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Foreigner #1


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The first book in C.J. Cherryh's eponymous series, Foreigner begins an epic tale of the survivors of a lost spacecraft who crash-land on a planet inhabited by a hostile, sentient alien race.

From its beginnings as a human-alien story of first contact, the Foreigner series has become a true science fiction odyssey, following a civilization from the age of steam through early space flight to confrontations with other alien species in distant sectors of space. It is the masterwork of a truly remarkable author.

428 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published February 1, 1994

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About the author

C.J. Cherryh

305 books3,201 followers
Currently resident in Spokane, Washington, C.J. Cherryh has won four Hugos and is one of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed authors in the science fiction and fantasy field. She is the author of more than forty novels. Her hobbies include travel, photography, reef culture, Mariners baseball, and, a late passion, figure skating: she intends to compete in the adult USFSA track. She began with the modest ambition to learn to skate backwards and now is working on jumps. She sketches, occasionally, cooks fairly well, and hates house work; she loves the outdoors, animals wild and tame, is a hobbyist geologist, adores dinosaurs, and has academic specialties in Roman constitutional law and bronze age Greek ethnography. She has written science fiction since she was ten, spent ten years of her life teaching Latin and Ancient History on the high school level, before retiring to full time writing, and now does not have enough hours in the day to pursue all her interests. Her studies include planetary geology, weather systems, and natural and man-made catastrophes, civilizations, and cosmology…in fact, there's very little that doesn't interest her. A loom is gathering dust and needs rethreading, a wooden ship model awaits construction, and the cats demand their own time much more urgently. She works constantly, researches mostly on the internet, and has books stacked up and waiting to be written.

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Profile Image for Gergana.
227 reviews401 followers
August 16, 2016
Review contains fanart and images done by me. ^.^

Let me tell you something about sci-fi books... they are scary! No, I'm not talking about movies or TV series, and yes, Astronomy was one of my favorite subject in school. But for some reason, sci-fi books are generally on a completely different level for me.

I have ventured into sci-fi territory before ...

And, occasionally, I would find something "comprehensible" enough for my fairies-and-dragons-obsessed brain.

Buuuut, in most cases...

...I would be completely clueless of what's going on.

Ahem....Anyways, one day I stumbled upon C.J.Cherryh's book – Foreigner and it appeared to be everything I ever wanted from any sci-fi OR fantasy book. The synopsis hinted at politics, intrigues, inter-racial relationship, adapting to new culture, space... stuff, overall – a potential for me to enjoy it as long as it wasn't too philosophical, too military orientated or too techno-terms heavy.


THE REVIEW (yep, finally)

I was very cautious when I started Foreigner, but as I kept going I found myself falling in love with the potential of the series. Not only did it have great unique and fully-developed characters, an original setting, an intriguing new race with strange customs and behavior, it was just addictive. True, the first book was rather strange (I'll talk more about it later), but the possibilities were endless and I was curious to see where the characters will go!

SETTING AND RACES (aka. the prologue)

The books starts with a quick recap of how the humans, whose ship was stranded in unknown space, ended up on their new alien planet.

All you need to know is that the Humans were far more technologically advanced than the planet's inhabitants – the Atevi, who were rather perplexed to see some pale short strange-looking creatures obsessing over their flora and fauna and considering moving in.

The initial amity between the newcomers and the locals didn't last for long and, a few years and MANY misunderstandings later, a war ensued between the two species. Humans, despite their superior weaponry, had no chance of winning against a race that specialized in warfare and assassination (and outnumbered them 1 to a few millions). Eventually, a peace treaty was signed by both races, allowing humans to live on the island of Mospheira on a few conditions:
-Humans would share technological information with the Atevi (not too much at a time as to not cause disturbance among the more orthodox of the race)
-And NO human would be allowed on the Atevi continent, except for one – the Paidhi (something like the ambassador of the human population and, most importantly, the translator).

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The "Mospherians"were more than happy to agree and finally enjoy a peaceful and boring existence. Meanwhile, the human paidhi's role was to guarantee all demands are met and the peace treaty maintained. A task not as easy as you might think - you see, the Atevi are very strange. Assassination is legalized (in fact, the assassin's guild is one of the most respectable institution on the planet), words such as "friend" "love" "feelings" are absent from their vocabulary and they are also EASILY offended by the weirdest things such as NUMBERS!

Numbers are sacred with the Atevi – their sentences have to have felicitous (fortunate?) numbers such as 3,7 and so on, while 2, 8,etc. are Baaaaad! E.g. - if you suggest " a pair of apples" or your sentence has the dreaded 8 words in it, that would imply that you wish the Atevi you were speaking to bad luck or something worse. Considering how superstitious this race is, it's very likely they would kill you on the spot! That's why, the Paidhi's role is essentially DIFFICULT AS HELL!


PLOT (aka. the actual story)

An assassination attempt is made on the life of the new young paidhi – Bren Cameron. Unlike his predecessors, he is far more open-minded and ambitious to build better relationship between the two races, which could lead to major shifts in power in Atevi society. Tabini-aiji, the leader of the biggest and most powerful association on the planet, decides Bren is useful enough to be protected, so he sends him away to his grandmother's fortress deep into the continent.

Tabini's grandmother, Ilisidi, is VERY traditional and strong-minded person. She despises the human influence in the Atevi's way of life, so Bren has to be extra careful – one slip and the old lady would order his assassination in an instant. Why would Tabini send him from one dangerous place to another?

As time passes by, Bren falls in love with the old-fashion way of the Atevi, but there's something troubling him...He feels like he's being tested and he has no idea why. He can't decide who is the enemy and whether any of the Atevi, or the Humans for that matter, mean him any good. And what was the purpose of the assassination attempt anyways?


My opinion

I just finished book 6 at the moment, so this will be more of a general rant (without any spoilers!), but it will, hopefully, give you an idea of what the series is all about and whether it's worth investing your time.

What I liked

1. The Foreigner series is easily accessible for non-hardcore sci-fi fans! You heard me right, there are no cryptic technical terms, no existential philosophy to put you to sleep, no military mumbo-jumbo and so forth. At least, not to an excessive extent.
2. Characters are so well-developed that sometimes I forget they're fictional! Bren is likable and not that interesting at first, but as the series progresses, he keeps changing and evolving. His two guards, Banichi and Jago, are just as intriguing, complex and sometimes even hilarious when they try to understand human logic. A new cast of character is added as you go and they're perfect in their imperfection- just like real people.
3. World-development It's quite good in the first book, but it gets massively awesome by book 6! Can't say why, or I'll spoil the series for you.
4. Atevi culture There are cases where their superstitions regarding numbers is completely impractical (such as rooms that have one main entrance and two emergency fire exits, because having 3 doors is luckier number than 2) But most importantly, the Atevi are 90% unique in their ways, you can barely understand their logic at first. They're huge and violent, yet appear calm and collected, they value interior design and clothing with delicate lace, they're obsessed with etiquette and politeness and would gladly share a decorative cup of (poisonous for humans) tea with you. It's just a great original culture with its own perks that enriches C.J.Cherryh's world and I love it!
5. PLOT TWIIIIIISTS GOD, there are some AMAZING, mind-blowing plot twists and especially massive ones towards the last 10% of EACH book! A couple of times I could see the twist coming, yet, the way it was presented STILL managed to blow me away!

