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First, let me state without a blush that I am of the opinion that as an author, Cherryh on her worst day is better than the vast majority of science fiction authors at their best. I will also say, however, that I wish the Foreigner series was not so insanely popular. I like it, but I don't love it. I'd really rather see CJC Herself spend her time and energy on other projects, like the sequel to Cyteen that she has in the works, or perhaps seeing whether Compact Space (i.e., the Chanur books) is ready to offer up any more tales.

Still, I didn't expect to be so disappointed with Pretender. In Destroyer, the previous book, human translator/ambassador Bren Cameron had arrived back on the Atevi homeworld after a long, eventful space voyage to find that Tabini, his staunch ally (and also the grandson and father of his travelling companions, Ilisidi and Cajeiri), had been overthrown as leader of the powerful Western Association. Amid many adventures, Bren and his allies gained refuge in the ancient home of peppery, elderly Lord Tatiseigi. The current volume covers a very short span of time thereafter, as Bren and his allies suffer fallout from an internal battle for control of the powerful Assassin's Guild, gather themselves additional supporters (including Tabini, who reappears ... this is not a spoiler, it's in the cover blurb), and make a wild cross-country dash to Shejidan, the capital, where Tabini is to re-convene the governing body of the Alliance and Bren will give his report on what he found Out There.

That's not a lot of action. It's certainly not enough for a book of this length (404 pp. of moderately large type). And so we get page after page of Bren worrying. And rehashing. And speculating. And going through things in his mind in extreme detail, to make sure that we understand what's going on, I guess. I found myself skimming huge chunks of book, desperately searching for dialog or action - both of which, I must say, are wonderful when they finally show up. But there isn't enough of either to sustain the whole. This reads all too much like the second half of Destroyer - and indeed, the back cover blurb really covers both books!

Because I was so unimpressed with the book, and ran through it so quickly, it took Moira (from the Shejidan messageboard) to point out, in her review, something even worse about all this mental maneuvering on Bren's part. He seems to have unlearned many of the lessons about Atevi psychology that he's gathered the hard way over the previous seven volumes. I don't know whether this is so that people jumping into the series in the middle of things get a chance to be surprised by human/Atevi differences - or what. It's just very odd, especially considering that Bren has been depicted as a man so immersed in the ways of Atevi that he can no longer really function comfortably with humans for any length of time.

On the plus side, I have to say that the "planes, trains, and automobiles" aspect of the cross-country race under fire is a lot of fun, and easily the best part of the book for me. The concept of the ancient and indomitable Ilisidi and crabby senior citizen Tatiseigi zooming along in their open-topped speedster, rallying the troops (and horrifying Bren), is also pretty good. As usual, the little cultural details of what people are eating and wearing lends color and life.

But why, oh why, was this puffed out with filler to make a separate volume? Years ago, when Herself was asked once too often about the splitting of the middle Chanur books into a trilogy, she insisted that this was not a problem, and was not a pushy move by her publisher - that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and so it falls naturally into a trilogy in any case. But if Pretender is its own volume because it's the middle of the sequence that began with Destroyer and ended earlier this year with Deliverer, maybe the story elements should have been redistributed somehow so that this volume wouldn't feel so empty.


On an equally crabby note, I have decided to hate Visio. It keeps connecting org chart boxes where I don't want it to connect org chart boxes. I have never used such an out-of-control product, and I am perfectly comfy with things like Corel Draw, Photoshop, and PowerPoint, among other things, thank you. This program is possessed!!

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
theloomofmoira
Apr. 20th, 2007 04:01 am (UTC)
agreed
the series is not reading like stand-alone books anymore (not for a while now), and one is sad to say that Deliverer is the same way, if not moreso. if I hadn't already been told that there were 3 more books in the works (by the veritable bren_cameron), then I would have guessed. the ending is not an ending; there are so many unanswered questions that there HAS to be something else forthcoming. unless Herself is trying to kill me, and I think even She needs to file intent to do that.

they're all episodes... in one long, drawn out saga. well, 9 books with 3 more on the way, and no deux ex machina just yet... so still, head and shoulders above the norm. just not above CJC's norm.

bah. agreed. and you should have spoken to me last year, when I read Pretender for the first time. oh, I was livid. ;) I didn't post much on the Shejidan board after that, for a while. just one comment along the lines of: didn't anyone else have the feeling all the way through the book that Bren Cameron is a complete fool? what happened???

