Precursor, Defender, & Explorer
By C.J. Cherryh
Review by Ann Cecil

This trilogy gives us the latest adventures of Bren Cameron, translator turned action hero. Background for this series is The Foreigner Trilogy, which introduced Bren, and the complex world he lives in. Bren is the descendent of Humans who were forced to colonize a world already occupied by a sentient humanoid civilization, the atevi. As Bren comments at one point, "How do you explain, we misplaced our home planet and had to move in with aliens"?

The Humans and the atevi suffered major cultural misunderstandings, such that in the first book, only one individual, the appointed translator or paidhi - our hero, Bren - represents Humanity to the atevi. The starship, the Phoenix, that brought Humanity to the world had been gone for 200 years; at the end of the first trilogy, the Phoenix returned and Bren successfully negotiated a new arrangement, translating between the atevi, the Human colony, and Phoenix Humans, who are now culturally different in many ways from the colonists.

The new trilogy picks up some three years later, with Bren, now working for the atevi, helping to lead a major industrial revolution. The revolution - to get the atevi industrialized enough to build a shuttle to go up to the old abandoned space station - is necessary because Phoenix brought the news that another group of aliens are out there, and they are not happy about something Phoenix did. The new aliens have ships and nifty weapons, which they demonstrated by destroying a space station named Reunion, built by Phoenix's crew about 1 year's travel distant.

In Precursor, Bren goes up to the station with the charge from his atevi boss: take over the station. Within days of Bren's arrival, things get hairy; there are four Captains on Phoenix, who make up the council that determines policy. The xenophobic Captain shoots the alien-friendly Captain, and Bren's party, contacted surreptitiously, supports the wounded man, now in hiding. This novel is pretty much stand-alone, with mounting suspense and unexpected twists, that demonstrate Bren's ability to handle a volatile situation, and turn it into a success for his side. Bren also gets to see action as something more than a observer.

In Defender, we pick up the action three years further; Bren is happily running the atevi concerns on the station, watching over the effort to refuel Phoenix and secondarily start building a new starship. Then things start getting strange; Phoenix's alien-friendly Captain dies a natural death, but on his deathbed leaks disturbing news: he lied to the crew (and almost everyone else). The new aliens didn't destroy Reunion, they just damaged it, and there are still Humans living on it. Humans who, if captured, could tell the aliens where we live. So it important to have Phoenix get back there, rescue the Humans, and incidentally destroy any trail. Bren is frantic, trying to cope with an explosive situation and a sudden lack of information from his atevi boss. There are conspiracies within conspiracy, and large parts of this book are reminiscent of the original trilogy, capturing the sense of a man operating on a tight rope in the dark. The book ends with all the explanations, and a clear picture of the problem, but no resolution.

Explorer continues a year later, as Phoenix, with Bren and an atevi group aboard along with representatives of the Human Colony, nears Reunion station. This book answers the questions raised in the previous books, both as to how the two Human groups and the atevi are going to get along, and what exactly happened to Phoenix and at Reunion station. Of course we get to meet the neighbors, the Kyo. Of course it is because of Bren, and his translating abilities, and the atevi's incredible skill at confrontation and communication and not incidentally intrigue and blasting powder, that the day gets saved.

All three books are page-turners, Cherryh at the top of her form. As with many of her other books, when we do the smoothly integrated 'what came before' sections, the reader goes "Oh! So that's what was going on." Partly because Bren is more knowledgeable, partly because these books have more plot, I found this series of stories easier to follow. I was particularly charmed by the actual inclusion of several jokes! The explanations in EXPLORER are satisfying and well worked out. My only quibble is that things went a little too smoothly; all the problems were caused by the obstinacy of the station Captain. The current Captains just listen to a good translator (Bren), and everything works out happily for all. I would have expected a little more residual hostility on the part of the Kyo, but who wants to argue with a happy ending?

Highly recommended by Ann Cecil

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