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Cherryh, C J

Entry updated 23 October 2023. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of US author Carolyn Janice Cherry (1942-    ), who taught for some years (1965-1976) before becoming a full-time writer; she is the sister of David A Cherry. Since 1976 – when she won the John W Campbell Award for most promising writer – she has produced more novels than stories, publishing several before her first story, the Hugo-winning "Cassandra" (October 1978 F&SF). Eventually she accumulated enough short fiction to publish The Collected Short Fiction of C J Cherryh (omni 2004), comprising Sunfall (coll 1981) and Visible Light (coll 1986) plus 16 further stories, one – "MasKs (Venice)" – newly written for the collection. Her first novel was Gate of Ivrel (1976), initiating the Morgaine series – continued in Well of Shiuan (1978) and Fires of Azeroth (1979), the trilogy being assembled as The Book of Morgaine (omni 1979; vt The Chronicles of Morgaine 1985), with the much later Exile's Gate (1988) added to make The Complete Morgaine (omni 2015) – a romantic Heroic-Fantasy quest epic whose interplanetary venue and underlying rationality prophetically underpin a hectic and perhaps rather florid imagination.

In all her work – which runs a gamut from Shared-World fantasies to Hard SF – an almost unfailingly creative tension can be sensed between argument and fantastication; and her underlying instinct for construction was confirmed in the late 1980s by a retroactive and ongoing coordination of more and more of her work – singletons and series both – under the aegis of her sf-grounded Alliance-Union Future History, which embraces most of the home Galaxy through the third and fourth millennia, during which period the Alliance, structured around the Merchanter cultures which operate the huge interstellar freighters necessary for trade, manages to survive at the heart of the more ruthless, expansionist Union. A third force whose influence is felt throughout human space is Earth itself, hugely populous, dominated by aggressive supra-planetary corporations, still the heartland of Homo sapiens, though under increasing stress as the expanding sphere of human endeavour inevitably passes beyond her sphere of influence. As Cherryh has herself stated, the various tales in the variously interconnected series are meant to be read separately, though each volume is intended to maintain a reasonable consistency with the overall history; in any case, her default narrative strategy – her narratives are usually non-omniscient, being restricted to the point-of-view of third-person protagonists – generates a continuing sense that there is always more untold in an Alliance-Union novel than that novel could possibly reveal.

Unusually, the sequence is not planet-based, much of the significant action of the central texts taking place in artificial environments, including a wide variety of spaceships, Merchanter freighters (each huge vessel housing an autonomous culture), satellites, waystations and self-sufficient habitats. The "Gehenna Doctrine", which prohibits the cultural contamination of newly discovered planets and therefore serves as a vital structuring device for the series, justifies the focus of those central texts while at the same time – for the Doctrine is often honoured in the breach – providing an enormously malleable frame: thus highly disparate tales may be fitted into the overarching sequence – almost to the point where singletons with no apparent connection to the sequence, including some Planetary Romances, might still be thought to belong within the whole because their isolation from any other book proves that the Gehenna Doctrine is working.

The Alliance-Union structure, though rough at the edges, serves primarily to hold and sort background material – a necessary aid for an author whose better work almost invariably offers too much material, too many Alien races intersecting too complexly for easy comprehension, a stricture true even of early novels like Hunter of Worlds (1977), in which three cultures express themselves in harrowing detail in too few pages; a sense of bustling, impatient cognition pervades the otherwise garish tale of an alien mercenary race fatally involved with Homo sapiens. But with her second series – The Faded Sun: Kesrith (February-May 1978 Galaxy; 1978), The Faded Sun: Shon'jir (1978) and The Faded Sun: Kutath (1979), all three assembled as The Faded Sun Trilogy (omni 1987) – the Alliance-Union dichotomy, here presented late in its history when the antipathetic Union has begun to seem more attractive, works to order the profusion of material. Unlike the great majority of sf writers, the most consistent complaint about her work must be that individual stories are too short, though the Merchanter novels, which are perhaps most central to the overall series, use their galactic space-based venues with considerable skill to articulate busy narrative lines. Along with Heavy Time (1991) and Hellburner (1992), a twenty-fourth-century pre-Alliance series that currently, in terms of internal chronology, kicks the entire sequence off, these novels – Downbelow Station (1981), an ambitious extended narrative set in and exploring the potential nature of a vast Space Station, which won the 1981 Hugo; Merchanter's Luck (1982); Cyteen (1988; vt 3vols as Cyteen: The Betrayal 1989, Cyteen: The Rebirth1989 and Cyteen: The Vindication 1989), which won the 1988 Hugo; plus Tripoint (1994) and Finity's End (1997) – are perhaps her best and most central work, generating a remarkable sense of the living density of space-born life. Cyteen is a book of enormous girth set on the intricate Union home planet and dense with speculative plays on genetics (see Clones), identity, family and power; plus the claustrophobic but enthralling Rimrunners (1989).