What I disliked

Despite "Foreigner" being in my top 10 favorite series of all time, there are still elements that do not agree with me and it's only fair that I share them as well.

1. First book is the weakest. Yes, many of us have heard this before. Overall, the first book serves as a semi-introduction to C.J.Cherryh's world and politics and it can be slightly underwhelming, with barely anything important happening for a long period of time. Especially if you're expecting space battles and so on (oh, they're coming, just not in book 1)
2. The pacing varies, some times it's brilliant, fast, exciting, while other times it can be slow and repetitive. Spending a good amount of time in Bren's head and listening to him over-analyzing and going through a situation for 10 times until he comes up with an awesome idea can be slightly boring. Nevertheless, these moments don't last for long! (except maybe in the first book...sorry)
3. There's a definite lack of great young female human characters(20-40 years old). Yes, the old ladies are awesome, the Atevi female characters are even more awesome, but when it comes to the young female characters ...
4. And lastly, the majority of the humans very often behave like a very ignorant nation without any culture or appreciation for history (at least up to book 6 so far). Some times, they even feel more alien than the Atevi (*says a person who spent a whole summer in the Louvre, starring at vases, mummies and paintings of semi-naked people*). Also, the humans in the book can be VERY self-centered and politically illiterate. Their general stupidity annoys me, which makes it kind of hard to root for them ^___^

Will I recommend this book to friends? If you're looking for a light, jolly book with juicy romance and predictable plot – look elsewhere, I'm afraid. Foreigner is a sci-fi series that's just ... unique in its own way:
1.it's not action-packed at first, although the battles get more and more epic as you go!
2.it's not filled with existential questions that will make you contemplate life, but it does explore human nature and our ability to adapt and accept diversity and challenges as they come.
3.it's not an easy series to get into, but it's damn right worth trying... :3
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,255 followers
August 19, 2011
well-respected and prolific science fiction author-cum-scifi-anthropologist C.J. Cherryh puts her considerable gifts to work in this introductory volume to her elephantine mega-series, as she begins a sensitive new tradition: fiction that is specifically geared to those unfortunate individuals who have no experience in reading, as well as to our fellows experiencing severe mental challenges. i for one appreciate the effort and am happy to report that the writing in this novel makes every attempt to be as repetitious, plodding, and as glacially-paced as possible, in order to allow the novice and/or challenged reader to fully grasp the ideas on display. to that end, each and every thought and concept and character bit is repeated extensively, often repeatedly within the same page, and upwards of a dozen times over the course of, say, two or three pages. surely this bold strategy will only serve to support those first-time readers in their endeavors, and can only help those challenged by low memory capacity and extremely short-term attention spans. the reader can literally forget or skip entire passages, and lo and behold, exactly the same commentary will reappear, again and again. bravo, Cherryh! this is certainly a step in a brave new direction. it is no wonder that this novel spawned so many sequels!

i have constructed a brief fantasia that illustrates this arresting technique:

Bren was extremely worried about the assassination attempt and was quite annoyed that his freedom of movement had been compromised. A worrisome Bren couldn't believe he had to suffer an escort everywhere! "I really am awfully worried that I can't phone home", said Bren, as he huffily realized that his ability to buy canned meat alone was no longer possible. "This really bothers me, I can't even leave my apartment without an escort!" notes Bren, as he paces his apartment in frustration. It was driving him crazy with annoyance and worry that not only had an assassin tried to kill him, now he couldn't travel alone anymore. He could not leave his apartment alone. After all, an assassin had just attempted to murder him. An actual assassin! Trying to murder him! It was all so worrisome. And as if the assassination attempt wasn't enough, now he couldn't even leave his apartment unaccompanied. "This is really very annoying and I feel awfully compromised, so much so that I am genuinely worried," reflected Bren.

okay, this novel gets an extra star for two opening chapters (or "books", as Cherryh sees fit to call them) that are well-written and genuinely riveting. and that have nothing to do with the tedious narrative that follows.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,109 followers
February 9, 2017
Third read, 8/18/16:

What can I say? Until it gets to Bren, I'm not attached to the story much, but the fact that so much of them comes back to haunt us in subsequent novels makes me *want* to pay attention. But other than that, once Bren is in the spotlight and we're in his head, I'm there, and this becomes one of my favorite novels. :)

Why? The psychology, mainly. The Atevi are really fantastic aliens and the real diamond in this series is the fact that they are not hardwired the same way as us. Their knee-jerk reactions are *not* ours, and Bren, our interpreter/diplomat, starts out in the middle of an assassination attempt on his life for reasons he doesn't understand and political associations and alien emotions that refuse to be cracked. It doesn't help that the Atevi think of everything in a type of numerology, that word orders and groupings of people or objects are either fortunate or unfortunate, that Bren must do the equivalent of tensor calculus with ever sentence, and then he gets thrown into the really life-threatening situations.

The whole novel is about trying to understand his situation, and its harrowing and I'm just as concerned and confused as the MC. And this is still true even when I've read a good portion of the rest of the series and this is my third read for this one. Can I be even more impressed than this?

Will Bren's decisions alter the destinies of the stranded human colony and the aliens? Is he betraying his own kind? Or can he rely on his gut reactions? Can he ever trust the Atevi?

Totally amazing thriller. :)

Original review:

My personal favorites of Cherryh are the Foreigner books, hands down. And that's even while excluding her actual Hugo winners, Downbelow Station and Cyteen.

It's been so long since I started the Foreigner series that I only very vaguely recall having to struggle a little bit at the beginning. The second readthrough, on the other hand, was an absolute joy, picking up and retaining all those previously annoying details that then brought the tale to life. Nothing is wasted. The tension between remaining loyal to the human community and getting sucked into the political tensions of an interesting alien race that could seriously benefit from a greater stream of technology was like a draft of pure clean water in comparison to so many years of ham-fisted Star Trek.

The seriously twisted mental gymnastics of having to speak through numerology made me really believe, deep down, that these aliens were not only brighter than us, but they were also natural Shakespearean poets. I also learned more about herd mentality from this book than I did from any other source, and she made it truly exciting.

What will Bren do? Will he betray his own kind? Is it right to do so? Is he being set up to die?

The poor Paidhi was so lost. I loved it.
Profile Image for Andrew Obrigewitsch.
938 reviews126 followers
January 22, 2016
"I wrote this 50 page short story, what do you think?" Said C.J. Cherryh.

