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Precursor coverPrecursor by C. J. Cherryh

Published by Daw Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Precursor by C.J. Cherryh is the first book in a new trilogy set in the same world as Foreigner and its two sequels, Invader and Inheritor. Apparently the puzzling final chapter of Inheritor was in actuality only a hopeful dream of the future, for when this book opens, human and atevi are still kept firmly separate, with only the tiniest of channels opening between them. Bren Cameron, the paidhi or interpreter, who had been the one human allowed to interact with the atevi, now serves the atevi leader as much as he serves his own people. Most of all, he serves the hope that both species may be able to work together to stave off an attack by the mysterious aliens who brutally destroyed an outpost in another system.

The shuttle, built according to plans provided by the humans of the starship Phoenix, is finally finished and flying. Now it is time for atevi to claim their portion of the station that has orbited their homeworld since the arrival of humans centuries earlier. Bren and several humans, accompanied by a staff of atevi, take the shuttle up to the station. This will mark the first time that any sizeable number of humans and atevi will be working together. Careful strictures will govern their interactions, but there is always the possibility that even the most trifling matter could lead to a disastrous confrontation, because of the deep differences between their cultures, many of them biological in nature.

However, things are not so simple as they seem. There are divisions among the people of the Phoenix, and Bren's people have walked straight into a power struggle.

Cherryh continues to deliver her fascinating exploration of a truly alien society, from the viewpoint of a human observer who can only struggle with fragmentary and often seemingly contradictory information. Often everything he knows only serves to underline just how little he knows, as when he muses upon the possible origins of the astounding facility with numbers that the atevi possess. He speculates that it may have something to do with the regulating of the mating urge, since children use a form of the language that does not involve the intricate system of plurals for different kinds of sets and groupings. However, he considers that humans know almost nothing about atevi child development, or about the evolution of the most common atevi language, and that any speculation can only be so much groping in the dark.

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This review posted December 31, 1999

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