| UP (discussion topics) |

Comparing C.J. Cherryh's Fantasy with her SF



view full message
>Date: 14 Dec 1992 07:18:34 +1100
>From: DAVIS@licr.dn.mu.oz.au
>Subject: Re: C. J. Cherryh List
(...)

On another note, I would be interested in people's opinions comparing Cherryh's science fiction and fantasy works. I have always felt that her strength was in her science fiction, where she writes good, gritty, believable and engrossing work. I also enjoy her fantasy, but in my opinion her science fiction is certainly her strength. Interestingly, though, I once heard Stephen Donaldson say that Cherryh was his favourite author and a strong influence on him. That was in fact the first time I heard her name.

(...)
Ian Davis                             DAVIS@licr.dn.mu.oz.au


view full message
>Date: Thu, 17 Dec 92 06:49:13 -0800
>From: seth@cie.uoregon.edu (Seth Scott)
>Subject: C.J. Cherryh List
(...)

Has anyone read any of Cherryh's more recent books _and_ read _Legacy_? I'd like to hear a stylistic comparison across her genres-- _Legacy_ seemed much more light-hearted and reflective, and I'm wondering if that's Hilfy's perspective (very screwed up, but trying hard anyhow) or a trend in Cherryh's writing.

(...)
Seth


view full message
>From: nancy ott <ott@ansoft.com>
>Subject: Cherryhlist
>Date: Thu, 14 Jan 93 10:41:33 EST
Hi, all.

I'd like to come back to something Ian Davis brought up a few weeks ago:
>  On another note, I would be interested in people's opinions comparing 
>  Cherryh's science fiction and fantasy works.  I have always felt that her 
>  strength was in her science fiction, where she writes good, gritty, 
>  believable and engrossing work.  I also enjoy her fantasy, but in my 
>  opinion her science fiction is certainly her strength.  Interestingly, 
>  though, I once heard Stephen Donaldson say that Cherryh was his favourite 
>  author and a strong influence on him.  That was in fact the first time I 
>  heard her name.
Personally, I'm not wild about most of Cherryh's fantasy. Somehow her gritty, kind of minimalist style doesn't work as well in the realm of fantasy as it does in sf. Perhaps it's because I'm used to writers like Tad Williams and Steven Donaldson who lovingly describe every detail of their fantasy universes (in Donaldson's case, with adjectives worthy of H.P. Lovecraft). I tend to think that -- to be done right -- fantasy requires a greater attention to detail than most sf does, and Cherryh has never been strong on that sort of thing.

Also, Cherryh's sf novels usually have a number of undercurrents running through them, which require continuous attention on the reader's part to figure out exactly what she's getting at. This doesn't seem to work well in a fantasy setting. I remember being very confused when she used this tactic in the Russian fantasy novels (Rusalka et al) and the Tree of Swords & Jewels.

So, while new Cherryh sf novels are always a high priority, I let the fantasies slide unless I happen to see one at the library, the remainder table at B.Daltons/Waldenbooks, or a used book store.

I do like most of her fantasy short stories, and this "style" thing is probably at the root of it. Because short stories are so compressed, lazy readers like myself work harder to fill in the descriptive gaps left by authors like Cherryh, who focus on action and psychological manipulation.

What do you all think?
- nancy           (...)
(ott@ansoft.com) 


view full message
>Subject: cherryhlist
>Date: Fri, 15 Jan 93 07:35:10 -0700
>From: shrum@hpphigs.fc.hp.com
(...)
> Personally, I'm not wild about most of Cherryh's fantasy.  Somehow her
> gritty, kind of minimalist style doesn't work as well in the realm of
> fantasy as it does in sf.  Perhaps it's because I'm used to writers
> like Tad Williams and Steven Donaldson who lovingly describe every
> detail of their fantasy universes (in Donaldson's case, with
> adjectives worthy of H.P. Lovecraft).  I tend to think that -- to be
> done right -- fantasy requires a greater attention to detail than most
> sf does, and Cherryh has never been strong on that sort of thing.
You must mean something different by "detail" than I do. As a specific example, some time ago my wife and I had both read the Paksenarrion books (where I have forgotten both the titles and author) recently, and then started Rusalka. My wife had just finished Rusalka, and I was just starting it. She asked me to stop after the first chapter or so, somewhere around page 30. I did so, and she said "tell me about Pyetr and Sasha." So, I did, with some inkling of who they were as people, and what their hopes and fears were. She then said "tell me about Paksenarrion", and I was relatively at a loss. Her comment, which I agree with, was along the lines of "Cherryh did more characterization in 30 pages than so-and-so in 900."

