Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: Downbelow Station

C.J. Cherryh
Awards: Hugo
Rating: ★ ★ ★ – –

This is a pretty complicated book about the economic and military conflicts surrounding the colonization of Pell’s World – the first habitable planet to be discovered outside our solar system.

In this story, space exploration is financed by The Company, an Earth-based corporation with Earth-centric views of how the natural resources of other planets should be used. The Company maintains their own military Fleet to protect those interests.

For years, missions to other solar systems have been limited because they could only travel so far from Earth, the only resupply center. But when Pell’s World is discovered, everything changes.

The Company builds a space station orbiting Pell and then a station on the surface of the world itself (which becomes known as Downbelow Station). Once they do this, spacefarers no longer have to rely solely on Earth for resupply, and can explore farther and farther out into the galaxy, which allows them to discover even more habitable worlds. And once there is a critical mass of humans living on planets other than Earth, they begin to question whether space exploration should still be entirely about exploiting other planets for Earth’s benefit or whether these other planets deserve to be self-supporting worlds of their own.

The Company doesn’t like this kind of thinking, of course, and it inevitably leads to tension between the Company, its Fleet, the union of non-Earth planets, and the independent merchant ships that fly between them, all of which culminates in a huge battle at Pell.

I have to admit that I didn’t really get into all the clashing ambitions of the various interest groups. The story was okay, but not always exciting enough to keep my attention through 500+ pages.

I also didn’t find many of the characters all that likeable. My favorite character, Emilio, was in Downbelow Station on the surface of Pell and most of the action took place in the space station orbiting the planet, so unfortunately I didn't see too much of him. There were also the Hisa, an intelligent species of animal indigenous to Pell, who are a little like chimpanzees and who are hired and/or exploited as workers by the humans. The Hisa were very nice and gentle but maybe just a little too annoyingly naive.

Cherryh does, however, do a great job constructing a realistic universe on a large scale and vivid settings on a small scale.

The station orbiting Pell was well thought-out and well described; I could practically draw a map of it. The environment on the just-barely-habitable planet of Pell was also believable; it’s not a ridiculous Eden. Humans have to wear special breathers and the weather is chilly and dank.

And I think the greatest strength of this book is that it paints a believable picture of humans in the first stages of space colonization. It made total sense to me how the discovery of one habitable planet (and then another, and another) would fundamentally change both commerce and psychology. I could see how people would naturally start to split into those still attached to Earth and those who want to look beyond it.

It was what I imagine the early conditions would be that would lead up to Asimov's Foundation universe. It makes it seem entirely possible that over thousands and thousands of years of exploration, Earth could get left farther and farther behind until it is eventually forgotten.

No comments:

Post a Comment

HTML Tag Instructions

Bold: To make text bold, tag it as follows:

<b>text you want to appear in bold</b>

Italic: To italicize text, tag it as follows:

<i>text you want to appear in italic</i>

Links: To add clickable links, like say to a Wikipedia article on baseball, tag it as follows:

<a href="">text you want to link from</a>

Related Posts with Thumbnails