Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Book Review: The Faded Sun: Kesrith

Book Review: 'The Faded Sun: Kesrith' by C. J. Cherry
2 / 5 Stars

‘The Faded Sun: Kesrith’ (252 pp.) is DAW Book No. UE1600 and was published in August 1978. The cover illustration is by Dino D’Achille. It’s the first book in the so-called ‘mri’ trilogy, with the other volumes ‘The Faded Sun: Shon'jir’ (1978) and ‘The Faded Sun: Kutath’ (1979).
Some 20 years ago I started to read ‘Kesrith’, got about half-way through it, and was so bored, I gave up on the book. In the spirit of completion, I recently decided to attempt ‘Kesrith’ again, and this time I persevered all the way to the end…………

Following the publication of ‘Dune’ in 1965, detailed depictions of alien societies, psychologies, and social mores became a major theme in sci-fi. An unwritten rule became commonplace, that exposition on aliens be rendered in stilted, formalistic prose. Nouns associated with alien societies were capitalized, aliens rarely used contractions in their speech, and all manner or esoteric and arcane mannerisms by aliens were used to propel narratives about perplexed Terrans, or outsiders, struggling to comprehend these mysterious entities. The apogee of this stylistic attitude came with Donald Kingsbury’s 1982 novel ‘Courtship Rite’.

Author Carolyn Janice Cherry (b. 1942) took these conventions to heart. Many of her sci-fi novels deal with humans / Terrans who through misadventure find themselves submerged in alien societies. Often, if they are to survive, these Terrans must overcome hostility or indifference from their hosts. 

‘Kesrith’ plainly is modeled on ‘Dune’, and while this is not a bad thing, the fact is that the book is too slowly paced, and too dependent on characterization and world-building, to be effective.

The eponymous planet is a Dune-style desert world, an armpit of the galaxy. Some Fremen-like, Vaguely Arab, Vaguely Muslim tribesmen, known as the mri, eke out a squalid existence as mercenaries to a more sophisticated, but risk-averse race of aliens known as the regul.
The war between the regul – waged through their mri intermediaries – and humans has gone badly for the regul, and as ‘Kesrith’ opens, the regul are in the process of abandoning their operations on Kesrith and turning the planet over to the Federation. The mri are less than pleased with the thought of being deserted by their hereditary allies, and the enclave on Kesrith is beset with considerable angst. 

Things don’t improve when a duo of Terrans, the taciturn diplomat George Stavros and his aide-de-camp Sten Duncan, arrive on Kesrith as barely-tolerated guests of the regul. As the narrative progresses, there are fractious interactions between the regul, mri, and humans, interactions that have ominous implications for the frail reality of the truce between regul and humans. Will the mri survive the conflicts roiling Kesrith, or find their race exterminated ? 

From its opening page, ‘Kesrith’ smothers the reader with alien-culture motifs. There is a barrage of invented words, some with apostrophes to lend them a Vaguely Arabic flavor. The dialogue is reliant on an enigmatic diction, leaving the reader with the unenviable job of trying to parse the meanings behind what is being said. Making things worse, it’s not just the mri culture that gets this treatment, but the regul do as well. 

I could tolerate the verbiage if the lead characters have some redeeming qualities, but sadly, in ‘Kesrith’, they don’t. The mir characters Niun and Melein, and the Terran protagonist Sten Duncan, are very dumb, and I found myself indifferent to their fates. Indeed, I found the novel’s most interesting characters to be the bearlike 'dus', indigenous mammals who have something of a Companion Animal relationship with the prickly, peevish mri.

Nothing of consequence happens until Chapter Sixteen (page 172), two-thirds of the way through the book. Thus, the reader must invest quite a bit of his or her time before things even start to get interesting.

I finished 'The Faded Sun: Kesrith' with no burning desire to advance to the next volume in the trilogy. I'd be interested to hear if any PorPor followers believe that ‘The Faded Sun: Shon'jir’ is an improvement. Or is it just more of the same...........?!

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