|4 out of 5 stars|
I’m becoming quite a fan of C.J. Cherryh. I really like the way she writes aliens and the Hisa/Downers in Downbelow Station were yet another notch on the positive side of the score board. I pictured their bodies as rather large baboon-like primates, with the faces of surprised baby orangutans. They definitely had their own thought processes and ways of communication, very foreign from those of human beings.
Cherryh’s interest in history became apparent quickly, with the humans’ treatment of the Hisa—it is very reminiscent of the treatment of Native Americans by Europeans. There are two schools of thought among the human population—treat the Hisa harshly and force them to do things the human way or recognize them as beings in their own right and get things done through co-operation.
The peopling of space also reminded me very much of the days of European exploration of our world, when sailing ships went out into uncharted waters and returned with experiences that no European had ever dreamed of before. Once out on the ocean, these explorers were on their own and would be making their own decisions within the framework specified by the powers that had sponsored their expeditions. Just as in Downbelow Station, it was commerce which inspired the vast majority of these adventures, but the outcomes were not necessarily what was originally anticipated. One issue that I found somewhat confusing was the growth of crops for human consumption on a world where humans couldn’t breathe the atmosphere—surely plants grown in those “hostile-to-Earthlings” conditions wouldn’t be compatible with our biology?
There were also echoes of more modern history and culture—the lab-produced troops of the planet Cyteen had a definite “Boys from Brazil” vibe. The war scenes, with shifting alliances and priorities, can be compared to virtually any modern war (and probably many ancient ones as well). The where and when of war changes, but the basic events stay repetitively the same. And aren’t modern city dwellers equivalent in many ways to residents on space stations—out of touch with the natural world, surrounded by human construction and noise, and glued to their various man-made communication devices? Cherryh’s version of that technology has dated, but think how fast our technology has changed since 1980! No one had even considered the internet or mobile phones at that point.
I think it was rather prophetic of Cherryh, back in 1980, to see the role that big corporations were going to play in future human politics. As we watch large multinationals stick-handle around various national laws, taxes, and other constraints, we see some of the Downbelow Station world coming of age before we have even left the planet.
Downbelow Station provides a great prologue for further adventures in the Union-Alliance universe.
This is title 162 of my science fiction and fantasy reading project.