For more than forty years, science fiction writer C.J. Cherryh has been telling stories of a future history through the novels and short stories in her Alliance-Union series. In the following email interview, she and her life and writing partner Jane S. Fancher discuss Alliance Rising (hardcover, Kindle), the first book in their new subseries The Hinder Stars, while Cherryh also briefly discusses the new paperback edition of her non-Alliance-Union novel, Emergence.
To start, what is Alliance Rising about?
C.J.: Alliance Rising is first of the Hinder Stars segment of the Union-Alliance sequence — a.k.a. The Company Wars — and represents the beginning of the Alliance. It comes, time-wise, before all the others, as Earth and its system try to reassert control over its colonies.
These books were not written in chronological order, and stand alone with rare exceptions, but they take place in the same history.
Where did you get the original idea for Alliance Rising?
Jane: I happily claim credit for that. I began as a die-hard Cherryh fan, [but] the first hint of future collaborative work came when C.J. was working on Cyteen and nightly phone calls between Oklahoma City and Renton Washington began. C.J. would read what she’d written that day and I would react with questions and reactions, many of them grounded in how it fit in with what had already been written. And while I’m a great fan of the Foreigner universe, I’ve lamented that there had been nothing new in the Company Wars for years. If we were going to do a full-blown collaboration, as opposed to the mutual editing we’ve been doing for each other for years, I really wanted some questions answered. I wanted to fill in some of the historical blanks, to answer questions about the mechanics, if you will, of C.J.’s future history: how the economy really works, how the wars started, ultimately to see the rider ships in action…all the background bits and bobs alluded to in the other books, but never explicitly detailed, since no book had actually dealt with the events.
So, once we’d agreed on that — which wasn’t hard; C.J. was as excited by the idea as I was — Finity’s End, Captain James Robert, and the beginning of the Alliance was my first choice. It was a time of massive change and James Robert is something of a background legend throughout the series…and the associated filk music…which raised the next question: What’s the deal with Shaleen?
C.J.: Jane has never written in the Alliance side of this universe, though she was part of creating the Union side, and if we were to write together, it seemed logical to start right at the beginning for both of us, and write the story of how it all began. Understand that the universe we use, the physical universe, is quite real: there really is a Proxima Centauri and a Barnard’s Star, so we operate within constraints as real, if not as well known, as London and New York. We pinned down the places we’d use, and then worked out our story.
Alliance Rising sounds like a sci-fi space opera story. Is that you each see it, or do you think there’s a different subgenre of sci-fi, or combination of them, that describes this book better?
C.J.: Future History is one, because this is the rise of governments and legends.
Jane: The plot is also driven by economics, politics, and tech changes and astro-physics…with a touch of young romance. All of this requires a lot of set-up, which gives especially the first half a slower pace than one usually associates with space opera. Once all the pieces are in place, it definitely starts to rev up. We both tend to write the story that wants telling, then let folks like you apply the labels.
Now C.J., you wrote the previous books in The Company Wars on your own. When it came to writing Alliance Rising, why did you decide to collaborate with Jane, and what did she brings to the story?
C.J.: We’ve worked together on various projects for the last thirty years, and have long since discovered we can write so alike even we can’t tell which of us wrote some sections, once time has elapsed: all the writing passes under both hands several times during the process. We enjoy working together, and we enjoy plotting together. This was an opportunity to do what we enjoy doing on a project I’ve threatened to do for years and give Jane the credit she deserves. Jane has a very deft touch with character development and nuance, and her input has been there for years in my work. Now she gets to do it under her name. A lot of new astronomy has come along since the first stories, and the chance to deal with that was exciting; and Jane has a background in astronomy, besides. So it was a chance to use our backgrounds to do something that’s been on the drawing boards of my universe since the very beginning.
And Jane, this is not your first collaboration with C.J.; you previously adapted her novel Gate Of Ivrel into the graphic novels Gate of Ivrel: Fever Dreams and Gate of Ivrel: Claiming Rites. How was writing Alliance Risingdifferent from that collaboration?
Jane: Gates Of Ivrel is the only “official” collaboration prior to this…no wait, we did a short story together. But we’ve worked closely on everything since then. Our working partnership has been a gradual shifting of balance over the last, yipes, thirty years!?! We’ve been living together since the Cyteen-nightly-phone-calls months.
