A stand-alone SF book which is part of the Alliance-Union universe.

Publication year: 1981
Format: print
Page count: 477
Publisher: Daw

Downbelow Station focuses on political machinations and the misery it brings to people. It has over ten point-of-view characters and unfortunately that makes it somewhat chaotic and fragmented. Several different sides are actively scheming and there are also several people who are just caught up in the changing times. Most of the book is set on Pell Station with quick scenes on Downbelow and various ships.

Pell station orbits the planet Downbelow. The planet has an advanced ecosystem and an intelligent native species, the hisa, also called the Downers. The hisa are a peaceful race but sometimes difficult to understand. The planet has several stations which the humans have built to grow crops and work. The humans have also recruited the hisa to work for them.

Pell belongs to Earth Company but it’s a long way from Earth so in reality it operates independently. Now, Union, which is in war with Earth, has taken over Mariner station and Russell’s Star which are stations very close to Pell, and so war has come to Pell. Mazian Fleet is bringing thousands of refugees to Pell from Mariner and Russell’s. Because of humanitarian reasons, Pell has to take them on but in order to do that, several sections of Pell has to be evacuated and turned into Quarantine zone. Most of the refugees have come without papers and are desperate, so the situation is chaotic. Angelo Konstantin and his sons Damon and Emilio are in effect running Pell, and they try to minimize the chaos.

Meanwhile, Angelo’s rival and brother-in-law Jon Lukas has been running the Downbelow dome for four years. Now, he’s unceremoniously called back and Emilio is sent down. Jon is convinced that this is yet another way to undermine his accomplishments. When he hears about the situation on Pell, he tries to take advantage of it.

Norway is the first warship out of the Mazian Fleet to arrive to Pell. In addition to the refugees, Captain Signy Mallory leaves a prisoner of war to Pell. Josh Talley is a Union operative who was caught in Russell’s and Mallory rescued him, sort of. Josh had been tortured by Russell’s security and then been at the mercy of the disciplined but cruel Norway crew and her captain. He doesn’t remember much of his past and requests Adjustment which would wipe his memory but allow him to continue with his life.

One of the point-of-view characters is Kressich who was a councilor at Mariner before Union invaded it. He’s lost his wife and child. A gang of thugs recruits him as their front man. On the face of it, they keep order on the Quarantine Zone, called Q, but also blackmail people and set up a black market. Kressich justifies this to himself that things would be worse without the gang.

These are about half of the point-of-view characters. Then we have a delegation from Earth who has arrived at a very unfortunate time to Pell and some people who deal with the Union side. I’m not entirely convinced all of these POVs were needed. In fact, until near the end I had no idea what Josh was supposed to do. He didn’t remember much of his past so he was a poor choice if the reason would have been giving the Union a human face.

The writing style is somewhat choppy with short sentences and sometimes a little hard to follow. For once, I would have wanted more details and more descriptions.

There’s an interesting difference in culture between the stationers and the merchanters. The merchanters identify themselves with their family name and the ship. When the ship comes to a station the crew can sleep with whomever they want without jealousy but the stationers don’t understand that. The merchanter ships seem to be somewhat reluctant to abandon Pell when the war escalates but they will do it, if needed. The stationers seem to want to grow roots to one place, a station, while the merchanters are happy to fly from one place to another. Damon Konstantin’s wife Elene is a merchanter who is trying out a life on a station. Unfortunately, we don’t hear much about how it would have worked because of the constant crisis situation.

Then there are the Mazianni, as the people in Mazian’s Fleet are called. The fleet doesn’t have much support from Earth anymore so it seems that they’ve started to raid the merchanters to get supplies. They forcibly take on people, too, whom they think are useful, much like Admiral Cain in the new Galactica (it would be interesting to know if the Galactica writers have read this). The warships are named after Earth countires and continents: Europe, Atlantic, Norway, Africa, Australia… The warships also have four raiders which aren’t capable of FTL jumps (again, like Raptors in Galactica). The warships are used to operating independently from each other, too.

The hisa are an interesting alien species. Apparently, they don’t have the concept of violence until humans came to their planet. They still don’t use violence themselves. We are told that they have strange religious practices but aren’t shown them. They don’t really have technology and they seem to worship the Sun. One of the hisa, Satin, is a point-of-view character but we don’t see much of their culture through her, either. They also don’t speak English very well. In fact, it’s very hard to understand them sometimes. I’m also rather surprised that they don’t have the concept of wife (and presumably husband) but they seem to be pair-bonders. (At least there’s no indication that Satin has more than one mate and there’s even non-violent rivalry between two males over her.)

The mood of the book is quite somber. It’s not a light read. Still, I think that the people trying to take advantage of the situation are very realistic. That’s what you do, when your whole life is threatened.

It was interesting to read Downbelow Station after reading Cyteen because here the Union is seen as the bogeyman who must be fought at any cost. Or if you deal with the Union, it’s the deal with the devil.

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