Since my library school course work has started up again, I’ve found myself taking refuge in reading old favorites instead of new books to review. The two galleys that I have read recently won’t be published for a few months, so I need to wait to post their reviews. The result has been a failure on my part to keep this blog current. (I promise a review of the Printz Award winner Ship Breaker in the next few days!) So I decided it was worth looking at what draws be back to certain books time and time again. Some are pure fluff and provide my brain with a much-needed break. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it is emphatically not the case with C. J. Cherry’s Foreigner series!
I’ve always been a fan of Science Fiction and Cherryh is one of my all-time favorite authors. Her characters are always well-rounded. I find myself caring about them and Cherryh’s vivid descriptions bring the alien worlds to life. But more than that, Cherryh’s books use an alien setting to explore issues that are vitally important in our world. In Foreigner, a world is nearly torn apart by miscommunication. On the surface, words seem to translate easily between the human and atevi languages. But each side has a completely different understanding of the concepts behind the words. Each side fails to understand basic cultural preconceptions of the other that inevitably lead surface agreement to violent conflict. The central character, Bren Cameron, is the lone human ambassador to the atevi, the one person whose entire purpose in life is to thread the maze of miscommunication and prevent another inter-species war.
It’s an engaging story and I enjoy following Bren’s adventures as he is drawn ever deeper in atevi society and wrestles with the disconnect between his atevi and human identities. But the best part about these books is that they make me think. The theme of miscommunication because two people use the same words with completely different understandings of what they mean by those words is directly applicable to our world. A failure to understand cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings that are interpreted as betrayals. It’s all too easy to assume that, of course, they mean the same thing as I do when they talk about friendship, trust and alliance. On a more personal level, how many relationships run aground on different understandings of the words love and fidelity, different beliefs about how partnerships and marriages work.
The best science fiction is that which illuminates something about our own world and Foreigner definitely does that. After re-reading the series in the last month, I’ve reluctantly concluded that I need to break down and buy my own copies of these books because I will want to return to them again and again to mine the depth of detail hidden in the enjoyable stories.