I recently rediscovered and old favorite, Merchanter’s Luck by CJ Cherryh. I first discovered this book in the public library back in my high school days (yes, I was that kid). The edition I found had a pretty gal on the cover so, naturally, I scarfed it up.
To be clear, Merchanter’s Luck is one of the best science fiction novels I’ve ever read. It’s a straightforward and compact story set in a richly detailed and very realistic universe with characters that I found extremely relatable. I can’t say how many times I read and re-read it in my youth, and I even remember loaning a copy to a shipmate I was in the navy.
The story concern’s a traumatized young man named Sandor who’s doing his best to keep the family business going, that being merchant spacefaring. This is especially hard because his family were killed by pirates years ago and he is the last survivor of the crew. Valiantly, Sandor struggles to keep himself sane, and his ship flying, in a war-torn universe that does not care if he lives or dies.
The story also concerns an ambitious young woman named Allison. She was lucky enough to be born to the richest starfaring family in the galaxy. Her only problem being that on a ship so large and prosperous, there is no room to promote. So, she jumps ship for Sandor’s little craft not knowing it’s history or what ghosts haunt her new captain/lover.
If you are familiar with CJ Cherryh, you probably know of Downbelow Station, a Hugo Award-winning novel. Merchanter’s Luck can be seen as a kind of sequel or spin-off of that acclaimed work. And personally, I prefer it to the spin-off. I’ll make no bones about it–I like straightforward and compact stories set in richly detailed and very realistic universes with characters that are extremely relatable.
I will even go as far to say that CJ Cherryh herself is extremely relatable. I met her when I was seventeen at a science fiction convention called Rivercon in Louisville, Kentucky. She sang folk songs late into the night for a gaggle of enthusiastic fans and when it was over, I helped her carry her guitar to her room. My brush with greatness was brief, but I can attest that she is a very empathetic person, and that comes across in her writing as well.
So, there you have it. If you run across this little gem in the library, be quick to scarf it up. After all, luck doesn’t always last.