"Forty Thousand in Gehenna"

Discussion in 'C. J. Cherryh' started by Diziet Sma, Feb 16, 2019.

  1. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Forty Thousand in Gehenna (Alliance-Union Universe) by C.J. Cherryh, 1983.

    This is the story of a new settlement on the world called Gehenna, a colony of 41,911 human clones and several hundred natural born men acting as leaders. Gehenna is inhabited by Calibans, (dragon-like beasts) big, clumsy and apparently not very smart. They seem to spend their days sunbathing, feeding and rolling stones. So, what could go wrong? Surely, men and clones together can handle the flintstones lizards.
    Well, the first mistake is to presume intelligence from the unique perspective of men. These aliens don't fit the human definition of consciousness, but are they really dumb? Apparently no.

    Secondly, the Union abandons the colony; hence, they stop receiving any supplies. The nature of their survival recedes to medieval times.

    The structure of the novel is clunky. The sections are episodic including many census records and scientific reports. The chapters jump forward sometimes 20, 50 or even 100 years. As a result of this, the cast of characters gets replaced by their own much older versions or directly but their descendants. Besides, the narrative has an analytical and unemotional tone. It feels like watching a documentary.
    Cherryh changes this composition during the final third of the story. The narrative becomes linear with an engaging and emotionally plot.

    Despite the bumpy structure, I'm a big fan of Cherryh. I admire her intelligence and imagination. She always manages to introduce complex themes: The nature of clones versus natural born men. Cognitive pairing with an alien species. Are these new "men" part of our race? Do clones with exo-elements retain a human core?

    I also appreciate the fact Cherryh doesn't underestimate her readers by overexplaining some of her more thought-provoking ideas. You chew over them if you like, or you don't.

    Overall a very good colonisation and first contact novel.

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    Last edited: Feb 16, 2019
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