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Downbelow Station

C.J. Cherryh won a Hugo Award for Downbelow Station way back in 1982, so it’s about time I got around to reading it.

The first chapter of the book gives us the historical background for the story. During the time 2005-2352 (2005 probably seemed plausible in 1981) people went to outer space, build space stations in other solar systems and found other planets with life. Distance and different interests made some of humanity break off from Earth and found Union. Union is now expanding earthwards, taking over stations and fighting the Company Fleet.

Pell Station is situated above the habitable planet of Pell. The fleet ship Norway comes in with a bunch of merchant ships, all filled with refugees from another station that has been destroyed in the war. The authorities on Pell are stuck with a bunch of refuges in quarantine, inhabitants with different interests, Earth Company representatives, an unruly fleet of warships, a Union prisoner of war, merchanters with their own agenda and Union who wants to take them over. Easy and nice solutions are not forthcoming.

OK, that all the plot spoiling I’m going to do, if you want more you can find a good plot summary at Wikipedia.

I really liked this book. I see that some other people who’ve read it complain that they don’t like any of the characters and therefore don’t like the book. There are certainly some characters in this book that I find very unsympatetic, but there are also characters I quite like. What makes me like the likeable ones even more is that they’re not one dimentional. Some of them seem to be genuinly nice people who has to make tough choices and are strong enough to make them, others are nice people who makes what they ultimately realise are bad decisions. Others, like Captain Signy Mallory of Norway, are not very nice but certainly has a lot of personal integrity. And then there are some not-very-nice people making decisions purely for personal gain. What I’m trying to say is that I find the characters interesting, and for me that’s a lot more important than likeable.

The author has made a very good job of showing how difficult the situation is, and made her characters behave in believable manners. It’s novel without one central character, and I think that’s a good choice. There are so many players in these events that I really like that a lot of them has a voice. This includes the hisa from Pell.

It’s also not an action novel. You might think it would be as it is about a warlike situation, but it isn’t. From the start of chapter 2 to the end of the book more than 7 months go by. Consequently many of the characters spend a lot of time waiting, being angry, scared, plotting, deciding, fleeing…. And that’s fine by me, real war isn’t action all the time either. Also, this is in space with enormous distances, where some of the trouble has come about because of distance and not very good communications, so things should take time.

The book was released in 1981 and there are a few places that you notice this. We now know that humanity didn’t start expanding away from planet Earth in 2005 and there’s some technical solutions in the book that would probably have been worded differently if the book had been written now. But, all in all, it has stood up very well to it’s age. I’ll certainly read more books from this “universe”.

Here are the opinions of some other people, they don’t always agreee with me 😉

Dan’l Danehey-Oakes

Eyrie.org

SF Reviews

Dragonmouth

Snarkland

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The New Space Opera 2

The New Space Opera 2 was edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan and contains 19 stories by different authors.

It always takes me forever to finish a short story collection. I think I might have finished this one a bit quicker than usual as I’ve decided to read at least 52 short stories this year, but it still took a long time. The result is that when I look through the titles of the different short stories there are some that I can hardly remember. I’m also discovering that it’s harder to look back on stories when you’ve read the book on a Kindle, p-book short story collections are usually full of post-its so I can find the different stories again without too much bother.

Oh well, I still have some thoughts about the book.

As with all short story anthologies I find this to be a mixed bag. There are sad stories, poignant stories, funny stories and some stories that makes no sense to me at all.

My favorite stories were “Utriusque Cosmi” by Robert Charles Wilson, “Defect” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, “Shell Game” by Neal Asher, “Fearless Space Pirates of the Outer Rings” by Bill Willingham, “Chameleons” by Elizabeth Moon, “The Tenth Muse” by Tad Williams, “The Tale of The Wicked” by John Scalzi and “Catastrophe Baker and a Canticle for Leibowitz” by Mike Resnick.

My what-what-what? stories are “The Island” by Peter Watts, “Punctuality” by Garth Nix, “Join the Navy and See the Worlds” by Bruce Sterling, and “The Far End of History” by John C. Wright.

So this means I end up with 8 really good stories, 4 I dislike and 7 that I liked but didn’t find outstanding.

All in all this makes for a good collection. The thing about readers are that we all respond favourably to different things and this collection has stories for lots of different tastes. Even some of the few I don’t like seem to be solid work, it’s just that they’re not for me. I do have a preference for real people and spaceships in a good action story and therefore don’t much care for some of the “posthuman” stories. They seem to get so wrapped up in their own weird idea that they leave me not caring for the characters, and I do need to care to like the story. “Posthumans” I can care for I can handle just fine, like Carlotta in “Utriusque Cosmi”, while the planet-personalities in “The Far End of History” leaves me completely cold. Too bad that that’s the last story in the collection. I guess it was placed there because it’s the longest, but for me it would have been better to end the book on a funny note with Catastrophe Baker.

All in all I end up with giving the book 4 out of 5 stars, and I’ll definitely read The New Space Opera 3 if it ever appears.

Monday morsel

This weeks morsel is from the beginning of the short story  The Tenth Muse by Tad Williams in the short story collection The New Space Opera 2:

When I first got to know Balcescu, I didn’t like him much. A snob, that’s what I thought he was, an way too stuck on himself. I was right, too. One of the things that drove me crazy is that he talked like George Sanders, all upper-crust, but I didn’t believe for a moment he actually knew who George Sanders was. Old Earth movies wouldn’t have been high-brow enough for him.

He also loved the sound of his own voice, whether the person he was talking to had time to listen or not.

“There you are, Mr. Jatt,” he said one day, stopping me as I was crossing the observation deck. “I’ve been looking for you. I have a question.”

Monday Morsel – Downbelow Station

In 1982 Carolyn Janice Cherry, better known as C.J. Cherryh, won the Hugo Award for best novel with Downbelow Station. It has taken me almost 30 years, but I’m finally getting around to reading this science fiction space opera classic.

And now…..the morsel:

“They could not afford debate, could not raise deadly issues in a privacy they probably did not have. Sign it and carry it home. What he had in his head was the important matter. They had learned the Beyond; it was about them in the person of soldiers with a single face and virtually a single mind; in the defiance of Norway’s captain, the arrogance of the Konstantins, the merchanters who ignored a war that had been going on all about them for generations . . . attitudes Earth had never understood, that different powers rule out here, different logic.

Generations which had shaken the dust of Earth from off their feet.” (p.163)

 

P.S.
Dumping on a paragraph that mentioned a ship named Norway was blind luck. I opened the book at a random page, read a random paragraph, and there it was 😉

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