Written by: C.J. Cherryh
Published By: Warner Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
War raged throughout the universe and a merchanter / military ship Finity’s End fought in the heart of it all and emerged victorious. However, the victory was not without some loss. Finity’s End is a family run ship and many family members were lost during the fighting. One such member was lost in an effort to keep herself and her baby safe. Unable to cope with being left behind on Pell Station while the family continued their war against Mazian, Francine Neihardt delved into the dangerous world of drugs and slowly deteriorated, dying of an overdose and leaving her four-year-old son Fletcher Niehardt to a life of despair and loss.
With a look toward peace, Finity’s End returns to Pell Station in an effort to reclaim their long lost cousin. Captain James Niehardt is no fool and not above using his long lost relative as a bargaining chip for the peace he seeks. To appease the stationmaster, he agrees to assist her in rebuilding her own merchanter empire which had been destroyed in the war. Thus, the stationmaster agrees to relinquish custody of Fletcher Neihardt to Finity’s End.
However, Fletcher has no desire to join his fellow relatives aboard a space-faring vessel. After an extremely rough childhood, Fletcher befriends two natives of the world below Pell Station. These Downers have become an inspiration to Fletcher and he has turned his life around, earning him a place on Pell Below, working with the Downers and earning a research degree. He has grown up a stationer and has no need or want to become a spacer. In an attempt to circumvent the process, Fletcher runs away, only to be found among the Downers and brought back to Pell Station to join the crew of Finity’s End. The feelings of resentment Fletcher has for those aboard Finity’s End are shared by many of his family members who feel that the ship should not have delayed their mission for a spoiled, rebellious stationer.
However, the senior crew of Finity’s End has bigger things to consider. Captain James Neihardt is seeking to bring about a peace between Union and Alliance forces that the completion of the war somehow did not. He seeks to remove all suppliers to Alliance and Union’s mutual enemy Mazian, ensuring that Mazian will never be strong enough to return. Can Captain Neihardt and his crew achieve their goals with a rebellious and resentful born and bred stationer cousin along for the ride? Or will Fletcher’s hard-headed nature inadvertently ruin all that Neihardt seeks to achieve?
Finity’s End by C.J. Cherryh is a science fiction novel with political undertones. One can easily associate with the character of Fletcher Neihardt. Having always felt somewhat of an outcast, Fletcher is just starting to feel as if he belongs, when his world is turned upside down and he is faced with the prospect of being an outcast in an environment in which he supposedly belongs. Fletcher is easy to sympathize with and root for and the passages that focus on him tend to move fairly quickly.
However, this novel truly focuses on two main characters. J.R. Neihardt is a senior-junior officer in the Finity’s End crew. The reader is given his perspective on newcomer Fletcher and his responsibilities toward his cousin. The reader also learns that the way in which J.R. handles the Fletcher situation will have a bearing on his status aboard the ship. It will show the senior officers if he is up to the challenge of being one of Captain James Robert Niehardt’s successors as Captain of Finity’s End. It is through J.R. Neihardt that the reader learns the ultimate goal of this particular voyage. J.R.’s passages tend to move slower simply due to the complexity of the issues before him, whether it be the processes by which the ship is manned or the politics entailed in ending the trade wars. J.R.’s character is one that is initially grating, yet tends to grow on you in later chapters.
In the end, Finity’s End is also a tale about growth and maturity. In Fletcher, it means adapting to his new life and accepting responsibility for his actions and those placed in his care. It means learning to put the ship’s needs above his own. It also means ending the cycle of pain his life has entailed and preventing the old reflexive reaction of pushing away those who try to get close to him. It means learning to live within a family unit. For J.R., it means accepting more responsibility for his own actions, the actions of his shipmates and of the ship in general. It means learning how to politic with the best of them, staying calm even when the universe is turning upside down around you. And it culminates in finally attaining all that he has been trained for. For the universe, it means putting aside petty differences and working together toward a higher goal – peace.
The political intrigue of Finity’s End is filled with surprising twists. Just when the reader is certain about the goals of the ship’s captain and those he’s bargaining with, author C.J. Cherryh manages to toss in a dramatic curve that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. Archeology also becomes a very large part of this novel as we explore the culture of the Downers and what it means to humans. This novel is perfect for anyone who loves science fiction with a twist. This is not your run of the mill, thinking-unnecessary sci-fi thriller. Finity’s End requires the reader to put on their thinking caps and learn along with the characters. If you are looking for mindless action and sci-fi adventure, look elsewhere. Finity’s End is a “thinking man’s” science fiction novel and one that this reader found most enjoyable.