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OPTIMISM-PESSIMISM
by Queen Claire
 
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QUEEN CLAIRE:  In terms of CJC's commentary on politics--in light of Cyteen & Down Below Station--- 
is she a pessimist or an optimist? Is she shaping the way we should look at politics? 
Is there any idealism at all in her harsh treatment of the political process? 

CKTC:  Welcome to Shejidan, Queen Claire.  Have some tea, eh?
 
I think I'd call CJC a pesimistic optimist, if that makes any sense. Harsh as she may be at times, the endings to her novels are usually positive in some way. I don't know about shaping the way we look at politics. I'm not politically minded enough to answer that question. Maybe someone else will have more to say? 

WERE OTTER: Is there any idealism at all in her harsh treatment of the political process? 

Ari is portrayed as being very idealistic, particularly during her speech after the hotel bombing. But in many of the Union/Alliance novels Cherryh illustrates how power corrupts, and that even the brilliant scientists in Resuene are not immune to the temptation. And Ari will spend her entire life struggling with that temptation. 

Considering that Cherryh is showing us the seamier side of the Earth, Alliance and Union's democratic governments, I don't think she's being pessimistic, just realistic. Actually, they look pretty good when you compare them to the kind of politics going on in many 3rd world countries right now, where despots stay in power by proclaiming either a jihad or an ethnic cleansing. And look at how ruthless the government of China is. This is a totalitarian government that does not hesistate to engage in every kind of political gamesmanship. 

Compared to Frank Herbert, Cherryh is an optimist. And besides, she knows full well that all her readers would quickly become bored if she tried to write about utopian societies, free of political corruption. I love all that intrigue!

SUSAN:  I don't think that Cherryh is at all optimistic about politics, whether democratic or authoritarian. 
It has seemed to me for many years that the central theme of Cherryh's books is the lone ("isolate") individual struggling frantically with confusion, panic and desperation and caught up in a dense flow of intrigue that the protagonist and the reader don't really understand. By the end of each book the protagonist achieves some sense of community with one or a very few other sympathetic characters, and both the protagonist and the reader are much comforted. 

(Have you noticed that Cherryh always uses "isolate" as an adjective, not "isolated"? Perhaps this 'tic' of diction reveals the enormous importance of this condition and emotional state to her.) 

I've been planning, one of these days, to introduce some topic discussions on this theme and some other Cherryh themes I've been mulling over (I've been reading and brooding over Cherryh for a very, very, very long time). If there's interest, anybody who wants to respond to the "isolated individual fearing but eventually achieving bonds with others" issue could reply here, or we could start a new topic. 

Anyway, I see Cherryh's work as pervaded by a conviction that it is intensely difficult (although much-longed for) for human beings to trust each other and make authentic connections, even on a one-to-one through one-to-three scale. Larger political groups don't seem very promising, on this assumption. 

A discussion of the atevi's very nature is relevant here. I'm planning to start a separate topic on this one too one of these days. (Beware, I'm full of ideas.  Just don't want to wear out my welcome.) 

One big exception I can think of may even "prove the rule". At the end of Downbelow Station, the merchanters bond together to become a major political force. But what distinguishes the merchanters? Their independence, their individualism, their "loner-ism". QED? 
 

ANSIKALDEN:  That’s what Cherryh’s characters are:“loners among aliens” (even if they sometimes are of the same species) – and they evolve in the right direction (mostly) towards understanding/integration/confidence which is pretty optimistic. If the cog in the wheel is promising overall than so must the machinery be. Or is that naive? 

WERE OTTER:  I agree that there are some obvious generalities that you can point to in Cherryh's novels. Typically, you see emotionally isolate main characters band together in the face of adversity. In the end they triumph, or at least they survive. Yes, it's a formula, but it's one that I like. Cherryh is good at writing this sort of thing, and I enjoy reading them. 
But Cherryh is far from unique in using this kind of formula, and she does give us some variety. For example, the Chanur series does not follow this pattern at all. Hellburner and Rimrunners obviously fit the pattern, whereas the Foreigner series seems to do variations on a theme. 

btw Susan, I'm sure that you need not worry about wearing out your welcome. You've come to the right place to brood and ponder about the Cherryh universes. 

SUSAN:  Thanks for the encouragement, WereOtter. 

