Janice Cherryh is known in the science fiction realms for her inventive
stories and truly alien aliens. She has won the Hugo Award for her provoking
novels Dowbelow Station and Cyteen. Yet Cyteen is
not the only book of interest she has written in her long career; among
the over fifty books she wrote are
The Pride of Chanur and Foreigner.
Both books seem, if only skimmed, very much alike in their set up, but
a closer look will reveal a plethora of differences which affect the story,
such as the locations and the intriguing species she so believable conjures.
The two books are similar in some ways.
Both are set in a distant future with advanced technology and, as such,
have to be counted as science fiction. Both feature contact between
aliens and humans, or contact by one human with a group of aliens. Tully,
the human in The Pride of Chanur and Bren, the human in Foreigner,
are both isolated from humanity and have to manage on their own in situations
that could cause their death any minute, with beings that don't feel at
all like humans or understand them at first.
Despite the similarities, each novel has
its one unique location to draw the reader in. The Pride of Chanur
is almost exclusively set in space, whereas Foreigner takes place
upon a planet. The two settings on their own make for different hazards
and necessities of behaviour. Aboard a ship or space station one has to
be careful of blown air seals and pressure drops, while on a planet harsh
weather and the native fauna and flora can be lethal. The stories are even
more unlike if one looks at the main locations. On the one hand, there
is The Pride of Chanur, a tight, narrow ship running at its technical
limits; on the other, there is Malguri, a fortress several millennia old
without any modern technology.
Another area where the books differ are
the main alien species. The hani as main characters in The Pride of
Chanur are best described as humanoid lions. The males are fighting
hand to hand for territories supported by the females; since males can't
stand each other and start fighting each other on the spot, political deals
are mostly made by the females who represent each clan. In contrast, the
atevi will follow a leader no matter the gender and usually avoid any kind
of quarrel. Unlike the hani that do understand friendship, the atevi know
only man'chi as grouping instinct and are bewildered by declaration of
liking, which to them only applies to salad.
Although both books have similarities,
the differences outweigh them in these pleasurable reads. One can't say
that one is based upon the other or re-tells it with different characters.
The two books create their own universes, as one expects from Cherryh books.
The background and characters take a different view on the matter of first
contact. Each of them is a good story in its own right, and neither should
be judged superior over the other.
© Sabina Betschke