Book Review: Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

Downbelow Station (The Company Wars #1)Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for the 12 in 12 Challenge, the LGBTQ Speculative Fiction Challenge,, the Military Spec-Fic Reading Challenge, the Women of Genre Fiction Challenge, the Grand Mistresses of Genre Fiction Challenge, the Hard Core Sci-Fi Challenge, the Read the Sequel Challenge, and the Space Opera Challenge (2018).

This book won the 1982 Hugo Award.

I have been meaning to read this book ever since I heard Heather Alexander & Leslie Fish’s filks about it. That was back in 1993. So I guess it’s been on my TBR list for 25 years. That’s a bloody long time!

It was awesome! I’ve skimmed some of the other reviews here on Goodreads and I think some people just didn’t get the book, or maybe it wasn’t what they were expecting and so they didn’t like it.

First of all, it’s military sci-fi, but proceed with the understanding that war is the continuation of politics by other means. Cherryh is far more concerned with the people and the politics than the details of the battles. Battles occur when there has been a failure of diplomacy, and they are quick and dirty and ugly. Sometimes she skips over battles entirely, if they’re backgrounding and not immediately important. I found this approach disjointed and a little surreal in the beginning, but by the end of the book I understood what she was trying to do and I am grateful she didn’t waste our time by showing, not telling, things, that were not important to the overall plot (unlike David Weber). Much time, however, is spent on strategy and tactics, and an understanding of strategy and tactics are needed to understand what’s going on.

Second, this is layers and wheel and politics on the level of Game of Thrones, only she did it first, all in one book, and in space. Each side has a fully-realized character that represents its interests and goals, and thus, you grasp their intentions and motivations much more thoroughly than you would if they were described in an abstract way. Even the aliens are fully realized, and while they’re as intelligent as humans, they don’t think like humans do.

Third, there are no good guys, except maybe the Downers, a.k.a. the hisa, who are local aliens with gentle natures caught up in the whole mess. There are only shades of grey. Some are much darker than others, but every group acts according to its own needs and interests, and sometimes these coincide, and sometimes they directly oppose one another.

Fourth, for some reason people on Goodreads seem to think this is the first book in The Company Wars. It’s actually the third (not that I’ve read the other two yet.) Cherryh says so herself on her website.

The action centers around a space station called Pell, which happens to be between Earth and the far beyond territories of a polity called Union. The goal is to possess this station, which is an essential waypoint of trade and in a natural no-man’s-land between the two. The interested parties are: Earth, Union, the Mazianni (which started out as a far-space Earth loyal unit but is now a fleet of privateers,) the hisa, merchanters (who trade in space between the two,) and the stationers themselves.

This is a fantastic novel that holds up every bit as well now as it did in 1982. Classic space opera, classic military fiction, classic hard sci-fi. Highly recommended!

View all my reviews


Posting to Patreon: The Eye of the Storm (Toy Soldier Saga)

Hi all, Sable here!  This is my heads up that tomorrow I will be posting the completed and edited story, “The Eye of the Storm,” as a charged post for my Patrons at Patreon.  This is my Shaundar and Y’Anid elf-orc love story, for my Toy Soldier fans!  This is your one and only chance to get it if you want it without buying the Chasing Fireflies anthology!  Note that there may be some small changes in the story between now and the time it appears in the anthology.  Chasing Fireflies will be released July 1, 2017.  (Rated R for graphic sex.)

Originally posted at Toy Soldier: A Spelljammer Saga.

Adventures in Arcane Space back Saturday – catch up now

Earlier this week we ran a story called Adventures in Arcane Space Spelljammer show launches on Twitch TV and posted a link to the a YouTube video.

But there is a second YouTube video, as episode 1 of the show was split into two parts. So here are both parts so that you can catch up.

Spelljammer: Adventures in Arcane Space: Episode 1







Spelljammer: Adventures in Arcane Space: Episode 2









You can watch the next show live on Saturday from 12 noon to 4pm EST.

Adventures in Arcane Space Spelljammer show launches on Twitch TV

Adventures In Arcane Space - AD&D 2nd Edition Spelljammer Campaign - Part 1Auld Dragon is one of the regulars over at the Spelljammer forum at The Piazza. He also has a YouTube channel, where he has been uploading Lets Play videos of D&D games for some time.

Last Saturday, at 12.00 noon EST, he broadcast the first episode of a new a live-streamed 2nd Edition AD&D Spelljammer game on his Twitch TV channel.

Called, Adventures in Arcane Space, the show features some of the viewers of Auld Dragon’s channel testing out Roll 20 for the first time.

Catch up on You Tube

The game stars oSpelljammer: Adventures in Arcane Space: Episode 1ff on The Rock of Bral, with the player characters being summoned to a drinking establishment, called The Rampant Lion, to meet with a mysterious stranger who is looking for some people to help him carry out a mission for The Seekers.

