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Literature / Chanur Novels

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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. It is notable that the lone human is not the viewpoint character, and is always seen through alien eyes in this fine example of Xenofiction.

  • 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:

  • Accidental Art: In one of the novels the main characters must carry an important stsho dignitary on their starship as a passenger. Knowing that the stsho love the color white, they get their hands on whatever white furniture and decorations they can and hastily shove them into the stsho's room. It turns out that stsho art consists of abstract designs in infinite shades of white, and they'd created for their passenger a masterpiece of stsho interior design.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • Animal Facial Hair: The Hani have beards and moustaches, along with manes. Both genders, which causes Tully some confusion at first.
  • Bear Hug: Invoked. Hani apparently don't embrace, and when Tully does so to Pyanfar out of gratitude for his rescue, it scares the hell out of her. It is described step-by-step as a strange, alien custom. The rest of the crew understands they're a sort of non-verbal expression of affection (probably because he was a lot more sedate with them than he was with the captain).
  • 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.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Chi, neon-yellow arthropodoids, and Knnn, hairy black arachnoids.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology:
    • The kif have two sets of jaws, one at the front of their mouths and one at the back. The front set of jaws is used to rip flesh off of still-living prey, while the second set chews the meat into a paste before swallowing it (the throat of a kif is so narrow that it's incapable of swallowing anything solid). Further, the kif are carnivores who can only eat fresh meat, where "fresh" means "could be used in organ/muscle transplant operations". Meat that most other species of carnivores would consider fresh will make kif so nauseous that even when starving to death they'll be unable to eat it.
    • The t'ca (giant methane-breathing snake-worms) give birth if subjected to enough psychological stress. They also have five brains and five mouths, and their language has a matrix-grammar rather than a linear one.
  • 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: The kif all wear hooded black robes. Being completely color blind they used to wear robes whose color was just determined by whatever color fabric was cheapest, until a mahendo'sat merchant, as a practical joke, sold some kif fabric with patterns made from violently clashing garish colors, causing those kif to lose face when laughed at by non-color blind species. The thing is, in kif society losing face can be deadly, so to avoid such a thing in the future all kif decided to wear black, since they can tell the difference between black and non-black.
  • 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 leavenote ).
  • 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.
  • Cassette Futurism: That special sort of early 80's sci-fi where smallish personal computers are a thing but nobody could think of a better recording medium than magnetic tape. Tully makes an audio cassette of English for the computer, stated to be mobile, to translate into hani. Also; the crew is stated to have pagers on their waistbands.
  • Cat Folk: The hani are a species who are essentially bipedal intelligent lions.
  • Colony Drop: A ship coming into a system out of hyperspace is travelling at a very high fraction of the speed of light. In theory, it's possible for a ship to hop out of hyperspace, drop off an asteroid so that it's on a collision course for an inhabited world, and then hop back into hyperspace. Since the asteroid will itself being travelling at a very high fraction of light-speed, not only is it impossible to stop, it doesn't even need to be very big to cause massive amounts of destruction. This form of Colony Drop was never used in the series, but one of the antagonists did threaten its use.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Divided for Publication: Chanur's Venture, The Kif Strike Back, and Chanur's Homecoming were one novel split into three to satisfy publishing constraints; they form one story arc, with no mini-resolution at the end of each. Although they've been published together in an omnibus since, they have never been printed as Cherryh really intended, as one novel.
  • Does 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.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The main character speculates how the bad guys might hijack loose interplanetary debris and accelerate same, followed by aiming said debris at the main character's homeworld.
  • 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.
  • Extra Parent Conception: The stsho have three sexes, called "gtst", "gtste", and "gtsto", and form mating trios instead of mating pairs. None of the sexes can exactly be called male or female, since a stsho which fills the young-bearing role in one trio can simultaneously fill a non-young-bearing role in a different trio. Nothing beyond that is known, since the stsho are an extremely private and xenophobic race which refuses to share details of their biology with any other species. For further strangeness, sufficient psychological/emotional stress can cause a stsho to undergo "phasing" and spontaneously change sex as well as personality.
  • 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.
  • First-Contact Math: When the human Tully is cornered by the Hani, he writes out (in his own blood) numbers from zero on up. When he gets to 10 they realize that he might be using a positional notation system.
  • FTL Travel Sickness: Most of the oxygen-breathing alien species experience their own issues with Jumps. The hani become paralyzed and their minds enter a dream-like state, and after coming out of jump are groggy and shed horribly. If the stsho experience jump without sedation they simply die from shock. Only the kif (and all life from their homeworld) are unaffected by the experience. Nobody knows how the methane-breathing species handle Jumps.
  • 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.
