Liz Bourke wades into CJC’s Alliance/Union universe

Here at, this post: Jumping Into C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Books

Always pretty neat to watch someone discover a series you yourself discovered a zillion years ago, especially if you’re a fan. She’s picked one of my absolute favorite novels of Cherryh’s: Cuckoo’s Egg.

Let’s see what Liz Bourke has to say about this: … oh, never mind, she showed the cover of Cuckoo’s Egg, but has not apparently read the book. Plus she is discussing Alliance Rising, which is a CJC collaboration with Jane Francher. I’ve never read it and don’t know that I’m interested.

It looks like the two Bourke actually tried are Merchanter’s Luck and — ready? — 40,000 in Gehenna. Quick show of hands: who would suggest 40,000 in Gehenna as a good intro to Cherryh’s work?


Yeah, thought not. 

Places to start with CJC, if she’d asked me:

Cuckoo’s Egg

Chanur series


Fortress in the Eye of Time

How about you? Where would you suggest readers start with CJC? Assume they tried Downbelow Station and bounced moderately hard, as I gather Liz Bourke may have done. I have a lot of sympathy with that: not one of my favorites and also imo not one of CJC’s most approachable books, either.

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12 thoughts on “Liz Bourke wades into CJC’s Alliance/Union universe”

  1. My fav C.J. Cherryh is the Faded Sun trilogy, and I’m also a big fan of the Morgaine/Vanye books, so those would be my recs. Fun to think about!

  2. As an entry point into CJ Cherryh’s writing, Cuckoo’s Egg and the first Chanur book would be my choice.
    If the prospective reader is into harder SF, closer to an extrapolation of the present time, Heavy Time + Hellburner might work; if it’s an angsty teen Merchanter’s Luck might work.
    If they’re into first contact stories, and/or liked Cuckoo’s Egg, I’d give them the first Foreigner book, but warn them that the real story starts 1/3 of the way in – before that are two prequel novella’s, sort of.

    Jane Fancher is CJ Cherryh’s life partner, a writer of intelligent SF with complicated characters in her own right, and has been collaborating with CJ quite seamlessly on the past couple of Foreigner books, and was her beta (or is that alfa?) reader long before that. I would not write off any book they co-write before reading it, just because most collaborations are disappointing.

    Here’s what CJ said about Alliance Rising on her own blog:
    “There is an upcoming Alliance-Union novel from DAW, Alliance Rising, and when it comes out, there is a background history that will come out on closed-circle.”
    “January 8th, Alliance Rising comes out. I wrote all the Alliance Union books so they can, with a few exceptions (Heavy Time/Hellburner) be read in any order. But this comes at the very beginning of everything that follows, howzzat for an explanation.”

    Commenter Ready then said:
    “Alliance Rising deals with the time before the split between the Alliance and the Compact, and prior to the establishment of the major trading routes. CJC read the preliminary 1st chapter at Bubonicon Albuquerque in 2017. All I can say is WOW! I’ve had it pre-ordered since it became available on Amazon mid-summer this year. As such, you don’t NEED to re-read any of the Alliance Universe books, as the Alliance Rising activity happens before any of the other books. I wouldn’t let that stop anyone from reading any of the Goddess’ books, but this will be a great entry place for new readers.”

    One of the other commenters, JCrow then said:
    “Based on the Amazon tease, AR has as a main character James Robert Neihart, which, to me, reminds us that one generation of timestretched adults pretty much saw the entire span of the War (Mallory–and of course all the captains–JG, etc.). ”

    There is another book in this new A/U sequence already written, and they are working on a third. As a new entry point into an existing universe, it might also spark a resurgence of interest in the older books in that setting: a good thing for any writer.

  3. I wouldn’t start with Gehenna for sure–too much about the past history of the Alliance/Union war is implicit. But it is a favorite. Merchanters Luck or Downbelow Station is a better starting point.

  4. I got into CJC with the Faded Sun after Michael Whelan’s covers got my attention. (I think it was his work, at least.) Bounced off DBS, but once I read Merchanter’s Luck it was more accessible, albeit has never been a favorite.

