content by

CD Covington

Were We Wrong All Along? Interspecies Relations in CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner Series

Bren is back from space, but he has to go to the human enclave of Mospheira to deliver a copy of the kyo treaty to President Tyers and make the arrangements for the first Reunioner families to land on the planet. For the first time, he goes to Mospheira as an atevi lord and diplomat, and that means his bodyguards and a few staff go with him. The majority of these four books (Convergence, Emergence, Resurgence, Divergence) is about atevi politics, but the first two show how Bren’s bodyguard reacts to Mospheira and how the structure of the atevi studies department at the university is, in fact, a hindrance to human-atevi relations. [Read more]

The Kyo Come to Visit: Clearing Up Some Important Questions in CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner Series

When we last left our heroes, they had brought a handful of Reunioner kids from the station to the planet to visit Cajeiri. During their visit, all hell breaks loose (because of course it does), and Tatiseigi, the notorious human-hating curmudgeon, develops a fondness for the human kids when they admire his collection of artefacts.

At the beginning of this duology (Tracker, Visitor), the kids and Jase go back up to the station, where politics awaits. In the middle of an extremely messy intra-human conflict, the kyo show up. Because they know so little about the kyo, everyone decides that it’s best if they send the same three people as last time up to the station to meet the envoys, so Bren, Cajeiri, and Ilisidi venture up to the station. The human conflict comes to a head while they’re there, and they have to fix it before the kyo arrive. They do so, and Bren can get back to the important task of figuring out how the kyo language works. [Read more]

Bridges Go in Both Directions: Humans and Atevi in CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner Series

When we last left our heroes, they had stopped another atevi war, at least for now. They uncovered some very distressing political goings-on, which they will deal with soon. This brings us up to the fifth trilogy (Intruder, Protector, Peacemaker), in which Cajeiri’s ship-associates come down to the planet and land in the middle of the aforementioned messy political situation.

If you remember, when Cajeiri returned from the two-year voyage to Reunion and back, his elders were somewhat concerned about his development of man’chi. He had been around humans for that whole time, and maybe the feelings wouldn’t develop appropriately. Ilisidi was confident that they would, and Cajeiri did indeed develop some “proper atevi” feelings when he returned to the planet. His elders generally disapprove of his association with the human kids and want to disrupt it by keeping them separate, but Cajeiri clings to his happy memories of playing in the tunnels and sees the human kids as part of his network of associations: people whom he must protect, as aiji.

[Read more]

Who Gets to Be People? Encountering the Alien in A Desolation Called Peace

Arkady Martine’s latest book, A Desolation Called Peace, picks up a few months after the events of her Hugo-winning novel A Memory Called Empire (which I wrote about here). The Teixcalaan series continues to be heavily influenced by works like C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, drawing science fiction into a deeper conversation about what it means to be human. I noticed one obvious reference to Foreigner—a Captain Cameron, who’s a spaceship pilot in a comic book Mahit picks up—as well as a more subtle one, in which a Teixcalaanli character says they don’t believe in numerical luck anymore.

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare is back on Lsel Station, in a bit of disgrace and with the Station government breathing down her neck. Her friend Three Seagrass is still in Teixcalaan (the city) and decides to assign herself a request from the front of the war: the aliens they’re fighting communicate in some way, and the commander wants someone from the Information Ministry to come initiate first contact, or at least try. The sounds the aliens make are dissonant, and they make the human listener nauseated.

The book has only been out for a few weeks, but discussing it without spoilers (at least for this part of the story) is proving impossible, so be forewarned if you haven’t read it: there be spoilers ahead!

[Read more]

Disruptions in Communication Disrupt Atevi Society in CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner Series

Like the previous trilogy in Cherryh’s Foreigner series (discussed here), the fourth trilogy (Conspirator, Deceiver, Betrayer) is also heavily focused on politics, notably the aftermath of the coup against Tabini, but all Bren really wants is to go fishing on his boat and not do politics.

So, naturally, he quickly gets dragged into some *extremely messy* politics! [Read more]

Building a Bridge Between Cultures in CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner Series

In previous columns, I’ve explored how intercultural communication works in the first and second trilogies of CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series. In the third trilogy (Destroyer, Pretender, Deliverer), the focus is mostly on politics, and there’s not a whole lot of linguistic content to comment on. Bren spends the first book on the run, the second getting to Shejidan, and the third chasing a missing person. And somehow, all of this takes place in about a week! But we get our first real atevi POV: Cajeiri, Tabini’s 8-year-old son, and through him, we gain a lot of insight into atevi culture and man’chi. [Read more]

Linguistic First Contact: Encountering the Kyo in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner Series

This column is a continuation of the previous column, in which I discussed intercultural communication in CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series with examples drawn from the first trilogy in the series. This column will look at the very specific form of intercultural communication that is first contact with a focus on the second trilogy (Precursor, Defender, Explorer).

[Read more]

“Man’chi” Is Not the Same as “Liking”: Intercultural Communication in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner Series

CJ Cherryh’s long-running Foreigner series has a lot of interesting linguistics in it. One of her specialties is writing non-human species (or post-human, in the case of Cyteen) with an almost anthropological bent. Whenever people ask for “social-science fiction,” she’s the second person I recommend (Le Guin being first). These stories usually involve intercultural communication and its perils and pitfalls, which is one aspect of sociolinguistics. It covers a variety of areas and interactions, from things like international business relationships to domestic relations among families. Feminist linguistics is often part of this branch: studying the sociology around speech used by and about women and marginalized people.

