C.J. Cherryh wrote prolifically of alien and future human cultures starting in the 1980s and she is still writing and publishing as of now. She's written so many books that there's no way I could ever read them all. But some of my favorites were written in the 1970s and early to mid-1980s when I was living in Cambridge, Mass. and selling art at conventions. She wrote the "Mri Wars" series in the late 1970s and I found lots to illustrate in them.
The "mri" were a race of humanoid aliens who were nomadic spacefarers, and their business was warfare. They sold their skills to various other alien races who needed mercenary warriors. Mri warriors fought traditional battles with swords as well as modern mechanized and technological wars. The mri were divided into three main castes. First were the warriors, who dressed in black and masked their faces in public, rather like the Touareg nomads of the Sahara. They also identified themselves by facial tattoos of three parallel lines on each cheekbone. The next caste was the priestly caste, a monastic group dressed in gold who kept the legends and the technical knowledge of the group. The last was the domestic and breeding caste, of women, who bore or cared for the children and homes of the race. The leader of the tribes was a queen who dressed in white. They also were accompanied by hippopotamus-like intelligent quadrupeds called the "dusei," one of which is at the lower left edge. You can see a full-fledged warrior mri on the left, the queen mri (his sister, who had been a warrior before becoming queen) at center, and an Earthman who joined the mri society. The artifact in front is a sacred container, somewhat like the "Ark of the Covenant," which contained essential information to find the original world and remnant population of the mri.
In that era, the science fiction fan world was fascinated by super-dedicated mercenary warriors, not only Cherryh's but the "Dorsai" of Gordon R. Dickson and many others, and my illustrations from Cherryh found many fan customers. Nowadays, images of masked warriors in black, armed to the teeth, appear on our screens constantly, and being a super-mercenary isn't as romantic as it used to be.
Mri Characters and Earthman is painted with gouache on Fabriano paper mounted on black mat board, 5" x 8", fall 1981. Click for larger view.