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Author: Adrian Simmons

Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, Final Discussion

Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, Final Discussion

BdS1Welcome to the final round of the Black Gate Book Club, where we hash out or feelings and impressions on C.J. Cherryh’s 1981 classic Downbelow Station (DbS).  We also give DbS our final score– and things get contentious!

Need to catch up on the discussion?  Easily done with these convenient links to the first, second, third, and fourth rounds.

Adrian S.

I finished DbS last week. Third time was on the money!  Since I appeared to be the slow elephant I assume that everyone else was probably finished before I was.  In our set-up for the Black Gate Book Club we said that we’d give a final 1 to 10 rating on the books and this is our opportunity for that, as well as for final thoughts/quibbles/arguments.

Me? I’m going to give DbS a 6 out of 10.

I acknowledge the vastness of the story and the world(s) that Cherryh constructed. It is intricate, it is dynamic, it is chaotic; she has two generations of station masters vs. two generations of saboteurs, vs. a rag-tag Company Fleet, vs. an unknown foe of the Union forces, and throws in the Downers and the Merchanters and all that.

That said, did we really have to spend 300 pages setting the board so that some things could start happening? Yes, I get it, a slow burn, small disasters leading to bigger disasters.  But 300 pages of it?

300 pages of characters that seem completely interchangeable. Is there much of a difference between Angelo Konstantin and his sons Emilio and Damon.  Is there much of a difference between Emilio and Damon?   Ditto Jon Lucas and his two sons?   Double ditto between Conrad Mazian and Seb Azov.  Double damn ditto the women in the story,  Miliko (Emilio’s wife) and Elene (Damon’s).

I’m going to expand on something that Chris Hocking said about Cherryh’s lack of a sense of wonder. Not only is there no real sense of wonder, but Cherryh seems to be able to only write one real emotional state—a crippling sense of dread (CSoD).  And that’s why each of those characters comes across pretty much the exact same way—they all have intricately explored, elaborated, and expanded CSoD.  There seems to be no character that she doesn’t put into a claustrophobic environment to stew in their own cold terror.

That’s why Jon Lukas, Jessad, Ambassador Ayers and even Satin stand out in this story like giants—they are the only characters who take an active hand in their own fate.  Even Bran Hale and the goon from Q , secondary characters at best, bestride Downbelow Station like colossi because they do something. The rest just bounce around like terrified pinballs until they are finally forced to take some action.

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Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, Fourth Discussion

Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, Fourth Discussion

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Welcome back to the Black Gate Book Club! We are rapidly closing in on C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station (DbS).  You can get to speed with the first, second, and third rounds.

Adrian S.

Fourth round!

Okay, page 285 and Fletcher, you are right that things are (finally) happening quick. The Union Fleet has dropped into the system, and the Company Fleet and the militia go out to meet them.  I like the idea that all the ships look the same on scan, whether they are jump-capable merchanters or in-system merchanters, or Fleet Carriers or whatever—they all look the same until they maneuver or start to fire.

Jon Lukas has become the bad guy that he was hinted at with a full murderous take-over of Downbelow Station.   Of course, he’s made a choice on which side he’s on, gambling that the Union is going to win, and from there getting roped into helping Union win.  This puts him with a lot of targets on his back.

Kressich is in the exact same boat, but with more targets on his back, he’s terrified of his people in Q, and terrified of his own security, but once the shooting starts, he is one of the few people who has security and has people.

The relationship of the “leaders” to their armies/militias is interesting.

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A Decadal Review of Science Fiction from November 1969: Wrap-up

A Decadal Review of Science Fiction from November 1969: Wrap-up

1969-small

America, 1969

For the initial round of the quatro-decadal review, I read and reviewed six periodicals, in the following order:

Amazing Stories, November 1969
Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1969
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1969
Worlds of If, November 1969
Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, November 1969
Venture Science Fiction, November 1969

All of the magazines had fiction and review sections, but not all had artwork, editorials, or letter sections or science articles. A table is called for!

