C. J. Cherryh, 1981
Premise: When humanity spread to the stars, they were contained to ships and stations, and tethered to Earth by commerce. That was until Pell, the first new living world, was found. From there, humans spread to the stars, and grew apart. Now the struggle over who will rule out there is coming to a head, between the Earth-Based Company, the space-based Fleet which ostensibly works for the Company, and the cloning-friendly spacers who make up the Union which has claimed the Beyond. The citizens of Pell Station don't want war to come to them, but the obvious line of battle is drawn at Pell and its world, also called simply DownBelow.
C. J. Cherryh is good at stealth characters, in a way that I like. I mean, I start spending time with a character, like the early spotlight on Signy Mallory, commander of the warship Norway. Mallory is a no-nonsense fighter, a strong leader who cares about her people, stuck fighting a losing war, and when we first meet her, she's in the unenviable position of forcing Pell Station to take on a good number of refugees, many desperate, many unknown, who are fleeing a station taken by the Union. And just when I was getting to like her, I realize that she has been alone in command too long, has seen too much, and has some very immoral (though slightly vague) ways of releasing tension. Most of the characters are layered like that.
The main focus of the story revolves around the Konstantin Family who run the station, their friends and loved ones, and their relationship with the station, the citizens, the refugees, and Downbelow. On the world below is another race, the hisa, also called Downers, who are not technologically advanced, though they are not unintelligent. Many Downers work with humans on the surface, to mine and farm to support the station, and some travel up to the station itself, to work as simple mechanics and laborers.
As usual, Cherryh creates a fascinating species. She has a talent for making aliens definitely not-human, while keeping them both comprehensible and interesting in themselves. The hisa are more relatable than some other species I've read by Cherryh; they have emotions closer to human children, although they are definitely alien.
There are a lot of different viewpoint characters in this book, especially in the first half, and it took me a bit to get a handle on the plot. Recently, I've disliked books that give me so many characters to follow, but here I felt that it gave me a better grasp of the larger politics of the region, which gave me a better context for the emotional stories that emerged as the book went on.
Overall, a really great read.
5 Stars – An Amazing Book
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