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Literature / Chanur Novels

The Chanur novels are a set of five books by C. J. Cherryh. They all revolve around the Chanur clan, led by political master Pyanfar Chanur, spacefaring members of a species called Hani: anthropomorphic lions to the rest of us. A collection of other bizarre aliens (barely) coexist with them in a loose coalition known as the Compact, and the series consists mostly of political manipulations, conspiracies, and sociopolitical analysis after a single human named Tully escapes from his captors and stows away on the clan's ship at dock. Things get very complicated.

  • The Pride of Chanur is the initial standalone book, telling the story of Tully's arrival on the ship and its aftermath.
  • Chanur's Venture, The Kif Strike Back, and Chanur's Homecoming form a trilogy taking place after the first book, dealing with political changes to the Compact.
  • Chanur's Legacy switches viewpoints to Hilfy Chanur, an ensemble character in the first four books, after taking on One Last Job.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Alien Arts Are Appreciated: A good portion of trade artifacts seem to be artworks or cultural items.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The kif. Every single kif shown in the series (and, it's implied, the whole species) is violent, prone to backstabbing at the first sign of weakness, genocidal, and prone to torturing captives. Books four and five introduce Skkukuk/Vikktakkht, a Kif who finally makes the mental connections that peace and sharing on Pyanfar's terms will ultimately be more profitable than any other way, his influence leads to the kif rather strangely becoming Pyanfar's most loyal agents.
  • Amazon Brigade: The hani all believe that their males are mentally weak, foolish, and prone to violent rages, and accordingly keep them on the ground. It doesn't last forever.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Hilfy Chanur is the protagonist of the fifth book. Pyanfar doesn't even make an appearance.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. The female crew is often described as sweaty, matted, and losing fur after long stretches of travel. A shower is never far from Pyanfar's mind.
  • Bizarre Alien Psychology: The books are Xenofiction told from the perspectives of the lion-like Hani.
  • Bizarre Alien Sexes: The stsho have three sexes, called "gtst", "gtste", and "gtsto". If emotionally disturbed, they will undergo "phasing" and change sex as well as personality.
  • Black Cloak: Kif never wear anything but. Justified in that they seem to have taboos against not carrying weapons, and they always have some ready.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Most of the non-Hani have very alien sets of priorities, culminating with the knnn (whose idea of "commerce" is to barge in, take whatever they want, drop a pile of random objects and leave).
  • Bold Explorer: Tully the human was a bold explorer who got lost in Compact space, captured by the Kif, and rescued by the Chanur clan.
  • Cat Folk: The Hani are a species who are essentially bipedal intelligent lions.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The mahendo'sat keep an entire fleet of military-trained secret agents cruising between ports in souped-up hunter ships just in case.
  • Death World: The kif homeworld is hinted to be incredibly hostile, to the point that a species of vermin from it reproduces faster than Tribbles, eats almost anything, and survives every attempt to purge them from the ship.
  • Defector from Decadence: Skukkuk the kif.
  • Determinator: Pyanfar avoids the attentions of multiple kif warlords, keeps her crew going through a monstrously grueling endurance run, and helps prevent interstellar war through sheer force of will as much as anything.
  • Do Not Like Shoes: The entire hani race, apparently. Even when working on icy deck plating or running over debris, nobody pulls on boots.
    • Book five mentions full-body suits used when working cold storage. Early books in the series indicate that hani are skittish about constriction of any sort on their hands and feet because it triggers their claws.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: Tully, hopefully. Almost all the languages are translated to English for the reader's benefit, but Tully's native speech is never shown, and he can barely string two words together in hani speech.
  • Enemy Civil War: The kif trilogy has one of these running between two kif factions.
  • Enemy Mine: The kif trilogy consists of Pyanfar maneuvering with one kif warlord in hopes of staving off another who's even more genocidal.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: The cat-like Hani form prides, with one dominant male and a group of related females.
  • Fantastic Racism: Every species tends to views even its closest allies with the darkest suspicion. Justified, given the mindsets are often too different to allow interests to line up.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Jumps. The Applied Phlebotinum in this case, jump vanes, propels ships between systems through some kind of space-time bubble; too far, though, and they risk being lost in the void.
  • Feudal Future: Hani clans are run by a ruling lord and maintain territory on the homeworld (or in some cases a station). Lords can be challenged by unmarried males (usually their sons) or ambitious neighbors, as when Pyanfar's son overthrew her husband and went after Chanur's territory (ruled by her brother, his maternal uncle).
    • The second book in the series clarifies that "Clan" system became the dominant Hani culture due to the Mahendosat making First Contact in a region where this was the custom. Gaining advanced technology and powerful allies so early so fast more or less caused the resultant space faring clans to dominate the world and the eventual world government.
  • Gambit Pileup: And how. Pages at a time are devoted to characters explaining or musing on the latest double-cross or convolution. Every single faction in the series, and there are several per species, has multiple plans- some of them mutually contradictory- all going on at the same time.
  • The Ghost: Pyanfar herself in Chanur's Legacy. While she's constantly mentioned, she appears only in Hilfy's dreams.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: During intersystem jumps the hani become paralyzed and their minds enter a dream-like state; after coming out of jump they're groggy and shed horribly. Humans have to be sedated during jump, otherwise they suffer permanent psychological/mental damage from the experience. If the stsho experience jump without sedation they die from shock. Out of the oxygen breathing species, only the kif (and all life from their homeworld) seem to be completely unaffected by the experience. As for the methane breathing species, who knows?