"It's great, but can you stretch into a 20 volume series of 500 page books? Because that's what we really need." Said the Publisher.

"Sure I can, I just will start the first volume off by turning the one paragraph stay in mountain resort into 400 pages of repetitive introspection on the part of the main character. And then I will turn the 2 page chase scene into 200 pages. And we can go from there." Said C.J. Cherryh.

This book should really be retitled "Much to do About Nothing".

Now don't get me wrong C.J. Cherryh, is very talented. She can do things like make the fourth book of A Song of Fire and Ice seem incredibly fast paced. She can make drying paint seem like the most interesting thing to watch in the world. Now very few authors can boast of such achievements, it must take a lot of hard work and dedication to make so little take up so many pages. I know if I had that talent, I would have found English classes to be very easy in school.

She has a great ability to get ideas across too, given how many times things are repeated in the book, even the most dense could not help but get the point.

I would love to read the next book in the series, but there is just so much that needs to be done first, like reading anything else I can find anywhere else. In fact given a choice between counting how many kernels of popcorn come in a bag and reading the next book, I think I would start counting. But when I finish doing everything else I can find to do, I will read it.

Good job C.J. Cherryh, your writing is really something, or is it a lot of nothing?
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews806 followers
April 4, 2017
“Here, human beings had to remember that the universe was far wider than their little nest of stars—that, in the universe at large, silence was always more than the noisiest shout of life. Humans explored and intruded against it, and built their stations and lived their lives, a biological contamination of the infinite, a local and temporary condition.”

C.J. Cherryh is one of science fiction’s most important women writers, her name is often mentioned alongside Ursula K. le Guin, Octavia Butler, Anne McCaffrey and other female sf legends. She was named Grand Master by the SFWA in 2016 for her contributions to the literature of Science Fiction and Fantasy. The only snag is my previous reading of her books did not go well. I gave up on Cyteen after 50 pages or so, I finished The Pride of Chanur, but it was a struggle. Still, I persisted because she is apparently one of the greats and I am a connoisseur of great sci-fi, I don’t want to miss out on an author of real significance in the genre.

Foreigner is possibly my “make or break” book where Ms. Cherryh is concerned if this works out it would be my gateway to her long-running series. If not we will have to go our separate ways. This book immediately grabbed my attention with the prologue where a spaceship called Phoenix comes out of hyperspace to find that they have arrived at an unplanned and unknown location. The crew has no idea of what caused this navigation error and, worse still, where they are, or how they can get home. Lost in space, like that classic 60s sci-fi tv show. I was settling in to find out how they get out of this jam when, in the next chapter, the timeline jumps 100 years. Some of the crew have taken the Phoenix to explore the galaxy they found themselves in, while others land on a nearby occupied planet in the hope of finding a new home and to make first contact with the native sentient race called the Atevi. The depiction of first contact is quite gripping, I love first contact stories, but then the narrative does something very unexpected, in the next chapter the timeline jumps another 150 years! Now the human colonists have established a colony on an island with permission from the relatively primitive Atevi aliens in exchange for our technology. At this point, we are introduced to the series protagonist, Bren Cameron, who is the interpreter for humanity and lives among the Atevi in one of their cities. As soon as he appears in the narrative he finds himself a target for assassination with no idea of who may be behind the attempt, and why. He is the lone human among millions of aliens who do not have a word for “friend”, “like” or “trust”. Nail biting adventure convoluted political intrigue ensues.

I love strange, inscrutable sci-fi aliens, like the Ariekei from China Miéville’s Embassytown and the Heptapods in Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life. Initially, I found Cherryh’s Atevi disappointingly human, they don’t look all that strange and their culture has many human characteristics and facilities.

An atevi

However, the Foreigner series has been described as “anthropological science fiction” in that it explores the theme of an outsider trying to understand the culture and lifestyle of an alien species by applying his own incompatible culture and experiences. Indeed, as I read on, the Atevis begin to seem more and more alien. They have no word for many of our abstract concepts (friends etc.), and they have words which cannot be directly translated into English. As for being inscrutable, Bren certainly finds their action and motive completely baffling, in spite of speaking their language. The alienness of the Atevi is very subtle, Bren has no trouble communicating with them on a superficial, practical level, but the nuances of both the human and Atevi species are mostly nonsensical to each other.

Bren Cameron by the legendary Michael Whelan

Once Foreigner focuses on Bren Cameron the story becomes entirely concerned with political intrigues among the Atevi. From this point, there is nothing particularly sci-fi about much of the story. This is not a good development for me because I don’t care much more political fiction, even with sci-fi trappings. To Cherryh’s credit the book is never downright boring, though it does plod along at times and the novel becomes very dialogue intensive and I began to lose interest somewhat; Bren’s expressions of self-doubt, confusion, anger and fear also become rather repetitious. He also comes across as rather ineffectual and weak for a protagonist. By the time I finished the book I was interested in what will happen next in the inter-species relations. However, I also felt ambivalent about reading any more of this series. The problem – for me – is that while C.J. Cherryh, is clearly very talented, she seems to be interested in exploring themes that do not interest me, alien political machinations especially. Having said that, the excellent Jo Walton reassured me that the series get better and better as it goes on (18 volumes now, I think). Hopefully, there will be less emphasis on politics. The character of Bren Cameron is also said to be much more sophisticated in future volumes and I am interested in how he develops in the long run. So I am still interested in the next volume Invader (Foreigner, #2). As for this volume, I can recommend it with the above reservations.

There wasn’t a clear word for like. It meant a preference for salad greens or iced drinks. But love was worse.

The whole atevi hardwiring was different, the experts said so. The dynamics of atevi relationships were different… in ways no paidhi (interpreter) had ever figured out, either, possibly because paidhiin (interpreters) invariably tried to find words to fit into human terms—and then deceived themselves about the meanings, in self-defense, when the atevi world grew too much for them.

Impossible to conceal their foreignness, impossible to trust a species that couldn’t translate friendship, impossible to admit what humans really wanted out of the agreement, because atevi in general didn’t—that foreign word—trust people foolish enough to land without a by-your-leave and possessing secrets they hadn’t yet turned over.

No matter that assassination was legal and accepted—you didn’t, in atevi terms, proceed without filing, you didn’t proceed without license, and you didn’t order wholesale bloodbaths. You removed the minimal individual that would solve a problem. Biichi-gi, the atevi called it. Humans translated it… ‘finesse.’

You couldn’t go on giving atevi bits and pieces of tech without accelerating the randomness in the process, meaning that atevi minds didn’t work the same as human minds, and that atevi cultural bias was going to view certain technological advances differently than humans did, and atevi inventiveness was going to put more and more items together into their own inventions.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews227 followers
January 23, 2022
This year (2016) C.J. Cherryh was given the SFWA Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, something I think she was long overdue for. I hadn't read a Cherryh book for quite a while so I thought it was very appropriate to read one now, and while I've read this one before a long time ago, I never continued with the series due to availability issues where I lived at the time.

