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Precursor    by C. J. Cherryh order for
by C. J. Cherryh
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2000 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

This is the fourth book in the Foreigner series, with two more to come. These stories are set in the world of the atevi, where an isolated colony of humans live in exile and on sufferance on the island of Mospheira. Only one human, the paidhi, was permitted to learn their language and live with the atevi. The paidhi acts as a mediator between the two races, with the humans providing advanced technology in exchange for peace and trade.

Now the starship Phoenix has reappeared, two centuries after leaving the colony of humans isolated on the planet. It brings disturbing news of aggressive alien contact and possible reprisals. Under the powerful leader of the Western Association Tabini, the atevi miraculously, in three years, build a space shuttle which will carry atevi and human representatives to the starship. However, when the shuttle proves spaceworthy, the Pilots' Guild, essentially the four captains of the Phoenix, recall their planetary delegates without warning, initiating a bid for dominance.

Countering this, Tabini sends the paidhi, Bren Cameron, into space on the shuttle to negotiate on his behalf. The first two thirds of Precursor detail these negotiations, along with the relationships between the island human representatives, the starship crew, and the atevi security guards accompanying Bren. Cherryh manages to hold the reader's attention until revolt among the captains initiates the action filled final third of the book.

Cherryh is particularly deft in portraying believable alien cultures, and individuals. In addition to the paidhi himself, Tabini's grandmother is a delightful character, whom I am anxious to meet again. Unlike some series, I look forward to the next Foreigner book eagerly.

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