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1981 Science Fiction novel by C. J. Cherryh. * * * 1/2

Fin de siecle and the beginning of a new one.

Three hundred years of space colonization have seen the development of two rival political blocs:

  • The area controlled by Earth Company, consisting of the Earth and the largely abandoned original Great Circle of space stations orbiting mostly uninhabitable planets in the Hinder Stars, but also including Pell's World, the first new Earthlike planet discovered, with its orbiting station. "Pell" usually refers to the station; the planet beneath is called Downbelow. Downbelow itself has a small human presence, but when it was discovered, it was already inhabited by the hisa, also known as "Downers".
  • The Multiworld Union, which developed organically from worlds discovered by ships based in the Great Circle, pretty much out of Earth's control. The capital of the Union is Cyteen, the second Earthlike world discovered.
Cherryh's novel Cyteen happens before Downbelow Station and may give you some insight into the history of this conflict.

As the years passed, Earth became more and more introspective, less and less interested in contact with other worlds.

Although Earth itself was examining its own navel, Earth Company tried to assert control over the Union, eventually building a fleet of jump-capable warships for just this purpose. The Fleet, however, is deprived of all but the most nominal support from Earth, and must rely on the four stations remaining under Earth control.

Union's technology to produce genetically-engineered clones (or azi), whose minds they could indoctrinate, erase, and reprogram at will, produced an enledss supply of willing soldiers.

Although distances between the stars made the war sporadic, it was always a bitter conflict, and now it is over, to anyone who is not fooling themselves. Of course self-deception is a ubiquitous human trait.

Downbelow Station opens immediately after a disaster: Union has destroyed two of Earth's remaining stations, Russell's Station and Mariner Station, with tens of thousands of inhabitants. The warship Norway brings a fleet of ships containing the six thousand survivors of Russell's Station, in unimaginable terror and degradation, and dumps them at Pell Station, taxing its resources to the limit. This creates an explosive political situation, but you will have to read the book to find out what happens next.

Cherryh excellently portrays the chaos and horror just before an ultimate defeat; you feel everything her characters feel. The Cold Equations reign supreme. Well worth reading. Downbelow Station won the 1982 Hugo Award for best novel.

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