En-route to build a new space station as key outpost for human expansion the Phoenix suffers an accident during it's faster-than-light travel and ending up completely lost in space. The ship emerges in a binary solar system with huge radiation hazards. After refueling at great cost the Phoenix eventually limps it's way to a G-class star.

From there a station is built orbiting the inhabited planet.

Cut to generations later, and there is a push for station personnel to make a landing on the planet and contact with the aliens, mainly to get out from under the thumb of the descendents of the Phoenix crew. A landing is made, and so is first contact with the alien Atevi, gold-eyed, black-skinned humanoids with a deeply strange culture.

Cut to many more generations later. The space station is derelict and the Phoenix has left. There is now a population of over 4 million humans living on the planet of the Atevi, but isolated to an island, and relations between the humans and the Atevi are very complicated, largely steming from a treaty between the two species after a war precipitated by extreme misunderstanding between the two cultures.

In the current day there's a human position, the paidhi or interpreter, but the position is far more than just a linguistic one. The role of Bren Cameron, newly appointed paidhi is to interpret the differences between the species, something that seems to be an impossible task given the vast gulf between them that Cherryh writes so brilliantly. Bren's part of the story starts with an assassination attempt on him. That's nothing unusual in Atevi culture, where assassination is an accepted and licensed way to deal with disputes, but it is unusual for the paidhi, because his position is primarily a diplomatic one and attempted assassination is a pretty fundamental breakdown of diplomacy. From there Bren is clearly being carefully managed by his Atevi companions and seems to be explicitly being isolated from communications and information, culminating in him being shipped off to a country estate/medieval fortress. There he finds himself being hosted by the fierce grandmother of the leader of the faction of the Atevi the humans have allied with and still very much under the threat of assassination.

In my opinion, this story illustrates much of what makes Cherryh's writing so great. An intense view on Bren focusing on his feelings, doubts and thought processes while being explicitly out of the loop on what's really going on. He's also almost completely lacking an internal model for how his companions are making decisions regarding him and his welfare and much of the attention in the book is devoted to him trying to reason all this out. The Atevi are deeply associative beings, but lack concepts like friendship and interpersonal appreciation, instead focusing heavily on loyalty and betrayal. They're also incredibly thin skinned and can be deeply offended by things like the number of words you use in a sentence when addressing them.

So like much of Cherryh's other work, we have incredibly in depth world-building as well as really alien aliens, made all the more alien by their similarities to humans. Like a conceptual uncanny valley.

It's also only the first book of a series of trilogies and things are far from resolved at the end of this novel, although there is a satisfying conclusion to this one.
Profile Image for Jokoloyo.
449 reviews273 followers
April 13, 2017
I blame Michael Whelan who made attractive cover art. The cover art is displaying black tall warrior class alien. The cover is too tempting for me than I bought it without much thinking. The cover (as if) promised military-space opera. But the first book is more like planetary adventure than space opera.

This novel has good opening, but after that the story is dragging with unmemorable ending (I don't remember the ending, and I don't really care). And there are a lot of plots/questions unresolved.

Then I found out that this book is the first of a pretty long series (around 20 years in the making between book 1 and book 15). Maybe that's why the ending is not so satisfying, but that's my opinion.

Maybe I have wrong expectation that resulted in 2 star rating. I expected a single novel story, not a beginning of a long series.
Profile Image for Cathy.
1,671 reviews242 followers
May 20, 2023
Two stars, not worth it right? Well, I loved the next book, Invader, and gave it 5 ⭐️. Book #3, Inheritor, was a DNF halfway through, then I tried again three years later and ended up giving it 4 ⭐️. It really took time for me to appreciate C.J. Cherryh‘s storytelling. So don‘t let my 2 stars for this one here discourage you, try for yourself. One of these days I might re-read it and give it 5 stars as well… 😏

My review from 2017, spoilers for the general storyline:

I really liked the first two sections of this novel. First the arrival in the planetary system, then a jump of several settler generation to the first contact with the indigenous population of their chosen planet, the Atevi. I enjoyed the setting in space and the glimpse at societal differences between the humans on planet and onboard the ship. Down below I had fun reading from the POV of an Atevi. His human counterpart was an interesting character as well.

Unfortunately, with the beginning of the main storyline, my enjoyment took a nosedive. Another jump to several hundred years later. Humans and Atevi have been at war and resolved it by exiling the humans on an island.

Bren, our main character, lives among the Atevi as the sole human, a diplomat and interpreter of the sometimes incomprehensible language and cultural concepts of the Atevi. The Atevi don't know the concepts of friendship or trust. They also don't comprehend the idea of borders and separate nations. Instead there is loyalty, betrayal, complicated relationships with other factions, sanctioned assassinations and people with delicate sensibilities.

The culture of the Atevi reminded me of feudal Japan and made me want to re-read Shōgun by James Clavell.

Could have been fantastic, but isn't explored as much as I would have liked. Instead we are shown this world through the limited view of Bren, who is a whiny little shite that obsesses endlessly about inconsequential things like getting his mail and being perpetually worried, but never does anything. By the halfway point of the book I was annoyed, bored and skimming.

On top of Bren being an annoying character, the writing was repetitive and progressed glacially slow. I like my stories plot-driven, endless navel-gazing over the same points and ideas for pages after pages holds little interest for me. Also much of the story happened in the off. Bren spent most of his time sitting around, agonizing over one thing or another. There was very little doing. Except for the last 50 pages or so, when we got a little action.

The other characters were even shallower than Bren. Not much character development. Little humour.

The last 20 pages were not bad, I just wish the rest of the book had been that lively. Mostly it dragged, I was bored. I did not connect to any of the characters, the story was pretty bloodless.

Nonetheless I am actually interested to find out what happens next. Maybe I will get the next book at some point. Considering that there are about a million sequels after this book, I think it is safe to say that this first book is set-up. One can hope, that there will be more plot development in the next installments...?


Progress report:

First sub-trilogy
Foreigner #1 ⭐️⭐️☆☆☆
Invader #2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ My review
Inheritor #3 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My review

2nd sub-trilogy — my highest rated sub-trilogy so far.
Precursor #4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My review
Defender #5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My review
Explorer #6 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ My review

3rd sub-trilogy
Destroyer #7 ⭐️⭐️⭐️☆☆ My review
Pretender #8 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆ My lazy almost-no-review
Deliverer #9 — planned for June 2023
Profile Image for Markus.
476 reviews1,565 followers
January 3, 2019
It's somehow proved impossible for me to get into this book. There is nothing appealing about either characters or setting to draw me in, and there is something about the writing and the sentence structure (paragraphs usually consist of a single sentence, even the longest ones) that completely puts me off. I thus simply feel like I'm looking at words rather than reading. But as I've heard good things about the series, I might try again at some point in the future.
Profile Image for Stefan.
408 reviews167 followers
November 12, 2013
Foreigner is one of the most in-depth, uncompromising examinations of the way cultures interact in science fiction. Rereading it after all this time and with the added benefit of having read some of the later books in the series, I discovered a whole new level of complexity that’s probably almost impossible to appreciate on a first reading—complexity on almost every level, from Bren’s personal life and the subtle interactions of the atevi characters on the micro-level to the incredible socio-political depth on the macro-level.

