|Submitted by Curt Long |
(Oct 12, 2005)
C.J. Cherryh's Downbelow Station is a celebrated novel, the 1982 Hugo winner. I would put it in the category of "really good books that, with a few improvements, could have been truly superb." That sense that it didn't quite reach its potential ultimately left me a bit disappointed, especially with an ending which seemed to come together a bit too easily.
The greatest strength of the book is a plot that is well conceived, telling a story that builds tension and moves to an effective climax. The characters are interesting, with few who are clearly good or clearly bad.
My first area of disappointment had to with some surprising character twists at the end, especially the ultimate resolution of the Signy Mallory storyline (and her relationship with Josh). These were really interesting characters that did surprising things which didn't quite "click" for me. I wish the Cherryh had given us a bit more insight into what was going on in these characters, so that the ending, while still a surprise, would have felt like an organic evolution the character's acts, wills and motivations (no easy feat, admittedly).
The second disappointment for me was the aliens. The native inhabitants of the planet are reasonably interesting, but not strikingly nonhuman in the way that the most fascinating aliens are. They are a lot like wimpy humans with a twist, "little guys" who naturally enough the good people want to protect and the bad people want to exploit. These differing attitudes about how the aliens and their planet should be treated are a source of one of the important plot lines in the book, but again the conclusion of this storyline could have been more effective if the aliens in their alien-ness) had some surprising impact on the resolution.
While it is set in the context of interstellar war, it's far from the militaristic style of say David Weber; the actual space battles are either skipped entirely or only described in cursory detail.
I don't want to sound too negative . . . I recommend Downbelow Station to any science fiction fan. I just regret that it wasn't even better!