May 3rd, 2018

Winter Sunlight

CJ Cherryh, queen of my id

I've been traveling for the last couple of weeks, which is why I didn't jump on this right away, but I can FINALLY talk about my recent CJ Cherryh obsession.

It started when I picked up a pinch hit for [community profile] space_swap and fell headlong and hardcore back in love with Cherryh's Heavy Time/Hellburner duology, which I seem to orbit cyclically and fall back in love with every few years. Actually, let me just link to the two Hellburner fics I wrote for Space Swap:

Search and Rescue (8400 wds)
A violent act of sabotage leaves the Hellburner crew scattered and separated on a damaged station.
[Tags include "Hypothermia", "Cuddling & Snuggling", and "Families of Choice", to give you an idea what this one is like. It was hella fun to write.]

Long Haul Into Night (1900 wds)
It's always on the night shift that Dekker asks the off-the-wall questions.

So Heavy Time/Hellburner is part of a much larger universe of Cherryh's, Alliance-Union, and this time I decided to try to read the rest of it. My Cherryh reading has always been sporadic. I read a scattered assortment of her books as a teenager, fell passionately in love with Heavy Time and Rusalka in particular, but was never fond enough of her writing to seek out everything she'd ever written.

I think that time has come. Either I've grown into her books as an adult, or something, because OH MY GOD. I don't think I realized, reading her books piecemeal over the years, that the aspect that drew me in such a major way to my favorites of hers - the above-mentioned ones - is pretty much A Thing in nearly everything she writes.

Basically Cherryh absolutely LOVES writing about (for lack of a better word) queerplatonically bonded little groups of characters in codependent, mutually-weird-about-each-other found-family arrangements. In some of her books it's built into the cultural structure of the world (e.g. the nighthorse riders in the Rider at the Gate duology*, or some of the cultural arrangements in Alliance-Union). In other books the characters fall into it by accident and just kind of make it up as they go along. Either way, I'm starting to realize that characters being passionately loyal to each other, living right on top of each other in intense domesticity while often being fundamentally undomestic people, and just generally being weird about each other in iddy found-family ways is very much a Cherryh thing.

*Of which I've only read the first book so far; nobody spoil me for book 2 plz!

Also, in nearly ALL her books that have this (which is nearly all her books, period), it's either one very lonely and traumatized person being adopted by a more stable group, or a group of lonely and traumatized people adopting each other. Which is also, er. Highly relevant to my interests.

There is a post I read on DW a few years back, that I don't think I can find again without extensive googling, but it described EXACTLY what I like in fiction in a very clear way - "clair pockets in a noir universe". I latched onto that description hard, because YES, THAT. I love, love, love books/shows/movies that are entirely honest about the terribleness of the world - terrible things happen, and in fact, things fundamentally ARE kind of terrible - but the characters create their own little warm places of light and love, because they just love each other that much. And that's the button Cherryh's books are hitting so hard for me right now. There are a lot of awful things that happen in her books that WOULD be grimdark if handled in a different way, except that the characters manage to drag their own little corners of the universe, and each other, kicking and screaming into the light. I love books that expose all the awfulness of the world and then say "but we don't have to be like that," and especially when they do that through the characters' love and loyalty for each other, and damn but Cherryh's id seems to align perfectly with mine in that area. Not all of her characters get happy endings, but most of her books actually do end in a way that makes me feel all wrapped up in a warm fuzzy blanket - in part because they go through such horrible things getting there.

Also, she is absolutely shameless about writing wildly iddy stuff if she feels like it. Two characters who started out punching each other in the face and end up clinging to each other desperately while covered in their own blood and left to die on an abandoned space station after sacrificing themselves so their friends can escape a ruthless space pirate fleet, while said friends are fighting their way through space pirates, morally gray military, and their own families to get back to the space station and rescue them? SURE, WHY NOT.

I want to write further posts about individual books because I have a lot to say about them, or at least a lot of feels about them - when I'm done traveling (soon!). But I did want to throw out there that a lot of people are probably introduced to her work through Downbelow Station because it won the Hugo, and while it's a book I'm glad I finally managed to read (after bouncing off it several times and finally getting myself to read it by virtue of being trapped with it on a train), and it does actually hit Cherryh's typical emotional notes in the last, oh, fourth or so, it is NOT typical of her books; her books can be grim, but generally not THAT grim, and that book also has really offputting Noble Savage aliens, which is weirdly something that I have never encountered in any of her other books, even ones written around the same time. She can do great aliens! (I need to reread the Chanur books, speaking of which.) Just ... not those particular aliens. They are slightly less offputting in context of her other books because characters being intensely loyal to each other and loving each other through cross-species/cross-cultural bonds is something she really likes and writes a lot, but when one group of them are heavily coded Noble Savage and are basically getting murdered because of their affection and loyalty to the offworlders who use them as cheap labor, it becomes, let's say, uncomfortable. So yeah. That's a thing.

But basically her books are Found Family R Us and I still have SO MANY of them to read or reread, whee.

ETA: I found the post on Tumblr where I link to the "clair pockets in a noir universe" post (actually, as it turns out, a comment on a slightly different post), for further context.

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