Downbelow Station (spoilery)

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.

3 thoughts on “Downbelow Station (spoilery)

  1. Probably the first of Cherryh’s work I read and I loved it. The series is well written and strongly characterized – and as a kid who grew up on hard sf, it was great to find all 3 in one place.

    Cherryh’s newer Foreigner series is even more FANTASTIC. There are now, I believe, 9 books – but each trilogy is so well written and so complete that you can read 1, 2 or all 3 and still enjoy the work immensely. I stumbled onto the 5th book in the series initially and had no idea it was the 5th book. It was so well written, that while I knew other things had come before, it wasn’t till a few chapters in that i wondered if I’d picked up book 2. I was completely done and looked up the the series before I realized I had picked up book 5.

    It’s really a well written series with beautiful characterization, a grand plot (and a myriad of sub plots) and spot on science.

  2. Looking at the copy on Amazon US and doing a “Search Inside The Book” it seems the US edition has it as: “IDs”, so it would seem the translation from American to UK was a problem. Or perhaps the recent US edition was fixed.

    For those who care, it’s page 344 of the current DAW edition.

  3. Thanks Mike, I am glad to see that it is fixed. Not that it actually worried me that much. I put the [sic] in as much to protect myself against accusations of bad grammar as anything else. But I shall remember this next time someone complains that publishers these days don’t bother to proofread their books properly.

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