About the Foreigner series: Spoiler alerts

There is the general spoiler page for general questions.

I’m making this set of pages for more specific questions.

The rule is: do not ask or comment about a book until it has been at least a month in issue. I think that will make everybody happy re spoilers.

363 Comments

  1. rollingstone

    At the risk of irking Sapphire, I appreciate Wepox’s succinct comment on the Bren’s family discussion. I definitely concur with moving on; it’s okay with me if the Brighter Days goes down with all hands.

    Interesting, the comparison of Duncan/Mri and Bren/Atevi. I don’t find the Foreigner series as evocative as Faded Sun, but rather enjoy its action, humor, and delightful characters. I’m fascinated with the “going over the wall” theme. I’d happily jump ship to either culture.

    I do love Cajeiri; can never get enough of Ilisidi, or Banichi or Cenedi for that matter. Great action in Betrayer! I’m particularly amused with Cajeiri’s assumption of authority in Bren’s absence.

    I guess Bren couldn’t retire if he wanted to; Atevi lords don’t seem to, anyway. He should start to concern himself with passing along his expertise to the next generation of humans. I’d like to see more about the University, and the Astronomer Emeritus.

    And I miss Nokhada.

    • Sapphire

      Yes! Brighter Days must go down with all hands, never to be heard of again! That would please me no end.

      I love the Faded Sun trilogy, but prefer Foreigner – it’s more complex and shows evolution in all the main characters.

      As for Bren retiring, please don’t put that notion into CJ’s head. Just don’t encourage it – he is a fantastic character, who obviously loves his job and associates, despite the stresses he has been under. And he is still a comparatively young man.

      As I think I mentioned, I’m currently rereading the entire sequence, and have reached the end of Explorer, which for me must be one of the most enjoyable SF books I’ve read. It includes much tension, portrayed in an incredibly evocative way, and it’s a big and interesting book. Even the ‘little’ ideas, like the spider plants growing out of control, are innovative and interesting. I particularly like Ilsidi’s role in it and her effect on the humans and Kyo, and enjoyed the description of the way Bren wrestled with trying to master the Kyo language and thought processes in a very short space of time.

      As for the characters I miss, they include the very fine, exquisitely mannered (but also dangerous) Narani and Bindanda.

  2. sleo

    How old is Bren, anyway? I think of him as 40ish which is far from retirement age. Do we know if there’s much difference in life span between human and atevi? I can’t think Bren is anywhere near retirement.

    I’m all for dropping the Bren/mom/Barb discussion. Only spoke up because it seemed self evident to me that the two women were like selfish leeches and about as much brain power.

    I’m planning a reread soon. Also want to read Fortress series. Currently am making my way through Alliance/Union – am on book 2 of Chanur.

  3. smartcat

    I *think* Bren is about 34. I seem to recall he was 24 when Foreigner opened and that about ten to eleven years have passed over the course of time.

  4. sleo

    Oh well, then! Why are we talking retirement? He’s just a kid!

  5. iminnocent

    I’ve tried to build a time line for the series (yup, don’t have much of a life!) I’ve been curious about Bren’s age and tried tracking it the last time I read through the series. I think he’s right around 40. I have him down for 26 years old in Foreigner and Invader (I don’t remember on what I based that age) 27 in Inheritor, 30 in Precursor, (Cajeiri is hinted at, but has not yet arrived) 36 in Defender (Cajeiri is here and 6), 37 in Explorer (it took a year to travel to Reunion), 38 in Destroyer, Pretender, Deliverer (it took a year to get back and the events in these books followed one another quickly) 39 or 40 in the last books. Of course, I may be completely wrong…
    I also enjoy certain characters very much: all of Bren’s aishid, Cajeiri and his guards (even the arrogant ones!) Ilisidi and Cenedi. And I wish Tabini was mentioned more. I find him an intriguing person.

  6. sleo

    @Imminocent – What do you mean you don’t have much of a life? What could be better than having time to do what we love? I’m 70 and am happy to be semi-retired and able to do what I want.

    40 is about what I thought, isn’t it? Instinct alone – no research involved.

    • Sapphire

      Absolutely! My aunt is nearly 80 and still lectures at a university purely because she loves her work and is so interested in her speciality – though she’s no longer head of a department.

      Forty for Bren’s age was what I also thought.

  7. agricola

    40’ish. I like Toby – we get a view of Bren via Toby that we otherwise don’t get. Plus it’s interesting to listen to Cajeiri ‘compare’ humans he knows with new humans he meets. I’d love to see Bren et al. spend an extended visit to Mospheira – loved the short time they spent at the hotel – I think it’s super instructive (or at least, super interesting) to speculate how Bren appears to his aishid, when they see HIM in HIS ‘natural environment’. Do they perceive him differently when they see him among his peers?

