I honestly thought that my first 2010 review would be of The Search for the Perfect Language. Instead, with 80 pages to go on that one, I got dragged heads on into Cherryh‘s Hellburner. It’s a reread – I think this was my third or forth read of it – but according to records the last time was 2 years ago, and despite loving it I had not planned to reread it again, any time soon; too many unread books stacked on the shelves to leave much time for that.
The reason for the unplanned reread was I got it in ebook format, and my first intention was to just test the reader software. But once I started I found it impossible to put it away, even though I know everything that happens, and despite the frequent conversion errors (“com” often spelled as “corn”, for example).
Hellburner is the sequel to Heavy Time, but both books works as standalones (yes, I’ll reread Heavy Time as well, now that the ereader turned out so good) as well. In Hellburner we follow how Pollard, Meg and Sal is co-opted into a program that developed the rider ships that was attached to the EC carrier ships, featuring in the later books in the Company Wars sequence. Dekker is already in the program, by his own free will and choice, but when “accident” strikes his former partners are brought in, as a way to save the program.
The story captures the different cultures at work – earther, insystemer, and deep spacer; the misunderstandings that results, how politics interfere with rational judgement, how powerful people can destroy the life of the powerless, but most of all how skillful spin can pull the tables in your favour… if you lack what could be called decent ethics.
Cherryh’s stories are seldom one-dimensional or “easy”, and that is why they lend themselves to rereading – even if you know what’s going to happen on the surface there’s always new dimensions to explore.
This is also what makes the Merchanter and Company Wars books special. Each on its own may not be a special piece of literature but taken together they paint a multidimensional picture involving lots of people with different positions and loyalties – a picture that challenges our ideas of who the “good” and “bad” guys really are.
Science fiction when it’s real good. A recommended read, for anyone.