In days gone by, when reading matter was all print, either in the form of books or magazines, publishing houses had more staff. Editors had the space to give their authors guidance in order to produce the best work possible for the benefit of all: reader, writer and publisher. As in so many walks of life, money has become tighter and staff are expected to do more for no extra incentive. This puts the quality of the work in danger. Editing gets pushed onto the agent, so they have no time to work with new clients and proofreading becomes the job of the author. This can work well but a new author needs to submit an almost perfect manuscript to be taken on.
Gone are the days when potential can be nurtured and a writer can have spelling, punctuation and grammar corrected by someone else (doesn’t the computer do this for you anyway?). At the same time, there were prolific authors, such as the late Dick Francis, whose latest novel would be a best seller regardless of quality. Fortunately, Francis had integrity keeping a constant standard. Not everyone does, though whether this is the authors fault or a lack of editing. Some publishers are wary of suggesting too many changes as there are reports of disgruntled writers changing publisher because of it. Prolific authors whose books are in demand from the reading public have a different problem: how to keep up the high standard when the usual editing procedures have deserted them.
CJ Cherryh is certainly a prolific author with more than eighty novels to her name. Among these are acclaimed award-winning books such as ‘Downbelow Station’ (Hugo 1982). Others have been nominated proving her status as a quality author. The ‘Foreigner’ sequence is a set of trilogies of which ‘Resurgence’ is the second part of the seventh trilogy. This in itself presents problems.
The basic premise is that a ship from Earth has arrived at the far distant planet on which had evolved the atevi race of aliens. Accommodation was made for the humans on a large island, Mospheira, and the convention is that the races do not mix. Only one human is permitted on the mainland. Bren Cameron is paidhi, a neutral translator-diplomat, a bridge between the two races. It is always difficult to write the middle book of a trilogy as it has to carry on from the previous volume while keeping the tension going without giving too much away and pre-empting the last volume. In ‘Resurgence’, Bren is returning form Mospheira after sorting out the problem of human refugees that had arrived at the space station orbiting the planet. They needed to be integrated with the humans already planet-side. On his return to his mainland estate, he finds Ilisidi waiting for him.
She is the grandmother of the current ruler of the local atevi clan and has twice been the ruler herself. In atevi society, assassination is a common means of gaining promotion or political advantage so the planet is in a constant state of tension as each clan mistrusts the motives of every other.
Ilisidi is manoeuvring a couple of other local clan leaders into the idea of building a spur to the railway to move goods for economic purposes. To this end, the parties concerned are to meet aboard the highly armoured Red Train. Bren, as a neutral is in the middle of everything.
The politics behind this situation is very complex and not easily accessible to anyone joining the series here. There is also a lot of sitting around talking and not enough action. The action, when it comes, is a welcome relief. This book could also have done with some judicial editing. On a number of occasions information and thoughts are repeated. Cherryh herself admits that some words are spelled differently even on the same page. This, too, should have been picked up by a good, neutral proof-reader, another skill lost in many publishing houses. There are a lot of alien words within the text and a newcomer to the series would probably appreciate a glossary and, as the number of critical characters increases with each volume, a who’s who.
One of the features of many of Cherryh’s series, is the concept of the human as alien. Often a lone human finds themselves amongst an alien race. In ‘Cuckoo’s Egg’, a human boy is raised by aliens while in the ‘Chanur’ novels, a human finds himself with a space-faring race of feline aliens. Similarly, in the ‘Foreigner’ series, Bren Cameron is the lone human amongst aliens, though in a very different role that in the other cases. Curious that is usually a male human that takes this role.
Cherryh does a good job of devising societies that the average human would have difficulty accepting, showing the way different cultures can behave and that it is possible to find bridges between them and for acceptance to grow even if real understanding is elusive. For this quality, Cherryh is always worth reading, though beginning with ‘Resurgence’ would be a mistake.
(pub: DAW, New York, 2020. 340 page hardback. Price: $26.00 (US), $35.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7564-1427-6)
check out website: www.dawbooks.com