Book reviews / Science Fiction

Book review: Downbelow Staton

This long, tedious book has a much shorter, exciting book inside of it. Or around it. Or I’m imagining it could be.

I think I had this on my Goodreads list or found it via some other internet crawl and finally gave it a go. It won a Hugo in 1982, so it must be okay, right? Well. Maybe 1982 was really fucking boring and so they picked the best boring book.

Downbelow Station has in interesting premise. Space stations expanded out beyond Earth, so much so that eventually a new power (the Union) started fighting back against the Company (the representatives that theoretically built and were in charge of the stations, sort of).  Now this back and forth, almost war has come to Pell Station. Which is kind of in the middle between the closer in stations to Earth and the Union control outer regions. It’s a strategic point for both the Union and the Company.

Great premise. Can totally get behind that.

Except that about 60-70% of the book it feels like space bureaucracy. There’s lots of meetings. Lots of talking about really boring stuff that I don’t even remember because it was so boring, lots of scheming. Everyone seems unhappy for one reason or another. They also, while having this amazing space bureaucracy, seem really bad at handling a crisis. There’s a huge subplot about refugees from other stations arriving and having to deal with them (really fucking badly, it turns out).

We flit about between Union and Mazian fleet (run by a genius/psychopath Captain Mazian) which at some point was given orders by the Company but for all intents and purposes were now a law unto themselves.  Then between the Lukas’ and the Konstantin’s on Pell (Lukas is scheming with the Union to overtake Pell from the Konstatins). Then on Downbelow (the planet that Pell Station orbits). Then with some of the ‘Downers’ who were the native species on Downbelow (I keep on imagining them as more intelligent primates).

But like, nothing really happens for most of it? It’s just people talking?

Then in the third act, shit finally happens. The Mazian fleet take over Pell, install Martial Law and basically sabotage the place (so they can delay the Union coming after them). But we literally only know that after a conference between some of the Captains (more fucking talking). There’s a lot of other boring shit that happens to slow down the pace though. Also, this is like the second time they come and bother the station. There’ s a lot of repeating the same thing in this book. Omg! The refugees in quarantine are causing trouble again. If only our giant space bureaucracy could fucking deal with it.

And then out of fucking nowhere, one of the Captains (Mallory of Norway) decides to fuck over the rest of the fleet. I kind of see where the motivation comes from but it’s paper thin. She’s also been the person rigging the station to become destabilised, has brutally killed a bunch of people, done something to one of the main characters (Josh, a Union Operative who had been captured and had an ‘adjustment’ wiping his memories essentially), and is generally pretty fucking unpleasant.

There’s about a half dozen other fucking subplots that I’m leaving out (more Downer intrigue, the Merchanter alliance, Union shenanigans).  And almost none of them really matter in the end. There’s a subplot with Company Representatives going to go negotiate with the Union which has absolutely no bearing on the plot. Basically all the Downer subplots went nowhere. All the intrigue with Jon Lukas with the Union agent on the station was needed but not in the excruciating detail I had to read (they both get shot anyway). Almost everything on Downbelow didn’t matter either! It was just another bloody subplot.

The only subplot that was worth anything, and would have been more interesting to read about, was the Merchanter alliance, which finally helped get Pell back from both Union and Company interference and retain it’s neutrality. But it was minimal even though it was the thing that actually made a huge difference to Pell in the end.

At one point the Mazian fleet is preparing for this huge battle and I was all like “Yes! Space battle!” Then the next time we meet them, the battle’s happened and we just get more boring space conferences. WHAT. We do get it a bit later but it’s a bit hard to follow, it’s just a mash of words.

Basically, it was dull and frustrating. It was just relentless exposition and people fretting. Even with the endless explaining, I can’t even imagine what Pell Station looks like. For all the time spent there, there’s a complete lack of painting what this universe looks like.

Then, for not reason that I can fucking fathom, Josh (the Union guy that Mallory has done something to that he can’t remember), decides to join her crew for a bit. Like what? Her, Josh, the Konstantins are all chummy now. Even though she basically brought so much of the bullshit down upon them. WHAT. WHAT IS THIS? I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW IT ENDS LIKE THIS.

Ugh. 1982, you have a lot to answer for.

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