The Faded Sun

C. J. Cherryh
The Faded Sun Cover

The Faded Sun: Kesrith


Anytime I have considered entering C. J. Cherryh's Alliance-Union Universe, I think about Anthony Trollope. With either author I have always thought that if I read one of their books and liked it, I could spend the rest of my life reading the rest of them. That might be more true of Trollope than Cherryh, since although she has him beat 60 novels to 48, his are much more fantastically long. Then again she continues to write, so it could go either way. There is another odd similarity between the two, Cherryh uses series of novels to explore every possible aspect of her far future history, somewhat as Trollope presented a panoramic view of Victorian English society. But I am stretching things.

I decided to start Cherryh with this relatively early novel. I founds its 250 pages tough going. But I won't pretend to extrapolate from this single read what spending time with Cherryh's forty-year-long career might be like.

I see where other readers love her detailed description of the mri and the regul, the alien species inhabiting Kesrith. (For some reason these names are not capitalized, which seems like writing about the french or the somalians.) I quickly learned enough about each species to find them thoroughly unsympathetic. Which is fine, I don't need to like the characters in a novel to enjoy the novel. But once two human characters appear is was a relief akin to running into an old friend in a foreign country. Finally here were motivations and actions I could understand and not want to strangle the characters for having.

The regul are brilliantly repulsive creations. The stubby legs of their younglings give them relative mobility, although they are easily winded. As regul mature, they become so enormously obese that they live entirely bound to their sleds or their chairs. As they live into their second or third century, their skin is given to cracking and infection. They are not a pretty sight. Perhaps their most admirable quality is that they cannot lie, but that is offset by the impunity with which they commit murder. Younglings can be punished by death, especially if they are the younglings of a different doch or household. Younglings are also asexual until about the age of thirty. Depending upon your interest in such things, we are either spared or cheated on the details of how these creatures reproduce.

Regul are mercantile people, exploiting arid Kesrith for the its rich mineral deposits and living totally dependent upon machines and the samurai-like mri. The mri are an ancient and proud people, living in stark simplicity compared to the citified regul. They have lots of gods and rituals and arrogance. They are also on the verge of extinction after serving the regul in their forty-year war with humans, a war the regul have recently lost and settled by treaty. This type of resolution is shameful and unthinkable to the mri. But they are old-fashioned. They have been wiped out in their encounters with humans because humans use high tech weapons that strike from afar rather than manfully fighting hand to hand. (Well, duh. Wake up. It's the 30th century or whenever these stories take place.)

This is the first of a trilogy and maybe for that reason so much time is spent establishing the world views and social structures of these races. It is all more interesting than it is entertaining, and Cherryh's prose, which can be either arch or congested in replicating the though processes of Kesrtihians, does not move things along very quickly. It takes the human characters to kick start the action.

There is a plot of sorts, but it is secondary to Cherryh's world building. And since this a trilogy, it is barely beginning at the end of volume one.