C.J. Cherryh,
(DAW, 2001)

Defender, book five of C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner Universe, is just as exciting as the earlier books in the series. Read them in order, if possible; these books are not the usual science-fiction fare, but something intricate and convoluted. In Defender, a newly built starship is almost ready to be launched into the far reaches of the universe.

The hero, Bren Cameron, is fascinating to watch, not least because he is often assailed by worries. Why is he called from the space station to attend an atevi ceremony on the planet? Has the Western Association decided to call off the projected voyage? Is Tabini, the powerful Tabini, having second thoughts and regrets? Bren and his atevi security are genuinely puzzled.

An even greater surprise awaits. The atevi Dowager Lady Ilisidi arrives on the spaceship to announce imperiously that she will be a passenger on the maiden voyage of the spaceship. At her side is Tabini's 6-year-old son, a curious and bright child still learning his way around adults and the constraints they impose upon him. It is a vote of confidence for Bren, but the officers and the crew of the ship are not pleased by the presence of atevi royalty. It is even possible to think that the mission may be aborted.

All of this tension is great fun but it pales beside Cherryh's characters. They have been developing since the series began into fully-rounded, complex persons. The atevi are superbly well-drawn as an intelligent, thoughtful species often superior to their human counterparts. They are not always faultless. Their Assassin's Guild, for example, is just what the name implies, but under a different name, it might sound like a more benign entity. The atevi are nothing if not honest and direct.

I recommend this whole series to readers of science fiction in the hope that they will find the same pleasure I did. Listen up!!! Do the words intelligent, compelling and original command attention?

(Dare I add that I liked Stephen Youll's flashy, wonderful cover?)

- Rambles
written by Jean Marchand
published 28 December 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.