Friday, August 29, 2008

When I'm asked to recommend science-fiction or list favorite books, C. J. Cherryh's Chanur series generally comes up pretty quickly. They were my transition books from talking animals to science-fiction. (I still love talking animals, but there's a lot more science-fiction out there.) And, I always describe them as having interesting, complicated, inter-alien politics. I remember the alien interaction being intricate and subtle. However, I was fourteen when I read them, and I don't re-read most books. So, I haven't read them since.

I was talking to one of the people I recommended Chanur's Legacy to recently. He didn't find it nearly as complex as I remember them being. In fact, our discussion leads me to wonder if my utter fascination with the Chanur series (besides having to do with my love of talking animals) might partly be an artifact of my age when I read them. At fourteen, I wasn't very good at understanding people. (A large part of why I preferred talking animals.) So, a lot of the books I enjoyed back then had somewhat cardboard characters, and I failed to read a number of books with truly developed and subtle characters. (Two examples: The Left Hand of Darkness and Pride and Prejudice.)

So, I find it completely believable that the Chanur books are less complex than I thought. In fact, it sounds like I may have liked them for exactly the reason that I didn't like Ursula K. LeGuin and Jane Austen. I wasn't good at understanding people, and C. J. Cherryh lays out a very simple, detailed road-map of what's going on in her characters' minds. She explains exactly why each character behaves as she does and how all the different characters' choices add up. Authors like LeGuin and Austen assume a basic understanding of human nature; C. J. Cherryh teaches it.

Of course, this is all conjecture based on someone else's opinions about Chanur's Legacy. I won't know how well my theories hold up unless I revisit some of Cherryh's books myself. And, as I said, I'm not good at re-reading.

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