|Forty Thousand in Gehenna|
|Author||C. J. Cherryh|
|Publication date||October 1983|
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Forty Thousand in Gehenna, alternately 40,000 in Gehenna, is a 1983 novel by science fiction and fantasy author C. J. Cherryh. The science fiction novel is set in her Alliance-Union universe and is one of the few works in that universe to portray the Union side of the conflict (the other notable exception being Cyteen).
The book was first published in a limited hardcover edition in 1983 by Phantasia Press, followed by a mainstream paperback release in 1984 by DAW Books. It was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1984. Forty Thousand in Gehenna was reprinted in 2008 along with Cherryh's novel Merchanter's Luck in an omnibus volume entitled Alliance Space.
The book takes its name from the approximately 40,000 Union human and Azi settlers who were sent as colonists to a supposedly virgin planet, which as misfortune overtakes them they name Gehenna (one of the traditional names of Hell). Most scenes in the book take place on Gehenna's surface or in orbit around the planet.
Plot summary Edit
Unknown to the settlers, the colony was intended to fail; it is deliberately abandoned by Union to create problems for the rival Alliance. Over a period of decades and several generations, the colonists lapse into a primitive lifestyle and then - observed by an Alliance mission which first seeks to intervene and then withdraws from direct contact - build upward into two quasi-feudal, fundamentally opposed societies. The key to their divergent development is their differing social symbiosis with the Caliban, a reptilian race native to the planet.
Cherryh's substantial world- and species- building efforts make Gehenna a significant work. Essentially starting with a blank slate of a seemingly uninhabited (by intelligent life) desert planet, and the azi, which are essentially devoid of standard emotional drives, she constructs a new race in the Caliban, as well as entirely defining the azi and "weirds" living on the surface.
The Caliban are first presented as being annoying lizard-like creatures. After a while, the surface inhabitants (both human and azi) begin spotting larger and larger Caliban, eventually noting differences in color, size, and even a social structure (some Caliban are subservient to the larger, different-colored Caliban). While the colony attempts to keep them outside a perimeter or to drive them away, after the collapse of the colony, new societies emerge with Caliban in their midst and in some kind of relation to the descendants of the colonists. It eventually becomes clear that they are capable of communication, at least at the level of symbology, and of developing empathic or possibly telepathic links to humans.
From the setting-up of the colony, the azi (themselves never described in too much detail in the rest of the Alliance-Union books) are allowed to procreate and raise families. They begin to factionalize, with a group of them becoming "weirds", due to their much closer association with the Caliban, living with them rather than the humans, and their seeming lack of language. The non-azi humans (born-men) are in the minority from the beginning and over time intermarry and merge with the more numerous azi-descended population. The novel follows several generations of descendants of one particular azi, who establish different lines and rise to become the leaders of the two rival cultures.
Unlike some of Cherryh's other novels, which can sometimes progress at an exceedingly fast pace (sometimes termed "intense third person" by the author), Gehenna is a comparatively leisurely work, depicting a succession of historical moments in the decline of the colony, the establishment of human/azi-Caliban relations, cultural development and the planetary environment, presented in great detail. (Much of this detail is 'documentary' in nature - lists of colonists, family trees, copies of transmitted messages, transcripts of interviews, submissions of scientific opinion, etc etc.) All this could however be viewed as prologue and build-up to the faster-paced narrative of the final third of the book, in which the two different cultures (one 'masculine'-aggressive, the other more 'feminine'-receptive) meet and vie for dominance.
The novel is set very firmly in the Alliance-Union universe, through the Union origin of the colony and the role of Alliance observers in the later stages. The failure of the colony was meant to cause headaches for the Alliance when Union ceded the tract of space including the world of Gehenna to them. (In Cherryh's novel Cyteen, the rediscovery of the Gehenna colony causes a crisis in the Union administration; and, also in Cyteen, we learn that specific traits were introduced into the genesets of the azi colonists, unknown to the Union military, in order to help them survive the Gehenna environment.) A Union delegation arrives at the very end, just in time to be given short shrift by Elai, the girl-ruler who has emerged victorious in the struggle of the two cultures.
- C. J. Cherryh, Science Fiction, and the Soft Sciences
- Alliance/Union universe. Forty Thousand in Gehenna review.
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