters taking place in space affects decisions on the ground. In an unprecedented move, the aiji sends Bren Cameron as his personal representative in full state as an official of the aiji’s court to human-controlled Mospheira, to make his position clear regarding the disposition of the humans from Reunion and to protect the young human associates of Cajeiri, who may in time become paidhis for the next generation.

While Bren wrestles with a bureaucracy which has never quite reconciled itself to losing control of him and his skills, and no longer quite understands all of what he does for the aiji in the aishi’ditat, Cajeiri is sent by his father to his great-uncle’s estate, for a holiday which has a political dimension, involving manoeuvring to fill the leadership of a clan left leaderless in the wake of Tabini’s restoration. Cajeiri is growing into his responsibilities as heir to the aishiditat, while also still being very much a nine-year-old child. His point of view on the activities that surround him is vivid and engaging, and gives a fresh perspective to the political activity that Bren sees from an adult, and mostly human, dimension.

Bren’s share of Convergence‘s narrative is less engaging than Cajeiri’s. Humans are so much less interesting than atevi, at least for the kinds of stories that Cherryh is interested in telling here. And Convergence spends a great deal of its time with Bren talking to other humans. Much of Convergence, in fact, seems to be setting up for other things to happen later, in future books—and while I’m delighted to spend more time in Bren’s company, and in Cajeiri’s, I would have liked to feel that a little more had actually happened during the course of this novel.

Convergence is very definitely a Foreigner novel. A solid and entertaining Foreigner novel, this far along in the series, packing no real surprises: not the best, and not the worst. If you’ve enjoyed the series to date, Convergence will be plenty satisfying. If you haven’t… it’s not going to change your mind.

Convergence is available April 4th from DAW.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.


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