Reread: Merchanter’s Luck, by C.J. Cherryh

100% paranoia. And then some. That is the essence of the second (publishing order) Company War novel Merchanter’s Luck. It is set immediately after the Battle of Pell (Downbelow Station) and no one trusts anybody. Or anything.

For seventeen years Sandor has lived a life hiding in the margins, using forged papers and false names, and carrying whatever cargo he can find, to pay his living.  To survive he has become something of a con artist, but in the process fellow merchanters starts suspect he might be a pirate. Because how else can such a marginal ship survive, if not from black market trading, deep in space, far from stations and customs control?

He is running out of ports and is starting to despair, about life itself and the value of living it, when he is hit by the apparition of one Allison Reilly, off the huge and famous merchanter Dublin Again. A Name, as they say, whereas he has nothing. That night both his life and hers will change. Forever.

He has nothing, not even food enough, and hides his Name, not to put a bad light on the honour of the ship that once was. Still is, but now under false flag.

She has everything, but nothing too, in a different way. Dublin Again is affluent and its seniors can afford rejuv. They easily live for 130+ years. More are born than will ever be needed to run the ship and Allison has chosen the hardest track of all – that of Helm, which leads to Captaincy. The only problem is that as Helm 21 barring a grievous accident she will die without ever getting posted.

Allison get herself and her command – the three cousins in her team – onto Sandor’s ship, as crew. It is their one chance at command, at really doing what they have trained for.

Sandor, he has run the ship alone, guided by recorded messages put there by one of the three who survived the Mazianni raid on the ship all those seventeen years ago, when he was ten years old; and he starts to get afraid of the changes. He won’t accept to lose the voices he has lived with for all these years. As a result he starts acting suspicious. And Allison’s team aren’t slow to respond, adding their own suspicions to the pot.

What if there wasn’t any raid, what if the relics of a previous family they find in the cold and empty cabins really are traces of people Sandor hired and got rid of, in the dark corners of space?

Enter Alliance Force, the newfangled militia, led by ex-Fleet Mallory, with Mallory herself taking an interest in the small ship. Can she be trusted? What if she still is Fleet? Yet, their small ship has to accept what is offered – it is that or nothing…

Terse and claustrophobic prose that stabs straight at the heart… and then twists some. And some more.

If it was up to me the Company War books + Cyteen should be compulsory reading in school. Not as part of literature studies but as a way to discuss history, politics, economy, and the world we presently live in.

Go ahead!

Reread: Finity’s End, by C.J. Cherryh

Finity’s End. An Alliance legend. A name and a ship that features all over the tapestry that is the Company War books. Appropriate, thus, that the last book in the suite bear that name.

The story doesn’t start there, though. It starts with a boy named Fletcher, a nobody and someone who have had to fight to get to where he is – in a graduate program on Downbelow, the planet around which Pell Station circles and one of the main reasons that Earth has lost its dominion in the Beyond.

He think that he is happy, and he think that he has achieved some degree of control over his life. A fair trek from the lonely five-year old boy whose mother died OD’ing on trank – the drug spacers take to endure jump space; when a ship leaves normal time-space and skips over the continuum; light-year dives beyond body and mind can handle.

Going out in space is the very last thing he want to do. What do his voice matter when the Powers That Be decides it is time to gather all loose strings? Fletcher, he is just collateral… His mother belonged to Finity’s End, she was a Neihart, the Finity Family, and she got left on Pell when the ship had to make a break for it. They promised her to be back in a year, but one year became two, became three… and finally she could not stand it, and left. In all respects. Now Finity is back, again, and this time to claim the War is over, and to pick up one of its stray children. Fletcher. Who doesn’t want to go. Who try desperately not to be caught. Who still ends up on Finity’s End.

On Finity he meets his real family, what is left of it. During a period he have thought of as Peace Finity’s End has been out hunting the jump points, hunting Mazianni pirates, taking heavy casualties. Some died in battle, as the ship took hits. Others just faded away when life during endless guerilla raids felt too filled with horrors, too void of future. There are no small children left, and only precious few teens, and those have all grown up with war as a normal state of things. And their sensibilities are deeply offended when the Old Man, legendary Captain James Robert Neihart, decides to leave pirate-hunting and return to life as a merchanter. Their hair-trigger reflexes can’t get high on making deals in the market and they secretly suspects the Captain of getting doddery.

Little do they understand of the political side of what their Captain is doing – trying to put and end to the black market that feeds the pirates…

The book can get a bit dense, trying to pack so many aspects into one single story – a bit like a scientific paper where the footnotes are 70% of the volume. The result is worth every effort, though, as Finity’s End – both book and ship – puts the finishing sentence to the story about how the Beyond broke free from Earth dominion; the Company Wars, and their afterbirth, and the people affected by it.

A must read, If I were to chose.

Reread: Tripoint, by C.J Cherryh

Are you happy? Do you think life is just amazing? Think any change would be to the worse?

Tom seems an ordinary guy, for a Family merchanter. But you know when C.J. Cherryh starts out writing contentedness all over the first handful of pages that things will change, and in Tripoint, the next to last of the Company War books, it sure does.

Because this Tom, he isn’t the ordinary merchant Family cousin. Unlike many others he do know who his father is – no one will let him forget, least of all his mother; he has gotten the story of how is mother was raped fed to him since his earliest years – his mother is obsessed with it, and he strives to achieve her love. Forever in vain, and he know it. Still strives.

