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Cuckoo's Egg by C.J. Cherryh
Published by DAW Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Cuckoo's Egg by C. J. Cherryh is a story of an alien who brings up a human child for his own alien reasons. The reader is only introduced to the world of the shonunin very slowly. Bit by bit we discover who Duun is and what he intends in raising the human child Thorn. He is training him to be a hatani, which isn't exactly a monk and isn't exactly a warrior, but practices both stern asceticism and the skills of warfare. Bit by bit we discover that a hatani is a sort of roaming judge and solver of problems, but not in any sense that humans would understand as justice. Although slow at first, Thorn eventually succeeds beyond the wildest dreams of his keepers -- which frightens the representatives of the established social order. Several groups are so frightened that they are willing to kill in order to remove Thorn and the menace he represents in their minds.
At the very end Duun reveals the history he has been hiding all along -- about twenty years earlier, a strange ship entered their system. After a pitched battle (and it's never completely clear who made the first aggressive move -- it seems more like it was a screwed up first contact on the order of the one that started the Human-Minbari War in the Babylon 5 universe), the ship was captured, but all the crewmembers were dead. Thorn was cloned from the geneset of the last crewmember to die, the one who wounded Duun so terribly. He was a hatani answer to the problem of how to deal with the aliens (who of course are Earth humans). Thorn is to be some kind of mediator or go-between, biologically human but trained in the culture of the shonunin and the discipline of the hatani. In the last paragraph of the book, Thorn sends his first message to the people of his ancestry.
This is another book that may or may not be part of the Alliance/Union universe. Several times it is said that the invading ship's origin was nine light-years away (assuming of course that the shonunin's earth has a year about the same length as our own), which would imply that the shonunin homeworld is somewhere in the Local Group. If that is true, the lack of any mention of the shonunin or hatani in any of the known Alliance/Union novels would seem to imply that this novel is probably not set in that universe -- or else the recontact went horribly wrong and the shonunin got wiped out, and humans replaced them on their homeworld and then conveniently forgot that it ever had a previous owner. However, it is also possible that the planet the shonunin are identifying as the ship's origin is not Earth, but rather some outpost planet on the far edge of human settlement -- perhaps even a smuggler base or unauthorized colony. There is really just too little information for a definite answer, and CJ Cherryh is apparently not planning to ever write another story set to follow Cuckoo's Egg.
Click here to buy Cuckoo's Egg in paperback.
Review posted July 20, 1999
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