Merchanter’s Luck (DAW, 1982). Cover by Barclay Shaw
I haven’t covered many C.J. Cherryh novels in my ongoing Vintage Treasures project, and that seems like a serious oversight. Cherryh was a constant presence on the paperback racks in my youth. She sold her first novel Brothers of Earth to Donald A. Wollheim at DAW in 1975; since then she’s published more than 80 science fiction and fantasy books, including the most ambitious and successful first contact saga in science fiction, The Foreigner Series. Volume 21, Divergence, arrives in hardcover next week.
I recently picked up a copy of the author’s 1982 paperback original Merchanter’s Luck, and I thought it would be a good place to start. It’s the first novel in her Company Wars saga, set in the Alliance-Union universe where humanity has split into three space-faring power blocs: Union, the Merchanter’s Alliance and Earth. I remembered Jo Walton’s Tor.com review of Merchanter’s Luck from a decade ago, enticingly titled “A girl on a haunted spaceship.” Here’s an excerpt.
Ben JB and I were talking about Gothics, and Ben JB asked if you could have a Gothic on a spaceship. My immediate response was Merchanter’s Luck, a 1982 novel by C.J. Cherryh. It has a girl and a haunted spaceship and a mysterious man with lots of secrets in his past. But on re-reading it, I have to admit that it doesn’t quite work as a Gothic… Allison is far from a gothic heroine — she’s empowered, and most of the time in the novel she is the one in the position of power. She goes onto the spaceship and goes into abandoned cabins, full of the possessions of the dead, but she doesn’t go alone. She’s not virginal, not isolated, and never helpless…
Downbelow Station is a book about the end of a war that has stretched between and the stars and lasted as long as Troy. This is a post-war book, about people whose lives have been scarred by the war that has shaped the universe they live in. The powers in the Beyond are Union, the star systems who rebelled from Earth, and Alliance, the merchants and space-station who made a side rather than get ground between two sides who cared nothing for them. Earth is still there of course, but far away. Earth’s old fleet are very definitely there, they have become pirates preying on the ships they used to claim to protect. Alliance and Union are working together to fill in the holes where the pirates and marginers operate…
This is a close up book about people who live with their complex history and the complex history of their societies, just like us. It’s not a book about anything that makes history or changes society, it’s a book about a boy and a girl and a spaceship… Like most Cherryh, this can be claustrophobic but feels absolutely real, and again typically it speeds up a lot near the end. I talked about the appeal of these books before. I’m extremely fond of them, and I recommend them highly.
Merchanter’s Luck was published by DAW Books in 1982. It is 208 pages, priced at $2.95. The cover is by Barclay Shaw. It was reprinted in 2008 in the Alliance Space omnibus collection (covered in Part II of our survey of the Omnibus Volumes of C.J. Cherryh).