One such attempt ends up with him being abducted by the very ship whose Captain is his father… and bit by bit we get to see another side of the story.

That Other ship, Corinthian, is known as suspect of being a go-between for the Mazianni, the renegade Earth Company Fleet. And here the text becomes almost Marxist in its choice of tale. The core of Marxism is, whatever mythology has to say about it, that economics is the over-ruling principle of human society. When choices are made, look to where the money is – you need to keep you and yours alive in this world, and you take the deal you are offered, to make odd ends meet. Idealism only feeds so many mouths.

And if the surface story is that about a boy and his heritage, and about everyone’s need to have a place and a mode of respect, the other story is about how chance had Corinthian run the errands that they do – others may look down at them but at least they are making a living. And as Tom discovers – for many of the crew it is the only decent place in a world dominated by Families that have no place for the odd relative, or for the unconnected nobody. Pro or con the Mazianni? Not everyone can afford to make that choice.

And in the end Tom discovers something about himself, besides that of an unexpected family.

As is clear by my recent bout of Company War rereads these are books that ought to be read.

What are you waiting for?!?! :-)

Reread: Rimrunners, by C.J Cherryh

Many weeks ago now when I, out of some kind of desperation for ANYTHING to read while I had nothing handy except the two Cherryh books on my phone  (Heavy Time & Hellburner), picked Hellburner I did not know that it would mean a reread spree covering some of its siblings.

Downbelow Station came first and have already been mentioned – next up was Rimrunners which is distinguished by the fact that it is the only Company War book that I read but never reread. About time, then. Right?

No matter that I have an unread Culture novel (Excession) beckoning.

Rimrunners surprised me. My memory from my first and only reading of it was that it was OK but not on par with the other Company War books. Up until the very end I was wrong.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Pell (as told of in DownBelow Station) Pell needs somewhere to put the excess people they gained as refugees from the other stations, and also the newly-born Alliance need some space stations besides Pell. The logical thing is to make a second try at the Hinder Star stations, the initial first steppingstone for humankind on its way to new frontiers. Technology has made them redundant but trying to re-establish them seems a good way to solve a lot of problems at once. At least from a macro perspective.

From the perspective of the individual it is not such a good idea, though. These stations are the equivalent of the once thriving communities that got passed by when the new highway got built. Ghost stations. And the people, they become ghosts, too.

Bet Yeager is an ex-Fleet trooper that got left on Pell when her ship – Africa – had to brake from dock during the Battle. To survive she had to hide her military background but she isn’t a stationer and needs to get back out on a ship. To do so she has to lie, fake, and humiliate herself. She manages to get transport from Pell to Thule, her chance at anonymity and finding a ship, perhaps Fleet, that will turn up and take her on.

But instead of a Fleet ship the next one, when she’s almost out, is a rimrunner, a spook, the most detested of all ships, whichever side they’re on… and they don’t even run for Fleet but for the Alliance. Her old enemy. She fights to stay inconspicuous but sooner or later…

The story feel very much pre-word processing software – terse, not spilling anything but the most essential, leaving to the reader to fill in the blanks, yet showing enough for it to be a full experience.

I think everyone who think they understand how politics, society, and groups of humans work and react should read all of the Company War books. No single tome, however scholarly, can manage to so aptly illustrate the three-dimensional jigsaw society is – how most people basically tries to find a way to survive and in that end up on one side or the other, more by chance and geography than by being quintessentially good  or evil.

Enough said. Go get all those books, Rimrunners among them.

Not the most important, or the most difficult and complex. But without which the tapestry is incomplete.

Reread: Downbelow Station, by C.J. Cherryh

Harrowing, and in many ways on par with Machiavelli’s The Prince; a fictional but realistic illustration of theoretical principles; watching what happens in a society under extreme pressure, when individuals gets reduced to the most basic animal state, fending for the self alone.

Every now and then I return to Cherryh’s Hellburner but after this most recent visit I decided I wanted to reread Downbelow Station as well.

My memory of it was that it is central to the Alliance-Union books but to its form more a foundation book, offering explanations and background rather than actual story and thus a bit dry. In this last bit I was wrong – it turned out that even if I did remember the result of the goings-on, and some of the key events and people, I had no clear memory of the tale as it evolved in front of my eyes!

The book is terrific on so many levels – the multiple viewpoints that are used to illustrate how different people end up taking different positions based on role, background, motivations and random chance; the suspense; the action; the many-layered personalities… not least of which is that of Signy Mallory, the Fleet Captain known for her ruthlessness who end up on the “good” side mainly because she dislike being ordered around. This is both a tale that illustrates what happens in war and a tale about real people caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, with the hard place being cold vacuum.

In part I think the gap between my memory and my present experience of the book  is down to the fact that by now I have read most of the other Company Wars books so many times that characters or historical references that only gets a fleeting mention in Downbelow Station evokes a memory of some sort, and I start to wonder how Graff ended up where he did; from where Mallory came – she gets no mention at all in Hellburner, yet she says to Mazian that “we’re the oldest” – so many threads that could be picked up and expanded! Much as I enjoy the Foreigner books I do hope that Cherryh will be able to return to Alliance space, to pick a tale to tell us.

Definitely worth both a first, second and third read.

And when you have read Downbelow Station, do go on to read the others – it only adds to an already great experience!