Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

I have to admit, it may seem like a Cherryh blitz, but the last review prompted me to pull out my dog-eared copy of Downbelow Station. The Hugo Award winning novel was my introduction to Cherryh, and it’s been a satisfying lifelong affair.

Downbelow Station presents the story of humankind’s expansion beyond the solar system. It entwines personal stories in a vast, sweeping scale of history that rarely lost my attention. Escaping the gravity well of Earth was an expensive undertaking, and one that was handed off to a corporation, the Earth Company. Slowly, but surely the Earth Company established trade routes to other systems. Just as slowly, but just as surely, disconnected bureaucrats lost their grasp on the realities of the situation.

Power blocks form in the vacuum, and the Earth Company forms a fleet to put the ungrateful colonists in line, ignoring the length and vulnerability of their supply lines. The novel begins with the Company Fleet, under the leadership of Conrad Mazian, in tatters. The Mazianni are fighting a rear guard action against a determined and implacable foe in the form of Union. The focus of the conflict centers around Pell Station (aka Downbelow Station) and the earth-like, alien inhabited world around which it orbits. Downbelow Station introduces one of the best (in my opinion) characters ever to grace the pages of science fiction in Signy Mallory, Captain of the E.C.S. Norway (Earth Company Ship).

The action reads like I have always imagined ship to ship combat in space would be like. Probabilities, risk taking, suspense, mathematical certainty. Are all part of the equation. Having crawled around in the dirt with a rifle in my hand at one point in my life, Cherryh’s descriptions of chest pounding moments ring true and I find myself tasting copper in mid sentence. None of the characters are perfect, ideals melt under pressure, and lust for power and control vividly colors motives. There are no magic pills in the Downbelow world that make everything better. This is my kind of book.

If you haven’t read Downbelow Station, I highly recommend that you do.

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