|Author||C. J. Cherryh|
|Cover artist||Michael Whelan (book 1), Todd Lockwood (others)|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback), audiobook|
|No. of books||21|
The Foreigner series is a science fiction book series set in a fictional universe created by American writer C. J. Cherryh. The series centers on the descendants of a ship lost in transit from Earth en route to found a new space station. It consists of a series of semi-encapsulated trilogy arcs (or sequences) that focus on the life of Bren Cameron, the human paidhi, a translator-diplomat to the court of the ruling atevi race. Currently twenty one novels have been published between 1994 and 2020. Cherryh has also self-published two ebook short story prequels to the series, "Deliberations" (October 2012) and "Invitations" (August 2013).
Cherryh calls the series "First Contact". Four of the books were shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
Trilogy arc 1
- Foreigner (1994)—Bren Cameron is whisked out of the capital and must deal with his new situation, while seeking out the cause of the disturbance.
- Invader (1995)
- Inheritor (1996)
Trilogy arc 2
- Precursor (1999)
- Defender (2001)
- Explorer (2002)
Trilogy arc 3
- Destroyer (2005)—Bren returns to the Atevi homeworld, and must deal with the political upheavals that have taken place in his absence.
- Pretender (2006)
- Deliverer (2007)
Trilogy arc 4
- Conspirator (2009)
- Deceiver (2010)
- Betrayer (2011)
Trilogy arc 5
- Intruder (2012)
- Protector (2013)
- Peacemaker (2014)
Trilogy arc 6
- Tracker (2015)
- Visitor (2016)
- Convergence (2017)
Trilogy arc 7
Trilogy arc 8
- Defiance (in progress)
- "Deliberations" (2012)
- "Invitations" (2013)
The Foreigner series opens with the failure of a starship. A brief preamble to the first book describes a system failure that leaves the faster-than-light colony ship Phoenix stranded in a far-flung reach of space, without any idea of how to get home, completely unable even to locate Sol in the visible stars. Phoenix is carrying colonists and equipment to establish a new space station to extend Earth's interstellar trade empire.
Sketched in the preamble is the heroic effort to refuel Phoenix in the environs of a hostile sun, and navigate the lost starship to a more habitable environment. Lost to this effort are many of the best and bravest of the crew.
The habitable environment that the damaged starship can reach is the homeworld of the atevi, a green and living world, already populated by aliens with steam-age technology.
The humans build their station in orbit around the atevi world, but tensions build between the colonists and the Phoenix crew. The Pilot's Guild, comfortable with the power it has accrued during the emergency, and stripped of its best elements by the battle to refuel, has become oppressive and oligarchic. When the refueled Phoenix leaves to explore the local space and establish a further station, the colonists become restless.
When Phoenix is slow to return, some of the colonists choose to abandon the station in crude parachuting landers (much akin to NASA's Project Mercury), despite the efforts of the remaining Pilot's Guild to retain the colonists and control, until the space station becomes unviable and is abandoned entirely.
On the surface the humans encounter the atevi, a race of ebon-skinned humanoids, for whom math is as intrinsic as breathing. Atevi possess no directly corresponding concept of liking or loving another person, but instead place utmost importance on a concept called man’chi, most directly analogous to loyalty. Man'chi is not merely a cultural construct, but is an intrinsic drive, a natural instinct to follow a leader, and is therefore a difference between the two races that cannot be bridged.
After an initial period of peaceful co-existence, cross-cultural misunderstandings lead to the War of the Landing. Despite their vast technological advantage the colonists lose, and swiftly. In the aftermath of the war, the atevi government abandons the island of Mospheira to allow the establishment of an enclave for the human colonists. Only one human, the paidhi (interpreter), is allowed to live among atevi and learn one of their languages. All communication between the atevi and the humans is via this single point of contact.
On the island of Mospheira the colonists prosper. As part of the treaty of the landing that ceded Mospheira to humans a succession of paidhiin broker a slow, careful, managed transfer of technology to the atevi, all the while creating dictionaries so that the next paidhi can further the work of understanding and technology transfer.
Fast forward 200 years. The colonists on Mospheira are comfortable and self-absorbed. The atevi are close to technological parity, and have outpaced the humans in some areas. All seems peaceful and manageable. Against this background the main story of the first book of the series unfolds as, unknown to the main protagonist, paidhi Bren Cameron, Phoenix returns to orbit.
The remaining books focus on the interrelations among Bren Cameron, Tabini (the Aiji, the head of the most powerful atevi clan, keystone of the atevi western association, and thus effective supreme ruler of the atevi government), his atevi associates, the human enclave of Mospheira, the humans aboard Phoenix, and an alien presence in the nearer stars.