Closely associated with these books in tone and hard-edged complexity are Alliance-Union novels like Serpent's Reach (1980), Wave without a Shore (1981), Port Eternity (1982), Forty Thousand in Gehenna (1983) and Voyager in Night (1984). The Chanur Saga, made up of The Pride of Chanur (1982; text restored 1987), Chanur's Venture (1984), The Kif Strike Back (1985), all three assembled as The Chanur Saga (omni 2000); plus Chanur's Homecoming (1986) and Chanur's Legacy (1992), another deft and crowded depiction of alien psyches in a complexly threatened interstellar venue, has also been fitted into the overall series. The Merovingen Nights sequence – beginning with Angel with the Sword (1985 vt Merovingen Nights: Angel With the Sword 1986) and followed by Merovingen Nights #1: Festival Moon (anth 1987) plus six further titles – though told in a Science Fantasy idiom is set on the planet Merovin around 3400 CE in the heart of Alliance-Union space (see Medieval Futurism).

Late in order of publication but in effect a two-part prequel to the entire project, Heavy Time (1991) and Hellburner (1992), both assembled as Devil to the Belt (omni 2000), concisely and intensely compresses the early Merchanter years into a kind of closet drama set like Rimrunners (see above) in Cherryh's favourite setting: the interior of a ship. As the years have passed, individual stories within the structure have tended, very roughly, to shift their concern from honour (a focus typical of the "shame cultures" found in preliterate societies on Earth and endemic to much Space Opera) to the responsibilities of power (a problem central to literate "guilt cultures").

The lineaments of the Alliance-Union series remain unclear, but it seems increasingly the case that the novels incorporated within this loose mosaic – running from effective singletons to close argued subsequences – are Cherryh's central achievement. Even the later, polished Foreigner sequence – beginning with Foreigner: A Novel of First Contact (1994) (see First Contact), Invader (1995), Inheritor (1996), Precursor (1999), Defender (2001), Explorer (2002), Destroyer (2005), Pretender (2006), Deliverer (2007), Conspirator (2008), Deceiver (2010) and Betrayer (2011) – owes its ground-bass security of worldview to the fact that its very considerable Planetary Romance complexities fit, even if rather remotely, into the Alliance-Union remit. In later volumes like Convergence (2017) and Emergence (2018), the ongoing human protagonist Bren Cameron increasingly serves as a kind of consigliere to the crown-prince who will soon rule the Alien civilization where the overall action focuses, exposing Cameron to a wide range of challenges and opportunities. A similar systole-diastole movement, between intimacy and Space Opera, also governs the weaker Gene Wars sequence comprising Hammerfall (2001) and Forge of Heaven (2004). The sense grows that for Cherryh the Universe, and everything imaginable within its particoloured quadrants, continues both evanescent and full of marvel; and that sentient species must revere whatever habitats remain to them after the terrible years of species growth and species destruction hinted at in those books set early in the Universe. It is a vision which, after so many busy books will take some time to settle, though within terms she has already cued us to anticipate.

There are several fantasy singletons and series, the most notable of the latter being the Rusalka books beginning with Rusalka (1989); for titles see Checklist. [JC]

see also: Androids; Cities; DAW Books; Galactic Empires; Genetic Engineering; Hive Minds; Linguistics; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Monsters; Precognition; Prometheus Award; Robert A Heinlein Award; Skylark Award; Women SF Writers.

Carolyn Janice Cherry

born St Louis, Missouri: 1 September 1942




Alliance-Union (some subseries below have been retrofitted, sometimes loosely, into this over-series)

  • Hestia (New York: DAW Books, 1979) [the retrofitting here is very loose: Alliance-Union: pb/Don Maitz]
  • Serpent's Reach (Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1980) [Alliance-Union: hb/Ken Barr]
  • Voyager in Night (New York: DAW Books, 1984) [Alliance-Union: pb/Barclay Shaw]
    • Alternate Realities (New York: DAW Books, 1984) [omni of the above plus Wave Without a Shore and Port Eternity: Alliance-Union: pb/Don Maitz]
  • Heavy Time (New York: Warner Questar, 1991) [the Easton Press "First Edition", sometimes listed in error as the first printing, actually appeared one month later: Alliance-Union: hb/Don Maitz]
  • Hellburner (London: New English Library, 2002) [Alliance-Union: hb/uncredited]
    • Devil to the Belt (New York: Warner Aspect, 2000) [omni of the above two: Alliance-Union: pb/uncredited]

