#Womentoread CJ Cherryh

So, inspired by the #womentoread hashtag, whereby people are listing great female SFF authors (in response to that hypothetical, but sadly all too real ‘women don’t write proper SFF’ *eyeroll*) I thought I’d do a series of blog posts about said female authors. I’m going to start with a few ‘old school’ authors before I dive into the latest crop, and especially with the woman who made me want to write – CJ Cherryh

Once upon a time, many years ago, I encountered a book called The Chronicles of Morgaine. And lo, I fell in love with it, very hard indeed. I had no idea until years later what gender the author was, and I didn’t care. I DID care that here was a fantastic story, written in a style I’d not seen before (in SFF anyway) but which utterly absorbed me. The third POV was nailbitingly close, the worlds subtly drawn but viscerally real, as real to me as this one even when they were sometimes uncomfortable, (one of) the main protagonist, Morgaine, was tantalisingly mysterious because we only got to see her through the POV Vanye’s eyes. Other subtleties were there too, ones that again I’d not seen before, or not to that extent (okay, I was young, but I’d read a heck of a lot — I was and am always reading something) — namely Vanye’s duality, that is, that he thought of himself as a coward and a failure due to his upbringing, but it was obvious to me as a reader that he was, in fact, steadfastly loyal and recklessly brave. The treatment of ‘magic’ too; a good example of Clarke’s Law, that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Morgaine’s tools are clearly technological, but Vanye sees them as magic (and is afraid of the witchery of them). And, ofc, it was fantasy, but it was SF too.

But back then, when I were a girl, I didn’t know about Clarke’s Laws, or unreliable(ish, kinda, not really but…) narrators or show, don’t tell, or even that women in SFF were advised to change/rearrange their name for publication (Cherryh was advised to add the ‘h’ to her name to avoid sounding like a romance author…., and to use her initials to disguise the fact she was female). All I knew was this was one heck of a story written in a way that engaged my emotions — all of them. I ran out and bought half a ton of other books by Cherryh. They didn’t all grab me to the same extent (though I reserve Merchanter’s Luck as one of my all time favourite reads), but they did always interest me, and they certainly made me think about people, and how they work.

And when, years later, I decided to give this writing lark a try, it was Morgaine and the other books that came to mind. How did she do this and that? How can I do that?

I wish I could go back and read them for the first time again. But, because this writing malarky changes how you read, whether you will it or no, I find myself reluctant to go back and reread Morgaine. What if I don’t love it as much? Instead, I remember it, so distinctly I can remember where I was sitting, the time of day, what the weather was like, each time I sat down to read, for the week it took me to read it. I remember it because it instilled in me a love for characters, and an ambition to realise my characters just as well (a feat I fear I will never manage).

In short, CJ Cherryh inspired me to write, and if I was going to write, do it well.

5 Comments to “#Womentoread CJ Cherryh”

  • Nice discussion of a great author who some overlook.

    I loved the Morgainne and Vanyel books too, and her Merchanter-Alliance and Chanur books too. I couldn’t say for a long time exactly what it was about her characters that felt so real to me, but in hindsight, it would have to be the way she handled pov (writing in a fairly close limited third when omniscient or a heavily filtered version of limited third was the norm in SFF). I have to say she’s been one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to write too. I wish they’d bring her older books out as e-books, as my collection of yellow-spined DAW paperbacks from the 70s and 80s has gotten very brittle and yellow (and trigger allergy attacks when I try to read them).

  • I was also smitten by Cherryh and Vanye and Morgaine when young and when the desire to write grew in me, I realised she is one of the writers whose talent I aspire to. Do you know if the whole Stargate film/TV series acknowledge her as the source of the Stargate concept?

    Long after I’d first read her books, and after I’d bought a kindle, I googled info that I remembered from the stories and was able to order new copies of Vanye and Morgaine’s stories

    Qujal is what remembered and Chya Roh is who I googled and Vanye is who I searched for

  • As it happens, I did read that Morgaine was optioned last month. (But yes, I also wondered if Stargate was inspired by it at all. Similarities are striking!)

  • More anecdotal evidence of influence — and I’m not sure what any of it means — but my wife who doesn’t read SF or fantasy and really doesn’t know what’s going on in the genre gave me a copy of “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” shortly after it was published. That says something right there about the “buzz.” I know buzz is meaningless in terms of real literary influence, but it does produce a face for the genre to outsiders (and I’m not using that word to criticize or insult anyone). Also, I frequent several used bookstores to find out of print books I missed. There is always a copy of “Strange and Norrell” on the shelves regardless of which store I’m in. I know that only proves many copies of the book have been sold (something we already know), but it also says it’s a book that many people see no need for keeping. I said earlier that the book was a struggle to get through. I didn’t mean that it was hard to read or difficult to comprehend, I also called it brilliant. I wish I could write like that… I wish it had my name on the cover… But after a while, I found I only cared about two characters, Stephen and the man with the thistle-down hair. I confess to a preference for shorter books, but I still read the whole book (something I no longer feel obligated to do if I’m not enjoying a book). Finally, after all these years I still remember a conversation I had with a friend who was in high school honors English. She was writing a paper on “The Hobbit” and was having difficulty finding relevant academic criticism on it. This was 1970 and I was one of the few people she knew who had even read the book. So things do take a while to simmer.

  • Le Guin ‘s original three Earthsea books ( A Wizard of Earthsea , The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore ) fit the bill. But Le Guin later came to see this as one of several flaws, which the subsequent three books ( Tehanu , Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind ), written many years later, redress. But this is redress from a very down-to-earth and feminist perspective, not throwing in lashings of sex or rose-tinted romance. And if you want you can just stay with the first three.Also, Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees .

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