Grandmaster Cherryh

Delighted by the news that CJ Cherryh has been chosen as SFWA’s latest grandmaster.

I read Foreigner for the first time at age sixteen, when I was still making the transition from fluffier SFF like Douglas Adams and Piers Anthony to more challenging reads. I was immediately struck by how real and complex her worlds were, and explorations of her earlier Chanur and Morgaine Sagas only confirmed and deepened my appreciation. All of her aliens are truly alien, completely different from each other, yet are still capable of eliciting empathy from the reader, not just wonder. All of her worlds are “lived in”: we see how events five years ago, two centuries ago, a millenium in the past, have influenced the current culture of that world.

But beyond that amazing worldbuilding and character creation, Cherryh is a hero of mine for another reason. She adapts to the market to remain successful without sacrificing her integrity. In the seventies, women SF writers were given a hard time, so she went by her initials and added an H to the end of her name to sound less girly, while still writing the books she wanted to write. In the nineties, preferred book lengths increased and she adapted seamlessly. When editors left publishing houses, orphaning one series after another, she switched gears to give the new editor something new, then went back to finish the old stories when she could. When the fans went online, she began offering regular blog posts about her home improvement projects, her dieting woes, and the difficulties of driving to cons with cats in tow. She formed a digital writing collective with other writers to offer their out-of-print backlists as e-books and promoted it by writing new online-only stories in her most popular universes. And she hits her deadlines year after year like they personally offended her. THAT’S a professional. Despite cries from the ever-dying publishing industry that writing is a dead medium, Cherryh knows that people will always crave stories, it’s just a question of presenting those stories in forms readers find convenient and affordable. She doesn’t wring her hands, she just tries new things until she sees what sticks, adapts, and gets back to work.

AND she’s a great writer.


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