Foreigner (Foreigner #1) by C.J. Cherryh

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 10 to May 5, 2017

This book ends when the story is just about to get interesting. And that’s the most effective way to lose an audience.

Up until the ending, it’s a real repetitive uphill slog, and I say that as someone who liked it more than most people. Reading it was a labor-intensive task that I never thought would end and I would never have been able to get to the end without the help of the audio–again, speaking as someone who liked the story. The prose and plotting could use a lot of editing, and the inner monologues could use some deleting. But the alien world and cultures were interesting, and they seemed to have the potential to become even more interesting. For that alone, I would pick up the second book.

Back to the ending and what I think most people don’t know about this book: it’s not an ending, but it’s not quite a cliffhanger either, and thus the reason behind so many frustrated reviews. While it’s not an ending, it does leaving you in the middle of a scene that could potentially be interesting if you were already invested in the story and characters. But if you weren’t, it wouldn’t be a huge loss to not know how it all ends or whether or not Bren Cameron survives and is able to navigate the delicate relations between humans and atevi.

I wouldn’t say I’m invested, but I do want to know what happens next–alien worlds and political intrigue are an interesting combination. Maybe not right away though because a break is in order after that slog, but as soon as the audio for the second book is available, I’m on it.

Full review when I get through the first the books or a complete story in the case of this series.

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Notes for future reference:

– Pretty sure I missed it because of the audiobook, but was the reason for the war ever explained? Probably not in a straightforward way. What was the human slight that started it all? The narration kept referring back to a slight the humans made, but it never said in any concrete terms what they did, which leads me to think the humans still don’t know. Bren certainly doesn’t have a clue. It’s been 200 years and they still haven’t figured it out? That just seems so… not believable.

– I get the sense that if whatever it was that started the war was figured out and corrected, there’d be a lot less tension between the two species.

– There are a lot of words in this book, but not many of them make sense. They say a lot without really explaining anything at all. We only know as much as Bren knows, and Bren knows nearly nothing. Bren spends a lot of time in his own head, puzzling out puzzling atevi thoughts and behavior, without getting anywhere, and I feel for him. I just don’t understand him. He’s about as puzzling as the atevi. I mean, I don’t blame him for being bad at his job, since he has so little guidance and no predecessor to look up to, but he just seems so… depressingly obtuse.

– I often found myself frustrated during the read at the human side of this problem, and at Bren especially, since it doesn’t seem like the atevi are that alien or difficult to figure out. Yet the humans go to extremes to create non-problems so they could “figure” them out. I just don’t get all this manufactured drama. The atevi seem to me to be very straightforward and practical to a fault; they don’t let emotions or emotional ties guide their thoughts or actions. Easy enough to understand, right? And yet Bren has to keep reminding himself that, over and over again, to the point of exhaustion. Granted he’s under duress for most of the book due to multiple attempts on his life, but his action and thought process throughout seem more alien to me than the actual aliens. Sometimes they straddle that TSTL line.

– Being an ambassador/prisoner to a hostile state during times of tense relations is risky, delicate business. Bren’s situation reminds me of memoirs of a few Southeast Asian ambassadors to the UK and France during the last years of colonialism when relations were stained and on the brink of war, and that’s why I feel for him. Gotta keep reminding myself of this though to help me understand his strange ways.

– Humans crash-landed on this alien planet and disrupted the planet’s dominant, most advanced species. So they are basically the invaders here, but you might forget that from time to time because they play the victim so well. Not cooperating with the atevi and not assimilating to their way of life were the humans’ biggest mistakes. I’m beginning to see the reason behind that war.

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