While I'm interested in a consistent world-view in the fiction I read, it isn't very important to me to have precise descriptions of what things *look* like.
    Ken Shrum


view full message
>From: Lesley Grant <lgrant>
>Subject: cherryhlist
>Date: Mon, 18 Jan 93 9:04:24 GMT
> >From: nancy ott <ott@ansoft.com>
> Personally, I'm not wild about most of Cherryh's fantasy.  Somehow her
> gritty, kind of minimalist style doesn't work as well in the realm of
> fantasy as it does in sf.  Perhaps it's because I'm used to writers
> like Tad Williams and Steven Donaldson who lovingly describe every
> detail of their fantasy universes (in Donaldson's case, with
> adjectives worthy of H.P. Lovecraft).  I tend to think that -- to be
> done right -- fantasy requires a greater attention to detail than most
> sf does, and Cherryh has never been strong on that sort of thing.
I think her fantasy novels are quite varied in quality, perhaps because she does, as you point out, not give a lot of explicit detail. She infers the setting rather than lay it out. I think this works very well in _The Dreamstone_ and _The Tree of Swords and Jewels_, as the readers already have a common pool of fairy-celtic-elvish imagery to flesh it out with, from all the other fantasy novels and myths that have undoubtably been read before. Her tone in these 2 books also helps- bleak, dark, heroic in the Bronze age sense. The Rusalka books however, don't work as well, probably because most readers are not (as) familiar with Russian folklore. There just isn't the background knowledge to make the setting come to life. There's also the possibility that Cherryh is far more familiar with the celticish material, and thus was more confident in her handling of it. This may be because she researched it more, or it may be the influence of her best (IMHO) 'fantasy' book/s, _The Chronicles of Morgaine_, which I've read that she first started at 14 (plenty of time to get the bleak, heroic tone down pat :-) Elements of _Morgaine_ certainly crop up in the _Dreamstone_ and _ToSaJ_, not least the enormous similarity between the qhal/qujalin and the elves. For the Rusalka books, she didn't have the years of experience in angst-ridden Russian fairytales.
				Lesley


view full message
>From: nancy ott <ott@ansoft.com>
>Subject: Re: C. J. Cherryh List
>Date: Mon, 18 Jan 93 18:30:05 EST
Ken Shrum writes:
> You must mean something different by "detail" than I do.
(comparison of Paksenarion and Rusalka deleted)
> While I'm interested in a consistent world-view in the fiction I read,
> it isn't very important to me to have precise descriptions of what
> things *look* like.  
Cherryh's fantasies don't lack characterization; in fact, that's their strong point. However, I feel they fall short in description. First of all, I enjoy having things described to me -- as long as the writer does it in a manner that fits in well with the narrative. Moreover, I think that consistent, detailed description really improves the quality of fantasy. At the very least, it gives the reader a better visual sense of what's going on.

And it can help to give the writer a unique writing voice. Think of how Peter Beagle in his "Last Unicorn", or Tad Williams in his "Dragonbone Chair" describe such common fantasy elements as unicorns and elves. Now, imagine how someone like Piers Anthony or Terry Brooks would do it. The detailed and original imagery that writers like Beagle and Williams use adds a depth and flavor to their work that truly sets it apart from the "let's rip off Tolkien and/or Dungeons & Dragons" crew. (I apologize to anyone who likes Anthony and Brooks, but Beagle and Williams blow their socks off artistically, if not commercially.)

