The Pride of Chanur by C J Cherryh

230 p, in The Chanur Saga, Daw Books, 2000. Originally published 1981.

The Pride of Chanur is a spaceship trading within the Compact. Its captain is Pyanfar Chanur, one of the oxygen-breathing hani race from the planet Anuurn, on which there are various factions. The descriptions of hani in the book depict them as being like lions in appearance, with claws, manes and mentions of ear position indicating emotions, though we must assume, there being no references otherwise, that they are bipedal. They were introduced to the Compact by fellow oxygen breathers the Mahendo’sat and mainly use that race’s technology. Howevr only female hani go into space. Their males are too unstable when off planet. Pyanfar’s niece, Hilfy, is a newby on this voyage.

Other oxygen breathing members of the Compact are the Kif and the Stsho, while methane breathing species called Tc’a, Chi, and Knnn (who communicate in a manner akin to whalesong) are also traders.

The action starts at Meetpoint Station in Mahendo’sat space where an alien intruder, mostly hairless but with a golden mane, sneaks onto The Pride of Chanur. On trying to apprehend him Pyanfar wounds him but he is of little threat. He speaks little to no hani but with a mahendo’sat symbol translator communication becomes easier. It is soon obvious to the reader that he is a human. More so when we learn his name is Tully. His presence on the Pride is disputed by a kif trader named Akkukkakk who claims Tully as his own. His ship and crew were captured by Akkukkakk and ill-treated. The presence of this alien race was hitherto unknown to the Compact and contact with him will be a significant advantage in setting up trading terms to whomever has access to Tully.

So is set up the source of conflict for the novel as Pyanfar makes Tully a member of the Pride’s crew and tries to return to Anuurn, having to dodge contact with kif vessels and those of their allies on the way. Interstellar travel is by some sort of hyperspace jump but different ships can achieve this at different rates. After each jump the book tells us mass has to be shed but the way it reads sounds much more like velocity. Actual mass on board seems to slow interspace jumps down as Pyanfar has to dump most of the Pride’s cargo (and therefore profit) to make her escape from the Meetpoint system.

A sentence on the cover blurb claims that here it is a mark of Cherryh’s success that it is the human who seems alien. Well, yes and no. Tully’s speech is halting and hardy more than single words making him appear strange. However, the details of life on board the Pride, mention of meals and suchlike, the hani crewmembers’ use of sheets on their sleeping places, bedecking themselves with jewellery, their interpersonal relationships, make them almost indistinguishable from the habits of a human reader. They, not Tully, might as well be human. Only their appearance, the claws and so on, the importance of grooming, signals any difference.

It was a decent story well told, though. And I have two instalments of the Chanur Saga still to come. (Plus, having looked it up, a further two beyond those should I care to continue.)

Pedant’s corner:- “now amd again” (now and again,) “ears pricked up ad she drew in a breath” (and she drew in.) “There were a finite number of opacities in the quadrant” (There was a finite number,) “scantly clad” (scantily.) “‘You know more that that?’” (than that,) “the translater” (even though it’s a machine I still think it ought to be spelled translator.) “there was long silence” (a long silence.)  “‘No one species’ way’” (species is singular here so; species’s.) “He belonged with his own, that was what” (that was that.)

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