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book is down to the fact that by now I have read most of the other Company Wars books so many times that characters or historical references that only gets a fleeting mention in Downbelow Station evokes a memory of some sort, and I start to wonder how Graff ended up where he did; from where Mallory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!