Read the entire review on my site Far Beyond Reality!
Profile Image for Justine.
1,158 reviews312 followers
May 20, 2022
I didn't love this, but I will give it a very solid like, and I do want to read the next book in the series.

I listened to the audiobook, and it worked well in that format for me. Among other things, it saved me the work or trying to figure of all the different pronunciations.

My favourite part, and where I think Cherryh does a masterful job, is how the story conveys the isolation and emotional distance Bren experiences living with the Atevi. His lived experience is one of "alienation" in the truest sense of the word.

Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,121 reviews112 followers
November 28, 2021
This is the first volume of quite lengthy (23 volumes according to Goodreads) SF series by C.J. Cherryh. Previously, I’ve read several of her novels, including award-nominated Kesrith (The Faded Sun, #1) and Cyteen and I quite liked them. while this book lacks the wow feel of great works, it is quite an enjoyable read and I plan to continue.

The book is formally split into 3 ‘books’, the first 2 of which are just 13% of the novel and are telling a pre-history for the story: a colony faster-than-light ship emerges in real space at a point quite different from its destination, which a dual star system and heavy radiation. They have great losses, but gather enough fuel to reach the nearest G5 star. They are lucky this time – there is a planet habitable for humans, but it appears that that world has own civilization of humanoids (a head higher than humans, with ebony skin and yellow eyes), which is on the verge of harnessing energy of steam and starting an industrial revolution. A group of humans are sent one way (getting something from a gravity well is too costly) to settle and maybe get into connection with locals…

The main story starts two centuries later: the initial contact initially went well, but 21 years after it, something is wrong and locals (atevi) attack the colony. In order to save what remains of the colony, humans reach an agreement with a group of locals trading tech secrets for a protection. The human colony, now located on a distant island sends envoys to the local court, who deliver technological know-how to buy a continuous cooperation, with an attempt to develop a space program to get to the orbit once again. The protagonist Bren Cameron is the current envoy or paidhi (interpreter), who supply info to local ruler (aiji) Tabini. One night an assassin comes to Bren’s room (this is perfectly ordinary way to solve problems I this culture), but the paidhi survives and is send by the ruler to Tabini’s grandmother, who lives in an old castle outside the civilization, adhering to old ways. Now Bren is cut off from his superiors and unsure in loyalties of atevi around him.

The chief problem of Bren and humans before him is that they anthropomorphize atevi, they know it but fall in to that trap again and again. Atevi have hierarchies and loyalties, not friendship or love or trust:

Impossible to conceal their foreignness, impossible to trust a species that couldn’t translate friendship, impossible to admit what humans really wanted out of the agreement, because atevi in general didn’t—that foreign word—trust people foolish enough to land without a by-your-leave and possessing secrets they hadn’t yet turned over.

Their belief systems highly linked with numerology and even while atevi are much better than humans in counting probabilities in cards, they are sometimes constrained in their use of computers:

Manned space advocates of course agreed immediately, with celebration. Astronomers and certain anti-human lobbies disagreed passionately. Which put the question into the background, while council members consulted numerologists on truly important issues such as (the currently raging question) whether the launch dates were auspicious or not, and how many dates it was auspicious to approve in reserve—which got into another debate between several competing (and ethnically significant) schools of numerology, on whether the current date should be in the calculation or whether one counted the birthdate of the whole program or of the project or of the date the launch table was devised.

Never mind the debate over whether the fuel chamber baffle in the heavy lift booster could be four-partitioned without affecting the carefully chosen harmonious numbers of the tank design.

Cherryh did a great job with setting the scene with this volume. As I understand from the covers of the following volumes, they all continue with that uneasy alliance between the two races. It is a great yarn so far and I plan to continue.
Profile Image for Gary .
200 reviews184 followers
February 12, 2018
On the surface this seems like kind of a dull read. However, the story line intrigued me. Bren, an ambassador to a planet with alien overlords and a small, struggling colony of humans, tries to step carefully through the minefield of politics and alien thought.
Personally, I like the isolated, paranoid feeling and the alien characters felt like real people as the author slowly and carefully worked her craft. The names got confusing, though. I noticed a far from complete list of terms at the back that contained many of the names of the main characters. That helped me keep track. The cast is introduced early on and they stick around throughout, so it isn't a case of revolving characters. It's just that there are so many of them and the names are alien. Places and people seemed the same to me at first until I got the hang of it. I was reading a paper copy so I noticed the list in the back. On a Kindle I doubt I would have.
The protagonist, Bren, is a weak but intelligent character and the supporting cast of aliens, hostile and sort of friendly, are definitely more powerful. If you're looking for an action shoot 'em up alien story, this will bore you. If you enjoy extremely detailed worlds and characters, you will find yourself getting lost in this one at times.
Overall, I liked the book and plan to continue the series.
4.5 stars
Profile Image for Maggie K.
477 reviews124 followers
July 19, 2020
ugh. I was about halfway through this book and said out loud "Yay, something happened!" and realized I could no longer waste time with this. (Except for the first two introductory books) it was the most repetitive thing ever! Bren can't go anywhere by himself. Bren is bored. There was what possibly could have been an assassination attempt and now he is locked up somewhere, and he is worried. That is all, and i wrote it in three sentences.
I REALLY wanted to like this book, and I hear it gets better, but if i saw the word worry one more time I would have thrown my book, and I really hate book abuse.
Profile Image for Lost Planet Airman.
1,250 reviews73 followers
May 3, 2020
Pushed through on this instead of doing chores. A science fiction adventure story, really, as a lost human expedition divides its resources between a barely sustainable pace station and attempted colonization of the planet of the humanoid "atevi" -- larger, stronger, alien, and only a little behind the technology of the lost expedition.

Fulfills my RATB7, BWARD', and 17DUX:FOS2.01(#56) challenges.
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,253 reviews182 followers
January 10, 2022
Re-visiting the first novel of this series was a very different experience, a much nicer one. Cherryh’s world building is much clearer. I still stand by what I wrote 6 years ago, and hope that anyone considering giving this title a go does so. It is worth it, and the story gets better as you progress :0)


Foreigner, the first in the series of the same name, is an intriguing read. A human starship finds itself lost in space. Queue a few generations later, and this little enclave of humanity has split into two factions, one that stayed on the Phoenix, the other taking refuge on a planet that supports life, but inhabited by a hostile, sentient race. The novel charts these events very quickly, a sort of prelude to the real story that focuses on the relationships between humans and the atevi through the eyes of the paidhi, a human diplomat cum interpreter of both language and cultural differences, working at improving dealings between the two races. We meet Bren Cameron when an attempt is made on his life. Or is it? Although Cherryh uses the third person, we only get Bren's very limited point of view and the narration feels very much like a stream of consciousness, as we follow his thoughts, fears and doubts. The result is very psychological, confusing, slow at times, but also immersive and fascinating.

