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[personal profile] cahn
4/5. I... have curiously little to say about this book, except that I am glad I read it after Cyteen, because Cyteen drew me in with its genetic speculation and gave me a primer on how Cherryh works: the book goes on until she's finished writing it, with one major plot-line maybe resolved and a bunch of minor ones dangling; also, people will act like people and it will generally be grim and people will get grim comeuppances. So I was prepared! And actually I was unprepared for the awesomeness that is Elene Quen and the accompanying awesomeness that is Elene/Damon and Josh Talley. Although I was slightly more prepared for the grim sort of awesomeness that is Signy Mallory.

I don't like it as well as Cyteen; it doesn't have the interesting genetic Big Questions or the heartstopping moments when you realize you've just taken a dagger to the heart (except, okay, that last scene). But I liked it very much. Recommended if you like careful, methodical worldbuilding and history (apparently Cherryh herself said her books should read like that, and it does -- detailed and messy and without clean endings) and don't mind Cherryh's quirks, and very much not recommended if you want your plots wrapped up nicely or are not in the mood for grim...

Date: 2014-07-09 03:07 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I really enjoyed Downbelow Station, but what struck me most was how deeply embedded and out-of-date the Cold War metaphor was. The sense of being among people who were exactly like you, except that they were on the other side, was Downbelow Station's most compelling emotional narrative, and Cherryh makes it imaginative and unique, but at the same time it's quite specifically tailored to the dynamics of US-USSR relations in the era the book was written. It was kind of surprising to me, reading the book in the late '90s, just how quickly the history had aged. Though I suppose in the post 9/11 age, it has come back into relevance in some ways?

And yeah, the grimness of the choices... being stuck in a place where nothing you could do was obviously right, most of the things you could do were obviously wrong, and just having to pick a choice and roll the dice... It is a brutal novel. And Signy Mallory is awesome.

Obscure SF nerdery: the presence of the names Konstantin and Conrad as major character is undoubtedly a super-nerdy homage to Zelazny's "And Call Me Conrad"/This Immortal.

Date: 2014-07-10 02:43 am (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Also, Leslie Fish did a filk about Signy Mallory, and you should check it out.

Date: 2014-07-10 12:50 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Ha... yeah, with Watchmen, while I loved a lot of the storytelling technique and the arguments about how narrative manipulates us, I could never quite separate my enjoyment from my skepticism about the Nixon as President for Life stuff. There's a degree to which the paranoid leftist fantasy in Watchmen comes across as laughably of its moment.

Date: 2014-07-10 05:10 am (UTC)
ase: Book icon (Books 3)
From: [personal profile] ase
Seconding [personal profile] seekingferret's Cold War comments. The mass-produced culture and huge industrial scale of Union really rang back to the USSR for me. I'm not sure how much has full circle in the last decade: espionage, maybe, but history paints a picture of real fear that an alien culture would destroy or dominate the United States in a way that's different from the fears (or culture of fear) shaped by the events of September 11th and the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

Though other interpretations may be relevant: the destruction of Mariner Station, for example, might play a little differently in the era of banana republics vs the era of the Twin Towers. The Fleet's insurgency tactics are probably another aspect that's come back into relevance.

It is a brutal novel. And Signy Mallory is awesome.

May I agree with both of these statements? I have always been wistful that Mallory doesn't show up more in Union-Alliance canon. There's Downbelow Station and Merchanter's Luck and that's it.

Date: 2014-07-10 12:53 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Yeah, I think there are elements in DS that are relevant any time our culture is locked in a war it views as dualistic, between two opposed and mutually exclusive world views, but I also think that Cherryh is very specific in places in marking her two sides as being the US and the USSR. In general I think it strengthens the novel that she is so specific and thoughtful about the metaphor, but it did make reading it after the fall of the Berlin Wall an interesting experience.

Date: 2014-07-10 05:37 am (UTC)
ase: Book icon (Books 2)
From: [personal profile] ase
I feel a little bad for egging you into this? It's grim, with a side of desperate, and bleak on top. But I love it so much!

I don't like it as well as Cyteen; it doesn't have the interesting genetic Big Questions or the heartstopping moments when you realize you've just taken a dagger to the heart (except, okay, that last scene).

Maybe that's where our experiences diverge: I read it in my teens, and had a very clear moment where I went, "wait, what?!", flipped back 50 pages, and mentally capslocked as I discovered morally ambiguous yet still compelling protagonists. It was a major step up from whiny Holden Caulfield.

Date: 2014-07-12 03:48 am (UTC)
ase: Book icon (Books 2)
From: [personal profile] ase
Ah, okay. Wasn't sure whether "grim" represented somewhat too much grim. Also, yes, I read Downbelow Station before Cyteen.

I don't think I've read Ford! I may have tried How Much For Just the Planet at a too-young age. Will add him to the to-read list. Any suggestions on where to begin?

Date: 2014-07-12 04:01 am (UTC)
ase: Default icon (Default)
From: [personal profile] ase
I'm sufficiently familiar with TOS I'd probably be able to appreciate The Final Reflection.

And what a coincidence, the library had Hild on the shelf today. (Because I biked to the branch which had a copy. Combining books and exercise!)

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