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!

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