When the starship Phoenix malfunctions in deep space, the human colonists discover that the closest habitable planet is already taken by the atevi. Standing eight feet tall, the atevi are a race of intimidating humanoids so utterly “alien” that no peaceful coexistence is possible. Lacking any understanding of friendship and incapable of feeling love, the atevi know only man’chi, a concept akin to mafia-style loyalty and obligation.
Exiled to Mospheira, a large, remote island on the atevi world, the human population sends out a single individual to act as paidhi, or diplomat, to keep the peace. When C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series opens, Bren Cameron is paidhi. Trained since birth in the impossibly complex culture and language of the atevi, Bren must navigate this socio-political minefield, both to insure his own personal safety as well as the well-being of all the humans on Mospheira.
Described by some as anthropological science fiction, Foreigner is a fascinating study of how two essentially confrontational societies somehow manage to co-exist. In addition to those almost insurmountable physical, emotional and psychological differences, the atevi are obsessed with numerology, manners, and, of all things, flower arranging.
Oh, and did I mention they have an extremely quick temper and possess a social class devoted to state-sanctioned assassination?
The fourteenth book in the series, Protector, was published this year, and at least two more are in the works. If you are a fan of thoughtful science fiction, where ideas are at least as important as far-out alien technology, you may find C.J, Cherryh’s Foreigner series to be a terrific read. And you can reserve the first book, Foreigner, here.