    Duncan – and what’s his name (the guy in the Pyanfar books) – are ‘alone’ – the lone and only humans among the aliens – I think Bren is completely different, in that he has an extant and reachable – yet ‘far off’ – society of his own (so to speak).

    I’m just DYING to hear what ‘the presidenta’ and ‘the university’ have to say about Bren and the mainland! Just like I’d love to ‘read’ the whole story from ‘ship side’. If I were ‘the university’ I’d sorely covet access to Bren Cameron to teach seminars in advanced atevi language and philosophy….he’s been supplying all sorts of research and notes – but that’s not the same as immediate interaction. Sigh – that won’t happen for a few decades yet –

    What WAS Yolanda doing (and saying) during her stint on Mospheira? Where does Toby stand in the ‘intelligence service’? When was he recruited and who does he report to? And where, oh where, does Barb fit in?? Is Yolanda one of Jules’ people? Or does she have an agenda all her own? (and WHERE are all those OTHER ‘Taylor’s Children’??)

    Bren is at least 40 – though I believe planet years are a trifle longer than standard ‘earth’ (ship) years.

  8. Sapphire

    I disagree with you completely about Toby, who I find probably the dullest individual in the books: a ‘nice’ weak man who succumbed to emotional blackmail by a detestable mother, sacrificing his own family in the process. There’s no sign of any particular intelligence in this individual, who selfishly bothers his brother at times of crisis when it is clear he doesn’t want to be bothered, and acts idiotically and puts Bren and his associates in danger. An agent in a government intelligence service would presumably not be a moron, and since there is no sign of intelligence or ‘spine’ in this man, it is unconvincing to suggest that he is any kind of agent.

    I also find it unconvincing that the rather fierce Ilsidi and the other Atevi would tolerate the sort of behaviour I’ve witnessed from Toby and the unmentionable woman. Haven’t you learned where Barb fits in in these books? Perhaps you haven’t read them all? I swear I’d give up on these books if I a read a ‘story’ that involved the individuals I detest in these books. It’s almost as though the parts of the books featuring these undesirables were written by someone else – totally unlike any other characters I’ve met in CJ’s books, who are mostly resilient and strong, though certainly they have their weaknesses too. In fact, the undesirables seem to have been used to pad out the books and extend the storyline relevant to the southern Atevi, which could have been dealt in one more muscular book, rather than being stretched over three.

    I really couldn’t care less about Mospheira and find it incredibly dull as a place; the Mospheirans with whom Bren developed relationships in space, like Gin, are a different matter – interesting and gutsy. As for the idea of Bren teaching seminars and providing access to a university on Mospheira about information on the Atevi, the whole idea is to generally keep the humans and Atevi apart and avoid another bloody confrontation. Why on earth would he teach seminars to the islanders about Atevi, and how would it make the Foreigner books more interesting?

    The atevi, kyo and Bren and his relationship with them are for me the most interesting aspects of the books, which I regard as superb science fiction, not as novels about relationships between families, which are two a penny and much better done in literary fiction.

    I wish the subject of the detestable Barb and Toby that keeps being brought up in this ‘discussion’ could now be dropped. It makes me very irritable and I feel I have to respond (I could be more coherent, but it is very late here in London).

  9. Ruadhan

    I have no trouble with Toby being an intelligence asset. He has a boat, and he uses it; there’s a non-zero chance that he could end up on the mainland purely by accident and bad weather, and it behooves Mospheira to not only train him to behave in a way to minimize any resulting diplomatic incident, but to be ‘eyes in place’ regarding anything he witnesses or takes part in. Also, as Bren’s brother, he needs to be in the governmental eye anyway, because someone might try to get at Bren through him. Much easier to have him part of the observation machinery, rather than just the object of it.

    As for Bren’s similarity to other characters in other series: I’ve always thought he resembled Aiela (from HUNTER OF WORLDS), dealing with the iduve, more than Duncan, dealing with the mri, or Tully, dealing with the hani. There are similarities between the iduve and the atevi (both are incapable of understanding human emotional reactions) that have always resonated for me, to the point where I was wondering, during the earliest books, if the atevi were the iduve, but at a much earlier technological level.

    My shorthand version for both species: neither is capable of understanding human sentiment. At all. And logical explainations of sentiment don’t sound logical to either, which is a problem if there is any lack of trust in their relationship with the human(s) at hand. Bren has proven himself trustworthy on many levels, with many different atevi; Aiela did the same with his iduve, mostly by figuring them out more completely than they ever did him.

