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Foreigner: A Novel of First Contact by C. J. Cherryh []



The subtitle of C. J. Cherryh’s novel Foreigner is “a Novel of First Contact”. The novel begins with a brief prelude in which a starship is flung off course and and its passengers and crew find refuge on a previously unknown world where their first encounter with the local inhabitants has a fairly promising start. This is not a typical first contact story, however, because the novel then jumps several centuries into the future, and we find that relations between the indigenous population and the foreigners are mired in misunderstandings and ignorance.

As it turns out, the indigenous Atevi and the foreign humans found they had a common interest in slowing down contact between their two peoples. After some disastrous misunderstandings a treaty is formed to limit human-Atevi contact. According to the treaty the humans are given an island on which to live, the Atevi have the rest of the world, and contact between the two species is channeled through a single human translator/diplomat known as the paidhi. This worked well; for generations humans and Atevi both prospered, and for generations of paidhi the job consisted of attending meetings and writing dictionaries. Foreigner tells the story of Bren Cameron, a young paidhi whose plans for a quiet life of linguistics and tedious but routine bureaucracy must be exchanged for intrigue, politics, and outright violence—and he doesn’t even know why. Cherryh’s narration alternates between Bren’s awkward interactions with his Atevi hosts, which increasingly involve attempted assassinations, espionage, and uncertain alliances, and his internal monologues as he tries to make sense of his increasingly incomprehensible situation. Suddenly, things are changing very rapidly. Bren is the only human with a chance of comprehending what the changes mean to the Atevi. Is Bren the world’s only hope at keeping peace?

Foreigner is the first novel in a long series (nineteen novels have been published so far) and is perfect for folks that like long character arcs, anthropological sci-fi, deliberate pacing, and complex relationships.

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