Cuckoo's Egg (book)

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Cuckoo's Egg
Cuckoo's Egg cover, depicts the Shonun Duun cradling the infant human Thorn.
AuthorC. J. Cherryh
Cover artistMichael Whelan
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction
PublisherDAW Books
Publication date
March 1985

Cuckoo's Egg is a science fiction novel by American writer C. J. Cherryh, which introduces a fictional race (the Shonunin) raising a human boy. It was published by DAW Books in 1985, and there was also a limited hardcover printing by Phantasia Press in the same year. The book was nominated for the Hugo Award[1] and longlisted the Locus Award for Best Novel. It was later reprinted along with Cherryh's novel Serpent's Reach in the 2005 omnibus volume The Deep Beyond.

The book's title is a reference the practice of brood parasitism among certain species of cuckoos, both Old and New World birds. In this practice, the cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds' nests and the unwitting hosts then expend their energy hatching the cuckoo's eggs, even at the potential expense of their own offspring. The metaphor is not correctly applied in this case because the Shonun in the book is knowingly and deliberately raising a human child rather than having been tricked into doing so.

In Cuckoo's Egg Cherryh adopts the less common approach in science fiction stories containing aliens of relating the story from the alien's (Shonunin) perspective, thus making the humans the aliens.[2]

Plot introduction[edit]

The back-story presented in the novel describes the first contact between the Shonunin and humans, which occurred when a damaged human probe with five crewmembers entered the Shonunin's home system. The contact, however, turned violent. It was not clear who fired the first shot, but the Shonunin, who had only recently put themselves into space, chased the crippled human ship for two years (the ship had lost the ability to jump through hyperspace) before overpowering it. Having suffered losses themselves, the Shonunin killed all the humans aboard. They knew the probe had been sending messages out of the solar system and the Shonunin, incapable of interstellar travel themselves, now feared retribution from the technologically superior humans.

A Shonun, Dana Duun Shtoni no Lughn (Duun),[3] was charged with the task of saving the Shonunin world from the potential threat the humans posed. Duun's solution was to raise a human child to adulthood who could serve as an emissary to his race and hopefully prevent a major conflict when humans return to the Shonunin system. Scientists cloned one of the dead human crewmembers to produce the male human child, whom Duun named Haras, meaning Thorn. Raising a human in their midst, an alien and the enemy, sparked fear among the Shonunin, but Duun elected to undertake the task himself, uncertain whether the creature would turn on him.

The novel is set during the period following Thorn's birth, and the first chapters concern Thorn's infancy and early childhood. As Thorn grows, Duun trains him according to the ways of the warrior Guild to which Duun belongs, the Hatani. The Hatani are a class of warrior-judges revered by most Shonunin, and Duun believes that raising Thorn under the Hatani code will be the best possible preparation for the boy's eventual ambassadorial duties. To be Hatani is to be respected but isolated. But by raising Thorn to be one of their Hatani, he makes Thorn part of the framework of society, not an isolated experiment.

Main characters[edit]

  • Dana Duun Shtoni no Lughn (Duun) – a Shonun of the Hatani warrior Guild
  • Haras (Thorn) – a Human, raised by Duun as an Hatani
  • Betan – a fellow student and Thorn's first love interest
  • Sagot – a teacher


Translator and poet Burton Raffel wrote in an essay "C.J. Cherryh's Fiction" that Cuckoo's Egg is "as fine and stirring as anything Cherryh has ever done", and that "it is in a way a brilliant tour de force, looking at humans entirely from an alien perspective.[2] Science fiction author David Langford described the book as a "good read", saying that the master-pupil relationship is "very nicely done", and that "Cherryh's worked hard to make you want the answers to each riddle".[4][5]

Relationship with the Alliance-Union universe[edit]

Because of Cherryh's use of the tightly-limited third-person storytelling, it is never stated whether Cuckoo's Egg is a part of the Alliance-Union universe or not. J. G. Stinson in her essay "The Human as Other in the Science Fiction Novels of C.J. Cherryh" maintains it is not,[6] although some bibliographies indicate that it is set in this universe.[7]

The Age of Exploration[edit]

Cuckoo's Egg is from C. J. Cherryh's Age of Exploration series, a collection of three science fiction novels that share a common theme, but are unrelated to each other:


  1. ^ "1986 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved July 14, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Raffel, Burton (2004). "C.J. Cherryh's Fiction". In Carmien, Edward (ed.). The Cherryh Odyssey. Wildside Press. p. 79. ISBN 0-8095-1071-5.
  3. ^ ["Progress Report (entry for 6/17/07)". C. J. Cherryh ( June 17, 2007. Retrieved July 19, 2007. The author has stated that she based the character Duun in large part on her own father.]
  4. ^ Langford, Dave (May 1987). "Critical Mass". White Dwarf. No. 89. Games Workshop. p. 8.
  5. ^ Langford, David (2002). The Complete Critical Assembly: The Collected White Dwarf (And Gm, and Gmi) Sf Review Columns. Wildside Press. p. 167. ISBN 1-58715-330-0.
  6. ^ Stinson, J. G. (2004). "The Human as Other in the Science Fiction Novels of C.J. Cherryh". In Carmien, Edward (ed.). The Cherryh Odyssey. Wildside Press. p. 139. ISBN 0-8095-1071-5.
  7. ^ Hale, Beverly A. "Bibliography of C. J. Cherryh". C. J. Cherryh homepage. Retrieved July 20, 2007.

Further reading[edit]

  • Miller, Faren (May 1985). "Review of Cuckoo's Egg". Locus. 18 (5).
  • Cassada, Jackie (May 15, 1985). "Review of Cuckoo's Egg". Library Journal. 110 (9): 82.

External links[edit]