  • Indy Ploy: Pyanfar, half the time she's brokering deals with anyone.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Parodied with a Timecube-esque mahendo'sat who leaves a long rambling message about how to secure interstellar peace by arranging the stars to produce the right colors of light.
  • Interspecies Romance: Averted with Hilfy and Tully. Everyone in the crew seems terrified of it and Hilfy gets married off to avoid the subject. Lampshaded twice in the fifth book, with a desperately grateful mahendo'sat ready to offer a marriage proposal, and awesomely so with Hilfy and two stsho:
    If gtsto proposed a threesome she was going to run for it.
    • Not quite. In the fifth book, some of Hilfy's dream states while in jump show just how much she misses Tully and wants to be with him. Furthermore, there are hints that while Pyanfar was against Hilfy being involved with the Tully, she had no problem with other members of her crew sleeping with him, specifically Chur. Yeah, I was surprised CJ Cherryh went there too, but not disappointed.
    • Also, Hilfy's preference for Tully was apparently so well known that a rival captain (not even Chanur kin) used it to get under her skin. How obvious does it have to be to not only make it off The Pride but to become common knowledge in another clan?
    • Mahendo'sat officer hitting on Pyanfar in the first book.
      • Not to mention the one who hits on Hilfy in the last book.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: All the small arms, and most naval weapons, use bullets or missiles. Justified, with the naval weapons at least, as ships enter solar systems with very high velocity (shelving down from lightspeed in three or four increments) and projectiles fired with that much speed are enormously powerful.
  • Klingon Promotion: How the entire kif society operates.
  • Lighter and Softer: The fifth book is much less intense than the first four, what with the lack of torture and violence.
  • MacGuffin: The Preciousness, a stsho artwork, in the fifth book.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Fairly hard. Most of the characters are space merchants, and space pirates exist, but the ships (FTL jumps and instantaneous velocity changes aside) obey the laws of physics; relativistic velocities and information wavefronts frequently figure in the plot, acceleration can be lethal, and Colony Drop events are threatened.
  • Mordor: Kif ships and space stations are dark, except where they're lit by blinding sodium lights that shade everything sickly orange, unadorned, and stink like ammonia.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: Doubly averted. While the prominent hani are not only female but basically mammals, they lack visible breasts; Tully assumes they're all male at first. (It doesn't help that they have lynx-like muttonchop whiskers.)
  • No Smoking: While intoxicating beverages seems to be universal among the (oxygen-breathing) species, only the mahendo'sat ever smoke. Pyanfar finds it disgusting.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: By the end of the series, Pyanfar is a political heavyweight in her own race, a Personage of the mahendo'sat, and the supreme commander of all kif.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The entire leadership of the hani, apparently. It helps that the entire species was given its technology recently by the mahendo'sat and the on-world culture has not caught up with the realities of interstellar politics. They're still largely divided into a bunch of feudal clans.
  • Planetary Nation: Averted. The hani homeworld is noted to have multiple countries and languages.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: In the first four books, Pyanfar's all-female-hani crew takes on her husband, Tully the male human, and a kif named Skukkuk.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The stsho are absolutely incapable of a straight answer and use the royal we at all times.
  • Starfish Aliens: The feline hani, apelike mahendo'sat, and doglike kif are the only anthropomorphic species. The insectoid stsho have three genders and switch between them when stressed. Two (three?) others breathe methane instead of oxygen: the serpentine tc'a, who think with six brain lobes at once and reproduce when stressed and have symbiotic little bundles of sticks living on them, and the technologically superior knnn, black balls of hair that not even the tc'a can understand.
  • Starfish Language: The knnn howl signals that nobody seems able to translate, while the tc'a communicate in matrices that can be translated along several different directions thanks to their brain structure.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Somewhat averted. Whenever possible, the crews try to get some trading in while gallivanting around Compact space, but a lot of other things take priority.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The stsho species are known for being very passive and averse to violence, rudeness, or any form of aggression. They are physically very fragile and become emotionally distressed very easily. Tlisi-tlas-tin was a typical stsho gtst at the beginning of Chanur's Legacy. After a few weeks voyaging with Hilfy Chanur, gtst began to see violence as something other than abhorrent and was capable of being confrontational, aggressive and borderline rude ... at least over com.
  • Translator Microbes: Deeply averted. Not all characters even know the species-wide languages for their own race, let alone the trade pidgin, let alone foreign languages, let alone the cultural background needed to understand any of it. The Mahendos Sat have developed a computer to do this but it needs to be programmed first.
  • Unwanted Harem: Hallan again, inevitable for a single male on an all-female crew.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Those rotted aliens and their gods-be-rotted language.
  • Xenofiction: For a series featuring a human character, poor Tully gets very little page time. And even fewer lines of dialogue. Even with the electronic translator he helped to program.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Characters often switch between their plans and conspiracies mid-conversation.
  • You No Take Candle: The mahendo'sat speak pidgin in short, choppy sentences, dropping subjects like candy.

Alternative Title(s): Chanur Saga