cover image DEFENDER


C. J. Cherryh, . . DAW, $23.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-88677-911-5

One of the best long-running SF series in existence, Cherryh's Foreigner Universe books (Precursor, etc.) tell the story of a small human colony abandoned on a planet inhabited by the atevi, an alien race whose humanoid anatomy disguises radically different instincts and thought patterns. Misunderstandings have led to war in the past and make human/atevi diplomacy incredibly difficult. Bren Cameron trained for decades to be the paidhi, the only human allowed to negotiate with the atevi, overseeing the slow transfer of advanced human technology to the brilliant but less advanced natives of the planet in trade for vital raw materials. Eventually, Bren changed sides, becoming the representative of Tabini, the atevi's ruler, to humanity. Now the political situation has been complicated by the return of the Phoenix, the starship whose much hated crew abandoned the colonists some two centuries earlier, and, worse yet, by the starship's report that its crew has discovered a hostile space-faring race relatively nearby. The senior captain of the Phoenix, negotiating through Bren, agrees to help Tabini build a second starship to defend the planet, but as Bren learns after the captain's mysterious death, other plots are afoot and not all the information shared by the starship can be trusted. As usual, Cherryh provides a riveting plot that emphasizes intense human/alien interactions instead of physical violence. Perhaps undervalued because she writes in traditional forms that don't appeal to the literati, while too difficult for some fans of space opera, Cherryh remains one of the most talented writers in the field. (Nov. 6)

Forecast:The pulpish jacket art by the usually quite competent Stephen Youll won't bring in new readers who will appreciate Cherryh's work, but established fans will know better.