I wasn't really thinking that Cherryh was being formulaic in any negative sense. As I've mentioned somewhere else at this site, Cherryh is my absolutely favorite living writer (Dorothy Dunnett just died - but I think I'd still pick Cherryh over Dunnett if she hadn't.) Better than sex? It's close. Look at it this way, which lasts longer? 

Any writer is likely to be particularly preoccupied with one or more themes. And I agree that Cherryh isn't the only writer who writes about isolated characters painfully reaching out and being reached out to. But the pattern seems so prominent in her work. 

I don't like psychoanalyzing writers, but I'll do it anyway - don't you suspect she had a particularly lonely childhood? 

(Of course, that's probably true of lots of us, and we're not writing like Cherryh. But maybe it's one reason why her works are so appealing to us, including the comforting warmth of her endings.) 
 

CKTC:  I don't know anything about her childhood, and I'd hesitate to guess, but hell, here goes....I think her characters do reflect her in a way. Cherryh's obviously a very intelligent woman who has a gift for seeing into the minds of others. I don't think she would have been a lonely child in the typical sense, but she might have felt isolated due to her intelligence. Some of Cherryh's best characters are isolates because of their abilities, not because of lack of social skills. And as lonely a road as that may seem, I don't think the characters or CJC herself would ever choose to be other than what they are. I don't know if I'm making my thoughts clear or not, but that's partly why I see her as a pessimistic optimist. She seems to tend towards good endings. Not necessarily rosy or easy-going, but emotionally satisfying all the same. Of course, all this is simply a guess. I could be completely wrong. 

WERE OTTER:  I don't think the characters or CJC herself would ever choose to be other than what they are. 

Actually, that describes me quite well. And maybe it strikes a chord in the people who really like Cherryh's books. 

I don't know if I'm making my thoughts clear or not, but that's partly why I see her as a pessimistic optimist. 

Does pessimistic optimist = realistic? Because I've always felt driven to be realistic. But I guess I'm not so realistic that I want Cherryh to kill off her main characters more often. 

If you could do a statistical survey of the personality traits of Cherryh's most devoted readers, what would it tell us about our favorite author?
 

SUSAN: If you could do a statistical survey of the personality traits of Cherryh's most devoted readers, what would it tell us about our favorite author? 

What a fascinating idea, WereOtter. It would be interesting to poll our membership (surely Cherryh's most devoted readers) not only to tell us about Cherryh, but also to tell us about Cherryh's readership and our members. 

I'd do it, but I don't have the web-site savvy. If one of our experts would like to volunteer to set up a poll, that would be great. (Now where did I get the idea that one of our experts might be planning a vacation in the very near future? I must be telephathic.  ) 

Perhaps said expert -- whoever he, she or it may be -- could start by setting up a new topic for people to suggest personality traits to be polled. Are the form polls limited to five issues? It seems like many more than five personality traits might be relevant. 

HAUTDESERT:  Hmm, this is very interesting, Susan....perhaps something straightforward, like the meyers-briggs test might be in order. Or one of the small eneagram tests...... 

I'm not promising to set up any fancy web stuff, mind you, but let's ponder this. There are a number of personality tests already available on the internet. I'll try to look for some on my free time today. (Newsletter going out, so I have to write and typset most of today, but I'll be needing breaks.....) Maybe at the very least we could get people to take a test already out there, and have them report it for a webpage about the results.....maybe a way to update the results if more people want to add theirs later.... 

Susan, how could you do this to me??? I'm very busy right now, and have a huge list of projects on my to do list..... 

Sigh. Wish I had a vacation coming. 

SUSAN:  Hautdesert - you expected Cherryh readers to be easy-going, tender-hearted folks, maybe? Life is brutal here in the galaxy -red in tooth, claw and tentacle. 

HAUTDESERT:  Well, at least it's not nasty, brutish, and short. (Which rather well describes a date I had once....but that's another story). 

Anyway. There are, as I said before, lots of personality tests online. Some more serious than others. They Meyers-Briggs is not available in its full form, not for free, at least. There is, however, a close relative-- 

www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm 

I'm Introverted iNtuitive Sensing Percieving, myself, how about y'all? 

Then there are enneagram tests. I only just recently ran across the enneagram, it divides people into 9 personality types. Here's an enneagram test: 

www.personalityonline.com...l?testid=2 

Apparently I'm a 5. 

