Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Alliance Space (Company Wars #2) (Rapprochement #2) by C.J. Cherryh (author), Daniel Thomas May (narrator)

Tantor Audio, February 2021

This is an omnibus of two novels, both in Cherryh's Union/Alliance universe, but otherwise not closely connected.

The first is Merchanter's Luck, a shorter novel about a small, older merchanter ship, which has had some seriously bad luck over the last couple of decades. It used to be Le Cygne, a family-crewed ship which is typical among Cherryh's merchanters, with a crew of about thirty. Then it had a run-in with one of Mazian's fleet, who were mostly pirates even when they were the official fleet of the Company. Only three young crew survived, one of them truly just a child, Sandor Kreja. They continue to have less than good luck, and by the time this novel starts, Sandor Kreja is calling himself "Edward Stephens, his ship Lucy, operating with whatever crew he can scare up, or when times are really tight, operating alone. He's scraping by, but not entirely legitimately. And then, on Viking Station, he meets Allison Riley, a relatively junior officer on the much larger, and much richer, merchanter ship, Dublin Again. They take an interest in each other. Their lives are about to get way too interesting.

What follows is a tense, closely plotted, small-scale story in which they both have a lot of their assumptions challenged, nearly get killed more than once, and have a dangerous and nearly disastrous confrontation with Mazian's leftover, outright pirates with no pretense.

It's very good.

The second novel is Forty Thousand in Gehenna, about an under-the-radar colony established by Union in what, in the logic of obvious expansion patterns will become Alliance space--except that, of course, when Alliance gets there, there will be a colony of Union-descended citizens. It's implied, but not stated outright, that this might not be the only such colony established. The colonists are 40,000 azi, Union's tank-grown, cloned, non-citizen worker class, and five or six thousand citizens, or, as the azi call them, born-men. They immediately set to work building shelter, building the basics of a functioning settlement--but some of their machines start to break down. This includes the tape machines that help the azi deal with the stress from events outside their usual experience. But everything will be fine when the ships that delivered them return with more colonists and supplies, right?

There's also the matter of the calibans, large, semi-aquatic reptilian-like life forms who build their mounds in exactly the kind of riverine areas the humans prefer. But, again, not a problem, really. The colonists will minimize their impact on the local ecology as much as possible, but if push comes to shove, they have rifles and large earth-moving machines.

It gets awkward when they realize, after a few years, that they have really and truly been abandoned; the ships aren't coming back. What we know, and they don't, is that there was never any intention for the ships to return. They're on their own, the small investment Union was willing to make in this throwaway colony intended to create complications for Alliance, a century or two down the line.

This novel is larger-scale, and more detached. We get episodes two or three generations apart, over the next two centuries, till Alliance finally shows up. In the meantime, while the citizens and their descendants--the "born-men"--remain mostly convinced the calibans are just large and potentially dangerous animals. The azi, on the other hand, gradually find themselves in a closer relationship, or rather, two very different closer relationships, with the calibans, and form a very different idea of how smart the calibans are. These different relationships are partly the result, and partly the cause, of two very different azi cultures.

Gradually, we realize, and Alliance and Union eventually discover, something much bigger is going on, here on Gehenna.

This is another excellent novel.

It's worth noting that, while Cherryh is very good, and very popular, she is a bit of a marmite author. You like her or you don't. I'm among the many who really love her work, and strongly recommend it. At the same time--some people, and that's not a small group either, just bounce off her prose. The people who don't like her prose, really don't like it.

And on the third hand, the narrator does a very good job of presenting these two novels..

My recommendation, my strong recommendation, if you are new to Cherryh, is give this a try. Listen to the audio sample, at least. If you are among the many who like it, you've got lots of good reading or listening to look forward to.

I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.


  1. This is one of those cases where I very, very, very much like the marmite. 40,000 in Gehenna (which came out when I was in high school and I think was the first new Cherryh book to come out after I started reading her) did take a couple reads to click because I was young and because prior to that I'd mostly read the more space opera stuff -- Downbelow Station, Pride of Chanur, etc. -- and I didn't quite know what to make of it, but it's really good, with a whole lot going on under the surface.

  2. I agree. I can see why people don't like it, but I really, really do.