Recommended - Hugo Winner

Cherryh, C.J.
book-date: 1981
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David B. Mattingly

1982 Hugo winner - best novel / 20th Anniversary edition, with new intro.

Downbelow Station - Pell's World (about which Pell Station orbits) is home to native intelligent life (the "Downers"), some of whom work on the Station in maintenance. Pell Station was the far end of the Great Circle of trade, with Earth at the other end. The Earth Company had attempted to maintain control over the Union colonies beyond Pell with a fleet of warships, and failed. The Fleet, led by Mazian - which once numbered 50 ships - is down to 15. Though the war is at a standstill, skirmishing continues, and major conflict could begin again. Pell Station would like to be neutral in the conflict, but this may prove difficult. Secret envoys from Earth Company have arrived to sue for peace with the Union - even to sell out the Fleet if necessary. Pell Station is controled by the Konstantin family, who face oposition from John Lukas, a greedy and ambitious politician. Then there is the problem of a flood of starving refugees from the fallen star-stations - who are willing to kill to survive.

We follow Signy Mallory, captain of the Fleet ship Norway - who may choose to go her own way rather than side with Mazian and the rest of the Fleet, who turn pirate after being sold out. On Pell Station we follow Damon Konstantin, and Josh Talley (a Unionist prisoner whose mind has been adjusted.) And we follow Elene Quen of the Merchanter traders, who want to preserve their independence and ability to trade with Earth or Union. Cherryh brings everything to a boil when Pell Station is attacked and all the players have to sort out their loyalties while attempting to survive. She conveys a sense of "place" very well - you really feel you know what it's like to be inside a station or a starship. This is great stuff, and well-deserved the Hugo award it won the following year. This is my favorite of Cherryh's "Merchanter" books, and easily makes my "top 100" list.