If you're concerned you may have a personality disorder, you can take this test-- 

www.4degreez.com/misc/per...er_test.mv 

Some of the questions are kind of scary. But I have a high probability of being an Avoidant personality. Otherwise I seem sane. Huh. Shows what they know. 

Less seriously, I found these: 

test3.thespark.com/person/ 

and 

www.hobbitlore.com/main.jsp# (hey, I'm Galadriel!!!) 

Don't you just love tests like this??? 
 

SABINA B:  I took the personalityonline test, guess what I got the type 5 and 9, so it rate very even through most of the others. 

As for optimistic and pessimistic, scientist made man useless with artifical sperm and now women with an artifical womb - Hello Cyteen. 
 

CKTC: "Actually, that describes me quite well. And maybe it strikes a chord in the people who really like Cherryh's books." 

Ditto the above. Very true. 

And yeah, it would be interesting to see what kind of personalities CJC fans tend to have. 

Okay, Enneagram test: 7, then 9. Hmm! 
 

SUSAN:  I took several of the tests and got contradictory results. One of them said I live only to serve others, and another said I'm a narcissist. I guess that means I'm a very kind-hearted and generous narcissist - possibly the Mother Theresa of narcissists. 

...
 

WERE OTTER:  On the Enneagram I came up being a 5 = Observer. Which is probably pretty common for readers of SF. 

On the personality disorder test I came up being an Avoidant: Often, they will create fantasy worlds to substitute for the real one. That makes sense. 

And I was disappointed to learn that I had a low rating for Antisocial. Oh, well. I guess I can try being antisocial in my fantasy world!
 

CREATURE FEATURE:  This is a really interesting thread. I think the comments about the "isolate" character struggling to deal with an alien society are very spot-on, and certainly, now that you've made me think about it, this is one of the things in the Foreigner series that made me actually identify and sympathise with the characters far more than I normally do. 

The comment about being a "pessimistic optimist" I love - that certainly describes me to a T (although if people ask I say I'm a "realist"). There's a glorious line by Garak in DS9 which stuck in my mind, that he made in response to being accused of being a pessimist: "On the contrary, I always hope for the best. Experience, unfortunately, has taught me to expect the worst" (or something like that). It's the compromise between a positive emotional attitude, but a realistic intellectual attitude (probably based on prior experience). That and the remark about it being difficult for humans to trust each other. I could go on, but I need to organise my thoughts a little better. 

Oh, and I did all the little tests  So I'm an 8 and a 9 (equally) on the enneagram, which is just weird because they seem rather opposite! The spark test tells me I'm a "mastermind" SIAT (submissive introvertive abstract thinker). The personality test thingy tells me I'm an INTJ, which is actually probably pretty accurate. The personality disorder test thinks that I have a high probablity of being obsessive-compulsive (damn those perfectionist tendencies!) and schizoid (must have been buy one get one free or something)  And the LotR test tells me I'm most like Gimli. Well, really, if I have to be one of the bearded guys, I could at least be Gandalf! :P 

...

I've been thinking about this "loners among aliens" thing and I was wondering: what sort of person would be the best at being paidhi/some sort of ambassador/whatever in an alien society? Would it be the sort of person who was very good at empathising with other people, the sort of person who was always easy to get along with and could always talk to anyone. You know, the most popular kid in school. Or, would it be the outsider? The one who *wasn't* actually that great at relating to people and who had always been on the fringe of people's groups? (I know these are just two extremes, but I'm trying to keep it simple for myself!) 

You could probably make a case for choosing either one of these people to drop into an alien society and say "make it work". Perhaps people-person would do best since they have that charisma, and empathy. They can reach out to other people. They find ways to integrate themselves and understand by being. On the other hand, maybe loner-person would do far better - I'm actually inclined to think this (though I'm doubtless biased). Having always been on the outside, perhaps they would be far better mentally equipped to be placed in a society in which they are inevitably an outsider, whereas someone who's not used to it may get a nasty shock. Having previously dealt from that perspective, they may be less disorientated than others, more comfortable in that position, and far more skilled in deducing information from the position of an observer of social interactions, as opposed to a participant of such interactions. Bren seems to be more the latter than the former, at least. 