The first eight books of the series are told exclusively from the viewpoint of Bren Cameron, the paidhi at the time of Phoenix's return. Starting with the ninth book, Deliverer, occasional passages are told from the point of view of Tabini's young son, Cajeiri, as he grows into maturity.
Major characters and other important persons
- Bren Cameron, paidhi and later paidhi-aiji, translator to the court of Tabini.
- Tabini, Aiji of Shejidan, supreme leader of the atevi.
- Ilisidi, the Aiji-dowager, grandmother of Tabini, and twice denied the throne by the hasdrawad; a house of the atevi parliament.
- Banichi, Bren's male Assassin's Guild guard, assigned from Tabini's own staff in the first novel together with Jago.
- Jago, Bren's female Assassin's Guild guard. Later becomes Bren's lover.
- Cajeiri, minor son of Tabini, presumed heir to the aishidi'tat.
- Damiri, partner of Tabini and mother of Cajeiri. Has problematic family connections.
- Tatiseigi, a conservative Lord of the Northern Association, uncle of Tabini's wife (Damiri), great-uncle of Cajeiri.
- Geigi, a provincial lord, trusted ally of Ilisidi.
- Machigi, one of several lords of the Marid Association, a southern territory nominally in rebellion against Tabini.
- Ramirez, seniormost of the Phoenix captains when it arrived at the atevi homeworld. Keeper of many secrets.
- Ogun, a captain of Phoenix, second only to Ramirez.
- Sabin, a captain of Phoenix, second only to Ogun.
- Jason Graham, Phoenix crew selected by the captains to learn Ragi (the dominant atevi language).
Cherryh frequently misspells the name of the riding animals used in the books, generally going between mecheita / mecheiti and mechieta / mechieti. The official spelling is mecheita / mecheiti as stated in the entries dated 10/18/04 and 10/19/04 of her Progress Report:
Mecheita is a hoot—on the same page, usually meticulous me has "mechieta," "mecheita," "mechieita," and I'm wickedly tempted to standardize it as "ie" in the singular and "ei" in the plural, just to drive the copyeditors berserk, but hey, it would drive me there first. It is officially "mecheita, pl. mecheiti."
The clan name of the Kadagidi also changes. Early in the series it is spelled "Kadigidi" and then, in the 8th book, Pretender, it inexplicably changes to "Kadagidi" for the remainder of the series.
Each arc consists of three novels. Each arc deals with an entire storyline, although there are cross-connections as the series has progressed. Roughly 10 years of time are supposed to have elapsed (per the novel) from Book 1, Foreigner, to Book 8, Pretender.
- Arc 1 (Foreigner, Invader, Inheritor): focuses on an assassination attempt against Bren Cameron, an act illegal by the peace treaty made following the War of the Landing. The attempt proves to be a conspiracy by factions of humans and atevi to depose Bren as the paidhi, or official translator between the two cultures. The Starship Phoenix returns, causing the entire system to come out of balance, causing political unrest on both Mospheira and the mainland, and while the atevi change from simple rocketry to advanced single-stage-to-orbit shuttles, radically altering their economic and industrial base in the process.
- Arc 2 (Precursor, Defender, Explorer): focuses on Bren as he is elevated by Tabini to be the Lord of the Heavens, making him a lord of the aishidi'tat with authority to negotiate. Bren is then charged with taking Tabini's heir, Cajeiri, and Ilisidi, Cajeiri's great-grandmother, to see to a threat of aliens encountered by Phoenix, but Bren and the aiji-dowager must first solve a mutiny aboard Phoenix.
- Arc 3 (Destroyer, Pretender, Deliverer): focuses on the return of Bren Cameron, Ilisidi and Cajeiri from deep space and their encounter with the alien Kyo. They find the aishidi'tat in tatters, Tabini-aiji rumored to be dead, and Murini, the pretender-aiji, on the throne in Shejidan. The kyo will expect to meet a unified planet under the rule of Tabini-aiji. Bren, the dowager, and the aiji must restore order before the kyo arrive for negotiations.
- Arc 4 (Conspirator, Deceiver, Betrayer): set in the immediate aftermath of the third arc, and is set against the shifting political relations between the different Atevi ethnic factions. With Tabini restored in Shejidan, Cameron must find a way to stabilise the Eastern and coastal regions where he has his own Lordly estate. The peace gained with the restoration of Tabini's rule is threatened by long standing ethnic and cultural differences between the ruling Ragi Atevi and the more conservative Edi and Eastern clans.
- Arc 5 (Intruder, Protector, Peacemaker): Arc is about Cajeiri's felicitous 9th birthday, the final disposition of the Shadow Guild, and the birth of the Aiji's daughter.
