C.J. Cherryh,
At the Edge of Space
(DAW, 2003)

Brothers of Earth (1976)
Hunter of Worlds (1977)

C.J. Cherryh has become one of the pillars of current science fiction. Her stories have covered unmeasured reaches of space and dozens of alien races. Taken together, her work creates a rich, seamless universe that can be hard to approach for a first time visitor. DAW is providing an easy starting point with At the Edge of Space, a collection of two of her earliestand, until now, sadly rarenovels, Brothers of Earth and Hunter of Worlds.

Brothers of Earth has a pulp feel to it. A human astronaut is stranded on a primitive planet where he and a surviving human soldier from the enemy side are the only known human beings, and their tales of spacefaring civilizations are hardly credited by the aliens who welcome them. The humans attain importance in their adopted world a bit too easily, and the narrative is often affected by sex scenes that Cherryh seems unwilling to portray or even suggest too plainly. The plot is a fairly standard tale of a brave explorer who manages to draw the attention of the local governments, win a beautiful local bride and help spark a civil war with little more than his strange human presence. Readers used to Cherryh's later works will miss her usual subtlety and depth of character interaction, but the tight pace of the story and the broad likeability of the hero make Brothers of Earth one of the better stories of its type.

Hunter of Worlds is the second half of the collection and shows Cherryh's development as a writer. The characters are more rounded and the universe they travel feels far grander, even as the characters live in the confines of a spaceship and the restrictions of slavery. The plot weaves dramatic actions into complex and half-hidden political intrigues, letting the culture of the nonhuman races move behind and through the scenes.

Hunter is also a rather daring experiment in writing. Cherryh is trying to create several alien races, and tries to express their alien mindset through language concepts and one-word expressions that will seem unnatural to human ways of thinking. It's a good idea, but she succeeds a little too well. It's hard to care about characters whose actions are based on concepts specifically alienating to the reader. It's even harder when the reader has to flip to the glossary to check the meaning of every third conversational exchange. The one main human character is still too minor to make the story emotionally accessible. Appealing more to a human reader's intellectual curiosity than their more immediate emotions, Hunter of Worlds is never a dull read, but too often it feels like a compelling documentary instead of an unfolding story. Still, the political intrigue and cultural discovery of the tale kept me eager to do the necessary translating work.

Cherryh's universe is expansive and varied, and she has managed to build layers of depth into it without ever feeling the need to call attention to how awfully much world-building she's done. Seeing these two very different tales unfold in planets not far from the same civilizations suggests the breathtaking scope of their universe. Pairing the stories together gives each extra depth and context, and the joining of adventure tale with intellectual exploration makes At the Edge of Space a good introductory collection. Whether they're new to her work or just brushing up on her earlier novels, fans of science fiction should appreciate this passport to the universe of C.J. Cherryh.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 21 February 2004

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