If the paidhi is someone who "stands between" the two societies, are they also someone who "stands outside" them both? 
 

HAUTDESERT:  CF, I've actually been thinking about this issue (or a related one) myself. 

I've come to the conclusion that there isn't one type of person that's neccesarily best for a job like that. Different times, and different personalities involved on all sides, will call for different kinds of people to be best able to bring them together. But if I had to choose the most important thing a person ought to be or have in such a job, it would be something like "being an honest person" or "being a good person." Which are both very vague, I know, but I think what I mean is, if the two sides (or however many) don't feel they can rely on the paidhi, don't believe he's honest or that he wants the good of everyone involved, the whole system will break down. 

I was thinking recently about some of the negative reviews of Foreigner (specificallly the first book) on amazon, and the number of people who complained that Bren had no control over events, and was just pushed back and forth. Which is how it looks at first. But in fact, Bren has a good deal of control over events--he just doesn't know it. How he treats the servants, the way he reacts to the tourists, how he handled being poisoned, the session in the basement, and later saving Banichi and Ilisidi, were all choices he made that very much affected Ilisidi's appraisal of him, and Banichi and Jago's as well. It's true he didn't make those choices thinking, "This will convince 'Sidi-ji to rely on me." Not understanding what was happening, he could only rely on what he, personally, thought was the right thing to do, and being a good and honest person who valued the peace and stability of his homeworld, he made the choices he made. He would, I think, have died otherwise. Loner or party guy, his intentions and integrity made the difference. 

I also don't think Bren is really a loner. He is by circumstance, especially in the first book. But he does have friends and contacts on Mospheira, and doesn't seem to find it difficult or uncomfortable to relate to humans (leaving Mom and Barb off the list....). And of course, he's never alone in his household, all of whom are entirely devoted to him. I don't think atevi produce many loners, and Bren is certainly part of the society at this point (Precursor--Defender). 

I'm rambling now, so I'd better stop. 
 

SUSAN:  But in fact, Bren has a good deal of control over events--he just doesn't know it. 

Haudesert, that's very perceptive! And I bet it's a generalization that works for all Cherryh's protagonists. They feel, desperately, that things are spinning out of control and terribly dangerous -- but then they exercise control after all -- they do the brave and kind things that save the day, often with the help of others, whose assistance the protagonists win through their fundamental decency. 
 

CKTC:  Great post, haut! 

I think the most important quality wouldn't be related to extro or introversion. I think the two most important traits would be sincerity and an openness to trying new things or taking risks. 

WERE OTTER:  If you compare Bren and Deanna, how are they different in their approach to the job? Intellectual and emotional honesty are the key I think. Bren knows that it his job to learn to understand Atevi as they really are, not as he'd like them to be. Deanna was incapable of separating her agenda from her observations. And when you have a slippery grasp of the truth, it just makes you more vulnerable to your own fears and to manipulation by others. 

The other big difference between Bren and Deanna is Bren's goodwill. Bren thinks that the only way humans can survive on the Atevi homeworld is through mutual goodwill and an association of mutual advantage. Deanna believes in species self-interest, and that humans can only survive by having supremacy over Atevi. I think that Bren represents political optimism, whereas Deanna represents political pessimism. 

I also thought that hautdesert's comment about people who complained that Bren had no control over events, was interesting. Bren's situation in the first book is very realistic. Foreign diplomats don't have control over events, and don't have a full knowledge of what's going on. Not that Deanna would understand that. 

Doing the job is one thing, coping with it is another. It looks like to me that Bren, Jase and Yolanda each had to find their own way to cope with the job. 
 

CREATURE FEATURE:  I completely agree with Hautdesert and CKTC - I think a sense of honesty and a genuine determination to do the right thing by people is the most important thing. This reminds me actually - didn't Bren describe himself as the "honest broker", with some determination to stay that way. I think it's pretty obvious that he understands that even if he does sometimes act in what would seem to Atevi to be really bizarre ways, maintaining his personal integrity is the most important thing. 

I was probably a little oversimplistic about the personality types; I was just wondering what sort of person would cope better if dumped alone into an alien society; someone who was used to people liking them and getting along with them, or someone who wasn't. Of course it depends on loads of other characteristics, but I like speculating on this stuff 
 

CKTC:  I know what you mean, CF. The personality traits tests were interesting.