Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Jumping Into C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Books

A little while ago, I received an ARC of Alliance Rising, C.J. Cherryh’s collaboration with her spouse Jane Fancher, set in Cherryh’s Alliance-Union continuity—the universe of Cherryh’s acclaimed Downbelow Station (1981) and Cyteen (1988). While I tried to read Downbelow Station years ago, before I understood the rhythms of Cherryh’s work, Alliance Rising is the first work in this particular setting that I’ve ever finished. It spurred me to find a couple more—the omnibuses Alliance Space and The Deep Beyond, available in ebook form—to see just how representative Alliance Rising is of the works in this setting.

Alliance Rising is set in a time of change. Slow-moving change, but change that will prove drastic nonetheless. It may be, in internal chronology terms, the Alliance-Union continuity’s earliest novel, and though this is a collaboration between Cherryh and Fancher, it showcases a concern—common to Cherryh’s other novels—with organisations and bureaucracies, with systems and societies, and how such wider contexts shape the people (ambitious or content, well-meaning or malicious) who operate within them. And with, at times, the minutia of meetings. Cherryh and Fancher deploy an anthropological eye, and it’s almost a surprise when this measured, stately novel concludes in shooting.

Cherryh’s Merchanter’s Luck, originally published in 1982 and republished in the Alliance Space omnibus, is somewhat less stately. A down-on-his-luck smuggler with his own ship and a traumatic past meets and grows obsessed with the scion of a powerful merchanter family—a well-trained ship’s bridge officer who has no chance of ever rising to first in her position, because there are so many other well-trained cohorts ahead of her. She sees in the smuggler a chance to be real bridge crew, with real authority. They end up using each other out of ambition and desperation, but nonetheless forge a real emotional connection—complicated by power struggles both aboard ship and in the world outside, which is just beginning to recover from a war. Merchanter’s Luck alternates between leisurely in pace and practically frenetic, and I find the relationship between the two main characters to be a deeply unhealthy one. But the novel itself is an interesting, engaging piece of work.

Forty Thousand in Gehenna (1983) was also republished in the Alliance Space omnibus. It’s a very different book to Merchanter’s Luck. Forty Thousand in Gehenna is a multi-generational novel of a colony that failed and then succeeded in ways its founders never envisaged. They build new forms of society in competition and later in collaboration with the native life forms: This is a very anthropological novel (in its latter stages, one of the major characters is an actual anthropologist) but one whose defining through-line is difficult to follow. It might be an examination of society’s various ways of confronting the alien, or it might be a series of questions that have no firm answer, because they’re questions about human nature and what it means to be human—or not. It’s an interesting novel, but it doesn’t ever really come together as more than the sum of its parts. (Tastes have clearly changed since the 1980s, since it was nominated for a Locus Award in 1984.)

I don’t know how eager I am to read more works in the Alliance-Union continuity, but I suspect that at least I’ll be looking out for the sequel to Alliance Rising. It ends on a solid cliffhanger, after all. After some violence and upheaval.

What have you guys been reading lately?

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

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