    I’d recommend starting with either Cuckoo’s Egg , Pride of Chanur, or The Paladin. If they like hefty books, either Cyteen or Fortress ,

  5. Foreigner and Downbelow Station were my entry points to CJC and really liked them both; I’ve been into everything Foreigner and Alliance-Union since. Agree, though, that “Merchanter’s Luck” is a more accessible entry point, “Finity’s End” for teens and “Pride of Chanur” as a really fun introduction to CJC’s work. Foreigner and Cyteen probably more suited to the geekier reader. Definitely not Gehenna to start, I found it hard going. Will await the new book with interest.

  6. I’m pretty unfamiliar with Cherryh’s work. I read and enjoyed Cuckoo’s Egg the last time you posted about where to start, and then I stalled out. Now I have both Cyteen and Foreigner though, so time to start up again!

  7. You could think of Cuckoo’s Egg as the elevator pitch for Foreigner…

    You so could!

    As far as I’m concerned, the entire first Foreigner novel is fundamentally a prequel, or at least a set-up novel — it is soooooo slow, until right at the very end. That didn’t bother me, I’m just saying. I have read the entire Foreigner series about four times, which is getting to be quite an achievement as that series gets longer.

    I agree with those of you mentioning The Faded Sun trilogy. I loved that series; not sure it’s where I would necessarily suggest people start with CJC, but on the other hand it was one of the first I read and worked very well for me.

    I do like The Paladin a great deal, but it seems kind of set apart from all her other work, whereas Chanur feeds more or less into all her SF, while remaining distinctive enough to be seen as a separate chunk.

    I must admit I did not care very much for Heavy Time / Hellburner. In general the SF that has the closest Alliance/Union focus is not my favorite either, except for Cyteen, so though I appreciate your take on the collaboration, Hanneke, I am not entirely sure I’m that interested in a novel that focuses on the early history of that universe. I certainly grant that a new trilogy that gives all the older connected nudge is a good thing, and if Francher has been collaborating on some of the Foreigner books, that’s a good sign for other collaborative work, certainly.

  8. A couple of years ago I started on an Alliance/Union reread, but I stalled out at Heavy Time/Hellburner. I think Port Eternity is the only Cherryh novel I’ve had that much trouble with. I even finished 40,000 in Gehennna while in high school (although I understood approximately 8% of it…)

    For an Alliance/Union entry I’d actually recommend Finity’s End / Tripoint followed by Downbelow Station, but my overall Cherryh Entry Point recommendations would be, in order:

    1) Rider at the Gate
    2) Pride of Chanur
    3) The Paladin

    The Finisterre books somehow always fly under the radar, but the nighthorses and the ambient grabbed my attention and never truly let go.

  9. I admit that Rider at the Gate hit my claustrophobia buttons pretty hard. That’s a society where most people live a very circumscribed life and have no real hope of going somewhere different if that town isn’t a good fit for them; and where is some horrible thing is killing a lot of people in the town, they’re pretty much trapped.


    So even though clearly there really ought to be a third book, I’m not a hundred percent sure I’d actually want to read it. I probably would? But far from my favorite of Cherryh’s.

  10. I’ve read Downbelow Station (my first read by Cherryh), Merchanter’s Luck, Sunfall and Serpent’s Reach all back in the 80’s. I hadn’t read any Cherryh since because I really couldn’t figure out a good entry point to get back into her work. The new book coming out lit a fire under my butt because I looked all I’d read and I knew her future history was complex and good. So, I started digging around the internet for a good place to start into Alliance/ Union. I ended up deciding to follow the chronology on her website. I’m reading Heavy time right now and hope to maintain interest through the 7 Company War books. I’ll likely re-read Downbelow Station and Merchanter’s Luck. I have no idea if this is a good place for someone to start, but so far I’m enjoying Heavy Time. Sounds like others did not like this book, but it starts out rather simply with three men in capsule, where as a book like Cyteen has like 7 pages of background to dig through before the story even starts. Some of her other books start structurally in a complex way too, so I’m finding this one easier to dive into.

  11. That’s a good point, Dave, and if you like Heavy Time, then that may well serve as a good entry to the universe. I’m embarrassed to admit that I still have her newest one on my coffee table because I haven’t quite managed to get around to reading it …

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