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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

Downbelow Station

Copyright 1981 by C. J. Cherryh

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Mediocre (2/5)

I first read this on the 7th October 2002.

In 2005 The Earth Company builds its first space stations to mine the resources of the solar system. This is Sol station. Further stations are built one by one in new stellar systems, reaching out from the Solar System. Earth Company grows in power as its chain of stations increases, each returning resources back to Earth, brought by the Earth Company's growing commercial fleet.

Pell station, orbiting Pell's World, is the tenth station and orbits the first new world that is habitable by humans and more importantly, on which the first alien life has been discovered.

Centuries after its august beginning, Earth Company is no longer the power it once was. It now controls only the first few stations reaching out from Sol. The interstellar distances, and the delays in crossing these distances, have allowed the outer stations to break away into independence. Further out still, a Union has been formed but this is no Union of free-thinking minds, rather it is a fascist empire of a few free leaders and uncountable cloned slaves. The Union is intent on extending its domain back to Earth itself.

The massive company fleet metamorphoses into a military organisation, originally it was intended to enforce discipline in the space-ways and stations and later to battle the Union. Now finally, decimated by combat, the fleet survives only for itself, leeching off of the stations it once protected.

On Pell station, the situation is reaching critical mass. It's overloaded with refugees from neighbouring stations. It's got the Union drawing closer and closer. Now the Fleet has arrived with more refugees and more demands for the limited resources Pell can provide.

For many years the Konstantin family have ruled Pell Station and the colonies on Pell itself, Now Angelo and his two sons Damon and Emilio must fight to protect their fragile domain against overwhelming external forces and insidious internal subversion.

Well, that gives a very bad overview. I haven't even mentioned the alien hisa, or Jon Lukas, Miliko, Jessad, Signy Mallory or her boss, Mazian. This is a big book with a complicated plot.

It's well worth the reading. In many ways it's an astounding work. Cherryh creates a complex, believable world, with an impressive reach. One is involved in not simply Pell Station itself, but also Downbelow colony, the rogue Fleet, the evil empire of the Union, and the other overwhelmed and collapsing stations all the way back to distant Earth.

On the other hand, it's a laborious read, unbearably slow. Clifford D. Simak on pentothal would write more briskly. There's no end to the worrying and self-criticism that goes on. If it's not obsessive introversion it's those terribly naive and over-affectionate chimpanzee hisa running round telling everyone how much they love them. One ends up praying for the Union just to come slamming in, blowing the station out of the water, as it were, just to end the incessant muttering.

Loaded on the 27th December 2002.
Cover of Downbelow Station
Cover art by David B. Mattingly