This was not an easy read. Bren's ramblings are convoluted and makes the reader as lost as he feels. He knows something big is going on but he can only deal with the little matters around him, since left in the dark, and thus he tries to do the best he can, while over analysing everything. Also, his position has quite a female slant: he is surrounded by a race that is both bigger and stronger then he, and he relies on them for everything. Thus he only can use diplomacy, words his only weapons. Cherryh seems to like to convey this first contact story from unconventional angles, and through her writing style, the alieness of this people. I did like it but I believe that a re-read would probably give a different light on events and people, and improve the experience.
Profile Image for Hank.
821 reviews81 followers
May 12, 2020
I get the appeal. The world building and the setup were quite good. If you are forced to abandon the whole Star Trek, non-interference policy, how would you protect the alien species? Many of those issues are mildly touched on with the main conflict of the story being how to interact with a completely alien society. Cherryh set up the world well but I could never really grasp the alien society and what drives them. There was also far, far too much discussion inside the MC's head.
Overall, not really my bag baby. I think those who loved the Goblin Emperor would enjoy this as well.

Not going to read the next ones.
Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
737 reviews1,264 followers
May 17, 2017
[1.5 stars] From the GR overview: above “begins an epic tale” is likely the most misleading one I’ve ever read. It gives the impression that something actually happens in the first book. I technically should be discussing Foreigner in a DNF Q&A because I stopped reading with only two chapters to go. I figured since I hit the 95% mark, I feel justified giving it a normal review.

I did not like it.

Issue #1: it had three beginnings.

Cherryh began her story, jumped through in time, began another story, then jumped through time again to start what was actually the bulk of the book. This was an issue for a couple of reasons, the foremost of which was that it took so much concentration and effort to remember all the characters introduced in the two “prologues”, that by the time the main story kicked in, my give-a-shit was busted. I didn’t really focus for the first few chapters of the main story because I kept expecting it to jump ahead again. Instead, it proceeded to drag on for another 300+ pages. I think what upsets me the most is how good the first two "starts” were and how much potential it had (and wasted).

Issue #2: the main character was very unlikable.

And not in an anti-hero “I’m an asshole and I don’t care who knows it” kind of way, but in an entitled, “spoiled little rich boy” kind of way. Most of his contributions involved excessive whining about the lack of good accommodations and how much he wanted his mail. It was insufferable, and I can’t think of anything I actually liked about him. Harsh but true.

Issue 3: the entire story took place on the periphery of the action.

I don’t want dozens and dozens of pages of speculation on what happened. I want to EXPERIENCE it myself through the character. If there’s nothing to engage your character, apparently the solution is to infuse political speculation of no consequence. The character basically just sat there either thinking about politics, how bored he was, or, God help me, his lost mail. The general rule of thumb is, if your character is bored, your reader is bored. And despite my aversion to politics in real life, I actually love reading them in books – especially between humans and interesting alien species. This book should have been an amazing cluster of intrigue, but there was very little actual political maneuvering. Just a bunch of theory and historical information (yawn). The only redeeming quality was the alien beings themselves – wicked cool (cover image).

Overall, there was so little plot advancement that Foreigner could have easily been summed up in about 50 pages or less. I’m very disappointed. I think hopes of what the story could be was what kept me reading, but I lost all gusto when I realized it just wasn’t going to get there. I’ve been collecting hardcovers for this 18 book saga for years and was looking forward to immersing myself in them and now I’m not sure what to do with them. I might go back and finish Foreigner to continue on one day, but not for a long, long while.

Other books you might like:

Old Man's War - John Scalzi
Leviathan Wakes - James S.A. Corey
Perdition - Ann Aguirre
Beholder's Eye - Julie E. Czerneda
Fortune's Pawn - Rachel Bach

Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.NikiHawkes.com
Profile Image for Neil.
Author 3 books47 followers
May 16, 2009
This is my first attempt at Cherryh, and I'm on the fence as to whether or not there will be more. I'm surprised that the reviews of this aren't more tepid.

The atevi are interesting: the alien species at the heart of the book, dark-skinned, larger than humans, but more importantly hardwired in a different way. Their society runs on hierarchies based on duty, but friendship and trust are notably absent. They are mathematically astute and tend to glorify numbers and seem to desire to reduce decision making to equations. If an individual is getting in the way of the greater good, it's acceptable in their society to hire an assassin and remove them, but this hiring is a matter of public record.

A ship full of humans has become lost in the galaxy where the atevi live. Eventually they decide to move on to the atevi planet. This well-intentioned choice is still an invasion and eventually leads to war between humans and atevi. Most of the book picks up (after two interesting early chapters that unfortunately don't really go anywhere) a few generations later, after a truce has been reached. The humans give the atevi technology (their society is at first far behind in technology, but the gap is narrowing) in exchange for being allowed to survive in the face of the atevi's vast numerical advantage.

The story is told from the point of view of Bren Cameron, who has taken the role of paidhi. The paidhi is the only human who lives among the atevi, a very complex diplomatic position, as the differences between the atevi and the humans are not always obvious on the surface.

But it's here where the story break down for me. As interesting as Cherryh's concept is, the execution is pedestrian. The insecurity of Bren's position leaves him constantly dithering and his perspective grows tiresome, too introspective. He doesn't know what's going on and for much of the book, very little happens. The book would be more entertaining if Cherryh had found a way to show us what the atevi are like through more action instead of telling us through Bren's rather bland stream of conscious. One of the challenges Cherryh sets for herself is to make the atevi difficult to understand as a species yet still make us interested in the atevi characters. Unfortunately, and I think particularly because we see everything through Bren's eyes, this doesn't happen. The atevi all blend together, with the exception of one conniving dowager in exile.

To me this book only builds up steam in the final chapters, and by then I'd ceased to care. After 400 pages of reading, I felt like I'd reached a starting point for the series. That's a bit longer than I like my prologues! It took me a long time to get through this book, and I don't know if I'll continue the series.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,929 reviews386 followers
November 7, 2019
Once again, I find myself fascinated by C.J. Cherryh’s aliens. The Atevi, although superficially humanoid-shaped, have an entirely different way of looking at the universe and Cherryh lets us struggle with those viewpoints along with her main character, Bren Cameron. I quickly realized that it was human psychology that was being explored just as thoroughly as Atevi psychology.

