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Alliance Space    by C. J. Cherryh order for
Alliance Space
by C. J. Cherryh
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Alliance Space is an omnibus edition including two Cherryh classics set in the Union-Alliance universe - Merchanter's Luck and Forty Thousand in Gehenna. I must admit that I enjoyed the former much more than the latter, as it's easy for a reader to engage with the characters (and the adventure and romance that overtakes them) in Merchanter's Luck, while Forty Thousand in Gehenna tells an intriguing - but more distant - tale of the evolution of a colony and its interaction with an unusual native intelligence.

Merchanter's Luck stars twenty-seven year old merchanter, Sandor Krega, living on the edge. His family's freighter Le Cygne, currently named the Lucy, was attacked by pirates when he was only a boy, and most were killed. After the two other survivors died, Sandor operated alone, 'claiming to run margin cargo for a Wyatt's combine' and skimming from their account (though he's always paid it back, this fraud could lose him his ship). As the story opens, Sandor enjoys a liasion with Allison Reilly - of the great, and wealthy, ship Dublin Again - on Viking Station. He falls hard for her and heads to the Reillys next planned stop, Pell station. Which his where his - and Allison's - troubles begin.

Allison and her crewmates have been waiting for their own command - and it will be a long wait on Dublin Again. Sandor is in trouble with the Pell authorities. The Reillys bail him out on condition that Allison and her watch mates join his ship for its next run to Venture. Then they're coerced to carry military cargo. Aboard ship, there's conflict between Sandor and his new crewmates, and misunderstanding between him and Allison. While mistrust prevails, they're attacked by pirates, which is when Sandor faces his nightmares and shows his true colors. Merchanter's Luck is a gripping read, C. J. Cherryh at her best.

What interested me most in Forty Thousand in Gehenna was its depiction of cloned humans, noncitizens programmed from birth to slave on Union worlds. We see Jin 458-9998 and over forty thousand other azi taken from Cyteen Station, in inhumane conditions on the Venture, to the colony world they call Gehenna. Much of the story unfolds from Jin's point of view, though we also see through the eyes of some born-men. After settling in, the azi are mated and encouraged to bear born-men children. But the colony is subsequently abandoned and no new supplies sent. Natives, in particular the creatures called calibans - which build unusual mounds and were believed to be non-sentient - prove much more than they seemed.

Some azi descendants become strange and wild, living close to the calibans and abjuring their humanity. Others live apart from the descendants of the original born-men colonists. Generations later, the colony is rediscovered and an Alliance Science Bureau team studies it. Two very different scientists assess two settlements of azi descendants (whose leaders are linked in partnership with calibans). Conflict soon brews between both the scientists and the settlements. This part is what Cherryh writes best - human/alien contact and what it's like to live amongst aliens and work to understand them. Overall, Alliance Space, which showcases two very different styles of writing by C. J. Cherryh, is a real treat for SF fans.

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