Downbelow Station

by C.J. Cherryh

Cover image

Publisher: DAW
Copyright: February 1981
ISBN: 0-88677-431-4
Format: Mass market
Pages: 432

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Set in Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe, the same background as Cyteen, this book deals more directly with the wars between the Union, Earth, and the Company. The book starts with the chaos caused by the arrival of far too many refugees on a crowded station and the anarchy that results, and then follows the station personnel through the ensuing many-sided struggle for control over the station, the planet it orbits, and the strategic resources of the system by competing sides that all feel foreign to the people living there.

I was disappointed in this book (the only Cherryh that I've read all the way through other than the excellent Cyteen). I really do expect better of a Hugo award winner, although given some of the marginal books that have won Hugos, maybe I shouldn't.

The writing is technically excellent, the pacing fairly solid, and the plot reasonably sophisticated, but this book really felt rather soulless to me. For some reason, it gave me a feeling of drab claustrophobia throughout, and I could never manage to work up any real attraction for any setting in the book. None of the multiple sides of the political conflict ever seemed particularly attractive, even right up to the end. And worst of all, I never made a connection with any of the characters, and I had a few points where I had to fight the dreaded "why do I care about any of these people?" feeling.

Even the aliens left quite a lot to be desired. I wanted to really like them, having heard very good things about Cherryh's aliens in the past, but they ended up feeling like very generic "primitive non-violent furry species with childlike attitude" aliens, not exactly the most revolutionary concept. Admittedly, this is not a recent book, but I think that trope had been used before even by 1981.

This is a book carried on the strength of its plot alone. Admittedly, it's not a bad plot, and an excellent ending that ties up the threads of the book quite nicely and provides a nice payoff rescues this book from pure mediocrity, but overall, I was not particularly impressed.

Followed by Merchanter's Luck, although Downbelow Station stands on its own well.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-02-24

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