    It works.

  10. Wepox

    Sapphire,

    I think we understand that you can’t stand the humans in the storyline. However, the tensions and stresses set up in Bren’s personality by having to straddle the two worlds is a major part of the plot development. Without this duality, Bren is just a stranger in a strange land, he would lose his humanity faster than Duncan did on the ship to the Mri Homeworld. He would be a flat one dimensional character without having his family of humans to ground him back in his humanity on a regular basis. This is a major tension of the story line in my honest opinion. Bren, trying to be one thing to the Atevi and another to the humans, he is fairly successful in the Atevi arena, and somewhat less in the human arena. Now mind you, I didn’t mention Barb or Toby once.

    Oops!!

    • Sapphire

      You misunderstand me, Wepox. I don’t think Bren has lost his humanity at all, and in fact has achieved a very good balance vis a vis the Atevi and human cultures. He is perfectly able to function as a human with humans such as Gin, Jase, Kaplan and even the grouchy Sabin.

      It is the unmentionables – their characters and their parts in the plot that REALLY make me want to throw the book across the room whenever they crop up. They spoil my reading experience of an otherwise fascinating plot.

      • Sabina

        I think Toby very much takes after mother, who wanted attention, who wanted Bren to be there and deal with her. But Mother couldn’t leave Mospheira and had to rely on the phone to get a hold of Bren, which security can block easily and Bren easily can say he can’t come and there aren’t any possible problems with the interface. Toby has a boat, Toby can leave Mospheira, can just show up on Bren’s door or not leave and force Bren to deal with him, to pay attention to him, because there is the interface in question and Bren can’t just have any human run around on the mainland unmediated.

        Back in the days of Inheritor and Precursor, I wanted to see Barb on the mainland, see how the atevi side deals with her, how she deals with the atevi, how Bren deals with the situation, but now I have seen what happens. There’s nothing new developing in that situation, it’s just same old same old since Destroyer and the surprise visit to Malguri in Deliverer. I can’t even remember why he was dragged across the continent, surely he wasn’t there just to show up for the ending.

        I very much hope that in the future Toby and Barb will be a lot less in the spotlight.

  11. Wepox

    I find the Atevi – Atevi relationships very compelling and well worth chapters on their own. Since the story is first person dialog, getting the internal thoughts of the Atevi will be rather difficult unless Bren develops some telepathy in the near future. I find the portrayal of Ms Cherryh’s aliens to be very consistent. Across 12 books I find them well rounded and displaying a depth and breadth of any real culture.

  12. weeble

    I’ve been thinking and there are some major difference between Bren, Duncan, and Tully even though they do have rather similar personalities to start with. Bren is expected to retain some humanity because he’s supposed to be the intermediary between the Mospheirans and the mainland no matter how much he becomes assimilated into the Atevi culture. Duncan starts out trying to be an intermediary but then makes a choice to stay with the Mri and is forced to BECOME Mri, because retaining any humanity is unacceptable. Tully, in contrast, just wants to survive to get home, so he has the option to retain or discard whatever culture he needs to get through. They all have to struggle to succeed, but the goal is different for each.

    Bren admits he’s become somewhat less useful as the intermediary, because he has gone so far to the Atevi side. The problem is with the ship entering the picture, the demand for those who can function to translate the human/atevi interface has increased dramatically. He can’t just call up the island and say ‘I quit, send my replacement’ (even though he TRIED) because he’s still the best and all the semi-competent paidhi are busy on the station. Even though his family really DOES need a swift kick to the rear, they provide an important reality check for Bren that helps keep him balanced between Atevi and Mospheiran societies. Because he’s the man in the middle, he’s free to move in ways those from either extreme can’t quite imagine, which makes him the one best suited to deal with the challenges of the Kyo and ‘bad neighbors’. SOooo, face it, we’re stuck with occasional visits from family. They are learning, just slowly.

    • sleo

      Yes, weeble, I agree with that. While I don’t find Barb or Bren’s mom sympathetic characters, they are needed in the story. Toby’s different. I like Toby. He’s ok as are some of the other humans who work with the atevi.

  13. Wepox

    Actually I think Bren did quit working as the Human Paidhi, as a matter of fact I believe in Betrayer he mentions that he is no longer working for Mospheria, only for Tabini. Maybe as Lord of the Heavens he has become the Paidhi for all the planet’s inhabitants, including the station folk. I did notice that he is becoming more “Lordly” in the Atevi sense. He is thinking of his villagers around his estate and how to act in their behalf. Since his little adventure in the south and being forced to fulfill the white ribbon functions of old tradition, maybe he has expanded the Paidhi’s role to that of global mediator dealing with internal and external strife to the betterment of the planet (under Tabini’s rule of course). I can see him becoming the ultimate arbiter of disputes even above the Assassins guild. Now that would be an interesting turn of events.

