Monday, August 24, 2009

Readings 2K9: Port Eternity

Port Eternity
by C.J. Cherryh

This is a bit of an oddity. Certainly it left me with mixed feelings. The story of a group of artificial humans created to be the servants of a rich woman on her private starship, and what happens to them after an accident in hyperspace, it is on one level a straight-ahead sf adventure. But the artificial people all have names out of Arthurian legend, and it’s hard to shake the idea that some meaningful parallel is intended. I can’t really see any, though, so perhaps it’s more the contrast between these characters and their originals that’s the point. Certainly the characters act in (sometimes amusingly) non-sf-standard ways — faced with a mysterious alien spaceship that’s captured their own, they choose to barricade themselves in their ship rather than go exploring (even when that seems the only way back home).

The really strange thing about the book is the sudden shift in tone it takes in its last few pages. A shift for the better, I should say. As noted, the book reads as a straight-ahead science fiction story, crossed with a certain degree of soap opera, until those last pages — when style, diction, and point-of-view shift dramatically. It becomes more mythopoeic, striking a genuinely Arthurian note that’s been notably absent for the rest of the book. It’s much more interesting to me than everything that’s led up to it, and it sets up a kind of end-state which would also work as a status quo from which to launch another story. In point of fact, I can’t figure out why Cherryh told this story, and not that one. So, ultimately, this is a decent book that didn’t particularly grab me — but the sequel to which I’d grab in a flash, if it existed. As noted: an oddity.

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