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Forge of Heaven by C.J. Cherryh
Review by Edward Carmien
Eos Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0380979039
Date: 01 June 2004 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

This sequel to Hammerfall carries a multi-headed narrative that starts many years after the hammer drops on a planet in alien space, home to an ancient rebel and contaminated with unpredictable nanotechnology. Due to nanotechnology, there are a few familiar names, despite the long tale of years between the end of Hammerfall and the beginning of Forge Of Heaven: Marak, Hati, Luz, Ian, Ila-- the Ila --are not only beyond the reach of physical aging but also capable of communicating amongst themselves and with specially-equipped people on Concord, a space station in planetary orbit.

Unlike many of Cherryh's novels, which closely follow the point of view of one person, Forge provides access to numerous perspective characters. The main three are: Jeremy "Procyon" Stafford, a young watcher on Concord who can share, via his embedded brain-link, the perspective of Marak down on the planet, Marak himself, and Governor Reaux, Earthborn appointee to Concord's linguistically isolated population and representative of one of three governments who hold sway there. Another is Kathy, street name Mignette, Reaux's teenage daughter.

Cherryh thoughtfully provides textual material that describes the political, geographical, and historical situations that are in force as of the beginning of Forge. Marak's Planet is the focus of an uneasy peace between human factions and alien Ondat. Remediation of the planet's ecological ills, making sure nothing ever leaves the gravity well, and maintaining a delicate balance between humans and Ondat are Concord's main reason for being, and keeping all those plates spinning is what drives the reader through the novel. Of course there is a fly in the ointment, several flies at least, including an off-schedule visit by an Earth diplomat, the formation of a new sea on the planet surface, and unusual activities by the Ondat, the exiles on the planet surface, and political agitators on the station. Reading the background material adds to the overall reading experience and makes clear Cherryh's intent is to pick up the story a good long time after Hammerfall without having to craft narrative to bridge the gap.

Partially because of the multi-threaded narrative, Forge is livelier than Hammerfall. It is certainly easier on the reader: Cherryh's intense third-person narrative can become oppressive, as it does in Hammerfall, an effect surely known and intended by the author, a seasoned professional with 60+ titles to her credit during her nearly 30-year (and counting!) career. The opportunity to "change channels," as it were, not only provides relief, but also affords access to very different settings for Cherryh to explore. Spread between one ancient (Marak), one seasoned politician (Reaux), a young technical expert (Procyon), and a rebellious teenager (Kathy/Mignette), the reader is allowed to share the viewpoint of a man fighting the elements planetside, a politician surfing subtle and not so subtle waves of power, a talented and focused technologist caught in the middle of schemes he can't comprehend, and a young girl who runs away from home and thereby gives the reader access to the street underground, where illicit nanotechnology can be a point of style, a weapon, or both.

Cherryh readers who expect a version of the Company Wars novels may be disappointed, but should not be. All authors must have an opportunity to evolve, and these somewhat dark novels in this new setting show Cherryh stretching her mastery of the craft. Here she begins to address larger issues that are touched on in her more serious work, subjects such as cultural and biological evolution, not only of humans, but also of humanity's creations. Just as she embedded thought-provoking material into Cyteen about cloning, Cherryh here is speculating about unintended consequences of nanotechnology (and the need to remediate them), about biologically impacted linguistic situations, about multiple political systems struggling for what each perceives to be a greater good.

Forge Of Heaven is immersive, imaginative, and compelling. I recommend it for Cherryh enthusiasts and for those new to her work. If you, gentle reader, have not yet read this multiple-award winning author, what's keeping you? You've got until June 4, 2004 to read Hammerfall, because that's when Forge Of Heaven is due to hit the streets.

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