Back to Cherryh. As Lesley points out, Cherryh is adept at using the "pool" of imagery that's common to most of her readership (whether fantasy or sf). And this may be part of the problem with the Rusalka novels and some of her other fantasies. I got the feeling that she was expecting me to fill in the gaps with visuals from a pool that she had access to, and I didn't. Did she assume too much knowledge on the part of her readers?
- nancy      (...)
(ott@ansoft.com)

view full message
>Date: Tue, 19 Jan 93 17:37 PST
>Subject: cherryhlist
>From: Nick_Janow@mindlink.bc.ca (Nick Janow)
ott@ansoft.com (nancy ott) writes:
> Back to Cherryh.  As Lesley points out, Cherryh is adept at using the
> "pool" of imagery that's common to most of her readership (whether fantasy
> or sf). And this may be part of the problem with the Rusalka novels and
> some of her other fantasies.  I got the feeling that she was expecting me
> to fill in the gaps with visuals from a pool that she had access to, and I
> didn't.  Did she assume too much knowledge on the part of her readers?
I don't think it's that simple. We may be so used to the typical fantasy stories, in which the writer's settings are bold, simple, and complete, leaving little for the reader to fill in, that Cherryh's settings seem "difficult". Perhaps she intended for the world-view to be shadowy, with unknown beings and forces operating around them. If she described the leshys, yard-things, etc, in the style of Anthony, Brooks, or even Moon, the stories would have a totally different "feel" to them.

The typical Tolkien/AD&D type of setting consists of a simple world populated by "humans in funny suits". Even Tolkien's orcs, Nazgul, and Ents are merely "humans in funny suits"; they produce images that easily be matched up with human stereotypes (bandits, SS, librarians, whatever).

The level of communication in these fantasy worlds tends to be simply amazing. There's very little mystery in the world. People in a small town either know the stories (and geography, history, culture, etc) of distant lands, or accept such knowledge the first time someone tells them. That's quite different from medieval times, where each town probably had its own tales of goblins, bogles, and things that go bump in the night. Their knowledge of lands and events beyond walking distance was probably minimal, deviating wildly from truth, and quite likely contradictory.

There's a lot of that "elves and unicorns" simplistic writing out there. Cherryh's fantasy stories are refreshing in their difference. Cherryh's books--both fantasy and SF--shouldn't be compared directly with "light" books, such as those written by Anthony and Brooks.

Even Tad William's Dragonbone books series is "light fantasy" at heart. Its lands and characters have no more complexity than those of typical "elves and dragons" books. It's just written in a tedious style. Rusalka seems to have more complexity and fewer of the simple, easy to grasp images of typical books.

I don't choose Cherryh when I'm in the mood for light fantasy, but I find books from authors such as Anthony and Brooks not worth reading (like sugar substitutes: cloyingly sweet with a bad aftertaste).
Nick_Janow@mindlink.bc.ca

view full message
>From: Jo Jaquinta <jaymin>
>Subject: CherryhList: D&D strikes back
>Date: Wed, 20 Jan 93 9:24:32 GMT
Nancy Ott says:
> (I apologize to anyone who likes Anthony
> and Brooks, but Beagle and Williams blow their socks off artistically,
> if not commercially.)
Peter S. Beagle! One of the great underappreciated authors of our time. Do you know how long I have been trying to get my hand on the soundtrack of "The Last Unicorn"?
Anyway, you may find it interesting to note that a recent supplement by TSR for their AD&D universe is titled "The Complete Book of Elves" and is all about using Elves in your campaign. In their bibliography section, which only contains about 10 books, they have Cherryh's "Tree of Swords and Jewels" and "The Dreamstone" listed.
I can't contrast these to the Russian sequence (I am rationed on Cherryh books. She doesn't write fast enough for me so to avoid being all out of Cherryh so I ration them. I've got the Russian books and the Morgaine novels saved for an emergency :-) but I think quite highly of the two Elf books. I'm a great fan of high-tragedy and much prefer the doom struck elves rather than flighty fairies.
Terry Pratchett is supposed to have a new book out about elves (Lords and Ladies?). Has anyone read it and do they think it bears any influence from Cherryh?
				Jo
(...)
Copyright by the authors of the individual messages.
HTML formatting by Andreas Wandelt .