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Vintage Treasures: Merchanter’s Luck by C.J. Cherryh

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Merchanter's Luck-small Merchanter's Luck-back-small

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).

See all our previous coverage of C.J. Cherryh here, and our previous Vintage Treasures here.

11 Comments »

  1. ‘….the powerful family whose mighty starship “Dublin Again”, was the true queen of the starways.’

    I’m liking it already!

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - September 2, 2020 11:22 am

  2. I bow to Cherryh’s greatness, and there are books of hers I’ve enjoyed (the Chanur series), but I often find her books hard to get into. It’s something about her style, I think – there’s no room between her sentences, if you know what I mean.

    Comment by Thomas Parker - September 2, 2020 11:43 am

  3. Cherryh is my favorite SF author, bar none, and I’ve read most of her work (although I have yet to dip my toe into the Foreigner series). My absolute favorite is Downbelow Station, but it’s not especially accessible — Merchanter’s Luck (which takes place a few years after DBS) is much more approachable.

    Having said which, I’ll say that in some of her books, the third-person perspective POV is so tight it can feel almost claustrophobic; and she’s a master at wringing tension out of what should be the most mundane bureaucratic interactions.

    Comment by Joe H. - September 2, 2020 4:25 pm

  4. > I’m liking it already!

    Aonghus,

    You and me both, brother.

    Comment by John ONeill - September 2, 2020 4:35 pm

  5. > I often find her books hard to get into.

    Thomas,

    I’ve been slow to get into Cherryh, but for a different reason. She’s published almost zero short fiction.

    Virtually all of the writers I discovered and came to love in my youth I found in anthologies and magazines first, and so I skipped her for the last 40 years.

    Comment by John ONeill - September 2, 2020 4:37 pm

  6. > My absolute favorite is Downbelow Station, but it’s not especially accessible —
    > Merchanter’s Luck (which takes place a few years after DBS) is much more approachable.

    Joe,

    Talk about sitting me on the horns of a dilemma… naturally I want to read the opening volume in the series first, but if book 2 is better suited for new Cherryh readers… what to do, what to do?

    Comment by John ONeill - September 2, 2020 4:39 pm

  7. Well, John, in your case, knowing what I know about you and trusting you implicitly, I’d say you’d be fine starting with Downbelow Station (my absolute favorite SF novel).

    Comment by Joe H. - September 2, 2020 9:17 pm

  8. (And regardless of which one you start with, I’ll be fascinated to hear your thoughts.)

    Comment by Joe H. - September 2, 2020 9:49 pm

  9. Cherryh has said something like she wrote Downbelow Station so she could write Merchanter’s Luck (my absolute favorite SF novel). So I read Downbelow as the “enchanting prequel’ to Merchanter’s Luck

    Comment by BGrandrath - September 3, 2020 2:27 am

  10. John – Collected Short Fiction is a fair sized book and I think it doesn’t even include what she done for shared world anthologies.

    Comment by Robert Adam Gilmour - September 5, 2020 1:15 pm

  11. And she wrote one pretty great sword & sorcery story — “A Thief in Korianth”, which originally appeared in Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords #5. (And then elements of the story & setting got recycled into an SF context for her Merovingen Nights shared world series.)

    Comment by Joe H. - September 6, 2020 9:08 am


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