C. J. Cherryh
DAW (416pp, $25.95, May 2010)
Reviewed by Charlene Brusso
There is more to communication than mere words. Sure, words have meanings, but they are also, thanks to evolution, tied intimately to the way we think and feel, and the world we live in. Language doesn’t just describe culture or psychology, it is culture and psychology, it’s how we are wired, and assuming that a word can be translated exactly from one culture to another – or, worse yet, from one species to another – is a rookie linguist’s mistake. That is why xenolinguistics is such a challenge. And that is why “first contact” stories are so fascinating – and so difficult to do well.
Nobody does them better than C.J. Cherryh. In novels like Serpent’s Reach and Hunter of Worlds, and series like the Charnur and the Faded Sun books, she has delved deep into the tricky psychological aspects of communication between different, sometimes very alien, species. That challenge to understand lies at the very heart of the Foreigner series, of which Conspirator is the lucky thirteenth volume. Technically, it is the first book of the fourth trilogy in the arc, but don’t be intimidated by that. Cherryh slips in just enough backstory to get you grounded before taking off at full speed into the current situation.