C. J. Cherryh is a prolific writer, and depending on how you count, has published anywhere from 6 to 26 other novels related to Downbelow Station, including another Hugo winner. Despite my mixed reaction to Downbelow, I soldiered through four more novels for this week’s edition of The Hugo Project.
C. J. Cherryh
published in 1982, 1989, 1994, and 1997
As with the previous entry, this one will no doubt suffer from the fact that I finished the last of these books almost a year ago. So bear with me.
Overall I enjoyed these more than the original novel; the smaller casts made it easier for me to keep track of and develop attachment to the characters. This was especially true of Merchanter’s Luck and Rimrunners, which follow only one or two protagonists. A few thoughts on each book:
Merchanter’s Luck: Ironically, this was mentioned by another panelist on the “Found Families” panel I was on at WisCon 38, a few months before I read this book. I didn’t actually put two and two together until a couple of weeks ago when I found my panel notes. Anyway. This one reminded me strongly of the Liaden novels by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, which, if you haven’t, you should read. After the overwhelming sprawl of Downbelow Station, it was nice to be able to focus on a story of two people finding their way and finding each other. Romance is not Cherryh’s strong suit, but the stories of Sandy and Allison coming into their own mostly make up for it.
Rimrunners: Definitely my favorite Company Wars novel. Bet is the kind of strong female character I can find offputting, because she is so unlike myself, but even though I didn’t identify with her I still cared what happened to her and wanted to see her succeed. I was also fond of Ramey and found their relationship to be one of the more believable of Cherryh’s. We also got to see more of ship culture in this novel, which wasn’t always appealing but was certainly interesting.
Tripoint: (trigger warning for rape and sexual assault) The cast got a little larger for this one, and a little harder to follow, but there were some very amusing secondary characters. I was…distressed…by the rape storyline, mostly because I couldn’t discern how the author expected the reader to feel about it. It was never clear whether we were supposed to believe the victim, Marie (who is mostly presented as crazy and obsessed), or believe Austin, who pulls out some combination of “you regretted it/you didn’t want to get in trouble so you made up that I raped you” which…no. My instinct is to believe the victim, of course, but I almost felt that I was doing it in spite of the narrative, which made me deeply uncomfortable. Add to that the allusions to Capella’s sexual interactions with Tom while he’s sedated in hyperspace and I find myself seriously skeeved out.
Finity’s End: The return of the Hisa! Well, briefly. CHERRYH Y U NO WRITE MORE HISA??? It was difficult to like Fletcher, the protagonist, but that was probably intentional. It’s difficult to like surly, entitled teenage boys (says the high school teacher…). It was nice to see him grow up and into some responsibility over the course of the novel.
There are two more books in the seven generally grouped together as The Company Wars, but by the time I’d finished Finity’s End I was overwhelmed with the start of the school year (much like now, come to think of it…) and lacking the energy to push through more. I didn’t pick up another THP book for over six months after that, hence the looooong gap in posts.
One thing I do have to say, before we set Cherryh’s works aside for the next novel. I can handle the gritty realism. I can handle characters who don’t think like I do. What I can’t handle – or rather, can but would really like not to be asked to – is the extreme nonchalance with which Cherryh treats sexual assault.
From Mallory’s abuse of Talley in Downbelow Station to the multiple instances in Tripoint, there is no condemnation, or at the very least critical examination, of questionable sexual encounters. While it is fully acknowledged that characters – Talley, Marie (maybe), Tom – have been sexually abused, never are their abusers – Mallory, Austin, Capella – condemned by the narrative. Neither do they face any real punishment or censure from authorities or other characters. While it is sadly realistic for abusers to face no legal or social consequences for their actions, it is irresponsible and immoral for an author not to provide any condemnation of the abuse. It doesn’t matter that two of the three cases cited above feature female abusers and male victims; abuse is abuse, regardless of gender. If a person does not consent or is not able to consent, any sexual action taken is abuse and is wrong. That’s it, the end, full stop, I tore a hole in the paper trying to make the end punctuation bold. For the narrative to fail to acknowledge that in any way is just appalling.
On that oh-so-cheerful note, we leave the Alliance-Union universe, for a few year’s worth of Hugo-winners, at any rate. Join me in two weeks time for a brief look at the demographics of the Hugos (yes, puppygators, I’m looking at you), and two weeks after that for some serious ranting on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation universe. The Hugo Project charges on!