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Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, Third Discussion

Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, Third Discussion

Welcome to the second round of discussion on C.J. Cherryh’s classic 1981 novel Downbelow Station. New to the program? Check out the first and second rounds. We lose Chris on this one, perhaps a casualty of a bad Jump from the Beyond. Fletcher and myself carry the standard of the Black Gate Book Club as best we can!

Adrian S.

DBS5

Third round! And it is appropriate that I just started book 3 of DbS.  I’m on page 190, so I have surpassed my previous record of 169.

What can I say at this point? Well, my guess that conspicuously-absent Admiral Mazian was, in fact, behind the destruction of several company/neutral stations has borne out to be true!  I guess the big game is to try to force the Union to take control of these damaged stations and spread themselves too thin?  And to put all their resources at a station called Viking—the only 100% working station in Union space, I guess?  And to attack/destroy/cripple it and thus break the Union.

Of course, Union seems to be playing the same trick — forcing the refugees all to Downbelow Station, which has now become the one 100% working station in Company space.

So that’s what the power-players are doing, and everyone else is just running around between their feet.

I like how Cherryh illuminates parts of the plot, then occludes other parts. The sudden retreat of Mazian’s fleet from the Viking attack — was it due to Ambassador Ayer’s orders, or some other factor?

But again, I have to say that Jon Lukas, who does the right things for the wrong reasons, is still coming off as one of the only active people in the book. Honestly, how hard is it to get on the goddam PA system and say “Yes, the fleet is coming, no we are not all gonna die, keep calm and carry on.” Hard enough that only Jon Lucas can do it and keep Downbelow Station from tearing itself apart in a panic!

Satin, the Downer now working on Downbelow Station, is also active in that she is following her vision-quest thing regardless of what the older Downers and the Lukas-men and everyone else thinks.

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Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, Second Discussion

Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, Second Discussion

Downbelow Station UK-smallWelcome to the second round of discussion on C.J. Cherryh’s classic 1981 novel Downbelow Station. New to the program? The first discussion can be found here.

Chris Hocking gets the ball rolling this time around.

Chris Hocking

Hi people,

I had business travel to do and took Downbelow Station on the plane for some serious reading. I came away from it realizing that I had developed an unusual (for me at least) attitude toward the book.

This is an intense SF novel depicting otherworldly conflict in alien environments, but it’s tone is resolutely workaday and normalized. The exotic situations and scenes described are experienced by the characters, and presented to the reader, with matter-of-fact realism. We follow several characters whose histories and position are laid out and fitted into this fictional environment with great skill. This is a story of interplanetary war, of political maneuver and counter-maneuver, of individuals and policy makers struggling to deal with the critical issues and collateral adjustments that inevitably arise in wartime. It is executed by Cherryh with remarkable depth and solidity: the environment meshes completely with the story being told and the overall effect is very convincing. This is a powerful and deep imagination at work.

Yet having said all that, I find the book a half-step out of phase with my own reading tastes. The consistent desperation of most of the characters, the grueling effects of war and displacement are all well done and appropriate to the story being told, but for me the cumulative effect was kind of enervating. I’ve read enough bleak modern fiction and noir that this didn’t bother me much in itself, but it was coupled with the notable absence of an element I tend to seek in Science Fiction.

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Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, First Discussion

Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, First Discussion

Downbelow Station-small Downbelow Station-back-small

Welcome to the very first post of the Black Gate Book Club!  What are we up to?  As Fletcher Vredenburgh said in his introduction to the Book Club:

The plan is to read Downbelow Station over the month of June and post a discussion of it each Monday afternoon. This time around, the Book Club participants will include Adrian Simmons, Charlene Brusso, Chris Hocking, and me. We’d love it if you’d read along with us and join in the conversation.

Of course, it is now Wednesday, not Monday, and Charlene had to bow out of this round because life intrudes. Never the less, Vredenburgh, Hocking and I soldiered on! Below is our exchange:

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Venture Science Fiction, November 1969: A Retro-Review

Venture Science Fiction, November 1969: A Retro-Review

Venture Science Fiction November 1969-small

This is Part 6 of a Decadal Review of vintage science fiction magazines published in November 1969. The previous articles are:

Amazing Stories, November 1969
Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1969
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1969
Worlds of If, November 1969
Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, November 1969

I approached Venture with a sense of trepidation, fearing that it was a place for cast-offs from Galaxy, there might be a diamond in the rough, maybe a good B-side. I am happy to report that I was totally wrong about that.

