The portrayal of alien species is one of the grand themes of science fiction. The problem is that the more plausibly alien the species, the harder it is for the reader to identify with alien characters (not to mention for the author to envisage them in the first place). The usual way around this is to use a human protagonist interacting with the aliens, or to make the aliens human enough to be understandable. Both of these solutions are used in The Faded Sun. Sten Duncan, the human protagonist, ends up joining the mri, and the mri themselves are close enough to human in both appearance and behaviour that one could read large passages involving them without realising they were alien. The mri are more an alternative culture than a different species. Cherryh portrays them skillfully, although the historical background seems a little dubious: I can't see how a species so similar to Homo sapiens in other regards could have maintained a culture without change for 80000 years. The other species involved, the regul, are not portrayed in as much depth as the mri, but are more genuinely alien. They are, in my opinion, among the most interesting of SF attempts to create an alien species. Unsexed as birth they become sexed (and almost immobile) upon maturity, and it is these elders who rule, the lives of young being almost valueless. They live up to 300 years and have eidetic memories, but no ability to imagine...
But these matters occupy a relatively small (smaller than I would have liked, anyway) portion of what is otherwise a good fun novel. Readers of science fiction who have not read any Cherryh could do worse than start with The Faded Sun (though I still prefer Downbelow Station).
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