I’m generally pleased by the writers SFWA chooses as grand masters, but honoring C.J. Cherryh touches a very deep chord in my fan girl heart: She’s the author who got me hooked on science fiction.
A long time ago in what now feels like a universe far, far away, I was living in Wichita Falls, Texas, a small city on the Great Plains. This was in the days before the Internet, a time when subscribing to magazines was about the only way to keep up with what was happening in the world beyond my front door. I had a subscription to the New York Review of Books and Rolling Stone.
At work one day I was complaining about the fiction I had been reading. To the best of my recollection, I proclaimed that I was sick of stories about suburban angst and young women having affairs with married mentors.
And one of my co-workers said, “You should read C.J. Cherryh.” He may have said more about science fiction in general, but he was focused on the Morgaine books at the time.
So I went down to the only bookstore I knew of, the Walden or B. Dalton (I don’t remember which it was) in the mall. (This was before the super bookstores, which may not be missed today but which definitely improved the reading choices in a lot of literary deserts.) There was a small science fiction section and I found Gate of Ivrel.
Two days later I went back for Well of Shiuan. And I was off.
I’ve spent many a happy hour reading C.J. Cherryh. I came upon The Faded Sun trilogy as I was getting serious about martial arts and became obsessed with it, reading it over and over as I do when I find a world that I want to keep experiencing.
The Chanur books were a later obsession. (I still re-read them when I need to relax.) I also particularly loved Downbelow Station, 40000 in Gehenna, and Cyteen.
I particularly remember being fascinated with her ability to write a complex story that involved beings – human and others – from a variety of cultures and with different languages and customs, and yet to produce so much work.
Reading C.J. Cherryh was the gateway – pun on the first book intended – to reading much more broadly in SF/F. It was because of her that I found Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, James Tiptree Jr., Joanna Russ, Vonda McIntyre, and William Gibson, to name a few of the writers with whom I was obsessed early in my SF/F reading.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t read SF/F before, of course. When I was in college, everyone read Lord of the Rings, Dune, and Asimov’s Foundation series. I just didn’t make the leap from those books into the rest of the genre. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was a whole world of writing in which people said “What if …” and went from there, combining action stories with large ideas.
I’ve only met C.J. Cherryh once and briefly, when she spoke at the Library of Congress. But I’ve been a raving fan since that first Morgaine book.
I’m thrilled to see my professional organization honoring someone whose work made such a difference in my life.