This quote from the introduction by C.J. Cherryh grabbed me right away:
“So if you look up at night toward the Whale and the Great River, those of you who can find that view at night, you can see the very places I write about. And if you do see a bright flash out there, do tell me. Some of these people are armed and dangerous.
But space is wide. You don’t need the Whale and the River. If you look up at any two starry points of light in your own sky, you can very easily think of ships going between them, and those ships full of life and commerce, each ship with its own story, maybe human and maybe not.
People ask where writers get ideas.
Take my advice. Some cool, clear night, drive to a country place where city lights don’t block your view. Turn off the car lights. Get out and look up. And see our real neighbourhood.
Downbelow Station won the Hugo award in 1982, and it’s interesting to keep that in mind when reading Humanity is a space-faring civilization, with lots of cool sci-fi things…except we still read things on printouts and have magnetic key cards. I don’t blame the author at all—what I mean to say is that it’s incredible how far technology has advanced. In 20 years, will we look back at our silly touch-screen technology and augmented reality glasses? Probably.
Anyway, back to the story.
It had darker undertones than I had expected, and struck some emotional chords, especially when it came to the alien life: the hisa. Here I was hoping for a guns-blazing, ships-manoeuvring type of story—instead it was an introspective view of how interstellar conflict and ambition affects personal lives.
The Downers absolutely made this book for me: their excitement, their way of talking, the way the author puts you inside their heads when it’s their POV chapters. And especially their use of “love you” in conversation. The parts of this story dealing with them were my favourite by far.
I also liked that the science fiction was a bit more subtle than say, Leviathan Wakes. Cherryh doesn’t hit you over the head with the different mindsets between stationers and merchanters, and all the politics that appear on the station Pell. Clearly, she has put a lot of thought behind it, but it informs the writing and isn’t explicit.
This is a sci-fi classic, and I can see why. It doesn’t have the same focus on character development that I’ve become used to with modern writing, but it was better than I would have thought for such an old novel.
Read with the Sword & Laser book club—March sci-fi pick. A bit early, but I want to hop right into the forum discussions without fear of spoilers.