Downbelow Station by C J Cherryh is the type of book that I began to read the Hugos to find. An epic science fiction story which tells the story of Pell’s World which has fought itself caught between two empires. This is the first world which was found to be habitable and while generally unimportant still serves as a jumping off point for other colonization.
At some point later faster than light travel has been created and the control earth has over the colonies is largely breaking down with only a fleet of fifty ships allowing them any real control, a control which is breaking down as those ships are defeated and largely unsupported in the war so that they are losing to a more advanced and growing fleet.
The story begins near the end of that war. One of the earth ships arrives at Pell filled with refugees that put a strain on the bases both because of the cost of resources and because they fear that there are spies among them. Much of the rest of the story deals with these people as well as the captain of the earth ship who is forced to defend them.
While I did enjoy Downbelow Station I never really felt as if there were a protagonist I could like. The ship captain begins the story by doing something more or less evil and it never really feels to me as if she cares about what she is doing. Earth isn’t particularly good as they are both out of touch and trying to hold back humanity, but the others are worse. This is probably more realistic than those books that have a clear good and evil, but not as satisfying.
I can certainly understand why Downbelow Station won the Hugo Award. It is a very smart book with a lot going on and it takes risks that many science fiction books don’t. The aliens are both different from humans and yet not bizarre and the conflicts are smart. In the end though much of this felt as if it didn’t really need to be science fiction and the story became a bit slow at times. So I can recommend this book to those who have the patience to enjoy a book that is a bit slow, but not for everyone.