So, how do you maintain yourself as a diplomat among people who operate through only loyalty, not through affection, liking, or loving? Especially when they are very pragmatic about assassination? Bren is rapidly discovering that he hasn’t maintained emotional distance from the Atevi that he lives among--being the only human allowed in Atevi society has made him lonely and searching for attachments. However, his Atevi “friends” aren’t necessarily able to reciprocate his feelings or even understand his need for affection.

When Bren suddenly finds himself the target of an assassination attempt, all of these problems in understanding come crashing down on him. Has he been a romantic fool, believing that he can trust the Atevi around him? Did he not contact the humans in Mospheira because he has lost touch with his humanity in some crucial way? There is plenty of action, as Bren is taken here and there, tries to discover who he can actually trust, avoids death frequently, and sorts through conspiracy theories. But the big question is, if Atevi have no word for affection, can they still feel it?

I look forward to book 2 to see if Bren’s diplomatic career survives the crisis.

Book number 330 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.
Profile Image for YouKneeK.
660 reviews80 followers
April 4, 2021
This was another one of my series-sampling audio listens, to see if I might want to pursue it in print someday. It was also my first time reading anything by C. J. Cherryh, whom I’ve often seen mentioned favorably.

Audio Narration
The narrator was Daniel Thomas May and he’s now on my list as one of the good ones! His narration style is very much the style I prefer. It’s a more understated and unobtrusive reading. He didn’t overly dramatize or exaggerate the characters or the story and he sort of faded into the background while I just focused on the story and almost forgot I was being read to. That is exactly what I like best. He also did a good job of differentiating character voices, and I can’t think of a single aspect of his narration that ever annoyed me.

There are a lot of unfamiliar sorts of names and terms and that was a little more overwhelming to me in audio at first than it would have been in print. A word feels more solid and memorable to me if I see it in print than it does if I only hear it, and I’m somehow much less frustrated by not knowing how a word is properly pronounced than I am by not knowing how it’s spelled. Once the story settled into its rhythm, I was less bothered by it and didn’t have any significant confusion that impacted my ability to follow the story.

The story is a little misleading at first. It’s broken up into three “books”, although the first two books are very short. The second book was sort of like a prologue, and the first book was sort of like a prologue to that prologue. I enjoyed both books, but they gave an impression that the story was going to be something different than it was. Fortunately I enjoyed the third book also, which is when the real story starts.

Because of this structure, it’s hard to give a brief, spoiler-free taste of what this book is about for anybody reading this review who’s curious. If you know the state of affairs at the beginning of the third book, then it spoils the preliminary details from the first and second book. Yet the first and second books really don’t describe the story at all. So I’ll put a brief explanation of how book three starts in spoiler tags, and people can read it or not as they choose.

The main character, Bren, is the type of character I don’t always like reading about, so it’s a little surprising to me that I was so invested in his story. He can be a bit whiny, and he often came across as not being very competent at or even well-suited for his job. Nevertheless, I cared about what happened to him, and I did like some elements of his personality, and I very much liked the other characters that we saw through his eyes.

I wasn’t always engrossed in the story, but it generally held my interest. With audiobooks, I usually have trouble listening for much more than an hour at a time. Even if I want to keep cross-stitching, I turn off the audiobook to give my ears a rest. I easily surpassed that a few times listening to this book. The ending wasn’t terribly satisfying. The most immediate issue was sort of resolved, but this is clearly just the first part of a larger story. There were also hints of interesting backstories that I wanted to learn more about. No doubt all of this would be better satisfied by continuing the series.

I’m marking this one as a “yes” regarding whether or not I want to revisit it in print someday and read further into the series. I would very much like to continue the story at some point. I also think I would enjoy re-reading this first book in print because I sometimes felt like there were nuances to the story that I would have grasped better that way.
Profile Image for Andreas.
482 reviews139 followers
November 21, 2019
The novel started as a speedy space opera for a couple of pages. After that first few chapters, Cherryh slammed the brakes, and it didn't get any faster for the rest of the novel. Yes, there is a bit of action after a while, but no, it isn't like any Scalzi. This complete switch in pacing was hard to take. It isn't written densely and I found out that I can skim over complete passages without loosing anything meaningful. It isn't exactly repetitive but a specific literary style that just not everyone enjoys: Somewhere between stream of consciousness and tight 3rd person.
I liked the typical Cherryh tropes but probably won't read the rest of the series.
Profile Image for Maria Dimitrova.
745 reviews142 followers
March 3, 2017
I really wanted to like this. And for a time it seems like I will. And then boredom hit. Bren is one of the most boring characters I've ever met. The atevi were incredibly intriguing but because of Bren's POV I feel like they never really got a chance to shine. The last few chapters provided the bulk of entertainment and even made me curious about the rest of the series. So maybe, just maybe, I'll read the sequel. One day. But not too soon.
Profile Image for Mimi.
699 reviews198 followers
May 7, 2017
This book ends when the story is just about to get interesting. And that's the most effective way to lose an audience.

Up until the ending, it's a real repetitive uphill slog, and I say that as someone who liked it more than most people. Reading it was a labor-intensive task that I never thought would end and I would never have been able to get to the end without the help of the audio--again, speaking as someone who liked the story. The prose and plotting could use a lot of editing, and the inner monologues could use some deleting. But the alien world and cultures were interesting, and they seemed to have the potential to become even more interesting. For that alone, I would pick up the second book.

Back to the ending and what I think most people don't know about this book: it's not an ending, but it's not quite a cliffhanger either, and thus the reason behind so many frustrated reviews. While it's not an ending, it does leaving you in the middle of a scene that could potentially be interesting if you were already invested in the story and characters. But if you weren't, it wouldn't be a huge loss to not know how it all ends or whether or not Bren Cameron survives and is able to navigate the delicate relations between humans and atevi.

I wouldn't say I'm invested, but I do want to know what happens next--alien worlds and political intrigue are an interesting combination. Maybe not right away though because a break is in order after that slog, but as soon as the audio for the second book is available, I'm on it.

Full review when I get through the first the books or a complete story in the case of this series.

* * * * *

Notes for future reference:

- Pretty sure I missed it because of the audiobook, but was the reason for the war ever explained? Probably not in a straightforward way. What was the human slight that started it all? The narration kept referring back to a slight the humans made, but it never said in any concrete terms what they did, which leads me to think the humans still don't know. Bren certainly doesn't have a clue. It's been 200 years and they still haven't figured it out? That just seems so... not believable.

- I get the sense that if whatever it was that started the war was figured out and corrected, there'd be a lot less tension between the two species.

- There are a lot of words in this book, but not many of them make sense. They say a lot without really explaining anything at all. We only know as much as Bren knows, and Bren knows nearly nothing. Bren spends a lot of time in his own head, puzzling out puzzling atevi thoughts and behavior, without getting anywhere, and I feel for him. I just don't understand him. He's about as puzzling as the atevi. I mean, I don't blame him for being bad at his job, since he has so little guidance and no predecessor to look up to, but he just seems so... depressingly obtuse.

