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The Pride of Chanur – Space trader lions and lizards

C. J. Cherryh is a versatile and powerful science fiction writer with many different races and worlds to her credit. However, the species most likely to interest the furry fan is almost certainly the Hani, anthropomorphic bipedal felines, lionlike in appearance and social behavior. The five novels about the Hani and their first encounter with humans have been reissued many times since their first appearance and remain readily available as used books or in electronic book formats.

The Pride of Chanur (DAW Books, 1981) is the first of the series, and begins with Pyanfar Chanur, captain of the Hani-owned trade ship after which the book is named, about to leave her ship in dock to meet with the stationmaster at Meetpoint, a trading center for many spacefaring races. She is headed out the loading ramp when a dishevelled and smelly alien creature rushes in at her. She doesn’t know what it is and her first reaction is to stop it from entering the ship, which she does with difficulty and only after injuring it with her claws. She summons her crew to restrain the thing and treat its injuries while she can figure out what it is and from whence it came. While cornered and not yet in bonds, bleeding heavily from its injuries, the creature begins writing what Pyanfar is sure are mathematical figures on the deck in its own blood, demonstrating that it is sentient and intelligent.

As it happens, only female Hani travel into space, since the males are considered too unstable and violent for the closed environment of a ship and to meet alien races. This explains an immediate consternation among the well-disciplined crew as they care for and house the stranger, and in the process learn that the alien is male. This strange creature is of course a human, sole survivor of a crew that were captured and tortured by members of another race, the Kif, enemy to the Hani. Thus begin Pyanfar’s “interesting times,” once she decides to shelter the human Tully and refuse to hand him back to his original captors.

It seems that Tully is a valuable “property” since he could reveal the location of his home world and open up new avenues of trade. Both the Kif and the Hani need the economic boost that an exclusive treaty with the humans might offer. The skirmishes and space races that follow, while Tully struggles to learn enough Hani to make himself both understood and useful and Pyanfar fights to keep both the human and her ship out of Kif hands make for an exciting and active story that Cherryh spins out expertly.

Along the way, we spend time on the Hani home world, Anuurn, and get a fair glimpse of Hani culture, in which alpha males own landed estates and are cared for by harems of their mates and sisters. Hani males live only to breed, fight each other for dominance, and believe the illusion that they are in control of their lives and property while the clever females actually run the planet by careful manipulation and management of their males. All this is very leonine, of course, and presented in vividly detailed action. Even at the end of five volumes, the reader is left quite willing to follow the further adventures of Pyanfar Chanur and her cousins, and perhaps even a little cross-species romance, as the author hints at something of the sort between Tully and Pyanfar’s niece Hilfy.

I recommend the Chanur series without reservation to any reader of furry fiction or ordinary science fiction. The five volumes in sequence are The Pride of Chanur, Chanur’s Venture, The Kif Strike Back, Chanur’s Homecoming, and Chanur’s Legacy.

Rating: 5 of 5 possible apples appleappleappleappleapple

C. J. Cherryh
The Pride of Chanur
DAW Books, 1981 (and many other editions)
Ebook (Epub format) available here

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