  14. Wepox

    Weeble,
    Interesting contrast of the human – alien interface between the three story lines. Of course your logic is sound about the exchanges:
    The Duncan/Mri cultural exchange, he really had no intention of going that far into becoming Mri. It was slippery slope that he stepped onto and then found he really couldn’t go back. But he did discover things about himself in that transformation, he learned to control the jump anxiety and ultimately the need to have drugs and even medical care to heal and function. Being Human he cannot become in every sense of the word a Mri, but he made great strides in pushing human endurance and physiology to mimic them in no small way.
    The Tully/Chanur pairing was one of great stress for the human half. he subjugated himself into the culture in order to survive, he was not “becoming” instead he was imitating to make himself small and without causing insult to his companions. In this way he would survive to become human again. At least that was the plan, what the end result would be is rather an interesting thought experiment.
    Bren is in fact still very human, he thinks and acts as a human does and is not trying to emulate or imitate he Atevi in any way beyond the need to avoid conflict and misunderstandings. He is navigating the shoals of Atevi society with better grace and skill than some of the Atevi themselves, but your point is taken. I agree that he is not now, nor is he attempting to become Atevi. He is merely interacting with them on the Atevi terms of society.
    Thanks for pointing this out, you have brought a greater depth of understanding to the conversation.

  15. Wepox

    Sapphire, You know, I realized after all this discussion about the unmentionable humans and ship humans that I actually don’t care for either group. the ship humans seem to be aggressive, militaristic, power hungry folks with little concern for the Atevi, or the earthbound humans that they abandoned to the planet two centuries earlier. the Mospherians are a whiny, needy group with their heads stuck up their . . . They “invade” the planet, (I know, not much choice) an then start demanding things, rights, privileges until they get kicked to the Mospherian curb. Even still, they fear the Atevi with an unreasoning and unwarranted fear almost bordering on the boogieman or the darkness under he bed. they are not interested in learning nor understanding and think that the Atevi should conform to them. (Sounds like a arrogant Earthly Superpower that we all know and love). The unmentionables (T&B) are just acting out in this same manner that they were raised in. Bren has learned to adapt, the rest are just an evolutionary deadend. Dodos as it were.

    • Sapphire

      Wepox: yes, I agree with all of that, though I think the Atevi station humans (as opposed to the ship humans, linked to the Pilots’ Guild) have come to respect the Atevi and manage to work with them quite well. I agree with your statement about the Mospherian humans, though people like Gin have certainly learned a lot and seem to have a great deal of respect for the Atevi, even though they cannot communicate with them properly, or understand them in the way that Bren does.

      Oh, what a tangled web has been woven in these books…

  16. sleo

    Change of subject for a minute! I remember seeing a progress bar for Intruder in the sidebar, where now there is a progress bar for ‘Next Foreigner book’. Has it been announced whether Intruder comes after Betrayer, and if so, when? I’m assuming Intruder is next. Am I nutso and having hallucinations?

  17. Silverglass

    Sleo, if I recall correctly, I believe Intruder is either in the process of revisions or revisions have recently been finished. So the progress bar is probably the next book.

    If I may toss a few thoughts into the book/character discussion: Keep in mind that, as Bren keeps saying, the kyo are coming, and the world must be prepared to deal with them. That means everyone, humans included. They may in a sense still be “guests” on the atevi world, but they aren’t going anywhere. It’s relevant to the story to occasionally go into what’s happening on Mospheira, because Bren and the atevi aren’t living in a vacuum. The human population is sitting there and will be affected by whatever happens elsewhere in the world. No, Bren may not have “become” atevi, but he’s very deeply into their way of looking at things, because he has to be.

    What we have on the atevi world right now are three different cultures: atevi on the mainland, humans on Mospheira, and a different human culture on the ship. All three of them are going to be impacted by the eventual arrival of the kyo and their “associates” (remember that the kyo consider every new race they meet to be forever after connected to them…and there was someone else out there beyond the kyo, someone violent, who may find the atevi world through interaction with the kyo). In other words, Bren’s concerns are not and cannot be limited to only what the atevi are doing. He’s the only person who can conduct relations between all of these cultures and have any chance of success.

    • sleo

      Thanks, Silverglass. I went the other Foreigner page and kind of figured that out about the next books.

      And you’re right. The visitors from beyond are looming large. And Bren is the only one.

