The first book in C.J.Cherryh's eponymous series, Foreigner begins an epic tale of the survivors of a lost spacecraft who crash-land on a planet inhabited by a hostile, sentient alien race. From its beginnings as a human-alien story of first contact, the Foreigner series has become a true science fiction odyssey, following a civilization from the age of steam through early space flight to confrontations with other alien species in distant sectors of space. It is the masterwork of a truly remarkable author.
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I have been considering the Foreigner series for awhile and since Audible has recently added some more titles to the series I decided to take the plunge. I've hesitated because several reviewers have commented on the slow pace of the first book, Foreigner: Foreigner Sequence 1, Book 1, and I tend to get frustrated with slow books. However, several reviewers have said that the series picks up after Book 1 so I decided to try at least two books in this series. I have now finished Foreigner and Invader (Book2) and I've made my decision. I won't be spending any more credits on this series, but it isn't the pacing that is putting me off, it's the main character that I just cannot stomach any longer.
The setup and backdrop for the Foreigner Universe is absolutely wonderful. A colonial starship goes off course and a group of colonists is forced to set up shop on a planet in an unknown star system already inhabited by a sentient species. C J Cherryh is terrific at painting an anthropological sci-fi study of a foreign people with their own culture, politics, biology, and language. Unfortunately, she makes us look at this interesting scenario and fascinating "others" through the eyes of one of the most emotionally volatile, naive (immature?), bumbling characters I've ever read. It's not that you won't like Bren Cameron. He's hard not to like because the guy is decent and trying so hard, but he's supposed to be the best ambassador (paidhi) to the atevi that the human settlement has to offer and he is completely CLUELESS. (Poor humans with their fate in this inept ambassador's hands!)
Foreigner and Invader are both told from a Third Person Limited Point of View and the POV is Bren who spends ALL of both of the first two books in varying emotional states of terror, panic, hysteria, confusion, and depression. In addition, Bren suffers both poisoning and severe bodily injury so he's in pain, both emotional and physical, throughout both books and we, the listeners, are stuck seeing all the action through this guy who cannot ever get it together. To make matters much worse, Bren over-analyzes his own feelings and actions and everyone else's to the point that you just want to smack him. Ultimately, he is so caught up in his shorts he is about as effective in dealing with the atevi and his own human government as Neville Chamberlain was in dealing with Hitler.
Foreigner is not bad, it's just not as great as it might be. Cherryh's prose is quite good, I loved the characters other than her POV Bren, and she tackles some interesting questions about culture and society. But she can beat a dead horse like no one's business (where are the editors????) and she has created a diplomat that thinks like a 15-year old. Sorry, that's not fair to teenagers, but Bren truly does not think like a man with a fully developed PreFrontal Cortex. He is constantly second-guessing himself and agonizing over facial expressions and apologizing for EVERYTHING. As interesting as Cherryh's world and the atevi are, I just can't watch any more of it through Bren Cameron's eyes.
I will give some major credit to Daniel Thomas May as the narrator - he is a consummate professional! Even when Bren is cycling through endless reiterations of second guessing himself, even when Cherryh is describing irrelevant details of a room to the nth degree, even when Bren is having one of his boring, confusing, bizarre dreams (yes, this device is used repeatedly and I hated those parts), May maintains a strong narrative voice that greatly enhances these books and makes some of the tedious parts more bearable.
Considering I've now listened five of the six books that Audible has of this series you could say I've enjoyed it.
The series follows the life of Bren Cameron in his role as a translator, ambassador, and diplomat. Cherryh does an excellent job of creating a complex character in Bren. The plot of the series isn't overly complex, and the main body of the plot is in the details. You get a really personal look at Bren and all the stressors in his life; family, job, and identity.
While there is some fast paced action, the truly interesting stuff is seeing how Bren will react to all kinds of provocations in his role as a diplomat.
My only complaint is Cherryh loves to set up vast conspiracies and mysteries only to solve them in the last 45 minutes of a 15-18 hour novel, followed by little to no conclusion. Then when you pick up the next book she skips ahead a few years and slowly fills in the story of what happened after the last novel. It isn't a horrible plot device but you don't really get a solid conclusion to one novel without reading the start of the next.