I really need to reread Chanur. Tully might be equally clueless but mercifully we will never know for sure.
chomiji
Apr. 20th, 2007 02:07 pm (UTC)
Re: agreed

Urrggh, calling them episodes is insulting to the real episodes ... the manga installments I'm reading have more to recommend them in terms of plot-movement!

I think I would have read it in any case - I've read just about everything she's ever written. But I did wait until the paperbeck showed up at the Waldenbooks near the office, instead of ordering the hardback the minute it came out (as I will with the Cyteen sequel).

We never do really know what poor Tully is thinking. And I think that helps, actually. (Although the mangled "I die with you" and the time he goes around and gives each of them a hug make his basic feelings pretty plain.)

bren_cameron / Bo the Lungfish ... that sounds familiar, and the manchi conversation heart rings a bell. Who is this person at Shejidan? I'm not making the connection and it's killing me.

theloomofmoira
Apr. 20th, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC)
Re: agreed
haute desert :)

and yes I do think it helps that we don't know what Tully is thinking. certainly in the Chanur books, the human is the alien and this is part of what is so intriguing. plus Tully would probably be lost most of the time... which is what Bren was in Pretender, and why Bren's pov wasn't the best means of telling the story. Pretender should have either been much much much shorter (and possibly just the ending half of Destroyer or the beginning of Deliverer), or it should have been told differently.

I can see how it would be difficult to write a story about an internal Guild conflict without giving too much away... but in that case I still say the story should have been shortened and added on to another book.

the three Chanur books that were published as a trilogy (and then horridly mispackaged in the omnibus, since the omnibus only has The Pride and then the first two of that trilogy, and therefore lacks any ending whatsoever! why the hell didn't they put Chanur's Homecoming in the omnibus?) are all one story and I have to argue that no, they do not stand alone. you have to read all of them to finish the very basic story.

but at least we do not have an entire novella of Pyanfar suddenly and unexpectedly dithering about something...

episodes, indeed. more like, Bren was having an episode ;)
chomiji
Apr. 23rd, 2007 02:54 am (UTC)
Re: agreed

Ahhh, yes - Hautedesert! Now I remember ... . I'll have to go say hi, then.

The republishing of the Chanur books, with what I think of as vols. 0, 1, and 2 in the omnibus, has got to be one of the biggest SF publishing mistakes of all time! Quite aside from leaving the storyline of the real trilogy dangling at a really horrible cliffhanger, it ruins the fact that you can use 0 (Pride of Chanur) as a really good CJC intro because it was written as a stand-alone. And then there's the fact that I love Chanur's Homecoming: love Py in that volume, and Jik, and Chur.

Py would not dither - no sir, absolutely not! Fume, cogitate, even fulminate - but not dither. (Sometimes I almost am Py, but I think that's a good thing to be ... I aspire to it.)

>> episode <<   :-D   yes, that's it!

(Anonymous)
Apr. 20th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
Uneven for Me
I don't know, I either love her books or get so bored with them that I never finish them. The latter was the case with the first Foreigner book for me, along with a few others, including Downbelow Station. On the other hand, I loved-loved-loved Serpent's Reach so much that I have read it many times over. Same with Angel with the Sword, the first Merovingen Nights book (and all the sequels in that series in which she co-wrote interwoven stories with Mercedeys Lackey, Robert Lynn Asprin, Nancy Asire, and others). In fact, I have a hankering to start that series again...

As for Visio, well I have had enough trouble getting stuff from that to print right in large format. And don't start me on MS Punisher, I mean Publisher. :-)

TK
chomiji
Apr. 23rd, 2007 03:01 am (UTC)
Re: Uneven for Me

You might want to see if you can dig up her fantasy The Goblin Mirror. And did you ever try Cyteen? It's a big huge thing, but once you get past the set-up, it's got some really fascinating things to say about the mind, being different (especially during childhood and adolescence), loyalty/friendship, and other themes that might interest you.

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