  • Higher-Tech Species: The incomprehensible methane breathing knnn are this to the other spacefaring species (including humanity), at least in regards to starship technology. Specifically, the knnn's starships can use Hyperspace Lanes which are nonviable to any other species, can change direction while travelling through Hyperspace, can pull non-hyperspace accelerations which would tear apart the ships (and smush the passengers) of any other species that tried them, and can synchronously enter hyperspace in groups, the last of which lets them drag unwilling starships along with them through hyperspace. Although they are technically a member of the seven species Compact, they regularly violate Compact laws, and there's nothing the other species can do about it.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: The Pride of Chanur revolves around the results when a crew of hani merchants take in a single human who had escaped from the kif. The story is told strictly from the perspective the hani, which along with the general absence of helpful Translator Microbes helps reinforce the alienness of the human in their familiar environment.
  • 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?
  • I Fight for the Strongest Side!: Every single member of the kif species. Since the kif have nothing that's recognizable to other oxygen breathing species as a conscience or sense of morality, this is how their entire society is organized.
  • Indy Ploy: Pyanfar, half the time she's brokering deals with anyone.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Parodied with a 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.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: The Hani species are essentially terrestrial lions given intelligence and stood on their hind legs. The way that the biological imperatives of a pride-grouping species would impact a sapient culture are shown, without rubbing it in the reader's face. It's "just" background.
  • Interspecies Romance: Averted with Hilfy and Tully. Everyone in the crew seems terrified of it and Hilfy gets married off to avoid the subject. However, 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.
  • 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.
  • Lady Land: Hani society may not look like this at first glance, with its pampered and honored house lords for whom the women do all the work—until one realizes that it's patterned after that of real life lions and siring children and fighting for territory in apparently ritualized combat is about all that males are considered good for, while the females take care of everything else, including most of the actual politics. Daughters are brought up in the household, sons who come of age are banished to fend for themselves so they don't threaten their father's position. Males aren't allowed into space because of their ostensibly fragile minds and hair-trigger tempers. (To be fair, it's hinted quite strongly that these attitudes are primarily a matter of tradition and upbringing and that Hani males aren't at the mercy of their biology. But that's the prevailing social dogma.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Multicultural Alien Planet: The hani homeworld is noted to have multiple countries and languages. In one chapter, Hilfy is absolutely gobsmacked to see a male hani in a space dock due to being raised in a Lady Land which considers males to be too psychologically fragile for space travel.
  • Nested Mouths: The kif are stated to have phyrangeal jaws to chew their food well enough to swallow with their straw-width esophagi.
  • 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.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Tully the human has no problem living on Hani food.
  • 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.
  • Operator Incompatibility: The hani ship has recessed controls usually operated by the hani's retractable claws. Tully has to come up with a work-around.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: Hani only wear breeches, no shirts. Of course, they don't have breasts unless pregnant or nursing.
  • Planetary Nation: Averted. The hani homeworld is noted to have multiple countries and languages. And cultures, Pyanfar is surprised to see a male Hani on a station.
  • 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.
  • Revenge of the Sequel: The Kif Strike Back, which Cherryh originally proposed as a joke while intending a final title more in line with the rest of the series.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The stsho are absolutely incapable of a straight answer and use the royal we at all times.
  • Sex Shifter: The stsho are somewhat prone to "phasing" with little warning, assuming a new gender and personality.
  • Space Is Cold: It is mentioned that the cargo hold is really cold because they only turn the heating on when they're actually working inside. This might be accurate, though, as the amount of time they spend between stations is indeterminate due to time dilation.
  • Space Station: The Compact and trade within Campact space is heavily dependent on space stations. Very little page space is dedicated to ground-to-orbit / orbit to ground shuttles. And interstellar rated ships don't seem to be designed or equipped for planetfall.
  • 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.
  • Stealth in Space:
    • The main character's starship went quiet while floating through an Asteroid Thicket in order to hide from kifish hunterts, and spy ships can sit invisible at the edge of a star system while gathering information on passive scanners.
    • Also uses the "just plain disguise" option — the Mahendo'sat at the very least are known to use military vessels pretending to be just plain freighters complete with easily detachable cargo modules et al., Q-ship style.
    • Anything in hyperspace is totally invisible (or is at least going faster than anything coming from it, so you only know it's there after it's gone) and is going so fast when it drops out that it doesn't really matter, so one tactic that is mentioned as something even the Kif won't use due to MAD is to drop out near a target and drop off a large bomb as you go screaming through the system before going back into hyperspace. Of course, this is more of a problem when dealing with the species that can stop instantly out of hyperspace and are unable to understand the concept of traffic laws.
  • 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.
  • Token Human: Tully is the only human. What's more, he's a non-viewpoint secondary character with hardly any dialogue. In spite of all that, though, his presence is the catalyst which drives the story.
  • 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.
  • Truce Zone: Meetpoint station is at the intersection of six alien races' territories, where all of them come to trade.
  • Uncoffee: The hani drink gfi.
  • 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: Almost all the viewpoint characters are aliens resembling anthropomorphic lions, with the plot being driven by their rescue/capture of the first human anyone has encountered. The story's all about them learning to understand not just the human but the several different alien psychologies she's invented.
  • 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, The Pride Of Chanur