The release of Regenesis has prompted me to fill in a significant gap in my reading. As someone who is interested in women’s science fiction, I really should be familiar with the works of Carolyn Janice Cherryh, especially as both Downbelow Station and Cyteen won Hugos. So I set myself a new year task to read all three books in sequence, and I have now made a start.
What interested me most about Downbelow Station was that, aside from being set in outer space, the science took a back seat to character and plot. It is a book about people and politics. In setting up her inter-stellar conflict, Cherryh asks us whether it is best to support your own side, to look out for your own self-interest, or to be concerned with the welfare of all living beings (including sentient and peaceful aliens). There is some subtlety in there too. I don’t think it was by accident that the two sides in the conflict were called “Company” and “Union”, even though this is a battle over resources and territory, not a labor dispute.
Cherryh’s sharp too. When the Company military imposes martial law on the space station she writes:
But the troops asked questions and checked ID’s [sic] when they were roused — kept the areas open to their raids, kept the populace terrorized and suspicious of each other, and that served Mazian’s purpose.
That’s from a book published 20 years before 9/11.
(By the way, it desperately needed a good copy editor. As well as apostrophe use I noticed character names muddled up and a glaring spelling mistake in the back page blurb. But that’s not Cherryh’s fault. My copy is the 1983 Methuen UK paperback)
I enjoyed the book. The language is a bit stilted in places, but the plot races along commendably. Some readers will doubtless be upset that the glorious military victory they were expecting to resolve the plot doesn’t happen, but that’s a good thing too. I’m looking forward to Cyteen.