For the past several months I have been reading an epic five arc “Anthropological Scifi” series known as the “Foreigner Novels” by C.J. Cherryh. The series deals primarily with the politics, and social interactions between humans, and an alien race known as the Atevi. I started reading the Foreigner Novels a while ago, but never truly got into them. The books themselves deal a lot with the cultural, and mental differences between humans and aliens. And in many ways I feel that the author, CJ Cherryh, does an excellent job in examining how inter-species relationships can exist between societies that have completely different biological makes up.
A Brief History
The reason Humans live on the Atevi homeworld is they essentially were rebellious colonists who desperately built a station over the world after their colony ship went astray. A total failure of space travel in FTL drove the creation of the station when their colony ship went mysteriously off course. When the ship later left to explore further, those discontent with the current leadership built landers to flee to the surface. This lasted for a while as humans interacted with the taller dark skined elvish looking atevi. However, the flood of people, and the flood of Humans pushed for the existence of something called the War of the Landing. Humans were exiles to the island of Mospheira, and the power Aiji (Lord) of the city of Shejidan gained power enough to found a early state, the Aishidi’tat.
About the Atevi
The Atevi are a tall almost elflike people who dwell upon their homeworld in a series of lineage bound Clans, and closely bound groups known as Associations. These Associations are the strongest form of nationhood and are ruled by lords known as Aiji. Atevi do not htink like humans. They do not have love, they do not have friendship as eternal bonds forged through emotions. Their emotions are draw towards formations of relationships through man’chii or association. The idea of giving loyalty to a leader, and trust them to make good decisions. Man’chii is complex as it can be bound by Guilds (the major big trading patners), and by family along with nationality.
The Atevi have several general ethnic groups including the Ragi who are the largest and found primarily in the west, and the central regions of the primary continent. The Marid, a southern branch of Clans known for their warlike indpendence. Then there are the Gan, and Edi who were the people who were displaced from Mospheira by the humans, and finally the Easterners a conservative spiritualist people who dislike the industrialized West.
Humanity in the Story
Humans for most of the story are presented either as understanding the Atevi, or simply being happy to have their vacations. The primary protagonist, Bren Cameron, the Paidhi or Translator who bridges the government of Mospheira with the Atevi of the Aishidi’tat. It is Bren who is the “Foreigner” throughout the story who comes to create the strongest of bonds between the Atevi and Humanity. In most of the story Humans are essentially interlopers, xenophobic or misunderstanding the Atevi. However, this is not the typical “Humans are the bad guys” kind of story. In fact the story presents several open minded human characters, and several xenophobic ones that even call Bren at one point a traitor to his race.