I was told not to use too much internal dialog in my writing. Show, don’t tell…and action, action, action. Read all the blogs, you’ll see.
Well, I just finished multi Hugo award winner C.J. Cherryh’s latest book, Visitor from her Foreigner Series, and there’s lots of internal dialog.
I also recently reviewed Lois Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, and guess what? Yup, it contains a lot of internal dialog, too. My two favorite science fiction authors with their newest books out and both contain a lot of internal dialog. Go figure.
Visitor picks up from the previous book in the series with factions of humans and atevi on the atevi’s planet in conflict with each other. Also, human factions on Alpha Space Station are upset with rescued humans from an attacked Reunion Station from another system who are now crowding their station that orbits the atevi world.
Got that? There’s more.
A signal comes in from an incoming kyo ship that announces it is on its way to Alpha Space station. This is worrisome because the kyo are the aliens that soared into the Reunion System and melted a section of Reunion ‘s space station, leaving humans for dead. The nearby human ship, Phoenix, fled rather than fought them. Then the kyo sat nearby and waited, watching for four years. They sent a shuttle to Reunion Station that was captured, and they continued to sit close by for an additional six more years, just observing, while Reunion tried to rebuild. So, the Reunion Station humans, now living on Alpha Station, panic when hearing of the kyo approach. To prevent Alpha Station from being tore apart from riots born of fear, the human station master locks down the Reunion section and refuses to turn over station control to atevi when time for the handoff arrives.
Bren Cameron, human emissary for the atevi leader of the planet below, and human appointee by the president of the human contingent on the island of Mospheira, is the obvious choice to interface with the incoming aliens and also handle station problems. Earlier, he, the young atevi heir, and the matriarch flew on the ship that rescued the Reunion stationers and brought them to Alpha Station to live. In addition, they released a kyo, named Prakuyo, that had been held prisoner on the station for over six years and returned him to his people.
Now the kyo have discovered Alpha Station and the atevi world by following the ship’s trail. The name Prakuyo is transmitted with the words “we come.” So, the alien they rescued is on the incoming ship. Whether he wants revenge for his six years of incarceration or friendship in gratitude for his life being saved, Bren does not know. He does know that the kyo have been involved in an extended war with unknown aliens and carry heavy firepower while Alpha Station and the atevi world below are unarmed and vulnerable.
Bren’s responsibility is to learn the language of the incoming kyo and talk to them so as to avoid a war neither human nor atevi can win. But atevi and humans are just learning to get along and barely speak each other’s language. Also, humans have their own problems and are split among planet, station, and ship captains. Each with their own agenda and ideas of what to do.
Cherryh is a master at immersing the reader into Bren’s psyche as he mentally reviews all the terrifying scenarios, both on station and among the three alien races. There are a bewildering array of conflicting elements. A station master who refuses to give up power on the station complicates Bren’s job. Panicked stationers traumatized by the kyo ‘s previous attack create chaos and distraction. Ship captains, protective of the nearby human ship, try to insert their own authority, and the young atevi heir’s new human friends are threatened with kidnapping to provide leverage to a human contingent that has its own ideas on what should be done. Bren has to solve all these problems and sort everything out quickly before the kyo arrive.
Because time is running out.
The kyo are on their way…and heavily armed.
Cherryh provides a comprehensive first contact problem as Bren tries to figure out how to communicate with an alien species he knows little about. Then, he has to teach both atevi and human how to communicate with the kyo as the kyo have demanded the heir and matriarch to attend a meeting. One wrong gesture or one mispronounced word could set off violence, resulting in damage or destruction. The stakes are high.
And with this situation of complex moving parts, Cherryh adds an ending with a surprising twist. Bren Cameron will be called upon to use all that he has learned as paidhi-aiji to the atevi and communicator for alien species.
Cherryh uses words and language to express the mindset of the atevi-influenced Bren, who now has lived years among them. Because of the way she arranges and uses words, the reader is drawn into the atevi way of thinking. Now, she adds a new alien species and a different way of looking at the world. Communication is much more than words, it involves a whole culture.
As I am working on a first contact event in my current novel, Worlds Too Far, I have to express admiration for Cherryh’s fine job of writing. Her book goes into a more detailed exploration of how to communicate with an alien species than I do. In her book, I often felt the frustration and overwhelming fatigue that Bren feels as he races the clock to handle difficult personalities and solve disturbing actions on station, all the while worrying about what needs to be done to keep the peace when meeting the kyo.
How should we communicate with aliens if the situation ever arises? How can we know if the right approach is to assume they will be friendly or that they will be violent? And then how do we communicate with a species that may think totally different than we do? What might we use to bridge the gap of culture and language to arrive at understanding? How far might we go to protect our own species.
Read and find out.