OK, I am hereby confessing I have fallen into the abyss of the Union-Alliance universe of C. J. Cherryh. I may never be seen again. There are 28 full length books, and four short story anthologies. I have only read three so far. Darn things are like salted peanuts. Especially since although they are all set in the same universe, they span centuries, and various characters from one book may make a brief appearance here and there, each book is a standalone, not dependent on the details of the plot line of other books. You can dive in anywhere with little confusion, as what you need to know is explained in the book you are reading.
The books tend to be grouped loosely in thematic aggregates. I am now involved in The Company Wars group, which started with Downbelow Station. Merchanter’s Luck takes us a little farther along from the events in Downbelow Station, in which we learned about merchant ships, some huge freighters, some small insystem ships, and the occasional small freighter which has jump capability.*
Merchanters are operated by family, and most if not all of the crew on board these ships are related. Children are born on the ships, and most of the crew have never lived on planets or stations, but only ever on the ship. Sandor Kreja is a young man, operating a very small jump ship solo, a rarity, and not always legal. The ship originally carried a crew of maybe 60 people, including the children, but were attacked by pirates when Sandor was ten, and all but Sandor and two of his teen siblings who were hiding, were murdered. The three kids do their best to survive but one by one, the two older ones die, and Sandor is left alone. He survives somehow by scam, false papers, changing identity, and ferrying small loads that the larger ships don’t want to bother with, and carrying passengers who do not have the money for better transport.
On Pell Station, broke and desperately looking for a load out, he sees in a bar, a crew member of the mighty Dublin Again freighter , with a crew of well over a thousand folks. The crew member is Allison Reilly. And Sandor is instantly smitten. Allison’s problem is ambition. She wants to be captain, but that is never going to happen. There are 24 levels of Helm, level 24 being the bottom, and Allison is only at level 21. What with rejuv creating the long long lives of the crew, the likelihood of ever getting higher than level 21 Helm is remote.
When she discovers the desperate spot Sandor is in, she manipulates to leave the Dublin Again on extended leave, with a huge loan from the ship, and if not the Captain’s blessing, at least his OK. She then manages to liberate Sandor’s ship, Lucy, and signs on with her 4 helmmates, as crew. He is happy with the liberation, and the fact that they have acquired a nice profitable cargo run, but is unhappy with the idea of shipmates, as he is used to living and traveling solo.
Called into the office of Mallory, captain of the huge and dangerous warship Norway, (from Downbelow Station), he is given a military cargo to jump to a far and insubstantial station. When he and the crew arrive, they find themselves in the middle of an ambush by the piratical Mazianni, former Company ship captain turned rebel and perilous. Norway, Dublin Again and several other huge freighters and warships arrive to sort of save their bacon. They learn they were set up by Dublin and Norway to take the hit, so that the Alliance can hopefully destroy Mazianni’s fleet.
All’s well that ends well, fortunately, and since this is only the absolute bones of this nifty book, you really must read it to get the full effect.
What I am enjoying about Cherryh’s series is the details of the worlds, station operation, culture of the stations, the freighter merchanters, all evolving in the middle of the struggle and current detente between the freighter Alliance and the station Union. I am finding it all fascinating. Space opera with office politics. hahaha
*Jump is a fictional technology for travel faster-than-light (FTL.) Estelle Bok, (also fictional) a physicist investigating FTL travel, achieved a major breakthrough in 2230 when she found a loophole allowing the Einsteinian limit to be breached. This enabled her to derive the Bok Equation, the theoretical basis for FTL travel.
Jump takes place between two massive objects, called jump-points, which are generally stars, brown dwarves, or “rogue planets” sufficiently massive to make “pockmarks” in hyperspace. Prior to jumping, the ship’s navigators calculate an outbound vector, targeting the destination jump-point with direction and speed. The ship accelerates along this vector with a long STL burn until it is clear of the current jump-point’s gravity well. The jump engines are then engaged and the ship punctures the interface between realspace and enters jumpspace. Provided the proper heading was achieved prior to jump entry, the ship is drawn through jumpspace to the nearest gravity well on the outbound vector, the destination jump-point. Here it re-enters realspace, traveling at the same heading as it was before it entered the jumpspace, but at a velocity which is a large fraction of C (the speed of light). Back in normal space the ship dumps velocity by cycling its vanes to graze the interface, like casting an anchor hyperspace, before the STL thrusters take are used to slow the ship further at system-safe velocities. It is possible to pass through several jump-points without slowing down, but this is risky as it can cause the ship’s velocity to become uncontrollable.