A Cherry From The Lady
I’ve just finished Forge Of Heaven by C J Cherryh. It was a rough beginning, as witness my spelling rant earlier, but after the editors got their act together, it settled down into the usual fine read I’ve come to expect from her.
Before going on, I should note that I have met and talked with the lady before; we shared the GoH stage (she was GoH, I was Gaming GoH) in Omaha more years ago than a gentleman should remind a lady of. She is a delightful and intelligent lady, one with whom I would gladly spend an afternoon or evening talking about nearly any subject. (And the only reason I didn’t go farther than that is that I am quite happily married.) It’s wonderful to spend time with an active mind, especially when wrapped with such charm and grace.
Interestingly, I’d sworn off Cherryh before that time, having been disappointed by the first serialization of the Faded Sun series. Later, when I returned to her writings after a friend insisted, I realized I was Just Being Stupid. Since then I’ve been backtracking to catch up on what I missed.
In some ways we have a formula story, with the Honest Man Trying To His Best, while beset by The Troubled Little Sister and of course The Parents Who Don’t Understand. All the while surrounded by Political Intrique and watched closely by The Unimaginable Power No One Understands And Everyone Fears.
But don’t take this as a criticism of the story. I never mind traveling even the most familiar road as long as I’m in good company. The tale is well-spun and complex, with more than enough entertaining diversions to make the trip immensely enjoyable. Cherryh is a master (mistress?) of this sort of tale, and it shows. The main characters are ones I wouldn’t mind having to my home for dinner; spending time with them is fun.
The story is a sequel to Hammerfall, and takes place a long time after the events in that novel. It’s always a question whether a sequel can be read without reading the first, but in this case it’s possible, as she includes a Reference section which will fill in the important backstory. (I would have preferred the backstory to be filled in within the story itself, but failing that, this will do.
There’s not enough detail of the planet itself to satisfy me, but then I’m a world-building geek; She supplies everything you need to know about it before you need to know it in order to make sense of the story, which is all that is required of her.
If you’re after Hard Science Fiction I’m not so sure you’ll be satisfied. Cherryh’s favorite “science” is the science of species interaction. She builds wondrous civilizations, solid and believable, and turns them loose on each other, with at least one “wild card” that tries to be the bridge between the different societies. She is at her best using an individual to explore the range of conflicts between completely (or nearly so) different social mindsets. Anthropology, rather than Physics, is her metier. If you’re after the nuts and bolts of the station’s operation, you’ll be disappointed, I’m afraid.
There is science fiction and then there is science fiction. Cherryh is one of the finest writers currently practicing the craft of the latter. Enter her domain and enjoy.