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~~~A Bit about the Author~~~
Born and raised in America's heartland (Missouri and Oklahoma respectively), C.J. Cherryh has penned over 60 science fiction and fantasy novels. She began writing stories at the tender age of just 10 years old when TV executives cancelled her favourite TV show, Flash gordon, in 1952. She went on to university and received a BA in Latin, having earned specialisations in archaeology, mythology and the history of engineering. She then went on to earn a masters in the classics. her knowledge of these is well used in her imaginings, with rich detail from each making an appearance.
Unlike other science fiction writers of note, she did not follow the usual path of submitting stories to pulp magazines and then moving on to novels. Instead, she taught Latin, history, and the classics in he Oklahoma public school system while writing her novels and then submitting for publication. having a meagre teacher's salary, she often was unable to afford the cost of photocopying her work, and as the 1970's and 80's meant that people did have home desktop computers, she was forced to send out her original copy of the manuscript to publishers. This meant that when they or the postal system lost the manuscript, she had to completely rewrite her tome from scratch. Her big breakthrough happened in 1975 when DAW books published Gate of Ivrel and Brothers of Earth, winning her instant recognition in the science fiction and fantasy circles and garnering her the coveted Campbell Award. It was the beginning of a very prolific and varied career coupled with world-wide success as her books were translated into several languages around the world....
The Deep beyond is an Omnibus volume, containing Cucko's Egg and The Serpent's Reach.
The title of the book is quite apt. Cuckoos go and lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, who hatch and raise the resulting as their own. This is a story of a human, raised by aliens in a society where he was the lone human being, and so fit completely in neither society.
It is a tale that begins with a bit of a cryptic puzzle. We no not from whence the infant came, save that Dana Dunn Shtoni has been handed the infant. Dunn is a Hatani, a judge against whom there is no appeal. He has previously been a general and a lord, but now, he is just Dunn, who happens to be Hatani, and who must render a judgement that no other has faced before. Handed the mewling infant, he notes it is completely helpless, and upon soiling itself, seems to not care that it is soiled, for it does not clean itself. It has five fingers, not four, and lacks claws to defend itself. Unlike the Shonunin, he also appears to be mostly scent blind, and his fur is scant. Dunn declares he will take the child to his own childhood estate, where he can rear the infant in a more suitable environment for itself, and prepare him for Shonunin society. There the child, now named Haras, but called Thorn, learns to never say, "I can't", unless it is truly impossible, and to deny mere desires to truly meet his own actual needs. He also becomes skilled in arm to arm combat and other martial skills. It is readily apparent that Thorn is not as agile in combat as the aged and scarred Dunn, but that his feet are more suitable for climbing than the claws Dunn posses. This becomes important, for the child takes to climbing a mountain to escape Dunn for a time, and upon one occasion, ventures down the mountain rather than up. There he sees other children for the first time, and realises it is not Dunn that is different, it is himself. And so begins his journey towards his adulthood, and the judgement. For the judgement is a ruling on a terrible tragedy before Thorn's birth, but whether it was war or misunderstanding is yet to be seen. Thorn is the key to help Dunn and the Shonunin to discover the truth, and to serve justice whether upon themselves or those who had came from afar.
Set in the Alliance-Union Universe, Serpent's reach follows the establishment of a colony after a manned probe, the Celia, encounters alien life. The planet is Alpha Hydri III , aka Cerdin, in the Serpent's Reach part of the galaxy. The species are the Majat, who physically resemble ants, and who also have an ant hive like structure for their society. At the time of first contact there are four distinct hives, each governed by a collective intelligence which carries the memories of its predecessors back into the mists of time. Tragedy befalls the Celia, but not before the hives have deduced that each being as a unique individual with its own separate consciousness, so when several years later, a second manned probe, the Delia, arrives they are better prepared and comprehend what is needed, and are able to keep the crew alive. Following a treaty, a human colony is allowed to be set up. The colony is called the Kontrin company, referring to the colonists and scientists who have invested and funded the project, and is supposed to be limited to a single shipload of people. But, as usual, back on cyteen, wheels were a turning, and the ship arrived not only with the agreed upon colonists, but a full cargoload full of human embryos whoa re brought to maturity, and then clone themselves into Azi.
Time passes with a ruling hierarchy set up amongst the humans, with strict terms of how to deal with the Majat. The status quo does not suit all however, and intrigue erupts amongst the Kontrin., with the price being supremacy over Cerdin itself. The only problem is young Raen, who survives a political assassination plot during visit to her family's estate by guests from other houses of the Kontril elite. She has survived, and must be eliminated. This becomes complicated when she is given succour by the Majat. Two cultures once more collide, and much more than just land rights hangs in the balance this time.
As usual, Cherryh proves herself a master storyteller. I particularly found her ability to create a complete alien culture complete with psychological profiles amazing. Reading her prose, you absorb easily into the skin of the alien cultures, looking at the humans with a jaundiced eye. This is sheer genius, and provides the reader with an unparalleled opportunity to have a good look at humanity and our agendas closely without it being personal. Again, her vivid descriptions has you breathing in alien air, feeling the wind of strange worlds upon your cheeks, and you will come from the stories startled to see the reality about you.
Serpent's reach and Cuckoo's Egg both provides a fantastic metaphor for cross cultural considerations. While the one culture is human, and the other completely alien, it speaks volumes about how we of the west deal with culture foreign to our own in the here and now. We can stand with two feet in and learn the solution, as in Cuckoo's Egg, or we can sit to one side and rub along with perhaps later disastrous results as we encounter stresses from within and wthout. Cuckoo's Egg in particular excels at getting us to see the opposite side of the coin, and the great inherent tragedy of misunderstandings. Poignant and masterful, these are two of the best of the stand alones Cherryh has to offer. I say stand alone, because though Serpent's reach is part of the Alliance-Union Universe, it is not involved in the poetical debacle of the two governments. The expansionist and cloning mores are merely plot devices to establish the colony so as to give its reason for being, whereas the story itself is about what happens within the colony afterwards. Cuckoo's Egg is lumped in the Age of Exploration series, but again has no close ties to any of the other novels. It stands alone, and while the conclusion is fitting, it leaves the door open for a sequel that has never materialised. Nonetheless, both are immensely satisfying reads, and one that no fan of science fiction should miss.