Saturday 18 July 2009

Voyager in Night by C. J. Cherryh, plus a film catch-up

This 1984 book by Cherryh is uncharacteristic of most of her other work (at least, that with which I am familiar – I have by no means consumed all of her oeuvre). Three young prospectors are travelling in their makeshift spacecraft through a distant solar system when the fall into the path of a vast alien starship, which collects their craft before moving on. It transpires that the ship is ruled by a being normally referred to as "<>", but there is a motley collection of individuals on board who are far from in agreement with their leader, or each other. None of them appears in person, <> communicating via a virtual image of one of the prospectors. <> can also manufacture virtual copies of the prospectors, including their personalities and memories. The story follows the prospectors' struggle to understand what is going on and to resolve their own identities, against the background of a mutiny on board.

If the beings who inhabit the starship are bizarre creations so is the ship itself, appearing to be more organic than metallic. This is a relatively brief tale (only 220 pages in my paperback) without the long introspective passages which normally fill her work. Rather dark and grim, it is a work which is more intriguing than enjoyable.
I felt like some mindless entertainment (my brain cells go on strike with increasing frequency) so I watched My Super Ex-Girlfriend, the 2006 Uma Thurman film. It's about a guy who discovers that his new girlfriend is a super-heroine - and subsequently finds that there can be hazards in dumping such a being. A good popcorn movie, pleasantly entertaining and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. I particularly enjoyed the scene with the shark...
Sadly, I was less impressed by the DVD of Hogfather, based on Terry Pratchett's Discworld comic fantasy novels. It was just about watchable but dragged very slowly, and when it ended after 1½ hours and I discovered that that was only Part 1 – there was a Part 2 on the disk – I gave up.
Back on course again with the latest Star Trek movie, the prequel to the original series. Entertaining and with some good CGI, it even got a round of applause from the cinema audience! I do wonder why Hollywood finds it so hard to make such a movie without inconsistencies in the plot, though….and I found the film rather forgettable (I'm already struggling to recall the story).
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a neat piece of storytelling. A mother and her children move into a house left to them by a distant relative, only to discover that they're not alone. Their relative had been investigating the world of magical creatures and had accumulated a precious store of knowledge in a book, which a particularly nasty denizen of that world was determined to get hold of as soon as he could break the magic circle protecting the house. An intriguing adventure, with the children a lot less annoying than they usually are in Hollywood films.
Wanted puts us back into superhero territory. This 2008 film is apparently based on a comic book figure, although as I don't read comics I wasn't aware of that when I saw it. With a cast including Morgan Freeman, James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie it obviously had a big budget. It concerns the existence of an old-established group of assassins with superhuman powers, including the ability to speed themselves up and to bend the path of their bullets. A young man (McAvoy) is hauled out of a humdrum life by this group, as he is the son of one of their members who died in a series of attacks by a renegade assassin. McAvoy is trained up and despatched on the trail of the renegade. All is not as it seems and there are various twists and turns before the usual cataclysmic conclusion. Not a bad effort, with some exciting scenes. Jolie fans will love it…


Fred said...

_Voyager in the Night_ is one of the reasons why I became a devoted Cherryh reader. There were three or four novels which were probably commercial failures but which were really mind stretchers. I agree with you that _ViN_ is not a happy novel which leaves one satisfied at the end. It is, rather, one that has stayed with me since it was first published several decades ago, as have the others also.

Unfortunately, her experimental stage ended, and she then focused on turning out series books, which were interesting, well written and commercially successful but lacked the appeal of exploring new territory. Consequently I stopped reading her some time ago.

I generally avoid films that feature children as they either are obnoxious or are exploited as cynical plot devices to generate dramatic situations that the directors or scriptwriters are too incompetent or lazy to create legitimately.

Hmmm...turning into a Saturday Morning Grump (SMG)again.

Anthony G Williams said...

I only came to Cherryh with her series, long ago, so I suppose I have a different take on her work. I read a lot of it in the 1980s but none since then, until a few months ago when I read 'Foreigner' (reviewed on this blog). A good author to read if you just want to lose yourself for a while in a different world.

Bill Garthright said...

"Rather dark and grim, it is a work which is more intriguing than enjoyable." That's it? Well, you apparently didn't like the book anywhere near as much as I did, Tony. I was just blown away by it.

