The Pride of Chanur, CJ Cherryh
The Pride of Chanur, CJ Cherryh (1982)
Review by Martin Wisse
The Pride of Chanur is a trade ship run by Hani – a race of bipedal intelligent lions – of the Chanur house/clan, captained by Pyanfar Chanur. She’s doing the rounds of her ship, currently docked at Meetpoint, the big interspecies trading station run by the stsho, when something speeds past her into the ship. At first thinking it some kind of animal escaped from another ship, it turns out to be sapient, but “naked-hided, blunth-toothed and blunt-fingered” unlike any species she knows, something that after careful questioning calls itself human and turns out to have escaped Kif custody, the Kif being a particularly nasty race of black robed, grey skinned, long snouted pirates and thiefs. She refuses to hand it – him – over to them and the result is she and her ship have to flee Meetpoint, one step ahead of the murderous Kif, who in the process blow up and murder another Hani ship…
If the descriptions of the alien races here sound vaguely familiar, it might be because you’re an old skool Master of Orion player and are reminded of the alien races there. Either through sheer coincidence or a bit of influence, that game ended up with a lot of similar races to the novel. The background is also reminiscent of MOO. Several intelligent species discovering interstellar travel at the roughly the same time, both oxygen and methane breathers over time have managed to reach a Compact, through which peaceful trade and other contacts are possible. They may not understand each other that well, but enough to trade or at least leave each other alone. It reminded me of the trading/diplomacy aspects of Master of Orion. Is it any wonder that rereading The Pride of Chanur also made me want to play MOO again?
But the other thing that reading The Pride of Chanur reminded me off was this song: ‘Stress’, by French electronic group Justice, and what you feel watching the clip. Because if there’s anything that makes Cherryh stand out as a science fiction writer is how much stress she puts on her characters, even in a relatively lighthearted story like this. From the start, even before the story proper begins, Pyanfar is under pressure, having her young niece Hilfy on board for her first voyage. Once the human, Tully, is on board and they are being chased from the Meetpoint system by the Kif things get worse.
Pyanfar has to deal with seemingly untrustworthy allies, Mahendo’sat, a kind of evolved squirrels, not to mention inscrutable methane breathers, the knnnn, blundering around as well as having political troubles back home, as a perhaps Kif influenced coup is undertaken against her uncle’s mastery of the Chanur clan. This combined with the sheer physical stress of jumping between star systems, especially with consecutive jumps and it’s understandable almost every physical description of Pyanfar has her haggard and tired, not to mention having her hair fall out in clumps…
It doesn’t always make for easy reading. The same goes for Cherryh’s writing style. She wants you to pay attention, doesn’t often repeat herself and drops little clues in when you least expect them. Terse is the right word for it. Reading any of her novels therefore takes some effort, much more so than, eg, a Lois McMaster Bujold. Which can be a bit of a problem when reading one on a warm tram at the end of a long working day…
The Pride of Chanur is the first book in a series, but stands alone. If you’re new to Cherryh, it’s a good introduction to her strengths and style; if you know her already you’ve already read this, right?
This review originally appeared on Martin’s Booklog.