Alliance-Union: Hanan Space

  • Brothers of Earth (Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1976) [Alliance-Union: Hanan Space: hb/D K Stone]
  • Hunter of Worlds (Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1977) [Alliance-Union: Hanan Space: hb/Chet Jezierski]
    • At the Edge of Space (New York: DAW Books, 2003) [omni of the above two: Alliance-Union: Hanan Space: pb/Dawn Wilson and John Pound]

Alliance-Union: The Faded Sun

Alliance-Union: Merchanters

  • Downbelow Station (New York: DAW Books, 1981) [Alliance-Union: Merchanters: pb/David B Mattingly]
  • Wave without a Shore (New York: DAW Books, 1981) [Alliance-Union: Merchanters: pb/Don Maitz]
  • Port Eternity (New York: DAW Books, 1982) [Alliance-Union: Merchanters: pb/Ken W Kelly]
  • Merchanter's Luck (New York: DAW Books, 1982) [Alliance-Union: Merchanters: pb/Barclay Shaw]
  • Forty Thousand in Gehenna (Huntington Woods, Michigan: Phantasia Press, 1983) [Alliance-Union: hb/Phil Parks]
    • Alliance Space (New York: DAW Books, 2008) [omni of the above two: Alliance-Union: pb/uncredited]
  • Cyteen (New York: Warner Books, 1988) [Alliance-Union: Merchanters: hb/Don Maitz]
    • Cyteen: The Betrayal (New York: Popular Library, 1989) [vt of the first part of three of the above: Alliance-Union: Merchanters: pb/Don Maitz]
    • Cyteen: The Rebirth (New York: Popular Library, 1989) [vt of the second part of three of the above: Alliance-Union: Merchanters: pb/Don Maitz]
    • Cyteen: The Vindication (New York: Popular Library, 1989) [vt of the third part of three of the above: Alliance-Union: Merchanters: pb/Don Maitz]
  • Rimrunners (New York: Warner Books, 1989) [Alliance-Union: Merchanters: pb/Don Maitz]
  • Tripoint (New York: Warner Aspect, 1994) [Alliance-Union: Merchanters: hb/Steve Youll]
  • Finity's End (New York: Warner Aspect, 1997) [Alliance-Union: Merchanters: hb/Steve Youll]
  • Regenesis (New York: DAW Books, 2009) [Alliance-Union: Merchanters: hb/uncredited]

Alliance-Union: Chanur Saga

  • The Pride of Chanur (New York: DAW Books, 1982) [Alliance-Union: Chanur Saga: pb/Michael Whelan]
    • The Pride of Chanur (West Bloomfield, Michigan: Phantasia Press, 1987) [rev of the above: text restored: hb/David A Cherry]
  • Chanur's Venture (Huntington Woods, Michigan: Phantasia Press, 1984) [Alliance-Union: Chanur Saga: hb/Victoria Poyser]
  • The Kif Strike Back (Huntington Woods, Michigan: Phantasia Press, 1985) [Alliance-Union: Chanur Saga: hb/David A Cherry]
    • The Chanur Saga (New York: DAW Books, 2000) [omni of the above two plus The Pride of Chanur: Alliance-Union: Chanur Saga: pb/Michael Whelan]
  • Chanur's Homecoming (West Bloomfield, Michigan: Phantasia Press, 1986) [Alliance-Union: Chanur Saga: hb/David A Cherry]
  • Chanur's Legacy (New York: DAW Books, 1992) [Alliance-Union: Chanur Saga: hb/Michael Whelan]
    • Chanur's Endgame (New York: DAW Books, 2007) [omni of the above two: Alliance-Union: Chanur Saga: pb/Michael Whelan]

Alliance-Union: Merovingen Nights

Alliance-Union: Foreigner

Alliance-Union: The Gene Wars

Alliance-Union: Hinder Stars

  • Alliance Rising (New York: DAW Books, 2019) with Jane S Fancher [Alliance-Union: Hinder Stars: hb/Michah Epstein]


  • Ealdwood (West Kingston, Rhode Island: Donald M Grant, 1981) [Arafel: hb/David A Cherry]
  • The Tree of Swords and Jewels (New York: DAW Books, 1983) [Arafel: pb/Michael Whelan]
    • Arafel's Saga (Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1983) [omni of the above title plus The Dreamstone: Arafel: hb/Rowena Morrill]
      • Ealdwood (London: Victor Gollancz, 1991) [vt of the above: Arafel: pb/Julek Heller]
      • The Dreaming Tree (New York: DAW Books, 1997) [exp vt of the above: adds an new ending: Arafel: pb/Michael Whelan]

Sword of Knowledge

All works below were written solely by the "collaborator".


Rider (Finisterre)


individual titles


works as translator

works as editor


Heroes in Hell

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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