Compact Space in
C.J. Cherryh's "Chanur" Novels
The Compact is a loose association of nominally seven sentient species.
(The oxygen-breathers are not sure about the "chi" but give them the
benefit of the doubt.) The species are:
- The Hani -- lion-like beings whose fur ranges from golden bronze to
reddish bronze in colour. They have been pulled up from feudalism only
in the past two centuries after being visited by the spacefaring
mahendo'sat. Most ground-based hani still think like the hani of old
with their clannish jealousies. They remind me, a bit, of the
description of the Scottish in the book "Good Omens" by Terry
Pratchett and Neil Gaiman where they write about the witch burnings of a
couple of hundred years ago:
- "The English . . . were not as keen on burning women as other
countries in Europe. In Germany the bonfires were built and burned with
regular Teutonic thoroughness. Even the pious Scots, locked
throughout history in a long-drawn-out battle with their arch-enemies
the Scots, managed a few burnings . . . . "
- The mahendo'sat -- ape-like beings. Their politics revolves around
charisma. A "Personage" is a self-appointed leader. As long
as there is enough public support for the Personage, that persons word is
law -- until he or she fouls up, either directly or by choosing agents
who foul up collectively enough that the Personage looses all public
support. A Personage will often choose agents who will work to different
ends. The viable options will be chosen by the Personage and the agents
whose actions are less viable are disowned by the Personage. If
all of the Personage's agents fail, the Personage falls from
public grace and a new Personage will step in to control things with
policies often diametrically opposed to the pronouncements of the
- The kif -- a species whose main emotional drive is to improve their
status at all times with no concern for the feelings of others except,
of course, where the feelings can be taken advantage of and who have
very sensitive stomaches -- they cannot eat anything that is not alive
(and often still protesting). Their social structure is similar, in a
way, to that of the mahendo'sat in that their leaders are self-appointed
but from a completely different mindset. The status or
"sfik" of a kif is more based on the fear of those kif
under him. Their concept of sfik is similar to the Japanese
concept of "face" but with more violent overtones. A kif
would never commit suicide. A kif on the way down is, however,
likely to be killed by those kif on their way up the ladder of status.
A kif's subordinates will remain fervently supportive of a leader on
the rise in order to benefit. When things get tough, where a hani
would remain faithful to her clan or captain, the kif would stab their
fallen leader in the back and run for the winning side. They are not
evil as such. They just lack the emotional wiring that would allow
them to feel anything but a constant drive for greater sfik or status.
- Kiffish hierarchy goes something like this (highest first):
- roughly "supreme prince" -- aspired to by most kif but
only in the time of Pyanfar Chanur (a hani ship captain) has
any kif approached that level. A mekt-hakkikt would be leader
of ALL kif.
- roughly "prince" -- a kiffish leader with a greater
than normal following with many kiffish ships under his command
(not just one). The emergence of a new hakkikt into prominence
usually means trouble for the other oxygen-breathing species in
- roughly "great captain" -- Pyanfar is called this by her
kiffish crewman who had been "given" to her (without
her consent) by the kif Sikkukkut (one of those trying to establish
himself as mekt-hakkikt).
- hakt' (plural "hakktun")
- this is used as a synonym for "captain" by the kif
Pyanfar Chanur encounters but may have different usage by
planet-bound kif. ("hakto" is sometimes used in address)
- skku (plural skkukun)
- "vassal" -- a kif subordinate to another. There is
some overlap in hierarchy as one hakkikt can be subordinate or
skku to a greater hakkikt and have lesser kif as his skkukun.
- the exact meaning of this is uncertain but Pyanfar Chanur
suspects that it means "slave". (This was the name of
the kiffish crewman she received as a "gift".)
- The stsho -- thin, fragile, and compulsive cowards, they are easily
injured and easily frightened. They have three sexes and any one
shsho can change sex at will, if necessary, to form a triad for the
purpose of marriage. When they are emotionally disturbed their
entire personality fragments. Recovery from this results in a new
person, psychologically and legally under stsho law.
- The t'ca -- snake-like methane breathers who think and speak in
matrices with their multiple brains, are difficult for oxygen breathers
to communicate with and are incapable of travelling in a straight line
except when at near light-speed when weaving back and forth is
restricted by the laws of physics,
- The knnn -- another methane breathing species that only the t'ca can
talk to, they have the most advanced technology in the Compact. For
these reasons, other Compact Space citizens just keep out of their way
and try not to get their attention. As Pyanfar Chanur, a hani
spaceship captain says, "Gods and thunders! You don't pick a fight with
someone you can't talk to." According to stories of times past, the
knnn used to swarm around another species' spaceship, haul it away, crew
and all, to somewhere else to salvage it for material. They weren't bad.
They just had no concept of there being any species other than themselves.
Ledgend has it that the t'ca finally were able to communicate with them
enough to get across the idea of there being other species and the idea
of trade -- at least to the point where they no longer just take. Now
they dock at a space station, grab whatever takes their fancy, and leave
something behind -- whatever else they feel like -- as payment.
The rest of the Compact considers getting even that much of the
idea of trade across to the knnn to be a victory of sorts.
- The chi -- a methane breathing species associated with the t'ca but as
friends, slaves, masters, or pets is something the oxygen breathers are
not sure of. All of the oxygen breathers understand the hani
expression, "crazy as a chi."
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