In Foreigner, the breakdown of intercultural communication manifests itself in a war between the native atevi and the humans, who just don’t understand why the humanoid atevi don’t have the same feelings.

[Read more]

“Oh, Frak” — Avoiding the Censors the SFF Way

Every culture has its own set of taboos surrounding bodily functions, religion, and naming things. In Anglophone cultures, our taboos generally involve waste excretion, particular body parts, sexual acts, and Christian deities. But we can still talk about these things (with varying degrees of comfort) by replacing them with non-taboo words, or we can “soften” them to non-taboo forms by changing something about the word itself. This column will unavoidably include cusswords, though I will try to keep them to a minimum…

[What’s more satisfying: frak or frell? And why?]

“Evil Earth”: Linguistic Worldbuilding in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy

The Broken Earth trilogy tells the story of Essun, a woman who possesses the power of orogeny, giving her the ability to manipulate the earth itself to stop earthquakes, among other things. Each of the three volumes of the trilogy—The Fifth Season (2015), The Obelisk Gate (2016), and The Stone Sky (2017)—deservedly won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in an unprecedented run.

The story opens with a man tearing the world apart, opening a massive rift in the earth and wiping out the capital…and triggering a volcanic winter that could last for millennia. Around the same time, Essun discovers that her husband has killed her son and stolen her daughter away because the children are both orogenes. She sets out on the road, following them, as the volcanic ash from the Rifting begins to fall.  [Read more]

“Mind records are the one true forever”: Translation and Dead Languages in Marie Brennan’s Turning Darkness Into Light

In Turning Darkness into Light, Marie Brennan’s latest novel set in the Lady Trent universe, Audrey Camherst, Lady Trent’s granddaughter, is tasked with translating a newly found cache of ancient Draconean tablets with the utmost secrecy. She travels to Lord Gleinleigh’s estate, where she meets his niece Cora, who is assigned to be her assistant—and spy on Audrey for her uncle. Gleinleigh wants the tablets to be translated before the Falchester Congress, a summit between humans and Draconeans scheduled to happen in ten months. Audrey requests that her Draconean friend Kudshayn be allowed to travel to Gleinleigh’s estate to help her, and, to her surprise, Gleinleigh says yes. So Audrey, Kudshayn, and Cora work to copy and translate the tablets that seem to tell the story of the creation of Draconeans and their early history.

[Read more]

A Prank on the Emperor? Names and Vocabulary in The Goblin Emperor

When my editor asked if I wanted to write a column about The Goblin Emperor to go along with the #TorDotReads read-along, I was absolutely delighted to be able to re-read this book that’s like reading a hug. This column is going to be a little different than previous ones, not only because it’s the first fantasy novel I’ve talked about, but also in its structure. So, come along with me as I work out how Ethuveraz titles and names work, based on the vocabulary we’re given!

[Read more]

“Such a relief, to have a language with the right words”: Native Tongue and Women’s Language

Unlike many (most? all?) of the authors discussed in this column so far, Suzette Haden Elgin was actually a linguist. She held a PhD in Linguistics from UC San Diego and was a professor of linguistics at San Diego State. Her academic career seems to have focused on literacy and language education, with a secondary focus in feminist linguistics and gender studies. She also wrote a series of books on The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense and was influential in the conlang sphere.

In a keynote address at the Conference on Gender Research at Hollins College in 1995, Elgin describes the theory of metaphor insertion as a method to achieve gender equality.

[Read more]

Expressing Culture Through Language in A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire, the 2019 debut novel from Arkady Martine, is a current Nebula nominee, and it reminds me very strongly of Cherryh’s Foreigner by way of Ancillary Justice. A young woman named Mahit Dzmare is summoned from her home, Lsel Station, to the home planet of the Teixcalaanli Empire to be the new ambassador. Her people have a prosthetic memory device, called an imago-device, which is used to preserve knowledge over multiple generations, and the one from the current ambassador hasn’t been updated in fifteen years, because he hasn’t been able to leave Teixcalaan in that long. When Mahit gets there, she learns that her predecessor is dead, and she spends the next several months figuring out how and why. But first, she has to find someone to help her learn all the things her predecessor had learned and figured out since his last update, as well as improving her ability to speak Teixcalaanli. She’ll also have to do her best to not wind up dead along with him.

Martine has a keen understanding of the formal aspects of linguistics, like morphology and phonology, as well as sociocultural aspects of language. She has spent a lot of time studying various languages, and this shows in her linguistic worldbuilding.

[Read more]

Lang Belta: The Language of The Expanse

Linguistic worldbuilding can be fairly simple—like making up and incorporating a few slang words or insults based on whatever your fictional culture finds profane—or it can be elaborate, like inventing an entire new language and writing poetry in it (hi, J.R.R. Tolkien!), or anywhere in between. We’ve already discussed an example of a technique around the midpoint of the spectrum in Cherryh’s Hunter of Worlds, so now I’d like to explore something on the more elaborate end: Belter creole in The Expanse.

[Read more]

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.