Downbelow Station by CJ Cherryh is a science fiction classic which I have often noted but never read – it appears on lists of the greatest novels. This 60 Books from 60 Years challenge seemed like a good opportunity to read it for the first time. In my teenage years I read a lot of science fiction, including Dune which has also been part of this challenge and which I review here. I read less science fiction these days as my interest has shifted more towards fantasy but I have enjoyed some excellent titles recently including The Martian which I reviewed here.
Downbelow Station is set in a future where Earth has advanced into the stars and built a number of stations far into space run by a Company. Merchants trade between planets and stations and for a lot of people their whole life is on a ship or on stations. Rebellions and revolutions have been happening on the stations furthest away from Earth and they are now ruled by the “Union”. The Company is less interested in space than it was and its fleet has little direction thus enabling it to determine its own plans. Pell is one of the last independent stations, flooded with refugees and knowing that the Union is probably on their way.
This is a story of a structure in decline. Pell is filled with those fleeing from elsewhere, merchant ships are being attacked and the Company fleet has its own agenda. On Pell the authorities are trying to handle the influx of new people and to work out how to protect themselves from attack. This story is told from the points of view of a number of people – the ruling family, a captain in the fleet, someone who is selling information to the Union, an ex-rebel who has had his mind wiped, a merchant whose family has been wiped out and a refugee who is being manipulated by criminals. In addition there is an alien race native to Pell’s planet who become involved in what is happening. That’s a lot of viewpoints but the author is good at keeping them clearly defined so that you can follow the story from different angles.
You know at the start of this book that the current system is being destroyed and that Pell is in danger and the story is about preserving what you have and adapting to change. Although this story is resolved by the end of the book it is part of a much larger story which this author tells in many books and a few series but having not read any others I felt at no disadvantage with this novel. It’s well plotted and carefully put together with lots to think about – this is definitely not a romantic view of space and many of the characters can be pragmatic and ruthless when required. The narrative is strangely undescriptive and you have to imagine for yourself what things might look like or how things would work. The author uses short sentences and the style takes a little getting used to, although I liked it.
This is a clever story and a very interesting one. I liked the writing style and was invested in knowing what happened to the characters. I found it a great read.