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A Thousand Words for Stranger
by Julie Czerneda
Daw, 366pp
Published: 1997

I discovered that I couldn’t just pick up this long-running series in the middle with the newest book; there was obviously too much backstory that I felt would lend more substance to my reading experience.  So I am beginning at the beginning.  This is the first story in Czerneda’s Clan Chronicles series.

A young woman flees through a rain-swept night on an unfamiliar planet pursued by the unknown.  All she knows is a compulsion to find a particular spaceship, piloted by a particular human.  Nothing else – not her name, not her species, not even her sex.  After a brief nasty interlude being picked up by slavers, she finally escapes and locates the ship to which the compulsion in her head drives her.  Pity, and a distaste for the slavers, inspire Captain Morgan of the spaceship to allow her to stay, even teaching her and allowing her status as crew.  But Siri, as she eventually is named, is both attracted to and repelled by her inexplicable need to be near him.  Unknown to her, the Captain has been forced into a bargain to deliver her to those who pursue her: the slavers who seem to know more than he about her origins and abilities.  But it’s the Clan – a strange telepathic race that look human but are anything but – who appear to be a greater danger. The exchange doesn’t go well and Siri, with her new-found ability to sense his well-being, finds herself rescuing him instead.  He vows to help her find her memories. Siri is offered rescue by Clan folk who profess to be her family and friends but with her gradually awakening awareness of her power, she doesn’t feel a sense of trust. That’s the essence of the plot.  But it is complicated by unspoken cultural differences between the human Morgan, and the Clan who hunt Siri.  The cultural and biological differences are what really make up the story:  what exactly is Siri and why does the Clan hint that Siri is the key to their species’ future.

With science fiction worldbuilding but a fantasy-inspired infrastructure, this is a dense, character-driven story.  A great deal of the story is spent watching Siri gain incremental bits of memory and understanding.  And just when she thinks she understands her place and what she needs to do to protect Morgan, the proverbial rug is pulled out from under her.  It all comes back to Siri-as-she-was; the original Siri put all the events in motion and the Siri-as-she-is-now is sure she doesn’t want to be that person again. Full access to all her memories may mean she loses all she has recently become, loses her Captain and loses her new sense of self.  Siri is sure she doesn’t want to become the arrogant, controlling and cruel Clanswoman she once was.  But without her full memories, the Clan Council will decide her fate and she will be totally unable to protect Morgan or her family who helped her.  An impossible choice.

This was a very satisfying story; lots of politicking, romance, adventure and mystery – what’s not to like?  Knowing that this story has a rich future makes it even more attractive.  Watch for my reviews of the whole series. ~~ Catherine Book

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