- Arc 6 (Tracker, Visitor, Convergence): For the past two arcs, Bren has focused on Atevi associations and political conflicts. In this arc, Bren must address the political situation on Alpha station resulting from the influx of Reunioners, as the Kyo approach to visit. Then Bren revisits Mospheira, and explains how politics and the world have changed while he has been dealing with everything else. Several chapters are from the view of Cajeiri.
- Arc 7 (Emergence, Resurgence, Divergence)
This section possibly contains original research. (July 2022)
As with many of C. J. Cherryh's novels, this series could be best described as anthropological science fiction, focusing on the interface between our human customs and understandings and that of an alien race whose motivations, thoughts and even feelings are diametrically opposed to our own. Broadly speaking, the series could also be described as space opera, especially the second and third story arcs. It also contains elements of political thriller, with the complex racial and cultural interplay between humans and atevi, and between ship crew and colonist.
The atevi have no feeling immediately equivalent to love, but rather man'chi—a loyalty-web to one's leader, one's leader's leader, and so on outward until the Aiji of Shejidan, leader of the aishidi'tat or union of all atevi. Political boundaries are not based on territory, but on association—where their man'chi lies.
Inherent to the mental structure of an atevi is arithmetical ability we would consider intuitive and a world viewed in arithmetical terms. The main atevi language Ragi is a continual mathematic construct. Properly forming statements requires effort similar to a mathematician keeping equations balanced.
Stringently asserted is the idea that the number two to the atevi is disharmonious and as unnerving as fingernails on a chalkboard is to humans. The number three however is "felicitous", and ideas are spoken using felicitous numbers – unless the speaker wishes to convey disharmony or anti-social ideas to their audience.
Another aspect of atevi culture that is critical to the stories, particularly the political thriller aspect, is that assassination is a legal and accepted means of settling disputes, provided proper protocol is followed. It is preferred over lawsuits. One files a document of Intent which liberates the target to file one back. The Assassin's Guild has the right, often exercised when Intent is filed for foolish reasons, to reject a particular filing. For this reason, the assassins' guild (commonly referred to as simply "the guild") has considerable power, despite being supposedly neutral. Assassins are also employed as bodyguards, and often need to defend against attacks by others of their own guild.
This section possibly contains original research. (July 2022)
Almost all of Cherryh's DAW covers, including Book 1 of the Foreigner series, are from artist Michael Whelan. Todd Lockwood picked up where Whelan left off for the remaining books. Consequently, the cover art for the series maintains a fairly consistent look and feel. Every cover to date but three has featured the protagonist Bren Cameron as the sole adult human visually pictured along with one or more armed Atevi. Both Protector and Peacemaker covers have human children and human armored security, and Convergence has added Toby, Bren's brother, to emphasize that in the later books, as well as being Bren's closest human advisor, Toby is designated as Bren's replacement should he get killed. This serves to visually emphasize Bren's, and the human refugees in general, patently foreign presence among this aggressive alien race. Bren's Atevi lover, Jago and most of his bodyguard or Aishid appear on most of the covers; Jago's father Banichi makes an appearance on all the covers save one; this may both exacerbate and ease the reader's sense of the protagonist's isolation. Several of the artists hired to paint the covers have taken Cherryh's description of the white ribbons in Bren's hair and extended it to the entirety of his clothing, white, showing no attachment to any house. However, this is an artistic license. He is described as wearing muted colors: beiges, blues and greens; and he only wears all white in very formal occasions in the later books.
This section needs to be updated.(December 2018)
An audio drama of the first three books of the Foreigner series was scheduled for production in 2013, however the effort was suspended. The books were being adapted by award-winning audio dramatist Sable Jak for Audio Cinema Entertainment. Jak worked closely with Cherryh on the project, and was to direct the six-hour production. 
Audible.com has released the first 19 books as single-narrator audiobooks. The narrator is Daniel Thomas May.
- Cherryh, C. J. "Found out what happened re Foreigner scheduling…". Wave Without a Shore—C. J. Cherryh's blog. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
- "Divergence". Penguin Random House. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
- Cherryh, C. J. "The Journal: Progress Report Archive 3". C. J. Cherryh homepage. Retrieved April 2, 2008.
- Willey, Omar (September 19, 2012). "Author C.J. Cherryh Bring Her Foreigner Series to Audio, with Sable Jak at the Helm". Seattle Star. Retrieved September 21, 2012.
- "C J Cherryh's Foreigner Series to be a Movie Audio". Sci-Fi-London. September 19, 2012. Retrieved September 21, 2012.
- Foreigner Audiobooks. audible.com. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
- "1995 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved July 15, 2009.
- "1996 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved July 15, 2009.
- "2002 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved July 15, 2009.
- "2017 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved January 31, 2018.
- Official website, run by the author