The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh

Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh

When I was in ninth grade I joined the Science Fiction Book Club and got 4 books for a dollar with the commitment of buying 4 more books in the next year. As I recall my mother had to sign off on it because of my age and she wasn’t happy about it, but she did it for me. (Thanks, Mom!) I stayed in the SFBC for the next ten or twelve years and bought hundreds of books from them, but those first four stand out in my memory: A Heinlein Trio, The Chronicles of Amber, Riddle of Stars, and The Book of Morgaine. Each was at least a trilogy because I wanted to get my money’s worth, and oh did I get it. That was the single best dollar I have ever spent in my life!

Over the last 38 years I’ve read each of those books several times. Recently it was C. J. Cherryh’s turn again with the amazing novel, Gate of Ivrel. This is the story of the enigmatic, Morgaine, a cursed woman out of legend, and Vanye, who becomes bonded to her and her mission to save humanity by closing down a series of gates that can transport people through space and time. These gates offer the potential of great power, but they have also the potential to destroy civilizations if someone uses them to tinker with the past. A human civilization sent a company of soldiers through the gates to close them one after the other until there are no more. (So it’s a suicide mission because they will only discover that there are no more when they don’t come out the other side of the last gate.) Morgaine is the last (and possibly not the first generation) of those soldiers and her tale is amazing in no small part because the Gates offer power and the possibility of immortality and many fight her in her efforts to close them down.

Cherryh tells Morgaine’s story through the eyes of Vanye, the bravest man in literature who was ever condemned for cowardice. He is the epitome of honor and we watch him be tricked into serving Morgaine whom he loathes and fears as a witch who got ten thousand men killed a century earlier. Over the course of the book he grows to understand just how selfless and heroic his lady truly is. In doing so we watch him navigate a world in which none of his peers (save one) lives up to the ideals that he embodies. Cherryh’s greatest strength as an author has always been her ability to portray new and distinctive cultures in great detail but without exhausting the reader through long and tedious descriptions. Vanye is one of her tools for accomplishing this. We learn about his people by contrasting his actions and motivations with those of everyone he encounters. I love this novel and I bet you will too. 

Port Eternity by C.J. Cherryh 

C.J. Cherryh is one of my favorite science fiction writers. Her Downbelow Station is one of the greatest SF books of all time and she always provides a good read. Port Eternity is one of her more fanciful novels. It’s set in the Alliance Space universe of Downbelow Station and Cyteen and focuses on seven Azi—cloned humans—who run a luxury yacht for the extravagantly wealthy Lady Della Kirn. When the yacht is stranded in jump space the azi are pressed to grow beyond the taped instructions which define their personalities and help Lady Della and her paramour cope with the terror of being stranded forever out of contact with the rest of humanity. The crew quickly discovers that the only thing more horrifying than being isolated as they are, is discovering that unknown alien beings also inhabit this strange surreal space and that those beings are not willing to leave them alone.

Port Eternity combines the themes of encountering the unknown with deep introspection. It’s a beautiful book, reading in many ways like the Arthurian legends it is consciously modeled after.  Not Ms. Cherryh’s best work, but certainly entertaining.

Serpent's Reach by C.J. Cherryh

I was fourteen or fifteen years old when I first read Serpent’s Reach. It was my first C.J. Cherryh novel and certain images stuck with me quite strongly for the next several decades—Raen hiding in the hive, the majat fighting. When I reread it more than 35 years later I discovered that I had forgotten all the parts that made the book truly interesting. The alien majat are important, but not nearly as interesting as the fascinating human population which has split into the ageless elites, the normal humans, and the short-lived cloned, azi—not to mention the humans from beyond the Reach that are seeking to expand trade with Raen’s people. This is a great mystery which can’t be understood without first coming to understand the players. It’s well worth the journey.

Wave Without a Shore

Wave Without a Shore is about the nature of reality--also a highly philosophical book. Its characters live on the planet, Freedom, and operate on the assumption that their personal power of belief creates reality. Therefore, people they choose not to see, don't exist. And they also choose not to see the alien race that coexists on the planet with them. It is a powerful and intriguing setting which is upset by the introduction of interstellar humans interacting with Freedom and bringing with them their own understanding of reality. Calamity results…

Voyager in Night by C.J. Cherryh

I’ve been rereading many of the novels I enjoyed in my high school days. Voyager in Night is one of the more challenging books by my much revered author, C. J. Cherryh. I reread this one on a Nook and wish that more of her work would be made available on electronic format.

Voyager in Night is one of the most unique and difficult novels I have ever read. Images from this book have stayed with me a quarter century after I first read it, although I had completely forgotten how it ends. I think that is because the ending is so difficult to interpret. Cherryh , herself, in an introduction to the Alliance Space version said that she and her editor disagreed on what the ending meant. Unfortunately, the room for interpretation in the ending left me with an unhappy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

That being said, I liked the book. The plot premise is that three people are plucked out of their small spacecraft by an alien entity exploring the galaxy. The alien makes electronic copies of them and their digitized programs are tinkered with as the alien entity and its opponents on the ship, Voyager, vie with each other for control of the vessel.

You cannot read this one fast, but it is an amazing read.