The third book set in C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner universe is a continuing study in the dangers inherent when two cultures which have no clear understanding of one another's overriding zeitgeist collide. Inheritor portrays the conflicts that arise between a small lost human colony and the alien atevi on the atevi home planet, but it is an apt metaphor for the all-too real current antagonism between the U.S. and factions of Islam in the Mideast. Mistrust
and suspicions color every exchange; in Cherryh's universe, one man carries the
responsibility for bridging the gap between the isolated human colony on the
island of Mosphiera and the atevi leadership: Bren Cameron, whose role of paidhi is an amalgam of interpreter, ambassador and liaison.
job has been infinitely complicated by the return of the starship that first
brought humans to the atevi planet. The Mosphierans have been meting out carefully controlled dollops of technologicy to the atevi according to treaty, and the atevi have
leapt from an Iron Age to the brink of a space age in just the few hundred years since humans first "invaded" their planet. With superior minds for mathematics and with natural and industrial resources on their side, the atevi space program is poised to beat the on-planet humans to the heavens. But the complex set of loyalties
humans cannot comprehend called man'chi is the glue that holds atevi society together, and with a ship full of humans whose own aims are secret also doling out technological assistance to both atevi and the Mospheiran humans,
it is impossible to know what any group in this equation hopes for. And both the
Mospheiran colony and the atevi are fractured, with opposing factions on each side of the water adding volatility to the brew.
Bren's immediate concern is Jase, the ship-paidhi, the only other authorized
human among the atevi, sent down to negotiate separately from the Mospheiran
government. His halting instruction in atevi language and society fall to Bren, and the
two have become at best wary acquaintances. When Jase receives bad news from his
counterpart on Mospheira and cannot contact the ship because Bren is on holiday,
their relationship grows more stiff, threatening even the highest atevi
leader's position and safety as well as their own. As intimations of treachery
back on Mospheira related to Bren's old nemesis Deanna Hanks surface, and a new threat beyond the stars is revealed, layers
will be peeled back to reveal yet further layers of loyalty, betrayal, threatened war, and budding
friendship between Bren and Jase -- and between Mosphei and atevi.
In Inheritor, Cherryh takes Bren farther down what in human terms might be called intimacy with the atevi closest to him, in both emotional and sexual terms. The inscrutability of the atevi from the human viewpoint and the at-times incredible fallibility of corrupt human government mirror our real-world situation, and it is unsurprising that one as determined and talented as Bren finds more comfort in the company of atevi than of humans.
The Foreigner series is brilliant and compelling, if occasionally slow-moving.
Cherryh deserves the spec-fic equivalent of a lifetime achievement Oscar for her