      I think one of the things I’ve come to appreciate about Bren over the course of the books is how brilliant he is. This is, of course, why Ilisidi admires him so much, as well as some of the other atevi like Benichi and Jago and Cenidi and so forth. I think it’s become more apparent as we see things also from Cajieri’s point of view. Bren is always worrying so that when we’re inside his head it is difficult to see him as others see him.

  18. berylkit

    After finishing Betrayer, I decided to start the series from the beginning, with a focus on Banichi and Jago – how and why did they develop man’chi to Bren – and focus on the clues about those two characters. Several questions come to mind:

    1. If Banichi and Jago are father/daughter, it seems likely that Banichi should have had previous partner…but other than being in Tabini’s man’chi, there’s no real hint of his past work/role. How did Banichi end up with Jago as a partner? Cenedi looked like Banichi in Foreigner – is there a relationship there? (and who is Cenedi’s partner?)

    2. During the conversation about man’chi in Invader, (p342) Bren says to Banichi “Talidi is your province”. Banichi’s response “Bren-ji,. Don’t doubt me.” For the next books, I had taken Banichi’s response as an acknowledgement that he was from Talidi, but committed to Bren. But then, in Pretender (p.271), it strikes Bren that “he had no idea where Banichi’s home district was, or what his familial connections might be, and he had never asked”. After reading that, I had to re-evalaute my reading of Banichi’s response in Invader as evasive rather than confirmational. Without knowing where Banichi and Jago are from, why doesn’t Bren ask? Could there be a machimi of homecoming that’s less than optimal at some point?

    Since Talidi is southern and tied to Tasigin Marid, if Banichi is from there, how did he come to be in Tabini’s service? Is he truly trustworthy??

  19. weeble

    Way back in Foreigner when Tabini reads out the document where he files intent on behalf of Bren (before the trip to Malguri) he lists “Banichi of Dajoshu township of Talidi province” as his agent, so we DO know where he is from even before Invader . I’m inclined to read the bit about Bren not knowing where Banichi was from to mean he was unsure of the politics of the place rather than where the place was, even though I suspect it was actually something along the lines of the author forgot for a moment that we know where Banichi is from.

    There is the whole scene at the end of Deciever where Machigi talks about being shocked to hear Bren speaking with a southern accent, and Bren says his aishid’s accent is more southern. Obviously regional accents are pretty distinct, and Bren recognizes Banachi’s accent.

  20. Rigeldeneb

    First posting, folks. What I like about Cherryh’s writing most of all is the examination of cross species contacts. With the Foreigner series, she has gone beyond “Stranger in a Strange Land.” So, sometimes when I am reading the series, I wonder how Bren “appears” to the two human cultures as well as to the atevi culture (and, soon, the kyo culture). Think about it: though he is tall for a human (around six feet, I think), he is tiny to the atevi; now try to imagine one of Spielberg’s “Close Encounters” visitors exhibiting the authority and charisma Bren possesses–how would we humans respond? The atevi must, at least initially, experience a similar sense of bemusement. Machigi in Deceiver is commenting on just this type of reaction.

    The scene on the station when Bren first meets the captains in person: try to imagine–they see a tall human being, with all that height implies in human cultures (dominance!), who is, however, dwarfed by his associates, whom humans will perceive as bodyguards and at Bren’s command, but whom Bren insists are not; and Bren’s body language will have been both partly familiar and very alien to the ship humans. Talk about double vision, mixed messages and confounded signals. Given humanity’s often irrational reactions to the unknown, I give the captains some credit for not wigging out completely.

    I hope we get more examples of how others respond to Bren. i laughed out loud when Ramirez told him that, after three years of negotiation, he was still the same pain in the ass as he was in the beginning.

    This is why I also find Cajeiri a fascinating character. He, too, is a cross-cultural mixed message.

    I am looking forward to more of Machigi, who is opening the door to more explorations of the atevi culture (see Bren’s meditations on how atevi educate their young toward the end of Deceiver) and variations of atevi personalities. I am hoping that Machigi will shine a light on Tabini, who is, in my opinion, the greatest enigma in the series. Brilliant though Bren is, Tabini can still confound him. I want to understand more about this incredibly long-sighted atevi.

    • brensgirlfriday

      Excellente! I was hoping for some more of their view of him too! And I cannot WAit until CJ explores Banichi’s home area.
      The diplomatic negotiative exchange with Machigi and Bren in the sitting room… ah. Again, excellente. Bravissimo, even! A fascinating whirlpool of discussive promise. More of such would be quite endearing and delicious to many of us, I expect.

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