Legal Stuff

Inheritor by C. J. Cherryh

Cover art by Dorian Vallejo

Published by DAW Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Inheritor takes up about six months after the conclusion of Invader. The atevi are busy building a shuttle, using plans sent by the ship. In Shejidan, capital of the Western Association (the principal atevi quasi-nation), Bren has been working hard to teach Jase to be an effective paidhi for the ship. However, everything seems to be going wrong. Jase cannot seem to adapt to atevi culture with its intense demand for self-control. He argues constantly with Bren and cannot seem to settle out the heirarchy of their relationship. To top it all off, he then receives a message that his father has died, while Bren was away on a brief trip to deal with other problems. They must now attempt to discover what family means among the atevi in order to present this problem to their hosts without causing too much cultural difficulty.

Atevi do form a dyadic relationship to have children and feel some form of nurturing drive toward them until well into the children's teen years -- there are words that translate as "marriage," "husband," "wife," "mother," father," "son," "daughter," etc. However, these dyads are not romantic in nature, nor are the bonds between parent and child based upon affection as humans would understand the word. Atevi familial bonds are apparently based upon some kind of man'chi, but it is a different sort from the man'chi that binds follower to lord, apparently both more temporary and more mutual in nature. However, it is very difficult to determine that without transgressing the bounds of propriety, so Bren can ask only his closest atevi associates, and then only with the utmost caution to avoid offense.

It is never clear whether the atevi reticence about such matters is a taboo general to the culture, or a specific reluctance to let humans know too much about atevi private life. (This is also complicated by humans knowing next to nothing about atevi evolution or the behavior of the atevi's evolutionary equivalent to the great apes -- we have learned a great deal about the biological bases of human behavior in the last two decades through intense studies of chimpanzees and bonobos in the wild).

At the same time, they face two other major problems. While Bren was travelling, an inexperienced young atevi pilot nearly crashed into his plane. That young nobleman persists in trying to contact Bren, in spite of increasingly strong messages from the atevi leadership that this is not appropriate.

Their other problem is Deana Hanks, the cashiered paidhi-temporary who created such a problem by first revealing faster-than-light travel to the atevi without considering how the underlying mathematics would affect atevi philosophy and then compounding it by siding with certain revanchist groups. Although she was sent to the human settlement on the island of Mospheria in disgrace, she still has connections with influential politicians on the human side of the straits and seems to believe she is effectively invulnerable as a result of having such powerful protectors. She is now making illegal transmissions to incite rebellion among the atevi.

After a particularly trying inspection by an important atevi lord, the very traditionalist Tataseigi, head of the Atageini clan, Bren decides to give Jase a treat -- a visit to the seashore. The aiji-dowager Ilisidi, grandmother of the aiji (leader) of the Western Association, offers to host them in an ancient historic castle, Mogari-nai, which lies on the estate of Lord Geigi but is considered a historic monument, maintained as a trust to all the people of the Western Association.

This outing nearly turns into disaster when they arrive at Mogari-nai to find it little better than a ruin. Restoration is still in progress, and there is neither modern heating nor lighting. Worse yet, Jase makes some serious cultural missteps by asking the aiji-dowager too many questions about the planned outing, rather than simply taking events as they come. This creates the impression, however inadvertant, that he is challenging her authority.

The troublesome young nobleman pilot then makes one final attempt to contact Bren and instead falls captive to Ilisidi's security. They question him a little more thoroughally than anyone else has thought to do. They learn that his desperation was far more than simply shame at a navigational mistake. He had stolen the plane from his father and had been racing to warn the paidhi of treason in the ranks, treason that plots a major war that could result in the extinction of the humans on the island settlement of Mospheria and massive casualties among the atevi.

In the midst of this, Jase drops a major bombshell -- the message about his father being dead was actually a coded message of a completly different nature. The ship's paidhi to the human settlement has run into some kind of problem and needs out. They had settled on this code because they assumed that would be potent enough to get past atevi sensibilities or cultural confusion. Bren then asks if Jase's father really is dead, and Jase explains that it was over two centuries ago. Bren realizes what this means -- Jase is not a lowly slub, but one of the ship's equivalent to a nobility. Centuries ago, when the ship was first lost, the men and women who risked their lives in a radiation hellhole to fix and fuel the ship first left samples of their sperm and eggs, so their line could continue after their deaths. They and their descendents, whether immediate or through frozen embryos, were accorded extensive privileges as the Pilots' Guild. These priveleges they later abused, which led to the common folk leaving the station to settle on the planet and the ship leaving in search of a way back to human space. Bren now wonders whether this centuries-old fight will cause new divisions between them.

The aiji-dowager Ilisidi then hatches a plan to thwart the intended treason. On the pretext of a casual outing, she takes her entourage to sieze a major communications installation that is to be used in the rebellion. On the way, Bren and his female atevi security agent, Jago, explore the nature of atevi sexual and familial relationships on a little more personal level.

While they are occupying the earth station, Jase drops another bombshell -- the ship people have returned because they have encountered another intelligent species, violently xenophobic and possessing advanced technology. These aliens destroyed the ship's station at a second star and slew all aboard it, and would have destroyed the ship as well had it been in the system at the time. The ship returned to the atevi homeworld in hopes of finding someone to back them, and had feared that it too had fallen to these vicious aliens when they found the station abandoned. The ship's officers are willing to ally with the atevi if that's what it takes to get the station active and defended again.

In a final confrontation, Ilisidi and her followers thwart the rebels, slay Hanks, and rescue the ship's paidhi to the settlers, who has been brought to the mainland by Bren's brother Toby in a private boat (technically a violation of the Treaty, but given the extreme nature of the situation, even atevi are apt to overlook such things). The impending war is narrowly averted, and a new era of peaceful co-operation between humans and atevi is inaugerated.

Unfortunately, the last chapter seems like a quick fix that was tacked on to wind everything up. The author has spent most of three books hammering away at how perilous relations between humans and atevi are, and how this cannot be changed because the problem is based upon irreducable biological differences rather than cultural misunderstandings. Even the paidhi, carefully trained to interact with the atevi, must walk a constant danger line between carrying impossible human expectations over onto atevi and losing his essential humanity by coming to understand the atevi too well. Yet we are supposed to believe that after the crisis was successfully resolved, this suddenly made it safe for human and ateva to relate on an individual basis, without years of specialized training.

However, on the whole the novel is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, although that major dangling thread of the hostile alien race fairly guarantees further books in the series.

Review posted March 8, 2009

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