But I disagree with Fred, too (only in a small way), in that I thought the ending was satisfying,... and actually optimistic. What an adventure! I would take that destiny in a heartbeat.

But tastes differ. And possibly, a re-read might have me seeing things differently. But really, this is the kind of mind-blowing SF that got me hooked on the genre. I must say, I'm surprised that it didn't have the same impact on you.

Fred said...


I think you may be slightly overstating the case, as I did say it was one of the three or four novels that made me a devoted fan of CJ Cherryh.

I said it was not one of those happy ending stories that leave one satisfied at the end. Sorry if I wasn't clear here. I find happy endings are satisfying if they fit the work.

The ending of ViN was also satisfying as it was in agreement with the flow of the novel--it fit.

What made the ending unhappy for me was that they really were trapped. They had no choice, if I remember correctly. It's been awhile since I read it, so I'm not too sure as to what you mean by the coming adventure. Seems to me they were prisoners and trapped in the ship with little information about what was going on around them.

If I've misremembered, let me know and I'll have to dust it off--something I should probably do anyway.

Bill Garthright said...

No, I understood you, Fred. (I did say that I disagreed in only a small way.)

And perhaps I'm misremembering the ending, myself (it's been awhile), but I recall it - SPOILER HERE - as looking forward to a multi-species voyage of unimaginable length exploring the galaxy. Yes, they were trapped there, and their old lives - even their old bodies - were gone, but.. what an adventure!

As I say, I thought it an optimistic, even a happy, ending. Earlier in the book, the characters were terrified, of course. And the situation certainly took some fortitude to accept. But after accepting it, there was definitely reason to look forward to what came next.

Or so it seemed to me.

Anthony G Williams said...

Bill, you are right that the book has a sort of hopeful ending, but I found the rest of it rather bleak, with the crew confused and frightened for most of the time.

Fred said...


Ok, time for a rereading. I don't remember that the "survivors/replicas" were that happy about it.

Bill Garthright said...

Fred, as I say, I might be remembering it wrong. And maybe "happy" isn't the right word, but I definitely saw the ending as optimistic and even exciting. Their lives were continuing, despite the death of their biological bodies, and it seemed to be the start of a grand adventure (or that's how I would have seen it, anyway).

And Tony, "bleak" is not the word I would use. Bleak would not appeal to me, either. Yes, the crew were confused and frightened most of the time, but it was a confusing and frightening situation. After all, it took a long time before they could figure out what was happening.

But they did figure it out, and though they might not have wished for such a destiny, it wasn't that bad, either. Or perhaps it's just that it particularly appealed to me. I thought it was an uplifting, optimistic ending, but maybe their fate didn't appeal to you as much as it did to me.

Fred said...

Just a coincidence I'm sure, but in the midst of this discussion of one of CJ Cherryh's works, I picked up a novel by China Mievelle, _The City and The City_. He is the author of a number of SF novels. This novel is a police procedural novel with perhaps some SF elements. I haven't finished it yet, so I can't say at this point.

What makes this tale unique is the setting. The novel takes place in a mythical country in Europe and is set in a very strange city. It is actually two cities that occupy the same physical location, yet sometime back, nobody is sure how or why, the residents of this city split themselves into two.

The inhabitants of each city do not "see" the inhabitants of the other city, nor do they "see" the buildings or structures of the other city. They speak different languages and wear different clothing.

The coincidence is that I've only read one other novel with a similar setting and that was _Wave Without a Shore_ by CJ Cherryh. Human settlers on a planet insisted there was no indigenous population while tourists and visitors could see that the city had an alien population.

In both novels, it was a psychological blindness that prevented one group from seeing the other.

Sounds somehow familiar.

Anthony G Williams said...

"I thought it was an uplifting, optimistic ending, but maybe their fate didn't appeal to you as much as it did to me."

Bill, on the face of it living forever and seeing the universe sounds wonderful, but spending eternity as a disembodied computer programme...I suspect I might end up going insane like some of the others on board.

Fred, 'The City & The City' is already on my "to buy" list, it's had some very good reviews. I've never heard of the Cherryh book, I'll have to look into it.

Fred said...

_Wave without a Shore_ was another of the three novels that made me a devoted Cherryh reader several decades ago. it was considered a flawed book, by both critics and fans. I wasn't happy with the ending, but the concept stayed with me, at least long enough to recognize it in Mievelle's book.

I wonder if Mievelle has read her book.