After wrapping my head around some serious non-fiction I found myself again primed for escapism, a nice sci-fi or fantasy to clear the palette. But what to pick? We are spoiled for choice. A myriad of authors and their respective series weigh down the well stocked shelves in the fiction stack.
These thick door stoppers pack endless details and scores of characters into densely woven tales, mostly spins on the same old paradigm: rag tag group of misfits sets out to save the world, unwilling hero at the helm, fighting against his prophetic destiny. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Lucky for me, a hot tip from a fellow clerk turned me on to the large catalog of C. J. Cherryh, always inventive, interesting, and best of all, prolific. There are dozens of Cherryh’s novels at Main alone. So when I am in the mood I know there is something I haven’t read yet. Her novels run the gamut from fantasy all the way to hard sci-fi and are invariably stand-outs in a field packed with competition.
What makes Cherryh so great? The basics for a good sci-fi read are all there—interesting ideas, strong characters, good pacing. Besides covering the bases, Cherryh does an excellent job of fashioning tales that sort of skirt the edges of the genre. You get the impression that you are reading something unique but still grounded in the field, something pushing the boundaries without sacrificing the elements that made you want to read a sci-fi novel in the first place. In some of Cherryh’s series this is enabled by her inventive use of gender, flipping our expectations. The Foreigner series of novels feature a male protagonist always in company with nine foot tall aliens. This character secured his role in the story with linguistic and diplomatic skills, so the hard action is farmed out to his giant alien bodyguards, some of whom are female. It’s a nice spin. I never read a novel where the hero spends most of the action sequences hiding behind things.
Cherryh is a master at writing interesting aliens rather than the typical archetypes we are used to, warlike alien, scheming alien, super advanced cryptic Buddha alien. Sci-fi readers know what I am talking about. The covers are a hoot, featuring main character Bren Cameron in ceremonial fancy uniform flanked by huge attractive aliens waving guns around and giving their enemies the business.
He may or may not have a relationship with one of these aliens. I won’t spoil it for you. Read the book. You don’t want to learn about human alien love on the street.
Right now I am reading Hammerfall, a mind-bending read about a war in the distant future fought by nano-technology. The details unfold on a planet with primitive technology creating an engaging and picturesque contrast. The setting really hooked me—a desert caravan astride alien beasts amidst sandstorms and scuttling scavengers.
For fantasy with new angle there is the Russian Stories series, based ond Eastern European folklore for a nice change from the typical Celtic or western Medieval Europe motifs we’ve seen.
There are too many more to name. Stop by the Cs and browse around. These are good, smart reads. She writes men well. Get it? I turned it around there.