Saturday 25 September 2010

The Pride of Chanur by C J Cherryh

I have earlier reviewed a couple of Cherryh's books and during the discussion of one of them was advised to read her Chanur series, so I have made a start with the first of them, The Pride of Chanur. One of her earlier works (it was first published in 1981), it is short and fast-paced. This review contains some spoilers.

The story is told entirely from the point of view of Pyanfar Chanur, a member of a humanoid if rather feline race (the hani) which still retains a tribal and hereditary social structure despite being space-faring traders. They trade with a few other alien species, both oxygen and methane breathing, one of which originally provided the hani with the technology to get into space.

Pyanfar is a spaceship captain and a senior member of the Chanur tribe; her small crew are all female relatives as is customary (male hani being considered too violent and uncontrollable to be allowed off-planet - an wry feminist dig). The trouble begins when a strange, ugly, almost hairless alien seeks refuge on Pyanfar's ship while it is berthed at a space station. At first it is thought to be non-sentient until it demonstrates otherwise, and the reader comes to realise that it is, in fact, a human man called Tully. He was escaping from a particularly nasty alien race, the kif, who had captured his spaceship and were using torture to try to get him to reveal the location of Earth, since the discovery of a new civilisation was a rare and great prize. Pyanfar refuses to hand Tully back to the kif and the rest of the story is essentially a running battle as the hani try to make it back to their home planet with their unexpected passenger.

The most unusual aspect of the story is that while humanity is represented by Tully, we only see him through alien eyes. In Pyanfar's judgment he is inadequate in various ways, apart from being fundamentally untrustworthy as a male, but he redeems himself by the end of the tale. The depiction of the alien races, especially the hani, is as well done as I have come to expect from this author, since this is one of Cherryh's strong points. The principal alien characters, Pyanfar and her enthusiastic young niece Hilfy, are convincingly drawn and likeable. It's a good read, and I can understand why it is regarded as something of a modern classic; I must seek out the sequels.


Fred said...

It's a great series--action-packed and some interesting aliens around, including the hairless bipeds.

Cherryh has created an interesting species by making lions sentient.

The hani, as far as I can see, are essentially sentient terrestrial lions--One male per pride, with a number of lionesses and cubs. Males, when they get old enough, are driven out by The Male, and have to form their own pride.

The lionesses are the ones who usually do the hunting, although the male may be around for the kill at the end. That's why the females are the space travelers here. The male's main job is to keep other males out of the territory, defending the pride's home turf, in other words.

Well, he's got one other job also, but that's a different story.

Bill Garthright said...

I'm glad you liked it, Tony. The sequel that follows is a trilogy - not quite as fast-paced, but with more depth on the alien species. I consider it a masterpiece.