Adventures In Arcane Space – AD&D 2nd Edition Spelljammer Campaign – Part 1

Here is Auld Dragon’s description from YouTube:


Published on 6 Mar 2017

Welcome to Adventures in Arcane Space campaign, an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition Spelljammer campaign played on Roll20 with viewers from my channel!

Session 1, streamed live at 12pm EST/5pm UTC on March 4th, 2017 over at

The Party consists of:
Cadet Higgimus, a giff fighter.
Braxon, a human fighter.
Yeldin, an elf ranger.
Lafdul, an elf mischiefmaker/thief.
Xanfyr, a half-elf invoker.
Levalithana, an elf wild mage.

See Episode 2 on Saturday

Don’t forget that Episode 2 will be broadcasting live this forthcoming Saturday, from 12.00 noon to 4pm EST, on Twitch TV.


Book Review: The Shadow of Saganami by David Weber

Diane Morrison

The Shadow of Saganami (Honorverse: Saganami Island, #1)The Shadow of Saganami by David Weber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read for the I Just Have to Read More of That Author Reading Challenge, the Military Spec-Fic Reading Challenge, the Giants of Genre: A Long Book Challenge, the Read the Sequel Reading Challenge, and the Space Opera Reading Challenge at Worlds Without End.

Length of book: 897 pages (pocket-book paperback,) not including appendices.

Ah, the enigma of David Weber. This man is never going to win a Hugo or a Nebula, a Locus or a PKD Award. His writing is too all over the place, and he’s not really doing anything that no one else has done before. It’s space opera. I don’t think anyone’s won an award for actual space opera in decades.

But everyone who reads science fiction has read him at least once. It’s damn good space opera, for one…

View original post 1,253 more words


Lightyear FM

Want a perspective on what flying through space might actually look like?  Here’s one project to give you an idea.  Working on the knowledge that radio waves travel at the speed of light, this simulation shows you the local neighbourhood near Earth (excluding exoplanets) up to the limit of the first Earth radio broadcasts; up to 110 years ago (as of 2015).

Things I learned from this:

  • In general, stars don’t float randomly by themselves.  They appear in clusters.  We’re part of a pretty little cluster of mostly much tinier, dimmer stars than our own, that might look like the Pleiades with a red-shift in someone else’s perspective.
  • We can infer that most of the stars near us are smaller/dimmer than our own because most of them have alpha-numeric names (more on that in a minute).  Also, stars progress from red to orange to yellow to white to blue in terms of brightness and most of the stars around us are more orange than we are.
  • Every once in a while you do get singular stars just floating in a void, but it’s the exception, not the rule.
  • There are two nebulae relatively near to us.  One’s about 40 light years away and the other is about 80 light years away.  Each is about 10 light years across.

Naming conventions of stars:

  • The oldest stars we know about have proper names.  Those tend to be the brightest from our perspective and are typically the ones visible with the naked eye.  Most such names are derived from the Arabic language.  You’ll see relatively few of them in our local neighbourhood (Sirius, Fomalhaut, Pollux, etc.)
  • Sometimes stars are named for astronomers or the people who discovered them.  You’ll see a couple of those in this simulation.  One of them, Barnard’s Star, which you’ll see right after the Centauri stars that are our closest neighbours, blasted right through the edge of our solar system only 70,000 years ago!  Talk about a near-miss!
  • Some stars are catalogued.  The Bayer Designation names stars by a lower case Greek letter generally representing its corresponding number, plus the constellation it appears in. (ie. Sigma Sagittarii).  Once all 26 Greek letters have been assigned, letters of the Arabic-derived alphabet are used (ie. G Scorpii).  Sometimes when concurrent stars were discovered (like, say the smaller star in the Alpha Centauri binary) it was designated with a superscript.  The Flamsteed Designation is used when no Bayer Designation exists or when the Bayer designation uses numeric superscripts, because it’s less awkward.  (ie. 61 Cygni).  These stars are usually visible with a decent telescope.
  • The most recently discovered stars, visible with ultra high resolution or space telescopes and tracked by computers, are named with an alpha-numeric designation based on their position in the sky.  Over 990 million such objects exist.
  • Special cases: Pulsars are designated by the prefix PSR, with a series of hyphenated numbers in which the first indicates its right ascension and the second its degree of inclination.  Supernovae are designated by the prefix SN, plus the year they were discovered in, and if there was more than one, a letter indicating the order of discovery (ie. SN 1987A.)  A few supernovae are known by the year they occurred in (ie. SN 1604, also known as Kepler’s Star).  Novae are usually given a name according to the naming convention of the General Catalogue of Variable Stars, which includes a number or letter designation and the constellation it’s from (ie. V841 Ophiuchi, SZ Persei, T Bootis.)

Here’s a preview to show you what it looks like: you can find the simulation itself at  Note that if you hover your cursor over each celestial body (save the Earth, the Moon and the Sun) it will tell you what it is and how far away from Earth it is.  Enjoy the simulation! – An interactive journey through space, time, & music from chris baker on Vimeo.