During the visual convalescence I slowly read old paper-based novels. One of these was a re-read of an old favourite: “Downbelow Station” by C J Cherryh.
First let me mention the version I own. It’s the 1986 Methuen edition and it has a great cover by artist Chris Moore. Mr Moore’s website can be found here. He is a great science fiction artist and well worth checking out. I also own a book called “Dream Makers” that features his work.
I found the book incredibly relevant to the world at present because two of the major themes are war and dispossessed people.
The book is set mainly on a space station orbiting a mostly habitable planet. War between Earth and its colonies has been underway for quite a while and Earth is losing. Refugees from other space stations loyal to Earth have been pushed back to this space station. Desperate, lonely, hungry, emotionally traumatised, and prepared to do whatever it takes – these refugees are naturally considered a dangerous addition to the space station and therefore placed in a separate part of the station. Naturally, in order for this to happen that part of the station has to be emptied, meaning that the original inhabitants find themselves making sacrifices too. Then in zooms the Earth fleet, making its own demands of all concerned and doing so by threat and force. Meanwhile the humans also have to interact on the planet below with some Neanderthal-equivalent alien inhabitants with whom they had, until this point, built a caring and thoughtful relationship. And there is also a mercantile fleet that wants to peacefully trade with all sides and instead is finding itself victimised by both sides.
So why do I like this novel?
Well, the book examines people under pressure. People who are trying to live by their own ideals, by their own values, by their own sense of honour – and increasingly finding themselves having to make hard decisions, sometimes compromising themselves, sometimes sacrificing what is important in order to survive. Yes, the book follows several different characters on different sides.
I found the entire refugee issue interesting. The loss and desperation were well portrayed. The development of crime within their population as a survival tactic is inevitable. The rise of violent personalities is also inevitable.
By the same token, the feelings of the people who are taking in the refugees is also understandable. The impact upon their resources, their lifestyle, and their safety. How they want to do the noble thing but is the cost too much?
And a desperate military that feels unsupported by the civilian authorities, practically left out to die defending people that don’t care. A military that has to take what it wants in order to stay operable.
Themes aside, I found it well written although it does jump around quite a few different viewpoints. There are a few other novels set in the same universe, although they are not sequels. So yes, a standalone book.
The 1981 novel ended up winning the 1982 Hugo Award for best novel and I can fully understand why.
So if you are into science fiction and want something more than a simple space war, then give it a go.
Thanks for reading.