When I did the Gates Of Ivrel graphic novels, I mostly took the events and dialogue directly from the book and just tried to give it visual life. There were, however, a few developments and character building elements that I felt were important but had no real visual component, and for those I actually wrote small filler scenes. According to C.J., those scenes and how they slid smoothly into her story, combined with my input on Cyteen and subsequent books, are what moved her to push me into trying my own work.
[But with Alliance Rising], the difference is that right from the start plot, characters, everything was up for discussion. Rather than deferring story and character to the “main,” we worked together until we had a version we both could get behind wholeheartedly. We never settled for “I can live with that.” And the editing was definitely 50/50 as opposed to falling primarily on a “main.” It helps a lot that if one of us has a question, the answer is only a holler away.
Both of you have written a number of your own books over the years. Are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on Alliance Rising but not on anything else you’ve written?
Jane: Uh…no. Other than the obvious: the totality of C.J.‘s work.
C.J.: I can’t think of any either, except the general influences on our individual writing. Mine range from Publius Vergilius Maro to Jack Williamson.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that you think had a big impact on Alliance Rising?
C.J.: Not so much, for my part. I started working with the Alliance-Union universe farther back than most media people would think of.
Jane: I admit, I’m very possessive. And self-protective. I want the work to be mine. Or in this case, mine and C.J.’s. More to the point, I want it to have its own internal integrity. I like the story to build off a handful of premises and become its own entity. Do I sometimes find resonances after the fact with other people’s creations that I’ve experienced? How not? I’m the sum of my experiences. But never, ever, consciously.
Now, C.J., along with Alliance Rising, the paperback edition of Emergence also just came out; it’s the second book of the seventh trilogy in your Foreigner series. For those who haven’t read those books, what are the Foreigner novels about and what is Emergence about?
C.J.: The books in the Foreigner universe follow the career of Bren Cameron, a diplomat who stands between peace and war on an alien world far in the future…sort of a landbound sequence like the Hornblower novels, one career, and an ongoing but related history. They’re not related to the Alliance-Union universe.
I assume you think people who enjoy Alliance Rising will like Emergence and vice versa. But is there anything about them that you think will surprise fans of the others?
C.J.: My readers in general tend to appreciate character-driven story and plot, plus a few little bonuses of surprise connections that I tend to salt in here and there, for those who really enjoy them, and who track such things. There are commonalities of personality in the stories: intelligence and refusal to give up, in the main, in both protagonist and antagonist.
So Jane, do you think Alliance Rising or Emergence would be a good place for someone unfamiliar with C.J.’s work to start exploring her oeuvre?
Jane: Interesting question. I’d say Alliance Rising isn’t a bad place to start. Not only is it the earliest Company Wars book chronologically, it also contains many of the events alluded to in the other books. Stylistically, it’s also something of a combo of her politically / socially / economically dense books like Downbelow Station or Cyteen and her more space opera types such as Rimrunners or Merchanter’s Luck, Finity’s End, or Tripoint.
Finally, if someone enjoys Alliance Rising, which of the other books in The Company Wars would you each suggest they read next?
C.J.: I’d go from here to Downbelow Station, then Cyteen and Regenesis, then Heavy Time and Hellburner. It is a universe, after all, and you can read things out of sequence with rare exceptions — Regenesis follows Cyteen; Hellburner follows Heavy Time — but they’re in different areas of the map, involving different people and stories that may touch on something you’ve read, but not that you need one to understand the others: it’ll just come to you, oh! this is a Union ship; or, they’re building the Alliance ships; or this is before Damon Konstantin, and this was Ari’s mother — the way you’d read something else, about somebody you’ve met elsewhere.
Jane: I’d say it depends again on what aspect or bit of the universe intrigues them, and whether they are primarily into dense or space opera. Cyteen / Regenesis for those into dense and who want to learn more about what’s going on on the far side of Pell: it’s Union’s story in the way this is the Alliance’s story. Downbelow Station for a bit more on the Hinder Stars and the end of the wars. On the space opera side and for more on the Merchanter lifestyle, Merchanter’s Luck is always a good one. It’s got some of the same big ship / little ship family dynamics but on the far side of the wars. Not to mention it includes a rather delightfully wacko romance. Then there’s Finity’s End, which is James Robert at the far side of his career, and hints at other Finity’s End crew mentioned in Alliance Rising.