Well, that worked out about as well as I could have expected. It’s been both a long book and a long move, and I’m not completely done with the latter. I am, as of last night though, sleeping in my new home. There’s a bit more to be done, and not just unpacking boxes. I don’t have quite as many of those as you might think; having only so many good for transporting books means I was unpacking them as soon as I got here and taking them back to refill again and again and again.
As you can see, my next priority with those will be shelves. I’m not planning on spending a fortune, and I definitely want to be able to see the walls and not just bookcases. More photos once I have them and they’re filled. Needless to say, that room is officially the library.
Choosing a longer book for the bulk of the move has paid off in the sense that I didn’t have to rush around and dig for new books every day or two. Also because The Faded Sun by C.J. Cherryh is one of my very favorite books, and one of the three I asked her to personalize when signing. Yes, I could’ve asked her to do so for all thirty-some of the books I’d brought, but I only wanted that for the best of the best, which this one is.
This particular volume is actually an omnibus of the Faded Sun Trilogy, originally released from 1978-1979 in some amazingly seventies hardcovers. You see the weirdest stuff at used bookstores, okay. But that’s besides the point. Point being, this one book contains Kesrith, Shon’jir, and Kutath together. I do want to point out that this is not the only entry in Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe previously released as three books and now combined into one, but unlike Cyteen, these are three separate books following the same story, as opposed to one very long story originally broken up into three books due to physical publication restrictions.
This trilogy takes place much, much later on the Alliance-Union timeline than Cyteen, and I couldn’t tell you how much time spans the two. I couldn’t even tell you if the humans here are from Alliance, Union, or Earth. For all I know, those three nations may no longer exist as known during and in the aftermath of the Company Wars. After all, this time period is called the Mri Wars.
Mri means People, and they are one of the alien species dealt with in The Faded Sun. The primary one, as it turns out. You see, Kesrith opens with the end of said wars, with peace. Humans are taking possession of the planet Kesrith as ceded to them by the regul. Regul being our other main alien species. The mri are mercenaries and the regul their employers. For more than two thousand years, mri have been regul bodyguards and have fought each other in single combat representing regul trade interests. Then came humans onto the scene, fighting modern battles as opposed to the traditional mri combats with swords. The mri would almost certainly have fought to the bitter end, but the regul lost their taste for battle and have now signed a peace treaty.
Mri are humanlike in appearance. They are tall, slim, and golden from their manes to their eyes to their skin. It is said in their edunei, their traditional homes of four towers, that they are born of the Sun. In contrast, the regul are big, obese creatures should they survive to adulthood. Their gift is an eidetic memory which they will exercise far more than their legs, which will atrophy from sitting around in their electronic sleds instead of attempting to move their bulk.
These books are all about xenopsychology as we try to understand the thought processes and motivations of the two new species involved. The regul, with their perfect memories, find lying to be anathema, but are not above taking revenge in subtle ways by methods such as restricting available information and not volunteering what they know if not explicitly requested. The mri, on the other hand, disdain lying as beneath them and live their lives as they alone choose, not compromising in the least their ancient ways regardless of how times have changed.
Most of what I’ve just discussed is simply the first book. Shon’Jir is where things really start getting interesting as we leave Kesrith on a years-long journey (even with ships able to jump between stars) for the mri homeworld of Kutath. Here we begin to understand that the ancient ways of the mri are far older than anyone had ever dated to imagine, save for some few mri who understood. You see, there are three main castes of the mri people. Kath, the blue robes, are children and women who are not inclined to the exercise of weapons or minds. These are protected and concealed from outsiders for they are the future of the people, the Face that Smiles. Next is Kel caste, the black robes, the Face Turned Outward. These are the fearsome warriors that all know well in these books. Yet, both Kel and Kath revel in their ignorance. They know what they know, but there is much that is not meet for them to know, and so they will refuse this knowledge. Their history only goes back so far, and they are content with this. It is Sen caste, the gold robes, who retain true knowledge. Smaller than either of the other castes, Sen is celibate while they guide their people. But while they have input on the direction of the group as a whole, it is the she’pan who leads. She is Mother to the tribe, wearer of the white robes. Technically she is from Sen caste, but there is no doubt that hers is the sole authority, lent input by her Sen and her Kel Husbands. The Husbands are not so in our human sense of the word, more that they are Kel men old enough to have some wisdom despite their caste and steady enough to rely upon. The she’pan, like her Sen, is celibate. She alone knows all, and she may choose to share with her people or not what she knows.
Because it is the Kel who interacts with outsiders most frequently, it is through the Kel that we learn to understand the mri.
In time, we come to Kutath and the planet is, of course, the mri homeworld. And if you don’t have a good understanding of the alien psychologies at the end of this book and trilogy, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention. What Cherryh accomplished here in the Faded Sun trilogy she tried again with the Chanur books a couple years later, though with many more species. Frankly…it didn’t work nearly as well as these three books allowing us to come to understand two very different species from our own.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the elements that make up these books, but very little about the story contained within. It is gripping, and it hurt me so badly to spend a good week reading it when I would have loved to curl up with it on a weekend and burn through the whole thing in six hours. At least it gave me something to look forward to when I could spare some time to read. Not that my next book won’t, but it’s not something I know and love as much as The Faded Sun.