“Plague Ship,” by Harry Harrison, illustrations by Bert Tanner. This is an entire novel (about 82 pages, in -magazine). Normally I would summarize, but in this case, the people at Venture did it for me!

The interplanetary spacer, Johannes Kepler, was thirty days out from Earth when the meteorite hit the spaceship head on. Almost dead center. The survivors, led by a young medic, began a desperate struggle for their lives, not realizing that as bad as things were, they were soon to get worse.

That’s what is promised and rest assured that Harry Harrison delivers!

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Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, November 1969: A Retro-Review

Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, November 1969: A Retro-Review

Analog Science Fiction November 1969-small Analog Science Fiction November 1969-back-small

This is Part 5 of a Decadal Review of vintage science fiction magazines published in November 1969. The previous articles are:

Amazing Stories, November 1969
Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1969
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1969
Worlds of If, November 1969

So, one cannot be an SFF fan without hearing a few unsettling things about the greats of the genres. John Campbell is one of those greats, but I’ve heard that he got a little nutty toward the end of his run in 1971; a little hung up on Dianetics, psionics, dean-drives, and maybe he wasn’t sure this whole cigarettes-cause-cancer thing wasn’t nanny-state bunk. These things I’ve heard, and the November, 1969 issue of Analog pretty much confirms them. In its defense, the magazine does have three good stories.

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Worlds of If, November 1969: A Retro-Review

Worlds of If, November 1969: A Retro-Review

Worlds of If November 1969-small Worlds of If November 1969-back-small

This is Part 4 of a Decadal Review of vintage science fiction magazines published in November 1969. The articles are:

Amazing Stories, November 1969
Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1969
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1969
Worlds of If, November 1969
Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, November 1969

The cover is by Gaughan, and although it is not specifically stated, it could be influenced by “To Kill a World” and/or “Genemaster.”

Editors Page, “The Dream Keepers” by Jakobsson.

A brief, and perhaps overly-stylized, write-up of the 1969 World Science Fiction Convention — the banquet and Harlan Ellison’s speech, specifically.

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1969: A Retro-Review

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1969: A Retro-Review

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction November 1969-small

This is Part 3 of a Decadal Review of vintage science fiction magazines published in November 1969. The articles are:

Amazing Stories, November 1969
Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1969
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1969
Worlds of If, November 1969
Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, November 1969

General feeling is that MoF&SF is a little flimsier than others, a bit more ‘pulpy’ (as in the paper itself, not the style) and not nearly as much artwork.

It jumps right into the fiction, “The Mouse,” by Howard Fast. Tiny aliens from a heavy gravity world come to explore Earth. Part of their exploration plan is that they find a local lifeform and augment it to be, roughly, human intelligence. In this case, the lifeform is a small mouse. It gets intelligence, and an ability to read minds. It does not take it long to figure out that the aliens don’t really have a post-exploration plan for the mouse — can’t come back to their homeworld due to the gravity, and they didn’t bother making any other intelligent mice, so they tearfully abandon it to commit suicide. A fairly gripping ending to a fairly poor set-up.

“A Feminine Jurisdiction” by Sterling E. Lanier. This is one of the continuing adventures of Brigadier Donald Ffellowes. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace — with the boys down at the pub taking about the dames and then D. Ffellowes discussing one of his wartime adventures, beginning with the set-up and intrigue around Greece, and leading to a shipwreck on a small uncharted island and being harassed by a downed German pilot. It isn’t a great story, but it isn’t bad, either. Lanier deserves a bit of credit for going past the obvious Medusa idea and going into the other gorgons. He also adds a bit of a Lovecraftian touch to things. I’m not super-familiar with the gorgons, so I have a feeling that I was missing some things.

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