- I often found myself frustrated during the read at the human side of this problem, and at Bren especially, since it doesn't seem like the atevi are that alien or difficult to figure out. Yet the humans go to extremes to create non-problems so they could "figure" them out. I just don't get all this manufactured drama. The atevi seem to me to be very straightforward and practical to a fault; they don't let emotions or emotional ties guide their thoughts or actions. Easy enough to understand, right? And yet Bren has to keep reminding himself that, over and over again, to the point of exhaustion. Granted he's under duress for most of the book due to multiple attempts on his life, but his action and thought process throughout seem more alien to me than the actual aliens. Sometimes they straddle that TSTL line.

- Being an ambassador/prisoner to a hostile state during times of tense relations is risky, delicate business. Bren's situation reminds me of memoirs of a few Southeast Asian ambassadors to the UK and France during the last years of colonialism when relations were stained and on the brink of war, and that's why I feel for him. Gotta keep reminding myself of this though to help me understand his strange ways.

- Humans crash-landed on this alien planet and disrupted the planet's dominant, most advanced species. So they are basically the invaders here, but you might forget that from time to time because they play the victim so well. Not cooperating with the atevi and not assimilating to their way of life were the humans' biggest mistakes. I'm beginning to see the reason behind that war.

Cross-posted at https://covers2covers.wordpress.com/2...
Profile Image for Gary.
442 reviews196 followers
July 13, 2016
I've been sitting on this book at least a decade; currently feel like a tool for not reading it ages ago. Of course I'm hooked now that the series is seventeen books long and counting.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,931 reviews438 followers
May 1, 2017
I liked 'Foreigner', the first novel in a science fiction series about what happens following a landfall of starship-traveling humans on an unknown planet. I have put a hold on the next book, Invader at the library.

Centuries ago, the ftl starship Phoenix encountered an anomaly, knocking it off course. The frightened humans realized they did not have a clue where they were in space. Luckily, they located a G-5 planet - not the one they were looking for, but it could sustain them with supplies. However, they remained circling the planet in a space station for two centuries arguing about whether they should go planetside. There was a civilization already established on the planet! They were physically much larger than humans, but they were technologically developed only to the steam-power stage. Finally, a rebel group took the initiative and flew down to the planet, established a base, planting crops and setting up a small town of buildings. They hoped to avoid the larger and stronger aboriginal people until their base defenses were stronger - vain hope, gentle reader.

Contact made! Humans met atevi...and then war. However, not a long one. A small technologically-superior force could not hold out long against the fierce intelligent and more numerous atevi soldiers.

Three centuries later, the two races live uneasily and separately on the planet. All of the humans live in a territory called Mospheira, while the atevi live in cities, towns and farms surrounding Mospheira. The humans cannot understand the atevi organization very well, except they seem to give loyalty to leaders based on associations the humans cannot understand. Only one association, led by Tabini currently, agreed to any contact with the humans, and then only because the humans agreed to give the atevi technology. The atevi now have televisions and airplanes, but the space station floating above them is a concern to them. They know it could be weaponized.

Tabini's home city, Shejidan, is the only atevi place on the planet where a single human is permitted to live. Currently that single human is interpreter Bren Cameron, the paidhi. He studied the atevi for years, but there are still large gaps in understanding each other. Mental processes of the two races are so different there are concepts beyond comprehension to the other. Bren occupies a state of constant nervousness, never knowing if he will insult Tabini and cause the atevi to attack Mospheira. Making things more difficult, the atevi do not understand friendship emotions. Bren likes some of them, but atevi do not 'like' each other, much less Bren. He feels always a stranger, despite the contacts he has made with house servants and his personal guards.

One night an assassin appears in Bren's bedroom! He barely escapes with his life! However, his guards refuse to tell him what it is about, or who the assassin was. Without any explanation, Tabini orders him to be moved to Tabini's grandmother's castle. Bren is not allowed to contact Mospheira. Has Tabini turned against him? Did Bren insult someone? Tabini's grandmother is no friend of Tabini, either. She is his political adversary, and she does not approve of humans or their technology. Is Bren being sent to a quiet secret death?

Well. This is clearly an introductory science-fiction plot with interesting world-building and a strong promise of future mysteries and excitements. I enjoyed reading it for the most part. I plan to pick up the next book in the series. However, the character Bren could easily fit into the cast of any soap opera that used to be on television. He emotes and emotes and emotes. His internal hysteria fills up chapters and chapters of overwrought stress, fear and anxiety. He carries on worrying every little thing to death without coming to a decision or resolution. I found myself skimming paragraphs because it was either that or throw the book into the return chute at the library without finishing. The author made of the main character Bren such a peculiar kind of adult ambassador. He trained for years for his job, and he has been on the job a long while. He is devoted to improving relations between two cultures which are always prepared to go to war each other, yet temperamentally, he was similar to a young teenage girl on a first date expecting a kiss from a cute boy throughout the novel.

Is 'emo' still a cultural thing, btw? Just curious. Anyway, in the end, the sum is greater than the parts with this book, and generally, I liked it. Three and a half stars.

: )
Profile Image for Sud666.
1,980 reviews161 followers
March 26, 2020
This was a very interesting read. C.J. Cherryh does something a little different with this tale. It is a sci-fi story, but much more than that. It is an anthropological study of different cultures and, in fact, different species.

A human spaceship mistakenly ends up in a part of uncharted space, light years away from Earth. They find a planet to settle on but find that the planet is already settled. The Atevi have steam-powered technology levels. The humans and the Atevi meet for the first time. That's pretty much the first couple of chapters and serves as an introduction.

The rest of the book takes place a few hundred years later. Humans and the Atevi have an uneasy relationship. The humans, vastly outnumbered, had previously almost been wiped out by the Atevi and were saved only by their superior technology. Now the humans reside in a small enclave named Mospheria and work with the Atevi. The Atevi have gained access to human technology and have come a long way. But the fundamental differences between the two species goes very deep.

Cherryh does a great job of showing the Atevi to not only be alien in physiology but also mentally. Their basic ideas revolve around a concept known as Man'chi, which is roughly analogous to loyalty. But, it goes far deeper than that. This causes much conflict for the humans who try to understand them.

This job falls to the paidhi (interpreter), Bren Cameron. Bren is thrust into a complex plot between reactionary elements of Atevi society versus the more open Atevi. It is a complex book that delves into different loyalties and different patterns of thought. The Atevi are not human and do not think like humans, this causes much of the conflict. Bren must navigate a labyrinthian plot that may end with the destruction of humanity.

While some may find the book tedious, I truly enjoyed this complex and richly developed world. The concept of a book centered around two species trying to understand each other was very well done. Foreigner is a different kind of sci-fi story and one I found to be rather unique. I shall most certainly be looking for the rest of this series.
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