“A legend among sci-fi readers, C. J. Cherryh‘s Union-Alliance novels, while separate and complete in themselves, are part of a much larger tapestry—a future history spanning 5,000 years of human civilization. A blockbuster space opera of the rebellion between Earth and its far-flung colonies, it is a classic science fiction masterwork.” —  Official blurb.  In spite of the grammatical ‘huh?’ moment of the opening phrase, followed by the rest of the sentence which does not connect to the opening phrase, this pretty much sums up this book as well as all of the others set in this universe.

I am embarrassed to confess that I never heard of Mz. Cherryh before reading the Cyteen series (it was all in one volume.)  But I enjoyed Cyteen so much that I decided to take a chance on Downbelow Station, also set in the Union-Alliance universe of Cyteen, although I am not completely clear as to the time in relation to the events in Cyteen.  I think it is earler.   It turns out that although there are a kabillion books in various series set in this universe, they are all standalones, and actually can be read in any order without detriment. Characters from one book may appear briefly in another, but other than the general knowledge of the universe in which it is set, the books do not depend on any other.

Having said that, I am glad I read Cyteen before Downbelow Station,  because some of the things mentioned in Downbelow made more sense for having read Cyteen previously.

Downbelow Station is an asteroid not terribly far from Pell Station in the Tau Ceti system, and the human settlement on it supplies Pell with an awful lot of the minerals, etc, and even food, needed by the station.  The settlers on Downbelow are assisted by the Hisa, peaceful brown-furred bipedal mammalians called “Downers” by Pell stationers.  They have their own language, and have learned a lyrical pidgin version of English.

Pell Station is trying to maintain their neutrality in the open war between the war fleet of the Company (Earth) and the newly built spaceships of the Union rebels. One side effect of the war is the flood of refugees coming to Pell Station from other colonies destroyed in the war, straining the station’s resources tremendously.  Pell takes as many of these as possible, especially the troublemakers, and sends them to Downbelow Station to work there, which is a satisfactory arrangement all around.  The refugees, not having citizen status to live on the main Pell station facilities, are confined to a huge area around the loading docks, which swiftly become dangerous and problematic.

It is gritty space opera, with a huge cast of hard-nosed characters battling to survive the Machiavellian intrigues of freelance Merchanters, Earth bureaucrats, Company fleet captains, Pell station administrators, Union space forces, secret agents, stationers, and (incongruously) cuddly Downer aliens. It’s a big, complex story spanning two main locations — Pell Station and Downbelow Station, and I can’t possibly give you more plot outline than I have already because it would take as long as the book to do so.

It is all about politics and war in a sci-fi setting where the focus is on the people and not the battles.  I absolutely loved it!



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