by Queen Claire
In terms of CJC's commentary on politics--in light of Cyteen & Down
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?
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?
Is there any idealism at all in her harsh treatment of the
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!
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
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".
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?
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.
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
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
(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
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.
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
I don't know if I'm making my
thoughts clear or not, but that's partly why I see her as a pessimistic
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?
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
Hmm, this is very interesting, Susan....perhaps something straightforward,
like the meyers-briggs test might be in order. Or one of the small eneagram
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.
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
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--
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:
Apparently I'm a 5.
If you're concerned you may have
a personality disorder, you can take this test--
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:
Don't you just love tests like this???
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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"
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.
But in fact, Bren has a good deal of control over events--he just doesn't
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
I know what you mean, CF. The personality traits tests were interesting.